Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Who Believes What? Clearing Up Confusion over Intelligent Design and Young-Earth Creationism

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Who Believes What? Clearing Up Confusion over Intelligent Design and Young-Earth Creationism

Article excerpt


The question of what differentiates young-Earth creationism (YEC) from Intelligent Design (ID) has resulted in inaccurate and confusing terminology, and hinders both understanding and dialogue. Though both YEC and ID groups have drawn distinctions between themselves, previous attempts to classify design-based positions on origins have been unable to adequately resolve their relationships. The Nested Hierarchy of Design, a multiple-character classification system, categorizes teleological positions according to the strength of claims regarding the reality, detectability, source, method, and timing of design, and results in an accurate and robust classification of numerous positions. This method avoids the philosophical and theological pitfalls of previous methods and enables construction of accurate definitions for a suite of teleological positions. The incorporation of the Nested Hierarchy of Design in classroom discussion could 1) better represent the suite of opinions among students, 2) clarify the many teleological positions, and 3) help to reduce tensions between educators, students, and the public.


Reading about creationism can be a daunting task. Often, the descriptions and terminologies of the various teleological (design-based) perspectives on origins have caused confusion in scientific, philosophical, and popular literature. Phrases such as "creationism in disguise", "neo-creationism", and "stealth creationism" are common. Even the term "creationism" seems ambiguous. Most often the confusion surrounds the distinctions between Intelligent Design (ID) and young-Earth creationism (YEC). For example, Forrest and Gross (2003), Pennock (1999, 2001), and Scott (1999, 2004) use the term "Intelligent Design Creationism" in their writings and lectures on the creation/evolution debate.

Rhetorical value aside, such terms cause scientists and educators to assume that ID and YEC proponents (including students) adhere to the same systems of philosophy and theology. In fact, ID and YEC differ significantly. Failing to recognize distinctions between these and other teleological positions can create barriers to constructive discussion, not only in the classroom but also in policy-making public forums (e.g., school board meetings). Clarifying each position's actual stance on issues and their relationships to one another will help guide the dialogue.


By looking at how ID and YEC view both themselves and each other, one quickly learns that they are not equivalent positions. The Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the primary research organ of ID, defines ID as "hold [ing] that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection" ( Access Research Network defines ID as "the view that nature shows tangible signs of having been designed by a preexisting intelligence" ( Expressly lacking in these definitions are references to religious texts, such as the Bible.

Contrast that with explicit use of the Bible among YECs. Paleontologist and YEC proponent Kurt Wise (2002, p. 281) defines YEC as "maintaining] that God created the entire universe during a six-day Creation Week about six thousand years ago." And though not providing an exact age of for Earth, Nelson and Reynolds (1999, p. 42) provide four characteristics of YEC:

1) An open philosophy of science (characterized by a lack of a priori convictions about what answers are/are not acceptable in science).

2) All basic types of organisms were directly created by God during the creation week of Genesis 1-2.

3) The curse of Genesis 3:14-19 profoundly affected every aspect of the natural economy.

4) The flood of Noah was a historical event, global in extent and effect.

ID proponents are quick to point out their differences with YEC. …

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