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Intelligent design: The new 'big tent' for evolution's critics

SEATTLE - Since the advent of Darwinism in the mid-19th century, a variety of movements have jousted for the intellectual high ground in the epic evolution versus creationism debate.

At one end of the spectrum reside the "naturalistic evolutionists" who argue that life neither requires nor benefits from a divine creator. At the other pole, "scientific creationists" compress the entire history of the cosmos into 6,000 years and insist that the heavens and Earth and all life arose in one six-day creation event. Somewhere in the middle, are "theistic evolutionists" who argue for a creator, but see no reason why God could not have made the world by means of evolution.

And in the last decade or so, yet another movement has forged a claim in the high-stakes contest for intellectual primacy in the apparently ceaseless battle over the origins of life. The newest combatants, known as "intelligent-design theorists," reject both theistic and naturalistic evolution and, instead, claim evidence of the hand of an unknown "intelligent designer" in the genesis of life.

But for Ron Numbers, the leading historian of the struggle between Darwinism and the anti-evolution movements of the past 140 years, intelligent design is simply the latest effort to create a "big tent for all people critical of evolution."

As he views it, there are significant differences between scientific creationism and intelligent design. First, adherents of intelligent design scrupulously avoid biblical arguments to undermine evolutionary theory and argue instead that the subcellular complexity of life demands a knowing designer. What's more, many who subscribe to intelligent design theory have no problem accepting the great antiquity of life on Earth.

"They do create some problems for people (strict creationists) who take the Bible seriously," says Numbers, a professor of history of science and medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "They argue that the emphas
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Contact: Ronald Numbers
rnumbers@med.wisc.edu
608-262-3701
University of Wisconsin-Madison
14-Feb-2004


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