While reading my copy of “Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives“, I came across an essay by Phillip E. Johnson entitled “Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism”1, which had been included to give a semblance of balance to the book (in the hopes of directly addressing arguments made by ID proponents in their proper context, as opposed to more generalised, context-free arguments). Phillip’s essay, as you could probably guess by the title, attacks what he sees as the “establishment of naturalism” in the scientific community – scientists aren’t open to explanations that aren’t based in the natural world. The essay (written in 1990) predates the main intelligent movement by a number of years, but it lays down one of its longest-running ideas: modern science wrongly excludes supernatural explanations a priori.
This sentiment is reflected in modern ID writings. You only have to search briefly to find examples of proponents waving the term “naturalism” around in a critical manner. So what’s the deal? Why do ID proponents seem so opposed to (methodological) naturalism in science?
The answer is that the intelligent design movement is predominantly religious – they’ve taken a secular, unscientific idea and wrapped it up in basic theological language, all the while denying that ID has roots in religious, even Christian, thinking. Every ID critic already knows this and sees the movement as a modern branch of creationism. It’s no surprise – the Designer is God, according to a majority of ID proponents.
But, as I mentioned, they deny this. They deny it a lot, in fact, and they’ll throw off the sparkly robe of God whenever threatened, stashing it hastily in the closet as they quickly recite memorised lines about how intelligent design is a “scientific hypothesis” that is testable, falsifiable and makes predictions. However, this opposition to naturalism is a flaw in their façade, a corner of fabric rudely peeking out for all to see.
Why is ID a supernatural explanation? This follows from the repeated claim that evolutionary biologists, and scientists in general, are committed to only natural explanations – if an explanation isn’t natural, it is, by definition, supernatural. This clearly excludes the possibility of the Designer being an extra-terrestrial intelligence, which is at least as, if not more, probable a cause for the “apparent design” of life than a deity or supernatural entity. Where is the love for aliens, guys? Where is their love?
This tips the ID movement’s hand markedly with regards to their religious agenda. Why does ID require methodological naturalism’s removal from science? What basis do proponents have for implicitly insisting that the Designer be supernatural? I wonder how they would answer those questions.- - - - - - - - -
- Originally published in First Things, 1990, no. 6, pp. 15-22 ↩