As I said in my post yesterday that looked at the moribund state of the ID movement these days, there was always a deep-rooted tension between the Intelligent Design (ID) group and young Earth creationists. The ID people were playing a long game. Their goal was to overthrow the principle of naturalism that governed scientific practice and which they felt ruled out any role for god. As I have said before, naturalism can be divided into methodological naturalism in which you look for natural causes and explanations for any phenomena, and philosophical naturalism, the idea that the material world governed by natural laws is all there is and thus a priori rules out any possibility of any kind of supernatural phenomena.
Whatever else you might say about the ID movement, you have to concede that the leaders were a highly sophisticated lot, well-versed in science and the history and philosophy of science. They believed in an old Earth and almost all of what science teaches. They just felt that naturalism in either form was a bridge too far that had to be blown up. ID theoretician William Dembski explicitly laid out the challenge facing them.
So long as methodological naturalism sets the ground rules for how the game of science is to be played, IDT [intelligent design theory] has no chance [in] Hades…In the words of Vladimir Lenin, What is to be done? Design theorists aren’t at all bashful about answering this question: The ground rules of science have to be changed. We need to realize that methodological naturalism is the functional equivalent of a full blown metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism asserts that the material world is all there is (in the words of Carl Sagan, “the cosmos is all there ever was, is, or will be”). (God vs. Darwin, p. 107)
The ID people knew that many mainstream religious supporters of science and evolution were comfortable with methodological naturalism but of course were not philosophical naturalists so their goal was to conflate the two ideas as much as possible so that Christians, confronted with having to decide whether they were anti-evolution or pro-evolution, or pro-ID or anti-ID, would also feel they were choosing between whether god existed or not. The ID goal was to drive a wedge between mainstream Christians, whose various vague formulations of ‘theistic evolution’ made it seem compatible with belief in a god, and the scientific community. They were partially aided in this effort by the bursting on to the scene of the ‘New Atheists’ whose publicly professed naturalistic philosophy was grounded in evolutionary theory. The ID people would point to the New Atheists and say, “See, we told you that evolution as currently taught is anti-god”.
ID strategists felt that if they could split off the mainstream Christians from supporting evolution, then mass opposition to teaching alternatives to evolution in science classes would collapse and theories like ID that had a quasi-scientific veneer, could be taught. That would be the nose of the camel under the tent, the first step in a process in which increasingly religious ideas were introduced into public schools, not to mention prayers and Bible study and the like, leading to the eventual overthrow of evolution as the dominant theory of biology and the replacement of methodological naturalism by theories that allowed for divine intervention.
As I said, this was the long game they were playing that required persuading people that ID was a secular theory that was a viable scientific alternative to evolutionary theory. In order for the strategy to succeed, they had to keep the overtly religious young Earth creationists at arm’s length because the idea of the Earth being 6,000 years old and Adam and Eve being historical figures and the rest of the Genesis story being literally true would be the kiss of death for ID with not only the scientific community but also with mainstream Christianity that had long ago given up on strict biblical literalism.
The problem for them was that the mass of the people who fervently opposed the teaching of evolution in schools, and were the foot soldiers in this battle, consisted largely of young Earth creationists. The IDers needed them to do the ground work but these young Earthers lacked their level of sophistication and never seemed to quite understand this long-term strategy. They wanted religion back in the schools and they wanted it now. They saw the ID people as serving their ends, not the other way around, and seemed to think that the IDers professed beliefs in an old Earth were just a ruse and that they would throw off the mask at some point and reveal themselves to be Biblical literalists.
The ID people tried to placate them as much as possible and succeeded for a while by papering over these differences. But the utterly clueless Dover school board completely messed up the strategy by adopting a policy that mixed ID, young Earth creationism, religion, and evolution into one, big, complicated, but clearly unconstitutional mess that the judge in the Dover trial in 2005 seemed to have little difficulty in throwing out. In the process he ruled that ID was a religious theory, something that the ID people had sought to carefully avoid along, and that sealed its fate.
This story is an apt example of the Robert Burns couplet from his poem To a Mouse.
“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley”
All these ideas are explored is some depth in my book God vs. Darwin.