More precisely, if we say that theistic evolution is a form of intelligent design, then we have to stop saying that intelligent design is a form of creationism.
Over at HuffPo, Victor Stenger writes:
But when surveys ask moderate Christians what they really believe, they all say that evolution is God-guided. Well that’s not Darwinian evolution. That’s intelligent design. There’s no guidance in Darwinian evolution. It’s all accident and natural selection. In particular, and this is what is unacceptable to all Christians and just about every other religion: humanity is an accident. Start up life on Earth all over again and humans would not evolve.
Stenger should know better than to talk about what “all” Christians believe. It’s actually pretty common for theistic evolutionists to abjure any notion of direct activity by God in the evolutionary process. The idea is that God allowed the world to create itself by setting in place a certain system of natural laws. The picture of God micromanaging the process by guiding the mutations has theological problems.
Now, I never miss an opportunity to scoff at theistic evolution. I do not believe it is a reasonable position to hold. The arguments made on its behalf are weak, and I can understand why so many Christians can not bring themselves to accept it.
But for all of that it’s not ID. The hallmark of anti-evolutionism, whether young-Earth creationism or intelligent design, is some implication that scientists are doing it wrong. They are not saying simply that evolution as scientists understand it fits within a larger metaphysical framework that involves God. They are saying that any understanding of natural history that does not make reference to God’s direct activity is just wrong.
Moreover, there is a clear political dimension to creationism and ID. To accuse someone of supporting ID is to imply that they support inserting religion into science classes. That certainly does not describe TE.
This particular meme, that TE is a form of ID (or, even worse, a form of creationism) is a needlessly incendiary way of making what I believe is a reasonable and important point. Evolution as scientists understand it works just fine without any thought that God is directing the mutations. And, as I alluded to earlier, the notion of God micromanaging the process suffers from grave theological problems. That so many people feel they must go this route to make evolution acceptable says something about the magnitude of the problem in reconciling science and religion. Most people just can’t seem to accept evolution “full strength.”
By all means criticize TE for glopping up a perfectly good scientific theory with a lot of unnecessary theological gobbledy-gook. Just remember that on the issue of science education they are on the side of the angels, and, indeed, are necessary allies in the fight against creationism. Describing them with the same term we use for anti-science, right-wing religious zealots is not helpful