My answer is that these two brands of bad science elide seamlessly into one another, with no sharp line to demarcate them. Nevertheless, I don’t call people like Francis Collins advocates of ID simply because that term conflates them with the hard-core, get-in-your-school adherents of ID who populate the Discovery Institute. But let us remember that this is a quantitative and not a qualitative difference.
Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse has written a strong piece asserting that theistic evolution (TE) is very different from intelligent design (ID). He cites two reasons for this distinction. First, he sees ID as having an explicitly political agenda: to worm its way into the public schools. In contrast, theistic evolutionists side with evolutionists in that fight.
Jason may be right, but I don’t think this is an absolute criterion for distinguishing ID and TE. Some explicit defenders of ID (in fact, I think many Americans who adhere to it) don’t think it should be taught in public schools, or at least taught as the only theory of origins and diversity (one such person left a comment on Jason’s post). And of course many advocates of TE feel the same way. But remember that although 38% of American accept a form of evolution guided by God, fully 55% of them think that straight-up creationism, ID, and materialistic evolution should all be taught in the public schools. (In contrast, only 4% want ID alone taught in the schools.) Are 55% of Americans advocates of ID, then? After all, they fit Jason’s definition of an ID adherent: someone who supports “inserting religion into science classes.”
Jason sees a second distinction based on how adherents of ID and TE regard science. As he says:
But for all of that it’s not ID. The hallmark of anti-evolutionism, whether young-Earth creationism or intelligent design, is some implication that scientists are doing it wrong. They are not saying simply that evolution as scientists understand it fits within a larger metaphysical framework that involves God. They are saying that any understanding of natural history that does not make reference to God’s direct activity is just wrong.
In the comments on Jason’s post (here and here) I’ve taken issue with his notion that theistic evolution does not equal ID. I think they shade into each other, depending on how far the theistic evolutionist sees God as having guided evolution. Those views run all the way from the one-time miracle of inserting a soul into the human lineage, to repeated tinkering with DNA that produces new mutations and species. In other words, there’s a continuum between theistic evolution and ID, and no place to clearly draw a line—except at one end where the purely material begins to give way to the supernatural.
To see this conflation, have a look at what one prominent Catholic—a church that officially endorses evolution (with the caveat that God inserted a soul into the hominin lineage)—says about evolution. Christoph Schönborn, the Catholic Archbishop of Vienna, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in 2005 called “Finding design in nature.” A few extracts:
But this is not true. The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things.
Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense – an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection – is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.
. . . In an unfortunate new twist on this old controversy, neo-Darwinists recently have sought to portray our new pope, Benedict XVI, as a satisfied evolutionist. They have quoted a sentence about common ancestry from a 2004 document of the International Theological Commission, pointed out that Benedict was at the time head of the commission, and concluded that the Catholic Church has no problem with the notion of “evolution” as used by mainstream biologists – that is, synonymous with neo-Darwinism.
The commission’s document, however, reaffirms the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church about the reality of design in nature. Commenting on the widespread abuse of John Paul’s 1996 letter on evolution, the commission cautions that “the letter cannot be read as a blanket approbation of all theories of evolution, including those of a neo-Darwinian provenance which explicitly deny to divine providence any truly causal role in the development of life in the universe.”
. . . Furthermore, according to the commission, “An unguided evolutionary process – one that falls outside the bounds of divine providence – simply cannot exist.”
. . . Now at the beginning of the 21st century, faced with scientific claims like neo-Darwinism and the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology invented to avoid the overwhelming evidence for purpose and design found in modern science, the Catholic Church will again defend human reason by proclaiming that the immanent design evident in nature is real.
Now is that intelligent design or theistic evolution? It quacks pretty much like the first duck, and certainly argues that scientists are doing it wrong.
In a comment responding to mine, Jason said the following:
If you ask a theistic evolutionist where eyes came from, he will reply that eyes evolved gradually by natural selection, just as scientists say. If you ask him what scientists should be doing differently in their professional lives he will reply that they shouldn’t change anything they are doing. If you ask him whether his belief in God results from a straightforward inference from scientific data he will reply that it does not and then look at you funny. And if you ask him what we should be teaching students in biology classes, he will say that we should teach evolution precisely as scientists understand it with no mention of God at all.
Contrast this with how an ID proponent would answer. He would say that natural selection is fundamentally incapable of explaining complex structures and that scientists are terribly deluded to think otherwise. He says naturalistic evolution is a dramatic wrong turn in the history of ideas and can only be corrected by switching to the new scientific paradigm of ID. He will say that the existence of some awesomely powerful intelligent designer can be inferred by entirely scientific methods. And he will say that science standards that teach the consensus view on evolution are tantamount to lying to children and must be stopped immediately.
Well, that may be true of some advocates of ID, but not necessarily all. Take Michael Behe, perhaps the best known of all ID advocates (his egregious Darwin’s Black Box remains a perpetual best seller on Amazon). Behe accepts some evolution and has admitted that creatures have common ancestry. I believe he’d say that some complex structures evolved via garden-variety natural selection, but others (like the flagellum and blood clotting) were engineered by God. Now tell me: does he really differ in kind from Francis Collins, director of the NIH, who accepts evolution except for two structures that were engineered by God: the human sense of morality and the soul? Collins also accepts the fact that a crucified Jesus came back to life. As Larry Moran has noted, that, too, is a form of intelligent design.
Here’s Collins arguing that Scientists Are Doing It Wrong when we look at morality as something that may be a product of culture and/or evolution rather than as a gift of God.
I still use the term “theistic evolutionist” for people like Collins and Kenneth Miller, but largely because they’ve gone to court to fight against the incursions of ID into public schools. But I use the term “TEists” aware of the irony that both men, and others like them, accept a limited form of intelligent design: that God did intervene in the process of evolution to create what He wanted. I deem those views unscientific. (I have heard that Ken Miller has backed off on his view that God intervened in evolution to ensure the appearance of H. sapiens, but I haven’t seen him recant either in public or in writing.)
Now I’d be happy to work with both Miller or Collins to fight ID in court, in hearings, or in articles; and I’ve written against ID many times. I accept those men as my allies in a way that I could never do with IDers like William Dembski or David Berlinski. But that won’t prevent me from arguing that despite their worthwhile efforts in fighting ID, both Miller and Collins adhere to a watered-down of ID themselves (Miller might be exempt if he’s backed off what he wrote in Finding Darwin’s God and no longer accepts the Resurrection).
If you think that an intelligent god intervened in the process of evolution, especially to ensure the appearance of human beings made in that god’s image, then you’re advocating intelligent design. If you accept even a little bit of divine tinkering in the evolutionary process, you’re not standing on some inclusive middle ground—you are, as P.Z. Myers said, halfway to crazy town.
There can be no compromise with superstition, for superstition is the camel’s nose in the tent of science.