Christian Apologetics Related to Science    



A Few Suggestions for the Proponents of Intelligent Design

Raymond E. Grizzle

Randall Environmental Studies Center
 Taylor University
 Upland, Indiana 46989

From PSCF 47 (September 1995):186.

Several recent publications, including papers in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith,1 have dealt with the concepts of intelligent design (ID),2 methodological naturalism (MN),3 and related topics. Arguments (for God's existence) from design, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition, have a long history. Many psalms remind us that the wonders of creation point to their Creator. The apostle Paul argues that "...God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made." (Romans 1:20). Natural theology, which was built on the premise that nature revealed much about its Creator, occupied a prominent position in academic circles for centuries. Recent work by scientists has also pointed in the direction of a Creator.4 All of us in the ASA must be proponents of design, at least in so far as we see the evidence of God in the world we study. However, compared to traditional arguments from design, there is one crucial difference for me in the current push for ID - the attempt to make design a part of science. In contrast, I view traditional arguments from design as pointing beyond science to our Creator. This difference is at the core of why I remain unconvinced of the overall merits of the movement.

Arguments for ID are typically lengthy, philosophically heavy, and deal with a variety of topics. So far, the ID literature contains much with which I agree. However, I remain skeptical because the vast majority of ID arguments seem to be only peripherally related to my major objections. By this communication, I hope to distill these objections to three major areas, and I will discuss them in the context of some suggestions.

 A personal testimony

The primary suggestion I offer to proponents of ID is to disconnect explicitly and emphatically your argument from arguments for eliminating MN as a restriction on science. Stop arguing for a "theistic science."5 If this is done, you will then stand more directly in line with what I believe is a powerful and still influential tradition of using the characteristics of creation to point beyond science and toward the Creator. I see design in nearly everything I study as a scientist, but I see this design as coming from a realm beyond science. For me, MN has been a kind of guidepost that has allowed me to sort through the plethora of writings on creation, evolution, and related topics, and arrive at a position where I have begun to work on a satisfying integration of my faith and science. Let me explain.

When I began to explore the relationship between science (particularly biology, which is my major area of study) and theology, I quickly encountered the writings of "young-earth creationists" who insisted there were only two options for interpreting the biotic world: (their brand of) creationism and evolutionism. These creationists and some atheistic scientists further insisted that the two positions were mutually exclusive, thus requiring a conflict approach to science/theology interactions. As a biologist, this meant I needed to find problems with evolution that were serious enough to warrant its abandonment. Fortunately, this really only meant I would have to read, analyze, and learn all the objections to evolution being raised by several individuals, who had apparently dedicated their lives to attacking it. The job seemed easy. Even if difficult times came along, I could always fall back on the notion that creationism would undoubtedly win in the end because it was clearly God's position. Several things happened along the way, however, to upset my plan.

The most important thing was that I encountered some alternative viewpoints on the relationship between science and theology that made a lot of sense, some of which are at least touched upon in Bernard Ramm's (1954) well-known book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture. Ramm's book is a bit dated now, but it is still useful as a survey of much of the early literature on science/theology interactions and as a concise statement of one very influential view of what science is and how it can be related to theology:

 Both science and theology deal with the same universe. The goal of science is to understand what is included in the concept of Nature, and the goal of theology is to understand what is included under the concept of God. The emphasis in science is on the visible universe, and in theology the emphasis is on the invisible universe, but it is one universe. If it is one universe then the visible and the invisible interpenetrate epistemologically and metaphysically (p. 28).

Ramm's view of science and theology suggests some general domains for each, indicating that science mainly deals with the natural world and theology mainly deals with God. Perhaps more importantly, however, it asserts that the boundaries between the domains of science and theology will not be neat, suggesting that there may be problems with determining explicit boundaries. Later, Ramm makes the important point that God is the ultimate cause of the universe, and all other causes discovered by humans are to be viewed as secondary (p. 192). Ramm's view provides the basis for a dualistic view of nature with respect to explanatory causes. It also supports the development of concepts like complementarity and levels of explanation. It is just such a view that led me out of what I now consider the quagmire of "creation science." I saw that evolutionary theory was a theory of science and it need not be set against belief in a Creator. It provided evidence against one interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, but it did not provide any evidence against the existence of God. I felt as if my science - and my theology - had been freed so that both could be explored in a satisfying and effective way.

My message in all this is that I continue to cling to MN because it has been so useful. So far, the ID literature with which I am familiar has offered the same confusion I found in the creation-science literature, except it is packaged in some new terminology. Because arguments to eliminate MN from science are really what concern me the most, I will turn to two related areas in the ID literature where I find the arguments particularly unconvincing. I do this to further elaborate on how MN has been helpful to me, and because I doubt anybody in the ID movement will heed my first suggestion - to disconnect his or her argument from arguments for eliminating MN as a restriction on science. At this point, most ID proponents have far too much invested in what I feel are revisionist arguments for modern science which center on eliminating MN.

Some history of MN

My second suggestion to proponents of ID is to stop stating or implying that MN is just an "arbitrary" restriction on modern science.6 It is not an arbitrary restriction in any sense of ordinary usage of the word. Methodological naturalism is, in fact, a central part of the practice of science that has completely emerged across all disciplines in the last 100 or so years. It has been a major force within the scientific community generally for centuries.7 The history of MN is complex and intertwined with a variety of philosophical and social issues. It has been developing at least since the 1500s, when Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei were struggling with a science that was deeply intertwined with theology. It persists as perhaps the distinguishing characteristic of what many consider to be a general definition of science. For example, in his introduction to the philosophy of science, Del Ratzsch8 discusses this restriction as one way science is usually defined today. Paul de Vries has provided an insightful assessment of MN as a central component of modern science from a theological perspective.9 Several recent papers in PSCF have dealt with MN as a core concept of modern science.10 And in all my training in science, there was never any mention of even the possibility that anything other than natural causes should be included in scientific explanations. Therefore, I was more than a little surprised to read the following statement by J. P. Moreland:

 Theistic science has been recognized as science by philosophers and scientists throughout much of the history of science. Thus the burden of proof is on anyone who would revise this tradition...11

I agree that theistic science has been recognized as science throughout much of the history of science, but this recognition for approximately the last 100 years has only come from fringe groups. I suggest to Moreland that he needs to do more work on the modern history of science, including research on how science is taught today in undergraduate and graduate programs. If he still thinks theistic science has any standing at all in modern science, he should simply read a few science textbooks looking for God as a causal explanation. Moreland is among the revisionists, not the other way around.

MN and demarcation arguments

The final suggestion I make to proponents of ID is simply to admit that science and religion are different in at least some respects, then decide how they are different. One disturbing aspect of the ID literature is page after page of discussion indicating there is really no difference between science and other disciplines; the articles by Moreland and Meyer in the March 1994 issue of PSCF are examples (see note 1). I do not question the contention by both Meyer and Moreland that many philosophers long ago abandoned attempts at distinguishing science from non-science. However, I maintain that it would be difficult indeed to find anyone (other than some philosophers?) who thinks science and religion are the same thing. I begin with quotes from Moreland and Meyer to further explain my objections.

Moreland argues in favor of a view he says is prevalent among philosophers: "...there is no adequate line of demarcation between science and nonscience/pseudoscience, no set of necessary and sufficient conditions for something to count as scientific" (p. 4). He continues later: "The plain fact is that historians and philosophers are almost universally agreed that there is no adequate definition of line of demarcation between science and non-science or pseudo-science..." (p. 23). Meyer concurs: "Philosophers of science have generally lost patience with attempts to discredit theories as `unscientific' by using philosophical or methodological litmus tests. Such so-called `demarcation criteria' - criteria that purport to distinguish true science from pseudo-science, metaphysics and religion - have inevitably fallen prey to death by a thousand counter examples" (p. 14).

If these statements are taken in a straightforward manner, then all modern dictionaries need to be revised. If, however, they refer mainly to assessment of the relative merits or certainty of some scientific theories to another form of knowledge, then I could accept them in part. I talked with Steve Meyer, and he assures me that there are differences between science and religion; in the quote here he was mainly referring to attempts at determining where the two overlap (personal communication, 12 May 1994). In other words, he feels the problem is largely one of determining boundary conditions. I concur. This is the problem Ramm (1954, p. 28) was referring to in the above quote. It will always be difficult to define in detail the relationship between science and religion, particularly their boundaries, but surely we can agree the two are different. I suggest that proponents of ID begin with this assumption and turn to determining what makes science and religion different rather than continuing to wring their hands over how similar they are. I further suggest that if they do this, they will find MN at the core of the differences between the two disciplines.

Closing remarks

I have primarily argued here against one major component of the ID movement: the re-introduction of God as a causal explanation into science. My position is based on a high respect for both science and theology in their present forms. I just do not see the problems with a naturalistic science that so many proponents of ID bemoan. In contrast, I think a careful look at the history of science/religion interactions will show that MN is the most important concept to be developed thus far. It has allowed both to flourish without undue control by the other. I believe that if the ID movement successfully resulted in the theistic science some envision, we would be well on our way backwards in time to the old confrontational, either/or debates fought by Galileo and others. The overall result would be no different from that of some kinds of creationism (e.g., "young-earth creationism") where one is forced to accept either a naturalistic explanation or God. I much prefer a dualistic approach where the natural mechanisms described by science are at least potentially accepted along with the supernatural descriptions of theology. I see the most productive work ahead of us to be determining how the two disciplines in their present forms should interact. There may be some "ultimate theory" developed someday that incorporates all disciplines. The road that leads to such a theory is not clear to me but I do not think most proponents of ID are even moving in the right direction. If I am mistaken, I sincerely hope they will (again) take some time to try to help me see the errors in my ways.


Chuck Austerberry, Wilbur Bullock, Paul Rothrock and Andy Whipple reviewed an earlier version of the manuscript. In some areas we differ in our views, but in all cases I am most appreciative of their comments.


1Hasker, W., 1992, "Evolution and Alvin Plantinga," PSCF, 44(3):150-162; Murphy, N., 1993, "Phillip Johnson on Trial: A Critique of His Critique of Darwin," PSCF, 45(1):26-36; Moreland, J.P., 1994a, "Conceptual Problems and the Scientific Status of Creation Science," PSCF, 46(1):2-13; Moreland, J.P., 1994b, "Response to Meyer and Bube," PSCF 46(1):22-25; Meyer, S. C., 1994, "The Use and Abuse of Philosophy of Science: A Response to Moreland," PSCF 46(1):14-18; Bube, R. H., 1994, "Is Creation Science an Oxymoron" A response to Moreland," PSCF 46(1):19-21.

2ID refers to a movement that is partially defined by the title of a recent book edited by J. P. Moreland (1994): The Creation Hypothesis, Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer, InterVarsity Press. According to the back cover, this book aims to "offer the foundation for a new paradigm of scientific thinking."  ID was first popularized in a volume entitled, Of Pandas and People by P. Davis and D. H. Kenyon, published in 1989 by Haughton Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas. Most ID proponents explicitly aim to construct a theistic science, whereby God (but see note 5) can be invoked as a causal explanation in science.

3I define MN as the restriction of scientific explanations to natural causes. I explicitly do not use the term to give legitimacy to Scientism and related views, whereby science is declared to be the only valid explanation of something. Nor do I define it as the restriction of science to information provided by nature. In other words, I do not eliminate theology or the Bible as possible sources of information to be used in carrying out scientific investigations, but any scientific explanations that result from such investigations must not include or imply -supernatural causes.

4E.g. Templeton, J. M. and. R. L. Herrmann, 1989, The God Who Would be Known: Revelations of the Divine in Contemporary Science, Harper & Row; Van Till, H. J., et al. 1990, Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation, Eerdmans.

5I am aware that some ID proponents emphatically deny they necessarily refer to God by their arguments but I think they are only deceiving themselves if they think those outside the ID movement feel the same way. For example, see The Wall Street Journal, Monday, November 14, 1994 for an article on the ID movement and subtitled, "Who Did the Designing, It Doesn't Say; Critics See Disguised Creationism, `Agent' Who Hath No Name."

6E.g. Meyer, S.C. 1994. "The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent: Can There Be a Scientific `theory of Creation.'" pp. 67-112 in: Moreland, J.P. 1994 (ed.) (note 2), p. 70.

7Barbour, Ian G., 1966, Issues in Science and Religion, Harper & Row; Klaaren, Eugene M., 1977, Religious Origins of Modern Science, Eerdmans; Hummel, Charles E., 1986, The Galileo Connection, InterVarsity Press; Barbour, Ian G. 1990, Religion in an Age of Science, Harper & Row.

8Ratzsch, Del, 1986, Philosophy of Science: The Natural Sciences in Christian Perspective, InterVarsity Press, p. 14.

9de Vries, Paul, 1986, "Naturalism in the Natural Sciences: A Christian Perspective," Christian Scholar's Review 15(4):388-396.

10See papers in note 1 by Bube, Hasker, and Murphy.

11Moreland, J. P. 1994. "Theistic Science and Methodological Naturalism" in: Moreland, J.P. 1994 (ed.) (note 2), p. 51.