Evolution & Creation: Part II – Intelligent Design


In my last blog post I raised the question of the relationship between Theosophy and Intelligent Design.

My first college level philosophy class was a philosophy of biology class intended for post-grad science students.  At that time, Creationism was vying for equal time in the classroom with Darwinism and the contrast between the two was so obvious as to make the former’s claim to ‘science’ laughable.  The situation made a convenient, if charged, test case for defining the parameters of science.  Creationism’s science was actually natural theology, or the study of god’s work in the natural world, with the Judeo-Christian God of revealed scripture as an unquestioned premise.

Intelligent Design, or ID, emerged into public consciousness several years later, initially as an attempt to replace the term ‘creationism’, which the Supreme Court declared in 1987 could not be taught as science in public schools. It was simply a substitute term, not a substantive difference in theory.

As such, when I raised the question of ID, I was fully prepared to find creationism with a mere patina of psuedo-scientific jargon.  What I have found instead makes explicit claims of difference from creationism and aspires to nothing short of a scientific revolution.

The first difficulty in exploring the relationship of Theosophy to Intelligent Design is that there isn’t yet consensus as to the exact position of the latter.  While Wikipedia states that advocates of ID “seek to fundamentally redefine science to accept supernatural explanations”, the Intelligent Design Network defines its goal as “institutional objectivity in origins science”.  I’ve heard some, anecdotally, invoke Intelligent Design as any model of evolution that isn’t strictly Darwinian, while some ID is explicitly Christian.

The IDEA (Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness) Center states that:  “Intelligent design is a scientific theory which holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and are not the result of an undirected, chance-based process such as Darwinian evolution.”

The Intelligent Design Network says “in a broader sense, Intelligent Design is simply the science of design detection — how to recognize patterns arranged by an intelligent cause for a purpose.”

The Discovery Institute, a think tank supporting research into ID states:

“The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Through the study and analysis of a system’s components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design, or some combination thereof. Such research is conducted by observing the types of information produced when intelligent agents act. Scientists then seek to find objects which have those same types of informational properties which we commonly know come from intelligence.”

What emerges from all of this is that Intelligent Design is in its emergent phase.  What may have begun as a retreat from the legal condemnation of creationism as science may end up as a new phase of science, one that will even be at odds with creationism should it hold to its own claims.

One of the dominant figures of this newer, purportedly scientific wave of Intelligent Design advocacy is William Dembski, whose The Design Revolution I am currently reading.  I’m finding Dembski challenging in two respects.  On the one hand, his thinking has forced me to rethink Intelligent Design, not as disguised Creationism, but rather as a possibly viable, and even revolutionary, approach to science.  On the other, there are serious gaps in the thinking, and arguments so nonsensical that I have to fight to take the rest seriously.

In my next few posts, I’d like to take a closer look at Intelligent Design, as articulated by Dembski, and discuss what does and does not stand up to scrutiny and the consequences for science and theology either way.  From this, we can then look at Theosophy to better identify its position in relationship to all three.