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Slate's Explainer: Creationism v. Intelligent Design


In Kansas, the state Board of Education resumes hearings tomorrow into whether the so-called intelligent design theory of life could be taught as an alternative to evolution. But is intelligent design the same thing as creationism? Here with an Explainer is Slate's Daniel Engber.

DANIEL ENGBER (Slate): No, they're not the same, but many people believe in both. Intelligent design teaches only that the complexity of the natural world could not have occurred by chance. Its proponents reason that some intelligent entity must have created that complexity, but the designer could, in theory, be anything or anyone. The design argument was popularized in 1802 by William Paley's divine watchmaker analogy. If we assume that a watch must have been fashioned by a watchmaker, then we should assume that an ordered universe must have been fashioned by a divine creator. Many traditional creationists have embraced this argument over the years, and most, if not all, modern advocates for intelligent design are Christians who believe that God is the designer.

Creationism comes in many varieties. It ranges from the strictest biblical literalism, which holds that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, to the theistic evolutionism of the Catholic Church. That doctrine accepts evidence that the Earth is millions of years old and that evolution can explain much of its history, but not the creation of the human soul. Between those extremes, there are young Earth and old Earth creationists, who differ over the age of the planet and the details of how God created life.

The limited scope of intelligent design, or ID, makes it compatible with a wide range of views. Some prominent ID theorists believe in evolution, or at least that species can change over time, and many believe that the Earth was created more than 10,000 years ago. But there are also ID theorists who believe in a literal reading of Genesis. There is at least some tension between the two camps. Young Earth creationists have criticized the intelligent design movement for encouraging a loose reading of the Bible. The design theorists respond that ID represents at least the partial truth and that it is, at the very least, the best available tool for dislodging what they see as the evolutionist dogma.

CHADWICK: That explainer from Slate's Daniel Engber.

More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.