ID creationism

In the thread “Meyer’s Hopeless Monster,” the question of what “creationist” means arose.

At one point., Wesley quoted Phil Johnson:

Persons who believe that the earth is billions of years old, and that simple forms of life evolved gradually to become more complex forms including humans, are “creationists” if they believe that a supernatural Creator not only initiated this process but in some meaningful sense controls it in furtherance of a purpose.

and Richard Wein replied,

Most ID advocates (including, I believe, Sternberg and Meyer) are creationists in a much stronger sense than this. They believe in divine separate creation of “kinds”, not in gradual evolution from common ancestors.

I agree with Richard on this, and would like to discuss more generally this issue of the important sense in which IDists are creationists.

There are at least three meanings of creationists, and as with all terms in these ID discussions, we need to find some ways to keep our meanings straight.

1) Creationist = Biblical literalist, young-earth creationist, etc.

Often the IDists will complain that when we call them creationists, we are unfairly confusing them with these real creationists, the YEC.

2) On the other hand, creationist = believer in God as Creator.

This is very broad: among other things, it includes the theistic evolutionists (Keith Miller, Denis Lamoureux, Howard Van Til, the Pope, etc.) who are denounced by the ID movement.

3) Creationist = special creationist

This is the ID creationist - one who believes that somehow, someway, someplace God has stepped in to override natural processes; although, of course, the ID movement is notoriously loath to actually get very specific about this. It seems clear to me that the common arguments against “macroevolution” and the “gaps in the fossil record” imply that many of these people believe in a progression of special creations, with each species (and there certainly are a lot of them) being created ex nihilo.

There are, though, it seems (again, they never seem willing to discuss this openly) those who accept common descent but still claim that natural processes are insufficient to account for this - that somehow natural processes can work within certain limitations (“microevolutionarily” staying within the variational limits of the species), but are incapable of bridging some gap that would bring about new species.

For these people, it seems the belief is that special creation has been transferred to the molecular, genetic level - that occasionally God intelligently intervenes and “pushes” genetic change over the boundaries that it can’t surpass on its own.

It would be interesting to hear what the IDists envision this would look like in the actual world. Would we have offspring being born that would be dramatically different than their parents? - enough alike to develop, be born, and be nurtured and yet different in some significant way? Or would these changes be spread out imperceptibly over many generations?

Similarly, would these changes take place one individual at a time, or would whole populations be effected simultaneously?

Another line of questions: if in fact God special created in this molecular fashion, and He did this imperceptibly over many generations and with only a small subset of a population, would this in fact look any different than what we think we see when we explain this as happening through natural processes without any special creations?

That is, where is the line here between the theistic evolutionist and the ID creationist? Perhaps God intervenes in extremely minute ways in every moment of cellular reproduction in gametes, acting in ways that would appear to us indistinguishable at any moment from what natural processes would do if these small acts of special creation were not present.

The IDist position seems to be that this intervention is empirically detectable - that somehow we can, at least in theory, distinguish those interventions that push natural process past its natural limitations from those that stay within those boundaries.

But is God really like that. One of the primary theological critiques of ID is this: what is God doing when he’s not involved in special creation? - just sitting back and letting natural processes go on their merry way until He feels it’s time to step in again?

It seems to me, then, that ID creationism is one of what I call “punctuated deism” - long periods in which natural processes proceed on their own, punctuated by occasional periods in which God steps in to make his next creative move.

My friend Keith Miller has written the following on this topic:

It is often argued that if God does not intervene in creation by breaking the continuity of natural process, then God is not acting in a way that really matters. Those Christians who accept a gapless evolutionary description of the history of life are often labeled as deists. However, such a characterization could not be farther from my view, in which all natural processes are the personal, purposeful act of a creator God. God is both transcendent over creation, and immanent in creation. Creation was not a past accomplished act, but rather is a present continuing reality.

God’s creative power is continually at work, even now. I believe that the biblical view is that God upholds all physical reality moment to moment. God is intimately and actively involved in what we perceive as “natural” or “law-governed” processes. I thus see no distinction between God’s activity in “natural” and “miraculous” events. If one accepts this theological view, which I believe is thoroughly orthodox, then a completely seamless evolutionary history of life would be entirely acceptable theologically.

In other words, such a scientific description would not violate one’s understanding of the nature and character of God. I would argue that an interventionist view of God is much closer to deism than my view. It implies that God is somehow withdrawn, or at least uninvolved in creation, except during special exceptional events. Others have noted that a doctrine of God’s occasional intervention is really a doctrine of God’s usual absence.

This succinctly expresses, I think, both the nature and the theological weakness in ID creationism. In their effort to address their fear that “if God does not intervene in creation by breaking the continuity of natural process, then God is not acting in a way that really matters,” the ID creationist is committed to looking for acts of special creation at some empirically detectable level.

Last question: Why aren’t the IDists asking these questions? Where is this “theory of ID” we hear referred to so often? It seems to me that the questions I ask are relatively obvious - why does it seem that often the ID critics do a better job of thinking about the empirical implications of ID theory than the IDists themselves do?, and of posing possible hypotheses about ID (irrespective whether those hypotheses are testable or not)?