Relationships between
Intelligent Design and
Young-Earth Creationism

 ( Two Perspectives: Logical and Sociological )

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.


      Why is it controversial?  (Intelligent Design is not Creationism)
      Theories of design can be evaluated using the logical methods of science, and are common in science.  Most design theories are judged on their scientific merit, but some people claim that some design theories are "not scientific" and should therefore be excluded from science.  Why?
      Concerns about design occur when design-action seems unfamiliar.  In some situations the action and agent are familiar (as when a beaver builds a dam, or humans make faces on Mount Rushmore) but in other cases the design-action is unfamiliar and it could be either natural (for example, if space aliens produced designed features by using their unfamiliar advanced technologies) or supernatural (as in Biblical miracles).  For most opponents of design, questions occur when design-action is unfamiliar and it could be supernatural.  In these situations the main concerns are religious, and a common claim is that a design theory is a creation theory.  Is this claim justified?
      For any question about design, in any area (radioastronomy, homicide, origins,...), we can view the scientific inquiry as a two-stage process:  first we ask "Was there design-directed action?", and then we investigate the details.  A basic design theory claims only that design-directed action did occur (the first stage) but does not try to explain the details (who, why, how,...) of design-and-production.  Of course, we should evaluate a design theory based on what it does claim (that design occurred) instead of what it does not claim (that it can explain the details).
      In origins, a design theory is not a creation theory.  A basic design theory can be supplemented with details (about the designer's identity and actions, about who, why, how,...) to form a variety of theories about supernatural creation (by God or...) or natural non-creation (as in a theory proposing that evolution on earth was intelligently designed and directed by space aliens who evolved before us).  A design theory — which does not propose divine action, but does acknowledge it as a possibility — does not try to distinguish between creation and non-creation.  Instead, a design theory just claims that "design-directed action did occur."
      A basic (non-supplemented) design theory is limited to claims that can be scientifically evaluated.  In a Response to Critics, Michael Behe explains: "Most people (including myself) will attribute the design to God, based in part on other, non-scientific judgments they have made. ... From a scientific point of view, the question [who is the designer?] remains open. ... The biochemical evidence strongly indicates design, but does not show who the designer was."  As a person, Behe says "I think the designer was God."  But as a scientist, he says "the evidence doesn't show who the designer was."

      analogy and consistency (in design and non-design)
      analogy:  We can view a naturalistic theory of non-design (such as chemical evolution or neo-Darwinian biological evolution) as being mainly religious — because it supports deism or theism (if a clever design of nature seems to be necessary for it to happen) or atheism (if it seems to make God unnecessary) — or as mainly scientific even though it can have some religious implications.  Similarly, we can view a design theory as being mainly religious or mainly scientific.  In open-minded science, a scientist uses evidence and logic to evaluate "mere science" theories (such as mere evolution or mere design) that are considered, during a process of objective evaluation, to be mainly scientific with minimal religious implications.
      consistency:  Supporters of non-design and design should ask themselves, "Are we being objective and logically consistent when we're describing our theory and their theory, or are we trying to make ourselves look more scientifically rational by claiming that our own theory is mainly scientific, and their theory is mainly religious?"


      This section is a brief sociological analysis of relationships between design and nondesign in communities of scientists and in American society, including connections between intelligent design (ID) and young-earth creationism (YEC), especially in education.  This contrasts with the logical analysis above, in which I ask "Why is it controversial?" and explain why intelligent design is not creationism.   /   note:  Currently an IOU is justified because this section is not fully developed yet, so I'll skip the details and go directly to some conclusions.
      an overall conclusion:  Basically, I think any connections between ID and YEC should be considered (but should not be determinative) in education, but are mostly irrelevant in science.
      Later, this section will include ideas about:  the "big tent" strategy of Phillip Johnson and other ID leaders, and thus the potential for YEC theories to be uninvited hitchhikers taking advantage of a "free ride" from design theories that are more logically and scientifically credible, and are less constitutionally questionable in public education;  most prominent ID leaders think the earth and universe are billions of years old, but (according to Del Ratzsch, whose description seems correct) "although also not part of 'official' IDM doctrine, some among academic ID advocates, and the overwhelming bulk of lay ID advocates, accept a 'young-earth' version of creationism," and this is important in a sociological analysis;  I think basic design theories are worthy of serious consideration in science and education, but young-earth and young-universe theories already have been seriously considered and (for all practical purposes) have been scientifically falsified, so I ask questions about the treatment of YEC in public schools:
      How should we "teach the controversy" for astronomical evolution and geological evolution, where controversy exists because many parents and students believe (mainly for nonscientific reasons) that the universe is young, even though scientific support for an old universe seems extremely strong, and questions are not scientifically justified?  {from Questions about Origins Education (and Worldview Education) in Public Schools}
      When trying to design instruction that is responsible, legal, and balanced, how can educators cope with questions about young-earth creationism and the tensions that arise due to a mismatch between its strong popular support (mainly in some parts of the Christian community) and weak scientific support (across a wide range of fields, from astronomy and geology to physics and biology)? 
{from the home-page for Origins Education}
      an educational conclusion:  Public school districts should make policies to minimize the possibility of YEC being taught unscientifically, and teachers should make plans for "what to say about YEC and how" because some students will be wondering about YEC (whether or not they ask YEC-based questions);  but design theories should be judged on their own merits, and scientifically logical evaluations of evolution should not be disqualified due to concerns about young-earth creationism.

In my Overview-FAQ for Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, Section 6b ends with these conclusions:

      In my opinion,
      • every scientific theory should be logically evaluated based on scientific merit, not motives;  evolution should not be rejected because some of its advocates are atheists, and design should not be rejected because most of its advocates are theists.   { In conventional scientific method, motivations can influence the proposing of a theory but should not affect its evaluation. }
      • sociological connections between ID and YEC are mostly irrelevant in scientific debates, because ID arguments assume a conventional old-earth history of nature;  there are many similarities in the scientific claims of ID and OEC, and in the evidence-and-logic that each claims as support.
      • sociological connections between ID and YEC are very relevant in education, because much of the political support for ID in public schools (for teaching about ID, or allowing criticism of neo-Darwinism) comes from YECs, and also because teaching about ID will stimulate questions (both friendly and hostile) about religion and creation (both YEC & OEC), which might promote a climate of controversy that most teachers want to avoid.
      • and sociology of another type is relevant for another question:  Proponents of ID rarely publish in science journals or get research funding, but is this because their work is worthless, or because the scientific community doesn't want to acknowledge anything worthy in it?

And here are additional opinions:
If you read my entire Overview-FAQ, you'll see (in Sections 7A-7D) that I think ID asks interesting scientific questions about evolutions (especially chemical E, but also some aspects of biological E) and scientific methods (re: the logical limitations of rigid methodological naturalism);  and compared with the majority of people in the "semi-big tent" community of ID, I am (in 5A-5G & 6A) more friendly toward the science and theology of evolutionary creation, and (in 6B & 3A-4C) I am less friendly toward the science and theology of young-earth creation.

This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
 a NON-ITALICIZED LINK opens another page.  Both keep everything inside this window, 
so your browser's BACK-button will always take you back to where you were.

Here are other related pages:

there will be links here later:
currently the most relevant place
to go, for a broader view of ID, is
Section 6B of my Overview-FAQ
Cultural-Personal Factors in Science
Worldviews in Origins Science

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