A few definitions

A good friend wants me to define some basic terminology:

When you have time I would be interested to understand the distinction you see (if there is one) between “creationism” and “intelligent design.” Conventionally, creationists are considered to be those who believe that the Earth is only 5000 years old, who read Genesis literally. As far as I understand it, people who subscribe to intelligent design find the theories of evolution and the Big Bang to be plausible, even probable, but insist that these things happened because they were guided by an intelligent being. In my reading of your posts, it sounds like you are equating creationism and intelligent design, and drawing a distinction between evolution theories and intelligent design. I don’t think the latter two our mutually exclusive.

This is a fair request, and one I probably should have done right at the start. Here it goes:

  1. Creationism: Also known as Young-Earth creationism aka Biblical literalism. One day in the bible represents one 24-hour day. You roughly count the generations  A belief in literal translation of the bible, where 1 day is 1 24-hour day, and you date the Earth, e.g., by roughly counting the generations between Noah and Jesus. Creationists generally reject most of modern evolution and believe the Earth is around 5,000 years old. It is a scientific, empirical fact that you can be a creationist and still become a world-class pediatric neurosurgeon.
  2. Intelligent Design (ID): This one a little trickier. One interpretation is the one suggested above, where evolution and the Big Bang happened because they were guided by an intelligent being. This definition is essentially synonymous with believing in God. Another definition of ID (and one that scientists really oppose) is the notion that evolution alone cannot explain life on Earth and we require an Intelligent Designer to explain the evidence. This definition is often brought into science class and causes a big drama to occur.

One final point. In one sense I am conflating creationists and people who believe in Intelligent Design. In both groups we find people who are wildly successful in their lives. I think that’s an important fact to remember. But from an intellectual standpoint, there are enormous differences between creationism and ID, and scientists’ failure to recognize them is unfortunate.


  1. Cool. Just a few comments. Creationism is wider than young-earth creationism. Someone can be creationist who is into the gap theory. Or there is day-age creationism as well. The list goes on.

    I would be careful on the analogy between believing in God and Intelligent Design since believing in God is a huge phrase which encompasses a spectrum of people and believes. You probably mean believing in a certain type of God or a certain concept of God (which it’s good to define).

    Good post!

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