Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Does ID = Creationism?

One of the main arguments that Lawrence VanDyke makes, both in his Harvard Law Review book note and in the ongoing exchange over Brian Leiter’s criticism of that note, is that ID is not creationist. His evidence for this is that the two largest Young Earth Creationist (YEC) organizations have said they don’t consider ID to be creationism because they won’t take a position on the age of the earth or a literal biblical interpretation. But then those organizations don’t think Old Earth Creationists like Hugh Ross, who completely rejects evolution, to be creationist either. This strikes me as a very weak argument. Remember that these are the same people who would argue that anyone who isn’t a YEC is not a “real Christian” either. Their perspective on who belongs and who doesn’t is a trifle narrow.

At some point soon I will be posting a much longer and more detailed message comparing ID and creationism, but for now I want to just throw this one quote out there. It comes from none other than William Dembski. Dembski has been giving a series of lectures at Fellowship Baptist Church in Waco, Texas the past few Sundays, all of which have been taped. In a Q & A session after one of those lectures just a couple weeks ago, this is what Dembski had to say:

“I think at a fundamental level, in terms of what drives me in this is that I think God’s glory is being robbed by these naturalistic approaches to biological evolution, creation, the origin of the world, the origin of biological complexity and diversity. When you are attributing the wonders of nature to these mindless material mechanisms, God’s glory is getting robbed.”

He continued,

“And so there is a cultural war here. Ultimately I want to see God get the credit for what he’s done — and he’s not getting it.”


  1. #1 Paige
    March 16, 2004

    At this point, I don’t particularly care if ID = Creationism. I do care that both of them are religion in disguise, and they are not science, as this quote from Dembski illustrates. That’s the message we need to keep working on.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    March 16, 2004

    Well Paige, that’s really the same thing. Traditional creationists didn’t do a very good job of hiding their religious motivations, though like ID advocates they did try to pretend that there was a distinction between their religious views and their purely scientific explanations. The courts didn’t buy it and the laws based upon their pseudoscience were struck down. IDers have tried to learn from their mistakes, but they have still left quite a track record of declaring that their goal is to destroy “materialism” and reassert God as the Lord of All. That kind of language is a bit frightening, especially given that much of their activities are funded by Howard Ahmanson, who has strong ties to the Reconstructionist movement.

  3. #3 Michael Harris
    March 17, 2004

    I would be curious to ask Dembski if he thinks that Michael Behe’s concessions regarding the age of the earth, speciation by accepted evolutionary mechanisms, and the like are thefts of God’s glory.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2004


    Not likely. Dembski is not a young earther. As far as speciation goes, Behe is a bit vague about what he believes. He says he has “no reason to deny” common descent, or something to that effect, but he also indicates that he thinks future speciations may have taken place because traits that wouldn’t be needed until well into the future were “programmed into” the first eukaryotic cell’s DNA, to be turned on later. So he’s a bit here and there on it, never really spelling out what he believes. Which will be the subject of a future essay on this subject.

  5. #5 Michael Harris
    March 17, 2004


    Thanks for the response. I remember Behe offering up a vague concession in his book (which I read when someone told me I should read it and actually lent it to me), but had never quite gotten around to digging up what Dembski had put out for public consumption on this matter.

    Looking forward to the essay….

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2004


    You’re welcome. And congratulations on the new blog. Careful though, it takes over your life.

  7. #7 Paige
    March 17, 2004

    Ed, obviously you put more time and energy into this than I do, and on most issues I am very impressed. But as a strategy, I don’t see the value of showing creation = ID, when the battle now is to keep ID out of schools. It’s like saying: ID ==> Creationism ==> invalid, when the direct route is ID ==> invalid. Unless there is some legal angle that I don’t understand (there may well be), the direct attack on ID seems to me to be much more likely to have the effect on the public that we desire than the equating of ID to creationism.

  8. #8 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2004


    It depends on the context. If one is trying to show that ID is an untenable idea, then of course a direct engagement on a substantive level is the best way to go about that. But equating ID with creationism will be crucial to the inevitable court test over whether mandating the teaching of ID violates the establishment clause or not. That court test may happen very soon.

    In both the Mclean v Arkansas district court decision and the Edwards v Aguillard Supreme Court decision, the primary issue was whether the respective laws were violations of the Lemon test, which is one of the legal standards for establishment clause violations. In both cases, the court said that because the primary motivation for the laws was to endorse a religion alternative to a scientific theory, it was not permissable. That’s why the equation is an important one. That’s why the ID crowd goes to such lengths to deny that ID is creationism.

  9. #9 Steve
    March 18, 2004

    Ed, I think a useful thing to distinguish is the “ID movement” from the mere “concept” of ID. The latter isn’t creationism per se, but creationism is clearly nested within it. (As is Raelianism, last-Thursdayism, etc.) The base concept of ID is creationism with all of the positive claims removed.

    The ID movement however is basically indistinguishable from creationism. They have at least this much in common:

    1. Existing primarily for the purpose of religious apologetics.

    2. Nearly all arguments are directed against evolution rather than in favor of their own model.

    3. Directing their arguments primarily at the general public.

    4. Strong bent towards social conservatism — argues that view on “origins” affects culture and society, etc.

    5. Includes lots of extra-scientific arguments (e.g., belief in evolution is responsible for “moral decay”.)

    6. Spends a great deal of effort trying to get ideas taught in public school science classes, rather than seeking among the scientific community.

    Now add to that the fact that most (if not all) of the arguments put forth by the ID movement can be found in creationist literature, and the connection is pretty clear. I think that the courts will look for where the ID legislation is coming from, they’ll see a mile-wide trail leading to the Discovery Institute’s door, and they’ll quite easily find that the DI’s main goal is to promote religion. And that will be that.

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    March 18, 2004


    I think you make an important point when you say that ID is creationism with all the positive claims removed. I am planning to write an essay on the subject of distinguishing science from non-science, and one of the points I plan to make there is that old-fashioned creationism actually has more of a claim to being science than does ID, for the simple reason that the YECs at least made testable claims. They had a model that says that the earth is 6000 years old and virtually the entire geologic record was the result of a global flood. There are testable hypotheses that flow from that model. Of course those hypotheses have been tested, and they fail to explain anything, but at least they had a model to test in the first place. ID, it seems to me, makes no such statements. All of the work that they claim provides “scientific evidence for design”, from Behe’s Irreducible Complexity to Wells’ most recent book, amounts to nothing more than the claim that evolution can’t explain certain things and therefore God did it. That’s not a model and it’s not a testable statement. So in that sense, ID is less scientific than old fashioned creationism, despite the fact that they speak in a more technical manner.

  11. #11 Aaron Pohle
    March 18, 2004

    You all make some good points here. As a Christian, I believe in ID. I would have said that I believe in Creationism a few weeks ago, but I have seen more and more that Creationism is now defined promarily by the young earth and anti-evolution theories(I.E. a complete rejection of science).

    Still, I would never argue that my belief in ID is anything but religious. I believe in God and that God created the world. I see nothing in science that contradicts that view, but there is nothing to support it either. The only support it has from a scientific perspective is to provide a supernatural explaination for the things which we, so far, cannot explain naturally.

    Just as we learned that God didn’t have to make the sun rise every day, however, it is entirely possible that we will learn that His action was not required to explain the formation of life on earth.

    Does that take away from God? Maybe. Perhaps it removes some of the awe, in the same way that people are less amazed by a magician once they know how his illusion works.

    God, at least the Christian God, however does not need or rely on creation. It is a mere chapter(plus a few verses) in the Bible. It was, quite obviously, not the focus of God’s message to people. Why then do people care so much? I suppose I will never understand it.