Ken Miller makes an interesting proposal to James Randerson: he thinks we ought to reclaim the word “design,” and apply it to evolution. Not in the sense that the Intelligent Designists use it, as a proxy to imply a divine being, but because he says “design” is an emergent property of evolution. It’s an interesting idea, but I have a couple of objections.
One is brought up by Randerson: doesn’t “design” imply a “designer”? It’s a problem that we might possibly overcome someday — I can say the word “thunder” now, without an audience immediately thinking of Thor — but language associations are a really tough nut to crack. Look at all the flailings about over the word “theory”; lay people will hear that word being used by scientists and conclude that the creationists must have been right all along long before they get around to remapping their mental connections to design.
Another problem is of even greater concern. The word “design” carries other implications: purpose, planning, calculation. These are not present in evolution! Miller isn’t even trying to propose purposefulness in evolution — design, he is saying, is a consequence of the natural mechanism.
I don’t think it can work. The creationists know PR and rhetoric, even if they are ignorant of biology, and they picked the word “design” by design — they know full well all the baggage the term hauls, and it’s exactly the freight they want it to carry. They even use the word in the name of their rebranded creationism. Miller may be an excellent rhetorician in his own right, but I don’t think he’s good enough to pull off this switcheroo, which I suspect would be immediately spun by the creationist noise machine as a capitulation.