Big-ID vs. small-id – Flip-Flopping IDM-Style

One doesn’t need to read far into ‘Intelligent Design’ (Big-ID) theory literature to discover the Intelligent Design Movement’s (IDM’s) refusal to study the supposed ‘Designer(s)’ of that which is said by IDists to be ‘Designed.’ This fact lowers the explanatory power of their theory immensely, almost entirely, even if Big-IDists don’t wish to acknowledge it for ideological purposes.

An easy way to highlight this challenge is to speak of Big-ID and small-id, as I’ve done on this blog already. Discussion about this has also taken place in commentary at Uncommon Descent (UD), one of the IDM’s most popular blogs. Unfortunately, no consensus has yet been reached and thus no clarity to stop the waffling back and forth between the two terms. Likewise, no attempt to sort out when or even if capitalisation of ‘Intelligent Design’ is justified or if non-capitalisation of ‘intelligent design’ is always preferred or if the two linguistic expressions carry the same meaning has been made at UD. This could be done simply by dedicating a single thread to the issue. But for ideological purposes, this is likely not going to happen.

This entry will give evidence that “the IDM or Big-ID community uses both variants whenever they believe it suits them.” In other words, it will show that Big-ID people are flip-floppers with the language of ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design.’

Here is evidence from UD’s website that shows Uncommon Descent management flip-flops between writing non-capitalised ‘intelligent design’ (small-id, lower case) and capitalised ‘Intelligent Design’ (Big-ID, upper case), from UD’s own Definitions, FAQ’s and Glossary (Links made on February 10, 2013):

UD’s definition of ID starts out small, i.e. non-capitalised:

“The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. ID is thus a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion.”

Yet in the *very next paragraph* it flip-flops to capitalised Intelligent Design (Big-ID, upper case):

“In a broader sense, Intelligent Design is simply the science of design detection — how to recognize patterns arranged by an intelligent cause for a purpose.”

No reason for this flip-flop is given.

In the FAQ’s, even just in Response 1 (there are many other examples in FAQ’s too), the authors flip-flop immediately between non-capitalised ‘intelligent design’ (small-id, lower case) and capitalised ‘Intelligent Design’ (Big-ID, upper case):

“Dr William Dembski, a leading intelligent design researcher, has aptly stated:

“Intelligent Design is . . . a scientific investigation into how patterns exhibited by finite arrangements of matter can signify intelligence.””

Why not capitalise the ‘Intelligence’ the second time?

In the Glossary, it starts out with capitalised ‘Intelligent Design’ (Big-ID, upper case):

“As is typical of scientific, technological or academic fields of endeavor, Intelligent Design has its own technical vocabulary.”

Elsewhere, in the Glossary, non-capitalised ‘intelligent design’ (small-id, lower case) is written:

“FSCI is a reliable sign of intelligent design.”

“Intelligent design [ID] – Dr William A Dembski, a leading design theorist, has defined ID as “the science that studies signs of [small-i] intelligence.”

Flip-flopping between capitalised ‘Intelligent Design’ (Big-ID, upper case) and non-capitalised ‘intelligent design’ (small-id, lower case) is thus tolerated and seemingly even encouraged at Uncommon Descent blog, one of the most active sites for discussion of Big-ID on the internet.

One IDist who posts at UD, attempting clarity, but obviously speaking only for himself, wrote:

“(ii) When I’m using the word “intelligent” in front of “designer,” I normally capitalize both (“Intelligent Designer”) to make it clear that I’m referring to the Designer of Nature – a Being Whom I believe to be God (although I cannot demonstrate this on scientific grounds…); … (vi) When using the word “intelligence,” I keep it in lower case if I am referring to an attribute of intelligent beings, but I use capital letters (e.g. “an Intelligence”) when I am referring to the Designer of Nature – a Being Whom I believe to be God;” – Vincent J. Torley

This is one of the most open and clear admissions regarding capitalisation or non-capitalisation from any Big-IDist so far. It clearly demonstrates that capitalisation of ‘Intelligent Designer’ refers to a Deity, while non-capitalised ‘intelligence’ or ‘designer’ refers to human beings or perhaps to known ‘intelligent beings.’

The ‘lower case id’ vs. ‘upper case ID’ distinction was made by Owen Gingerich (2006). It provided a watershed in communication about ‘intelligent design/Intelligent Design.’ Big-ID theory proponents have waffled and continue to flip-flop between small-id and Big-ID as part of the IDM’s PR machinations, based in the Discovery Institute. This constitutes a serious communications dilemma. It is about time they are called-out on their equivocation and asked to clarify themselves. So far, nothing has been stated by the Discovery Institute to offer an official position regarding capitalisation or lack of capitalisation of ‘ID.’

Indeed, once the distinction is realised and incidents of flip-flopping noticed and carefully followed, then it becomes clear that the IDM is not actually arguing “on scientific grounds” for a Big-ID Intelligent Designer. They are arguing (or apologising) for a Big-ID Intelligent Designer based on natural theology and seek to dress it up in natural scientific garb for the sake of ‘authenticity.’

This is being done on purpose and oftentimes deceptively in order that people may contend with (neo-)Darwinian biologists, atheists and agnostics who promote public understanding of Science as supposedly consistent with atheism. Indeed, the IDM and ‘Brights’ are like a match made in heaven! So, to sound ‘scientific,’ they talk about coin tossing and use probability arguments and a newly-fangled Dembskian ideology called ‘specificationism.’

The notion that people actually *shouldn’t* argue for the Big-D Designer’s existence on natural scientific grounds, but rather only on (natural) theological grounds does not seem to bother the IDM. Thus, many IDM leaders just use non-capitalised letters when they speak of ‘intelligent design,’ so as to avoid the theological connotation. In fact, however, they often refer to Intelligent Design (Big-ID) Intelligent DesginER (Big-ID) and when writing for or speaking at their churches, synagogues or religious private colleges. The IDM’s summer program for students, for example, is held at a private religious college in Seattle, U.S.A., where the notion of an ‘Intelligent DesignER’ (Big-ID) is required as a Statement of Faith.

What it doesn’t seem IDists are ready to realise is that Big-ID, i.e. upper case ‘Intelligent Design’ theory would mean something very different *if* the ‘designer(s)/Designer(s)’ *can* be studied and if the so-called ‘intelligent agents’ are actually us, i.e. human beings and not some unnamed Big-IA ‘Intelligent Agents’. The dependency upon analogy with human-made things, e.g. mousetraps, Easter Island statues, Mt. Rushmore, etc. is however, almost completely ignored by IDists. And it is ineptly dealt with by Stephen C. Meyer when he discusses Hume’s argument regarding analogy and tries to slip away by claiming he is instead making an ‘argument to the best explanation.’ People should not fall for such rhetorical trickery by IDists.

It should be obvious to most people who both faithfully and rationally reject Big-ID theories that IDM leaders use arguments from analogy between small-d ‘designed’ objects made by human beings and Big-D ‘Designed’ objects made by a supposedly non-natural being. Then IDM leaders apply ‘univocal predication’ as their theological perspective to suggest that human-made things and Divine-made things share properties in common, such as information/Information. Yet it is disingenuous for the IDM to suggest that the origins of life hypothetically *could* have been made by a ‘natural’ being because that would contradict the IDM’s focus on rejecting naturalism and materialism. One can see what a mess the IDM gets in by waffling between small-id and Big-ID language, if people don’t hold them accountable for their rhetorical strategy.

This is why I have highlighted the contradiction in the IDM’s Big-ID/small-id equivocation. Does ‘ID’ qua theory apply to human-made things or not? Some IDists say ‘Yes’ (and provide no ‘scientific’ evidence), while other IDists say ‘No’ (and take no stand against those who say ‘Yes’). But nobody speaks as an authority or gives an official position on behalf of the Discovery Institute. This is likely because hiding any discussion of the supposed designer(s)/Designer(s) is part of the IDM’s PR game, showing how unscientific it actually is!

William Dembski wrote/spoke Big-ID in 2004: “So what is the bottom line?  What is the tangible benefit of Intelligent Design for the Christian community?” He obviously wants to use Big-ID as a supposedly ‘natural scientific’ theory on behalf of Christendom to beat back ‘secularism’ in the American ‘culture war,’ following in the footsteps of his mentor, Phillip Johnson. The rest of us non-Americans (and most Americans too!), however, need not take Dembski’s Big-ID view of ‘science’ seriously, nor accept his flip-flopping duplicity about whether or not (a) ‘designer(s)/Designer(s)’ can actually be (scientifically, philosophically or theologically) studied or not.

Stephen C. Meyer even says (using Big-D and Big-C language): “Since the postulation of an intelligent Designer or Creator clearly violates this methodological [natural science] norm, such a postulation cannot qualify as a part of a scientific theory.”

After this demonstration of flip-flopping evidence, the main point is this: Big-ID theory exaggerates the power of science and in doing so displays ideological scientism, even while it rails against scientism out of the other side of its mouth. Big-ID is a clear, contemporary example of scientism because it refuses to admit that it is properly not just ‘natural-science-only,’ but rather an obvious science, philosophy and theology/worldview conversation. The insistence on ‘scientificity’ is what makes the IDM such a suitable dialogue partner for R. Dawkins and the ‘Brights’; they both ideologically embrace ‘scientism.’

As for me, I support the orthodox position on Creation among the Abrahamic faiths (one can call it small-id if one must only when speaking with IDists), but reject Big-ID theory (which pretends to be Big-S Science) as a culture war-oriented fantasy that mainly only Protestant creationists or ex-creationists in the U.S.A. have embraced.

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1 Response to “Big-ID vs. small-id – Flip-Flopping IDM-Style”


  1. 1 Alan Fox 28/04/2013 at 11:20

    Hi Gregory,

    Regarding the ambiguity and obfuscation between the formerly innocuous verb and noun – design – you make perfect sense. I am convinced it is a clear and deliberate strategy.

    Anyway, I thought I’d mention a little experiment some of us ID critics are conducting. I am wondering if you’d like to participate. There is no fixed time for the experiment and all participants are volunteers. :)

    Always happy to see you at TSZ though I know your ideas didn’t get much traction on your last visit. You can get me at alanfox.fr AT gmail.com if this is of interest


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