Is Intelligent Design Distinguishable from Deism?
SOURCE: Dispatches from the Culture Wars
COMMENTARY: Allen MacNeill
There is a very interesting thread at Dispatches from the Culture Wars on the difficulty (and importance) of distinguishing between deism and "intelligent design theory (IDT)." Specifically, there is a long discussion between several posters on whether IDT is fundamentally different from “theistic evolutionary theory (TET)” (which is, IMO, indistinguishable from simple deism).
In particular, several of the posters have argued that if IDT and TET are equivalent, then there is literally no science in IDT at all. That is, if God (remember, as I have posted earlier, it’s easier and more intellectually honest to type "God" than “the intelligent designer”) created the universe with just exactly the right set of natural laws that things like the bacterial flagellum could have evolved by purely natural processes alone (i.e. without further supernatural intervention), then that version of IDT is indistinguishable from deism (DEI). In that event, both would be entirely without scientific value, since both IDT and DEI would thereby accept the operation of all natural laws as both necessary and sufficient to produce all natural objects and processes.*
This means that if we are to distinguish between IDT and DEI (and, by extension, from TET) it must be incontrovertably shown that natural laws as they now exist are insufficient to produce existing natural objects and processes. As many others have pointed out, this requires proving a negative. That is, unless we assume that all currently known natural laws are literally all there are or even can be (as Lord Kelvin infamously did at the end of the 19th century), then it is possible that in the future new versions of purely natural laws will be discovered that can explain the existence of those entities now claimed to be possible only through supernatural intervention.
This, of course, leads to all kinds of logical fallacies, chief among them the problem of “supernatural incompetence.” If IDT = DEI = TET, then God is indeed omnipotent and can create natural laws that make the evolution of all natural entities possible without further intervention. In that case, IDT, DEI, and TET are indistinguishable from each other and none add anything of use to the generally accepted methods and principles of empirical science. This means that nothing more need be said about them by scientists, and we can go on doing science (including evolutionary biology) the way we have been doing up until now.
However, if IDT is not DEI nor TET, then perforce God must not be omnipotent. That is, He cannot create a set of natural laws that can in the fullness of time produce the objects and processes we observe around us.
Therefore, it seems to me that there are only two logical positions to take on this subject:**
1) God is omnipotent and therefore created the universe with natural laws of sufficient power and subtlety to allow purely natural processes to produce all natural objects (and therefore IDT is unnecessary).
2) God is not omnipotent and therefore cannot create a universe in which natural laws are sufficient to produce all natural objects and processes. This means that God (who is, by definition, incompetent) must intervene at specific times and places to alter nature in direct contravention of His originally created (and incompletely effective) natural laws.
These two positions have obvious and devastating implications for theology as well:
If (1) is the case, then God is only relevent to nature during it creation. From then on, He does not participate in it in any material way (and therefore prayer is useless, as all intercession by God violates His original created order), or
If (2) is the case, then God has left incontrovertable evidence of both His existence and actions in the structure of nature itself, and therefore faith is no longer necessary (and both justification and salvation through faith are pointless).
*It also seems that this version of deism is indistinguishable from what some ID theorists (including Michael Behe) are now referring to as "front-loaded" IDT (FLIDT). That is,
FLIDT = DEI = TET
all of which are irrelevent for and useless to science.
**Alert readers may notice that there is a third option: God is omnipotent, but chooses to create a universe in which His natural laws are insufficient to produce all natural objects and processes without his intervention. This strongly implies that God is either meddlesome or capricious (or both), conclusions that I suspect would not be palatable to most ID theorists, deists, or theistic evolutionists.