Once again....ID

Howard J. Van Till (110661.1365@compuserve.com)
Wed, 22 Apr 1998 14:35:53 -0400

Dear Bill,

Thanks for your courteous response and the paper to be published in _First
Things_. I will post the paper in two parts as you did and comment on some
aspects of it in another posting.

I don't mean to appear unappreciative (or just plain difficult) but the
question I have been pressing is, I believe, something that could (and
should) be answered in a relatively brief paragraph.

I am not asking the difficult questions regarding how 'design' might be
manifest, or how 'design' might be detected, or how the 'designer' or the
designer's purposes might be identified. What I am asking for is simply a
public and candid defnition of the term 'Intelliiigent Design' as it is
being used by those who are promoting the ID concept.

As I observe and participate in discussions regarding ID or 'design' I find
no unanimity whatsoever on the functioning definitions of the most basic
terminology. It is absolutely impossible to have a substantive or fruitful
discussion regarding the merits or faults of concepts that have labels
without definitions.

Only after the terms are defined and uniformly understood can we proceed to
evaluate interesting and substantive propositions regarding the
manifestation and/or detection of ID or 'design.' Before we can say
anything regarding the presence or absence of X, we must know what X is.

To be more specific, let me once again pose my standard question, What does
it mean to be (or have been) 'intelligently designed'? In other words, if
something has been 'intelligently designed' what type of action has been
performed on it, and by what sort of actor or agent?

Now, to narrow the field of options to those most relevant to our Christian
evaluation of scientific attempts to reconstruct the formational history of
the universe or of life forms in it, let me pose two possibilities:

1) To be (or have been) 'intelligently designed' is to be (or have been)
thoughtfully conceptualized for the accomplishment of a purpose.

So defined, 'intelligent design' would be the intentional and purposeful
action of a mind (or Mind).

Following this action of mind, an agent competent to do so could 'create'
(that is, 'give being to') that which was first conceptualized. The actions
of 'intelligent design' (purposeful conceptualization) and 'creation' (the
giving of being) are thus distinctly different acts.

Furthermore, the issue of how particular structures and forms came to be
actualized in time would present yet another set of questions. For
instance, a Creation that was given being by a divine Creator could
conceivably have been gifted with an economy of formational capablities
sufficiently robust to actualize all of the particular forms and structures
conceptualized and intended by the Creator. No further form-imposing,
artisan-type action would be required.

In this case, the Creation given being by the Creator would have been
gifted with a 'robust formational economy.' Scientists interested in
reconstructing the formational history of such a Creation would be well
advised to presume the applicability of the Robust Formational Economy

meaning that you and your colleagues wish to assign to ID. Right?

OK, so what about the following possibility?

2) To be (or have been) 'intelligently designed' is to be (or have been)
thoughtfully conceptualized for the accomplishment of a purpose _AND_ to be
(or have been) actualized in a manner that included, as essential elements,
episodes of form-imposing, artisan-style action on extant materials by an
agent competent to do so.

For instance, a divine Creator could choose to give being to the basic
materials of a Creation but choose not to gift those materials with the
requisite formational capabilities to actualize all of the intended forms
and structures. The actualization of at least some of those forms and
structures (say, those with the quality of 'irreducible complexity') would
require occasional episodes of form-imposing, artisan-style action by the

One could also propose that these episodes of 'extra-natural assembly'
would leave characteristic indicators that some subset of creaturely forms
could have been assembled for the first time only by means of the
form-imposing action of an intelligent agent. Furthermore, one could
propose a strategy for recognizing these indicators and affirming that
certain organisms or biotic subsystems were in fact 'intelligently

I take this to be much closer to what you and your colleagues intend the
term ID to signify. Right?

My point in this whole discussion has been to ask the proponents of ID to
give all observers/ hearers/readers a clear and candid indicator of which
of these two definitions (or some other definition) is the meaning of ID as
the term is being employed in their own presentations. I see a profound
communication problemn that needs to be cleared up before more time is
wasted by the lack of unanimity on the meaning of key terms.


Howard Van Till