Creationism can’t have it both ways
Northern Kentucky is an hospitable place. During a recent trip the people were fabulously friendly everywhere we went. Even the motorists were courteous to our band of cyclists training on the roads east of Louisville.
When the training was done, we wandered into town and spent some time on 4th Street including a visit to the Visitor’s Center where a tall poster of Muhammad Ali and a life-sized figure of Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame dominate the backdrop.
While browsing the brochure rack looking for places to visit, my wife handed me a pamphlet from the Creation Museum. She knows that I’m a strong skeptic of the brand of biblical literalism upon which the Creation Museum and Kentucky’s Ark Encounter Museum are both based.
So it was interesting to return home to find a story in my feed from the Lexington Herald-Leader about the fact that the Ark Encounter organization was facing some financial problems because the city of Williamstown where it is based does not want to give the Ark Encounter a tax break based on its status as a religious organization.
This is what the story said about how representatives for the Ark Encounter reacted when confronted by the news that religious tax breaks were not forthcoming.
“According to the letter sent by John E. Pence, secretary general for Answers in Genesis, the Ark Encounter was organized exclusively for religious purposes, and is solely owned and operated by Crosswater Canyon, a Kentucky non-profit corporation which is recognized as a tax-exempt religious organization and public charity under Section 501(c)(3) religious organizations and public charity.
“Both Ark Encounter and Crosswater Canyon are clearly religious organizations,” the letter reads. “The Ark Encounter project was designed to factually present the biblical and historical truths of the Bible, including the biblical accounts of Noah and the Ark, the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, and other biblical truths revealed in Scripture, through the Ark’s exhibits and guest experiences. Crosswater Canyon was organized exclusively to support the religious mission and purposes of Answers in Genesis, and to own and manage the Ark Encounter for Answers in Genesis.”
This is certainly an interesting revelation considering the long history of creationists trying to install their worldview as a form of science, not religion, in public schools. The same claim applies to intelligent design, which also insists on the presence of a ‘creator’ to generate life on earth.
Can’t have it both ways
So which is it? Is creationism a science, as those who want to inject in public schools like to claim? Or is it religion, as the Ark Encounter proponents publicly admitted in their caper to maintain tax-exempt status?
It seems there is great confusion even on the part of creationists and intelligent design proponents on the difference between science and religion.
Creationists versus designers
An account of the sub-controversy between creationists and intelligent design theorists is posted on the craftily named website Discovery.org, which insists that intelligent design is an entirely separate line of thinking from creationism:
”Recent news accounts about controversies over evolution in Ohio and Georgia have contained references to the scientific theory of “intelligent design.” Some advocates of Darwinian evolution try to conflate “intelligent design” (ID) with “creationism,” sometimes using the term “intelligent design creationism.” (1) In fact, intelligent design is quite different from “creationism,” as even some of its critics have acknowledged. University of Wisconsin historian of science Ronald Numbers is critical of intelligent design, yet according to the Associated Press, he “agrees the creationist label is inaccurate when it comes to the ID movement.” Why, then, do some Darwinists keep trying to identify ID with creationism? According to Numbers, it is because they think such claims are “the easiest way to discredit intelligent design.” (2) In other words, the charge that intelligent design is “creationism” is a rhetorical strategy on the part of those who wish to delegitimize design theory without actually addressing the merits of its case.
The distinctions are laborious because the flaw in claims to science are equally specious. Science never depends on intrusion of an outside force or deity to arrive at its conclusions on the nature of material processes, including life.
And, both creationists and intelligent design theorists baldly steal from the discoveries of actual scientists in paleontology. Without a century of fossil study, we’d know nothing about the look and function of creatures lost millions of years in the past. Yet the Creation Museum unapologetically steals the work of scientists to depict dinosaurs living with human beings in a timeframe so recent it defies any form of logic. It is, in other words, a creative lie. A science of denial.
But the open admission that creationism is a religious, not scientific worldview, has been forced into the light by the issue of money, taxes and municipal status. When faced with a money crunch, creationists caved and confessed that their cause is in fact religion, not science.
Intelligent design can claim no distinction as science either. There is not a single aspect of functional science at work in this world because it was driven by anything identifiable as ‘intelligent design.’ Certainly the wishful thinking of its proponents is just as forcefully conveyed as that by creationists, that God or some other ‘designer’ is the only true scientist in the universe. But that proves nothing.
Predictably, the god-driven contentions of intelligent design theorists will be forced into the light as well. But for now, they are still going to great pains to obscure the ‘elephant in the room’ behind their carefully coiffed theory. The Discovery page states it like this:
Creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text. Instead, intelligent design theory is an effort to empirically detect whether the “apparent design” in nature observed by biologists is genuine design (the product of an organizing intelligence) or is simply the product of chance and mechanical natural laws. This effort to detect design in nature is being adopted by a growing number of biologists, biochemists, physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers of science at American colleges and universities. Scholars who adopt a design approach include biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University, microbiologist Scott Minnich at the University of Idaho, and mathematician William Dembski at Baylor University. (3)
The generalities at the end of this discourse reveal much of what we need to know about intelligent design as “scientific theory.” To claim that a “growing number of biologists, etc…” are supposedly adopting the effort to “detect design in nature” is about as specific as saying that “whole bunches” of brides like to try on wedding dresses. It tells us nothing about the end product of their findings.
Intelligent design is far more random a theory than evolution could ever be. The idea that
number of people who love clouds are seeing shapes that they believe indicate the formative influence of a designer. Yes, clouds have shapes. They could also be categorized as having design. Yet they are, by law of nature, categorically random and subject to material laws that require absolutely no designer to function as clouds.
Despite introducing terms such as ‘irreducible complexity,’ a scientific euphemism conceived and popularized by Michael Behe, the only recognizable voice in the intelligent design ‘movement’ because he published a book about it. Most of the time spent by intelligent design theorists is invested in the defense of its own existence. But its methods of defense are beyond weak. Indeed, statements of position by the intelligent design community insult even those scientists with a curiosity or belief in divinity, and thus a creator of some sort:
The ID movement takes no position on how life got here, and many adherents believe in evolution. Some even grant a role to the evolutionary engine posited by Darwin: natural selection. They just deny that natural selection alone could have driven life all the way from pond scum to us.” (10)
Ah, the old ‘pond scum’ argument. That’s just a fearful insult toward evolutionary theory in disguise. Which is only a stone’s throw from creationism’s desperate criticism of evolution as a godless force in the universe.
Perhaps the Trump administration in all its efforts to erase the influence of real science from policies related to environment, energy and climate will begin funding departments of creationism and intelligent design. But that will only reveal the shallowness and desperate desire to force a dysfunctional worldview on the rational among us, who understand that real science reveals its real value in everyday applications such as medicine, physics and space exploration, to name a few.
Of course we now have a creationist as the Vice President of the United States. And somehow we can probably expect a divine intervention on his direction to rescue the struggling Creation Museum and that Ark Encounter monstrosity that Ken Ham created in Kentucky. Because when it comes to the real imposition of Big Government over small municipalities, there is always good cause to do so when you believe God is on your side.
Christopher Cudworth is a former editorial writer for Illinois’ third-largest newspaper. He is the author of The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age (2007). The book is being re-issued on Amazon in 2017.