A lot of people still have trouble distinguishing between Intelligent Design and Creationism. This post will hopefully help out.
I know of a lot of people who refer to Intelligent Design as “Intelligent Design Creationism”. This comes up a lot in blogs and on facebook. However, this is a confusion of words. I will start out by saying that I am, in fact, an Intelligent Design Creationist, but the reason that this label applies to me is exactly why the label does not apply generally.
I hold to both the theories of Intelligent Design and Creationism. However, they are logically separable theories. I can hold to Intelligent Design without being a Creationist, and, technically, I can also hold to Creationism without holding to Intelligent Design (though this is rare to find in practice). The only worthwhile way to use the term “Intelligent Design Creationist” is not as a synonym for Intelligent Design, but as a separate specifier indicating someone who does both at the same time.
For instance, let’s say that a person is a musician and a physicist. It might be correct to call them a musical physicist, or a physicist musician. However, if they did a work of physics, it would be incorrect to refer to a basic work of physics as musical physics unless they specifically and explicitly incorporated concepts from music into physics. As such, the term “musical physicist” might not even apply, if the person never did both together, any more than we should refer to someone as a “tennis-playing physicist” just because they happen to do both play tennis and work in physics.
Likewise, while the label “Intelligent Design Creationist” applies to me, it does not apply to the entirety of my work – some of which is in Intelligent Design, some of which is in Creationism, and some of which is in Intelligent Design Creationism. Since I do operate both, and sometimes mix them, I am appropriately called an “Intelligent Design Creationist”.
So what is creationism? There are many meanings, but usually the meaning is that of special creation – the idea that certain groups of organisms are the result of multiple, distinct creation events. Other definitions include Young-Earth Creationism and Old-Earth Creationism, but these are not specifically biological theories, as they are whole theories about earth and cosmological history. Some refer to “creationists” as anyone who thinks that God had something to do with the universe, but this is really too general to be meaningful, as it would classify as “creationists” people who spend their lives fighting against “creationism”. It would make, for instance, Simon Conway-Morris a creationist, plus everyone at BioLogos, plus Ken Miller and a host of others.
Now, what is Intelligent Design? Intelligent Design simply means that you think that there is the possibility that we can detect signals of intelligence from identifiable patterns in the universe. There are many people who hold to this view, including those who would not be classified as creationists. It is actually more of a theory of causation than of origins. As I pointed out in this post, it is logically possible to believe in a materialistic evolution and still hold to Intelligent Design. Michael Behe, for instance, holds such a view, as far as I can tell. So it would be completely inappropriate to call Michael Behe an “Intelligent Design Creationist”, since he doesn’t even agree with Creationism on any major point, much less does he do any work in that area.
Likewise for Dembski. Though he is, I believe, an old-Earth creationist by belief, absolutely none of his work in Intelligent Design deals with this issue. Dembski’s work is about how one makes an inference to design. Even in the places where he combines theology with ID, Old-Earth Creationism does not come into the picture. Therefore, Dembski should not be considered an “Intelligent Design Creationist” either.
Intelligent Design is a field of study all of its own. It is about design, design detection, and what we can know about how the process looks and acts, and how we can use that knowledge to better understand nature. I can see how people might disagree with this field altogether (i.e., “design” is a meaningless concept), or how people might agree with the general idea but disagree with its current manifestation (i.e., Irreducible Complexity doesn’t point to design, or Specified Complexity doesn’t tell us anything, or Specified Complexity isn’t measurable). Nonetheless, if your criticism of ID is based on confusing it with Creationism, then you are merely making noise.
I say all this as someone who believes that words mean things, and that being specific about what we say is what allows us to reason at all. It is unfortunate that many try to muddle terms together and make them mean different things – it is unacademic and unhelpful to the conversation, and generally leads to confusion all the way around. If we want clear concepts, we must use terms clearly and unambiguously.
I do a lot of teaching, and it is not unusual to have to correct students by helping them use terms correctly. This is perfectly understandable – students don’t know the terms, and they don’t yet know the importance of using well-defined meanings. What pains me in this case is that the ones who most abuse terminology in this case are those who claim to be scholars. The convolution of terms, and the slicing and dicing of meanings of words by the academy makes every boneheaded mistake by a student or the general public pale in comparison. Those who should be at the forefront of carefully crafting a discussion using precise terminology are those people making a mess of things in order to make sure everyone else agrees with them. The academy should be embarrassed by its own behavior.