The Intelligent Design Debate and the Temptation of Scientism, by Rope Kojonen

Debate over the controversial Intelligent Design movement has continued for over two decades. Though Intelligent Design has not made much progress in convincing the broader scientific community of the rightness of its cause, supporters of the movement’s ideas are not giving up. For its defenders, ID is revolutionary new science, and its opposition is merely ideological. The conclusion that nature is designed is argued to be the clear result of the cumulative efforts of the various natural sciences, and proponents of ID believe this conclusion to be ‘so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science’. However, for its varied critics, ID is “neither sound science nor good theology”, as the ISSR statement on Intelligent Design states.


The purpose of my book “The Intelligent Design Debate and the Temptation of Scientism” is to provide an in-depth and balanced analysis of different theological and philosophical arguments used in the ID debate. It is fairly broad in scope, with the focus always on the ID movement’s design argument. Topics covered include the debate over evolutionary mechanisms, fine-tuning, the logic of the design argument, thought experiments, methodological naturalism, the problem of bad design, views of divine action, God of the gaps-arguments, evidentialism and natural theology. In all cases the focus is on how these themes are treated in the ID debate. I compare ID’s positions to theistic evolutionism and naturalism.


It is my belief that analysis of these theological and philosophical issues is interesting regardless of how low our opinion may be of the ID movement’s scientific case. In this regard it is interesting that critics of ID also often disagree sharply about these theological issues. For example, ID’s design argument’s have been criticized both for being unfalsifiable (because an invisible designer cannot be directly tested) and for being falsified (because of evidence for evolution). In theological critiques of ID falsifiability by future scientific discoveries is often seen as one of its greatest flaws, making ID into a “God of the gaps” -argument. Some critics of ID argue that design is excluded from science on philosophical grounds, while others argue that naturalistic science is open even to supernatural explanations, if only there were evidence. Some argue against ID from atheist premises, regarding the design argument as the best sort of evidence for God. Others argue against ID from theistic premises, believing it to lead to a mistaken view of the Creator. Some of ID’s critics reject the possibility of all design arguments, while others defend design arguments (like the fine-tuning argument) themselves. (I am also sympathetic to the fine-tuning argument.)


I have titled the book Intelligent Design and the Temptation of Scientism. But what does the “temptation of scientism” mean in this context? I understand it as an epistemological claim. As Alexander Rosenberg defines it, scientism ‘is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything – Being scientistic just means treating science as our exclusive guide to reality, to nature – both our own nature and everything else’s’. Of course, the success of the natural sciences in providing understanding of nature and the importance of technology for our daily lives provide a good argument in favour of the general value of science. But in my view it is unsustainable to use the success of science to argue that reliable knowledge and rationality are restricted to the natural sciences. Rather, it seems to me that the success of scientific rationality depends on the existence of a broader rationality.


In any case, the problem with scientism is not that we love the natural sciences too much. Rather, the problem is that we undervalue the importance of philosophy, theology and everyday methods of reasoning. Very few thinkers explicitly defend scientism generally or in the context of the debate over ID. Proponents of ID themselves would balk at the suggestion that scientism is influencing their strategy or arguments; they aim to oppose scientism, not to defend it. Yet I argue that scientism is present in the debate in many ways, for example in the overt focus on arguing over whether ID is part of the natural sciences or not. Focusing on this question derives from the political struggle over the teaching of evolution in the U.S. However, when considering the issues themselves, if we reject scientism the definition of natural science is no longer as central. (See further: )


As another example of the tendency to undervalue theological and philosophical considerations: when ID proponents critique theistic evolutionism, they often state that a theistic view should differ from atheistic evolutionism on the level of science in order to be meaningfully different. This implies that all the theological and philosophical reasons given by theistic evolutionists are (according to at least some central ID proponents) worthless unless theistic evolutionists can also show scientifically how divine direction of evolution is necessary. In addition to being treated in my book, I have also written a research article in Zygon on this topic. ( )


As Nathaniel C. Comfort has noted: ‘One point on which anti-Darwinists and anticreationists agree is that this is a pitched battle between dogmatic religious fanatics on the one hand, and rigorous, fair-minded scientists on the other. However, which side is which depends on who you read’. Although both critics and defenders of ID often explain the beliefs of the other side as the result of ideological or religious bias, the importance of the philosophical and theological assumption on one’s own side is not usually emphasized. However, it is my contention that using philosophical and theological arguments in this debate is actually necessary, and all sides depend on such arguments in addition to evidence from the natural sciences.


As Comfort’s quote shows, in the debate, arguments based on the natural sciences are valued, while philosophical and theological considerations are often hidden, put in the sidelines or said to be primary burdening the opponent.


I agree that discussion of biological design arguments, for example, is very much affected by the theory of biological evolution, as well as by the empirical details of biological organisms. So in this sense discussing science is indeed crucial for the debate. Ultimately, I also argue that there is no theological or philosophical “silver bullet” that could bury ID without consulting the results of empirical enquiry. However, what is often overlooked in the debate is that the overall question of whether nature is ultimately purposeful or not is not settled by just science or the debate over biological evolution. Traditionally, these types of arguments about the ultimate character of reality have reasonably been understood as primarily philosophical and theological questions, discussed as part of the philosophy of religion. Yet both atheistic critics of ID and proponents of ID often argue as if there can be no rational belief in the createdness of nature if science does not give us ground for such a belief. The philosophical and theological differences of the participants are important, and should be discussed more openly.




What others have said about The Intelligent Design Debate and the Temptation of Scientism:


”During the past few years, I have read many bad and (one way or the other) biased books on ID. The Intelligent Design Debate and the Temptation of Scientism is definitely not one of them. In fact, it might well be the best ID book I have ever got my hands on. It is impossible not to be impressed by the way Kojonen handles such a controversial and complex phenomenon. Throughout the book, Kojonen stresses the importance of a balanced, objec-tive analysis of ID – and this exactly what he himself succeeds in delivering. In the back cover endorsements, Jeffrey Koperski calls Kojonen’s book simply ’the best place for students and scholars to start if they are trying to understand the arguments surrounding ID’. I could not agree more.”

Juuso Loikkanen, University of Easter Finland, European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT) Review

“This ground-breaking book epitomizes the balanced, scrupulous, and fair-handed intentions of the author. Kojonen analyzes the underlying philosophical and theological issues which structure the debate in order to lift up the strengths and weaknesses of both advocates and opponents of Intelligent Design. I highly recommend this book to theologians, philosophers, scientists and non-specialists who want to hear ‘good news’ about the underlying connections on a topic which far too often divides both scientific and religious communities.”

Robert John Russell. The Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, USA

“This is the most comprehensive, scholarly monograph on Intelligent Design to date, and Kojonen’s well-balanced analysis is a welcome addition to the literature. This book is the best place for students and scholars to start if they are trying to understand the arguments surrounding ID.”

Jeffrey Koperski, Saginaw Valley State University, USA



By | 2017-11-30T16:59:42+00:00 November 30th, 2017|Categories: Blog|

About the Author: