Sunday, January 29, 2006

Stupid questionnaire

Like the rest of the science blogosphere, I got hit with this half-assed survey:

Dear recipient,

You have been contacted because you contribute to a blog which has been identified as a "pro-science blog". I am conducting a survey on outsiders' perception of intelligent design, and I would appreciate your input. The results will be published on [a hack ID website], and every reply will be treated as anonymous. Please read the following carefully, and send your answer to [some IDolator.]

For the purpose of this survey, "creationism" will be defined as "a belief in the literal interpretation of the account of the creation of the universe and of all living things related in the Bible" (source: Dictionary.com). "Evolution" will be defined as "the theory that all modern life forms are derived from one or a few common ancestors via descent with modification".

Please answer the following:

On which points are intelligent design and creationism identical?

A. Both creationism and intelligent design require one to have a particular interpretation of the Biblical creation account.

B. Both creationism and intelligent design require one to accept a particular age of the Earth and of the universe.

C. Both creationism and intelligent design require one to reject evolution.

D. Both creationism and intelligent design identify the Christian God as the creator.

E. Both creationism and intelligent design hold that there is an intelligence behind certain features of nature.

F. There are no points of similarity between creationism and intelligent design.

G. None of the above options accurately describe the relationship between creationism and intelligent design.

(Please check all that apply.)

Thanks in advance,
The problem is not that the options are inadequate, though they are, but that the definition is bogus. It's true that the options listed are not exhaustive nor is it clear what you'd learn from the answers.

The consensus option H is "Intelligent design' is a subset of the arguments previously labeled 'creation science'."

But the problem is, the question as asked makes that answer impossible. Because "creationism is defined too tightly, including only Biblical literalism. There are Hindu and Native American creationists, but the definition above excludes them.

I wound up refusing to answer because of this definitional issue. If you specify that creationism is Biblical literalism, it narrows your options in ways that are unnatural to me. Am I supposed to answer according to my reading of the word, or according to the author's reading? To answer one way is to ignore the plain text of the survey, to answer another way is to lie about my views. Either way, my answer can't be valid.

But the questions are answerable with a coherent definition. If we define creationism broadly enough to incorporate non-Christian creationisms, we get a definition like "a belief that a supernatural force directed the origins or development of the universe." That definition also encompasses theistic evolution, but that's OK by me.
The difference between theistic evolution and intelligent design is that IDC asserts that its take on creationism is scientifically valid, that is, testable within science. Theistic evolution assert that the natural processes scientists study is influenced by a supernatural force in a way beyond the detection ability of scientific tests. TE draws a distinction between what is scientifically knowable and what is knowable through religious faith. ID wants to obliterate that distinction. Theistic evolutionists are fun to talk to because they can talk intelligently about their religious faith and their scientific understanding and of keeping that distinction in their minds. IDolators have no interest in making that simple distinction, they want scientific proof of God, but "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe" (John 20:29).
For more on this, read up on "why it's called Intelligent Design Creationism."