The Origin of Intelligent Design

Intelligent design creationism dates from the publication of The Mystery of Life's Origin (Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen 1984). Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen proposed that the origin of life not only was currently unexplained through natural causes but also could not be explained through natural causes. As the biologist Dean H. Kenyon wrote in the introduction, "It is fundamentally implausible that unassisted matter and energy organized themselves into living systems" (Thaxton et al. 1984: viii). The essential scientific claim of ID was made clear from the very beginning: some things in biology are categorically unexplainable through natural causes.

Encouragement for The Mystery of Life's Origin came from Jon Buell, a former campus minister who became president of the Dallas-based conservative Christian organization the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE). He recruited the historian and chemist Charles Thaxton, the engineer Walter Bradley, and the geochemist Roger Olsen to write a document on scientific difficulties concerning the origin of life, which became The Mystery of Life's Origin. Buell, Thaxton, Bradley, Olsen, and others, many of whom were associated with the FTE, proposed a new form of creationism that did not rely directly on the Bible: there were no references to a universal flood, to the special creation of Adam and Eve or any other creature, or to a young Earth. But paralleling creation science, Mystery emphasized supposedly scientific problems of evolution. Mystery mostly stuck to science, with only brief references in an epilogue to the necessity of intelligence being involved in the origin of life. Much as had Bird in proposing abrupt appearance theory, the authors were agnostic on the identity of the creative agent. They offered the suggestion of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe (1979) that life on Earth possibly was produced by extraterrestrials of high intelligence, although the authors expressed their preference for creation by God.

The next major ID product to emerge was again from FTE: the 1989 high school biology supplementary textbook Of Pandas and People, written by the biologists Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon. Originally titled Biology and Origins, the book was submitted to secular publishers for more than two years before one was found—a small Texas press that specialized in agricultural materials (Scott 1989). By this time, the nascent movement had settled on the phrase intelligent design for its position and this term appeared in Pandas.

Although Pandas soon was proposed for adoption as an approved (and thus purchasable using state funds) textbook in at least two states (Idaho and Alabama), its supporters were unsuccessful. Publishers have claimed that it was in use in several school districts, but it has not been possible to verify this claim. In general, though, it would be safe to say that Pandas made little splash in the world of science education. The ID movement remained largely unnoticed until the publication in 1991 of Darwin on Trial by University of California, Berkeley, law professor Phillip Johnson.

Because previously the antievolution movement had been based in small, nonaca-demic, nonprofit organizations such as ICR and FTE, the publication of an antievolution book by a tenured professor at a major secular university came as a surprise to the educated public. Although the scientific community ignores books by Henry Morris, a few scientists reviewed Darwin on Trial in popular publications such as Scientific American, and discussions of this new form of antievolutionism appeared in the popular press. Scientists uniformly criticized what they considered uninformed science in Johnson's book. On the other hand, educated conservative Christians, for whom creation science was unacceptable because of its often-outlandish scientific claims, found Johnson's message very attractive indeed. Largely because of its more respectable academic associations, ID obtained considerably more coverage in the popular media than did creation science—though the latter then as well as now boasts many more organizations and activists than does the ID movement.

What, in detail, are the claims of ID? As is the case with creation science, ID combines a scholarly focus with cultural renewal—an effort to promote a sectarian religious view.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment