Definitions involving “Intelligent Design”: DI Fellows’ language vs. Everyone Else’s

Not long ago in a comment here, I posted a short version of definitions involving the Discovery Institute’s “Intelligent Design” (ID) paradigm, hypothesis, movement, theory, inference, policy, heuristic, or whatever one wants to call it, depending on which person they’re speaking with. This was done because the person in the conversation I was responding to appeared to be, to me at least, quite obviously conflating two meanings into one term (thing & theory). And he didn’t seem to realize that he was doing it. (Aside: there appear to be multiple reasons why people tempted by ideological Intelligent Designism [IDism] or repelled by it, may feel they need to intentionally conflate definitions of ID.) I wondered what might be the issue with what was merely an attempt to lay out simple definitions, for mutual benefit towards clearer communications, or ‘operations’ as some people here like to call it.

Within days, to my surprise, I discovered the exact same thing in a long exchange with a Discovery Institute () Fellow on a social media platform. This person too conflated two meanings into one. Why also is that? And this person wanted to equivocate over whether or not there even is a “movement” at play, before finally conceding that yes, indeed, there is = the IDM based at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, USA. The conversation reminded me of previous ones at Uncommon Descent & BioLogos with Eddie, now of Peaceful Science and Potiphar, who only begrudgingly, after listing off a number of ways that this “Movement” could only properly or ‘officially’ be spoken about, according to his somewhat “philosophistic” definition of “Intelligent Design theory” (IDT), conceded the point of there being a “Movement”, with all of DI-CSC’s Fellows admitted as members.

So, for anyone who might be curious where I’ve come to now “stand”, at this moment anyway, after quite a long road studying the DI, IDM, IDT, & whatever’s behind the term “ID”, what follows is an attempt to set the record a bit straighter than things appear to sit now, and have from the start, in Seattle. May it contribute to help improving communicative clarity. Welcome all voices to comprehensively “unpack” this artificial, non-“standard” constellation of terms, as used by DI Fellows* (*limited variable).

Here are merely some terminological suggestions based on my observations of this “movement” for at least 15 years. This is no “standard definition” of any of these terms below, as far as I’m aware, other than the first, which is a legally registered entity in the State of Washington, USA.

0) Discovery Institute (DI) = Discovery Institute, Center for Science and Culture (DI-CSC), home base of IDM, alpha & omega of IDT

Political, legal, educational, media, religious, financial backbone & lifeblood of the Intelligent Design Movement. Without this “think tank”, ID/IDT/IDM/IDism (as below) would almost surely not now exist, or only much more quietly, and this post would not have been written. Neither would this website “The Skeptical Zone” have been created, since it was a reaction from Dr. Elizabeth Liddle, the site’s founder, to getting banned from Uncommon Descent, a blog started by William Demski, former lead IDist at the DI, then retired, now back un-retired and active again, as a self-styled “revolutionary” at the new Bradley Centre for Natural and Artificial Intelligence under the DI’s umbrella. The last time the author of this post visited the DI-CSC was in 2008, for the summer program, conducting research now that now makes up a small part the fruit, in the field known as sociology of science. For anyone interested in sociology of science, the DI is an amazingly fecund institution for observational curiosities and perplexities!

1) Intelligent Design (ID) = thing/Thing (mundane/transcendent) itself/Itself

A combination duo signifying a wide range of meanings depending on the interlocutor. It makes a singular first impression, if in writing, how the concept duo is written. Most people with experience and familiarity in the conversation, now capitalize “Intelligent Design” to signify ‘extra-natural’ or ‘non-naturalistic’ (P. Johnson). DI Fellows all use the uncapitalized version, “intelligent design”, as a way of “double-talking” (gentle IDists) about what the term is meant to convey. Basically, it’s a “neocreationist” dog whistle with largely only ideological scientific allure. It has not caught on in “the mainstream” except as a fantasy desire for top-down educational-political control.

In short, ID, as stated by IDists, boils down to, “Occasionalism.”

2) Intelligent Design Theory (IDT) = Theory about thing/Thing (mundane/transcendent)

Claimed by the Discovery Institute’s Centre for Science and Culture to be a “strictly scientific” theory, meaning it follows “the standard rules of natural-physical sciences”. There are dozens of slightly different apparent definitions of “Intelligent Design Theory”, by multiple authors and combinations of authors (e.g. Thaxton, Johnson, Behe, Meyer, Dembski, Nelson, Gauger, Axe, Reynolds, etc.), yet without a single core theoretical insight whose “conclusions” were not compromised at the get-go, by being unable to escape from double-talking the meaning of ID. It’s probabilism, hyper-anti-Darwinism, negative argumentation, with ‘philosophy of religion’ seasoned in.

3) Intelligent Design Movement (IDM) = Movement (social, educational, political, religious, technological, financial, etc.) promoting theory about thing/Thing (mundane/transcendent).

Sorry, no time for this at the moment. : )

To these already listed previously in shorter description, let me now add:

4) Intelligent Designism (IDism) = Ideology, full technical usage (clumsy): ideological Intelligent Designism; the ideology of the IDM, based around exaggeration of IDT and refusal to identify limits.

“Design everywhere” as simply self-explanatory on ideological level; a person “knows it when they see it” ideologically. This represents “IDist ideology” that causes “Expelled Syndrome”, where a scientist or scholar self-excludes, isolates, and alienates themselves from a) reality, b) their colleagues, when it is discovered that they haven’t & won’t “flipped the designist switch” their way, yet still keep trying to press the issue with them using theistic scientific apologetics, c) demonstrates signs of hostility, condescension, and exaggeration about the importance of their theory … especially for Abrahamic monotheists, while not being able to back up their self-exclusionary victimization with actual “strictly scientific” evidence that their own theory requires. In extreme cases, it may even mean re-writing “Design” language into the Bible, especially if the method of interpretation is based on biblical literalism.

(Linguistic aside: it matters little if one or a few persons refuses to dignify this concept duo & acronym; it nevertheless meets an obvious need to be expressed in order to give voice to describing the constant exaggeration of mere IDT into an ideology – sometimes clumsy is needed! – the same logic holds for the terms ‘evolutionism’ & ‘creationism’)

5) Intelligent Designists (IDists) = people promoting ideological IDism, who have turned into a movement called the IDM.

6) IDers (or just “lost” ID proponents) = people promoting the “theistic scientific” hypothesis of (lowercase) ‘intelligent design’, who emerged in California meetings under the direction of Phillip E. Johnson, into a movement called the IDM in the late 90s & early 2000s,

“ID proponents” are the remaining “lost” persons, picking up a few “late adopters” along the way (it’s already a 25 year-old Movement, after all!), trying to remain loyal institutionally to the Discovery Institute’s “strictly scientific” requirement of IDT.

Since the IDM gave up the possibility of accepting IDT outside of science classrooms, yet in philosophy and religion classrooms (2013,, these people ( realize that given their hysterics, they cannot now go back ( to allow the Humanities and Social Sciences “foot in the door”. Instead they just keep focussed trying to come up with an invention or innovation purely in natural-physical sciences, or more recently, computing. So far, they have not produced “strictly scientific” fruit beyond merely ideologizing about its possibility.

Most IDers, as they realize their “movement” simply doesn’t have the “strictly scientific” (instantiation of “Design”, not measuring miracles) evidence it needs, fairly quickly turn into mere probabilists, or indeed into full-fledged ideological IDists. The number of IDers has dwindled in the USA today, so the DI instead has sought to export scientifically-unproven & ideologically questionable IDT, to people in other countries, particularly now into currently quite right-wing Brazil.

NB: Since this effectively reads “Intelligent Designers”, according to the linguistic constellation pattern. It’s clumsy. I don’t use the acronym “IDers”. The people it refers to are a coherent enough “group” for a sociologist to study even without a label, respectfully intended.

7) Design Theory = Credible topic and practise across a range of current fields and industries

10,000s of designers and design theorists active around the world, in every country. Real design theories have nothing to do with IDT, the IDM or the DI (so far…). Made by legitimate design thinkers and design theorists around the world, using “design thinking”, e.g. Stanford D-School. These are avoided by IDists, as examples of “effects of design” by mere “mundane designers” (i.e. human beings), whereas IDT is only interested in “transcendent designers” (Dembski, 1999), based on Phillip Johnson’s “supernaturalist” approach of railing against “Darwinistic naturalism”, and other IDM targets. Intelligence is always, at best, only inferred, in Dembskian talk, and “Whether these mundane objects trace their causal histories through mundane or transcendent designers is irrelevant” (THE BRIDGE, IVP, 1999: 276).

One type of “design theory” is strong, real, the other is weak and illusory. Let readers choose for themselves which ideas to accept & which to filter away. Only IDists seem to be confused about this. C’est la vie!

8) Design Universalism (DUism, aka “universal designism” UDism) = Ideology, the claim that “everything is designed” and “nothing is not designed”.

Marked by inability or unwillingness to identify “non-designed” things by categorical restriction, easily comparable with rigid Calvinism or Free Masonry. Michael Behe and Robert Larmer are two examples of DUists. I suspect most IDists are DUists because of their “design vs. chance” dichotomous language of choice.

DUism is an awkward and unfortunate term, one only reserved for the particularly obtuse fanatics of IDism. These are the ones who need to be walked slowly, step by step, through the logical conclusions of their own thoughts, to realize the danger of turning “Intelligent Design” THEORY, into more than an impersonal intellectual idol. May peace be with those ex-IDists and current IDists wrestling with Phillip Johnson’s legacy of anti-naturalism, pro-supernaturalism and a lot of polemics and culture-warring, when a more limited and humbler, more self-reflexive approach to the agreeably grand, if not grandest topic of human and life origins is possible.


2 thoughts on “Definitions involving “Intelligent Design”: DI Fellows’ language vs. Everyone Else’s

  1. Since nobody seems to care to comment on the OP, I will try:
    I really enjoy Gregory’s OPs and many comments resembling this OP.
    First, he seems to create a problem that doesn’t exist and then he attempts to solve it…

  2. In case anyone here still wonders why people make this key distinction, and as it isn’t raised in the OP, but rather assumed to be needed for clarity, here’s an example of a BioLogos missionary linguist, who also sees, just as the BioLogos president does, the need for clarifying what she means by writing “Intelligent Design”, instead of “intelligent design.” In spoken conversation, the distinction is immediately blurred, which is what IDists count on (double-talking) for their pseudo-scientific, social movement.


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