SBC Life Articles

Intelligent Design Theory

James C. Hefley is to be commended for his excellent article "Darwin on Trial" in the October '97 issue of SBC LIFE. In the article, Jim called our attention to the groundbreaking work, irreducible complexity, of biochemist Michael Behe. He also emphasized the work of Phillip Johnson, law professor turned paradigm-buster. Anyone with a drop of creationist blood in his or her veins would do well to study Dr. Hefley's article thoroughly. For those who missed the article, Hefley provided a brief history of the creation/evolution controversy, as well as an explanation of the Behe/Johnson power tandem and the challenge they're bringing to neo-Darwinism. Yet, what Hefley addressed runs deeper and wider than most of us realize. A number of things have happened behind the scenes. Preparations for a potential anti-Darwinian coup d'état have been slowly building for years.

A Brief History

The writings of Behe and Johnson reflect the focus of the Discovery Institute and its sister society, Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The Institute, based in Seattle, Wash., was founded in 1990 as a non-partisan, non-profit center for the study of national and international affairs. These include subjects as diverse as: technology and public policy; religion and public life; environmental policy and the economy; defense policy; and the future of representative government. Composed of a cadre of young-to-middle-aged thinkers, the Institute's Center is emerging as a much-needed haven for up-and-coming Christian scholars. It serves as a refuge for theists intent upon dealing with a wide range of issues that will affect "public policy for the Information Age." Issues of science, faith, and culture are at the heart of their curricula. And the proposition that human beings are created in the image of God remains one of their bedrock operative principles.

Staff, advisors, and fellows involved in this "Christian intelligentsia think-tank" of sorts include such notables as: Michael Behe; Walter Bradley; John Angus Campbell; Bruce Chapman (President, Discovery Institute); William Lane Craig; William A. Dembski; George Gilder; Jack Harris; Phillip Johnson (the de facto leader of the group); Robert Kaita; Dean H. Kenyon; Stephen C. Meyer (Director); Paul Nelson; Nancy Pearcey; Marshall Sana; Charles Thaxton; Jonathan Wells; and John G. West, Jr. (Co-Director). Creationists, one and all, these men and women are literally shaping the approach we'll be taking to the study of origins in the 21st century.

While most of these individuals aren't familiar names in Southern Baptist circles, the day is coming when their efforts will be recognized. Here at the dawn of the new millennium, the Institute's elite corps is confronting evolutionary theorists of the secular academy with a verve and engagement previously unmatched historically. Celebrated evolutionists like Richard Dawkins, William Provine, Michael Ruse, and others are beginning to feel the brunt of this collective commitment to a creationist worldview. But dialoguing with neo-Darwinist thinkers of this caliber is a formidable task, since it's nearly impossible to play the game by materialist/evolutionary rules that are designed to dominate the proceedings from the outset. As Johnson rightly stated in 1990: "If creationists object to naturalistic evolution on religious grounds, they are admonished that it is inappropriate for religion to meddle with science. If they try to state scientific objections, they are disqualified instantly by definitions devised for that purpose by their adversaries." In spite of this, the battles are underway. Although Behe and Johnson seem to receive the lion's share of the credit for their valuable work as creationist point men, they are in effect leading the way for another group of important scholars — the creationist trench men. Although digging trenches is a dirty job, the result has been the unearthing of what is now being called intelligent design theory.

Intelligent Design Theory

The intelligent design theory (IDT) asserts that Darwinism — more properly, the neo-Darwinian synthesis — is an ill-fated venture. It objects to the Darwinian claim that all life forms came into existence and are driven by purely naturalistic processes devoid of any purpose. IDT also recognizes the multitude of problems associated with Darwin's theoretical legacy. They include: the origin of life itself, multicellular life, DNA, and sexuality; developmental distinctions between plants and animals; the Cambrian explosion; and the lack of transitional fossils among genera, families, orders, classes, and phyla. With Behe's "irreducible complexity" also in tow as the Achilles' heel of naturalistic evolution, an increasing number of scientists these days prefers to opt for the seeming "design" of biological systems, inferring from it all that the hands of a creator-God are at work over against chance evolutionary processes. In brief, IDT is not only in the business of raising doubts about the workability of the neo-Darwinian system, it also dares to propose an alternative "design" paradigm for understanding biological systems.

In light of evolutionists' rejection of Scriptural data, William Dembski notes at least three elements of IDT as a theory: (1) it endorses neither recent nor progressive creationism as a whole; (2) it doesn't have to appeal scientifically to the texts of Genesis 1 and 2 for its work to be carried out effectively; and (3) it can accept easily enough whatever microevolutionary changes take place among species, but only within limits. Some may see it as nothing more than reasserting the centuries-old teleological argument for God's existence, but IDT has taken the telos concept to levels of sophistication beyond what the Englishman William Paley of 1802 could ever have imagined or written about. In addition, it seems to employ a methodology more robust in tone and less fideistic in scope than that of contemporary "creation science" movements.

This addresses the scientific need of the times. However, IDT utilizes more than a headquarters organized for the sake of further "design" research; it employs a pervasive strategy to integrate the theory into the mainstream of science.

The Wedge: What It Is, What It Is Doing

Simply put, a wedge is used to pierce or split an object. Perhaps the best illustration of a wedge-like device properly used is that of a sharp axe chopping away at the base of a tree. Eventually, after sufficient well-guided strokes, the tree topples in a purposefully guided direction. The Wedge strategy of the design theorists, can be construed in terms of this tree metaphor. But it's the Darwinian evolutionary tree (so beautifully depicted in the textbooks) that's under the axe here, with the axe head itself representing the cutting/splitting force of IDT's unyielding Wedge.

Actually implementing the Wedge strategy itself (slated for 1996 through 2001) involves a well-equipped, four-part program. The first part is that of research and publicity — where leading scholars are enlisted for the cause, where trail-blazing books are written and published, and where considerable attention is drawn to these matters in the scholarly and popular press. By way of metaphor, the metallic strength of the axe blade (intelligent design theory) strikes the tree hard enough to penetrate the accumulated bark of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. The sharp edges of Behe's Darwin's Black Box, Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Johnson's Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance and Defeating Darwinism, J. P. Moreland's The Creation Hypothesis, and other books have done their piercing work on the very first stroke.

The second part of the program is that of recruitment and alliance building. In this stage the next wave of theistic scholars begins their cutting-edge work. Also, media and opinion leaders are enlisted to assist and further media connections are cultivated to prepare for more formal challenges to the Darwinian establishment (at least by 2000). Then, different cities throughout the U.S. are tapped for their latent resources — financial and otherwise — over roughly a three-year period. With a second stroke of the intelligent design axe, the theory in Darwin's familiar tree suffers a significantly deeper cut.

The third part is that of academic breakout conferences. At this point the firestorm debates begin — with academic conferences to be held at distinguished institutions of higher learning like Charles University in Prague, Oxford University, Cambridge University, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Washington. Essentially, it becomes a beat-them-at-their-own-game proposition; the time has come to outwit the debaters of this age. With a tremendous third stroke of the axe, IDT widens the Wedge at the base of the ready-to-topple tree.

The fourth and final part of the program has a great deal to do with the popular media — where educational video projects, high school textbooks, public TV documentaries, and educational materials for various religious communities become the order of the day. If the general populace is persuaded to reverse its thinking about evolutionary theory, the beautifully illustrated tree of the textbooks will be felled to the ground with the fourth stroke of the IDT axe. As a consequence, evolutionary theory, materialism, naturalism, and other dependent systems will lose their theoretic base. With the whole strategic Wedge enterprise having worked long and hard to expose the inherent contradictions of the related systems, Darwin's tree is poised to fall to the earth with the force of a once mighty paradigm.

An Opportunity for Involvement

The IDT Wedge strategy is not only brilliant in its composite makeup but its fourfold agenda is altogether feasible, especially if its implementers place their successive efforts at the feet of a sovereign God. Moreover, this whole scenario can serve as a wake-up call for Southern Baptists to be more involved in the wider world of global academe. This is happening already in some circles, but there is a telltale lack of Southern Baptist input with respect to the whole IDT Wedge strategy. The movement wants and needs the support and participation of Southern Baptist scholars.

The challenge for us as a corporate body is to not get left behind. We can too easily succumb to the anti-intellectualism that continues to plague the minds and hearts of so many clergy and laity. In view of this, our seminaries, colleges, and universities might consider sponsoring an "Intelligent Design" conference on their campuses. Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, and other members of the Institute would likely be willing to debate local evolutionists. Or they could come to relay a wealth of information about IDT that the students would never have the time or know-how to unearth. Imagine the manifold impact — from seminaries/universities, to professors, to pastors, to pews.

As it now stands, apologetics and faith/science issues are among the hottest topics in Christian academia. At the level of higher education, Southern Baptists are unquestionably in a position to help initiate and sustain the long-prayed-for paradigm shift away from evolutionary theory.

Many of our larger churches obviously have the needed tools and resources available to sponsor conferences. Neighboring pastors could take advantage of "Intelligent Design" gatherings to teach their people of God's power, intelligence, and creativity.

Many IDT conferences have already taken place in a variety of non-SBC contexts, but we need not be left out. Some might call it a "jumping-on-the-bandwagon" mentality, but the bandwagon is heading in the right direction. Darwin is dead, and Darwinism is getting sicker by the day. And we have the opportunity to help swing the axe.

    About the Author

  • Hal Ostrander