What is ID?

Mon, 9 Dec 1996 11:57:23 EST5EDT

To all who may be interested,

As I watch the discussion on "intelligent design," I am led to the judgment
that little progress will be made until the participants come to some
agreement on the meaning of the central term.

What does it mean to be "intelligently designed? I see two principal ways in
which the term is being used:

(1) To be "intelligently designed" means to be the outcome of thoughtful
conceptualization (which, or course, implies purpose). The focus of attention
here is on the action of mind (or, more appropriately, of Mind).

(2) To be "intelligently designed" means to have been assembled in time by
extra-natural means. The focus of attention here is on the action of "hands,"
or the divine equivalent thereof.

I would think that all Christians, who see the entire universe as a
Creation--that which has been given being by the Creator, agree that the
universe is "intelligently designed" in the sense of meaning (1).

The disagreements arise when meaning (2) is considered. As I understand them,
both the ID Theorists and Special Creationists (including both young-earth
and old-earth species) presume that to be "intelligently designed" means both
(1) and (2).

That, however, means that one is committed to at least the following
theological perspectives:

(a) An interventionist concept of divine action in the formational history of
the physical world: At the beginning God is presumed to have purposely
withheld from the Creation certain formational capabilities, thereby making
biological evolution impossible and occasional "supernatural interventions"
necessary. In the course of these "interventions" God is presumed to have
acted on created materials in such a way as to impose upon them structures
and forms that they were not capable of actualizing by the application of
their own limited formational powers. To say it more strongly, God is
presumed to have forced some members of the Creation to do something
different from, or beyond, what the formational powers given to them at the
outset could have allowed them to do. God is thought to have created the
universe with gaps (missing capabilities) in its formational economy, and God
is thought to have bridged those gaps by acts of "extraordinary assembly" in
the course of time.

(b) an evidentialist apologetics: the presence of these presumed gaps in the
Creation's formational economy is thought to be empirically discernible. The
task of Christian apologetics would then be to demonstrate, by appeal to the
empirical sciences, the presences of these gaps--gifts that God chose to
withhold from the Creation at the beginning. The agendas of both Creation
Science and ID Theory are strongly shaped by the desire to demonstrate the
existence of these gaps in the Creation's formational economy, thereby making
evolutionary continuity impossible. And if evolutionary continuity is
impossible, then the comprehensive worldview of evolutionary Naturalism is
also untenable.

I take issue with both (a) and (b). But note that (a) and (b) are theological
in character. Hence we need some more well-informed theological input into
the discussion, a point that George Murphy has often made.

Back to the original concern--what is ID? It is a perspective that entails
two major claims: (1) that the universe bears the marks of having been
thoughtfully conceptualized, and (2) that within the Creation there are a few
specific, empirically discernible life forms and biotic subsystems that could
have been actualized only by acts of "supernatural assembly" in the course of

I heartily agree with (1) but find no merit, for theological reasons,in (2).

Howard J. Van Till
Professor of Physics
Calvin College