Thesis ID: CBB325390187

Designer Science: A History of Intelligent Design in America (2021)


Howell, Christopher (Author)
Morgan, David (Advisor)

Duke University
Morgan, David
Publication date: 2021
Language: English

Publication Date: 2021
Physical Details: 289

Designer Science: A History of Intelligent Design in America undertakes the first full-length historical overview of the intelligent design movement (ID), a popular and influential antievolutionary ideology prominent at the turn of the 21st century. To date, on one hand, full length treatments of ID have been primarily polemical, consisting of either critical refutations or hagiographic defenses. The scholarly, non-polemical assessments, on the other hand, have folded ID into a larger story of American creationism and in general do not focus on ID on its own. Rather than making ID a small part of a history of creationism or engaging in polemical conflict, this dissertation treats intelligent design it as its own subject. In contrast to some critics and scholars who have interpreted intelligent design as a sleeker, deceptive, or “stealth” version of creationism, I find that ID is better understood as an evolution of creationist views into a distinct movement and ideology. The differences are especially stark if creationism is understood as young-Earth creationism, from which ID’s worldview was a significant departure. ID was animated less by the Biblical literalism and geological focus of young-Earth creationism and more by theistic metaphysics, the argument from design, and post-WWII intellectual conservatism. Its minimalist theological principles entailed a jettisoning of many of young-Earth creationism’s most important features, and its resultant lowest-common-denominator approach to antievolution (and reluctance to engage in doctrinal disputes) allowed ID to build a broad but shallow political coalition across antievolutionary movements. It was an expansive “big tent” with influence across the spectrum of antievolutionists and conservative political groups, and so creationists of all kinds were welcome (provided they sidelined doctrinal issues). However, ID and its supporters met their Waterloo in 2005, at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in Pennsylvania, where ID’s leaders struggled to clearly articulate a scientific vision for the concept and were dealt a disastrous legal defeat. Though ID did not disappear after the Dover trial, it was considerably reduced. Media interest declined, scientists reveled in their victory, and ID’s intellectual leaders responded by doubling down on existing arguments. ID’s general appeal meant that its leaders’ allegations of scientific bias legitimated a narrative of persecution that found great receptivity with its conservative religious supporters. In spite of its public decline, ID’s influence continued to be felt from the cultural margins, and the movement’s transition from an empirical challenge against Darwin to a radical rejection of scientific expertise is an illuminating development in the popular perception of science in the early 21st century. ID had little impact on the way science was practiced in America, but its influence on culture persists. In order to chart a historical narrative of the movement’s rise, climax, and fall, I have focused primarily on ID’s intellectual history, for it was a movement concerned about the origins and effects of ideas. Supplemental research into the history of American conservatism and populist creationism is incorporated into a fuller picture of ID’s similarities and differences from the antievolutionary movements that came before it, and the latter half of the dissertation focuses on the legal and cultural context of ID in conjunction with its intellectual history. This project aims for a better understanding of what ID was—and what it was not—so as to make sense of its socio-political consequences, which are still being felt in 21st century America.

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Authors & Contributors
Numbers, Ronald L.
Fuller, Steven
Laats, Adam
Blancke, Stefaan
Boudry, Maarten
Bowler, Peter J.
Social Studies of Science
Church History
Science and Education
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Harvard University Press
University of Pittsburgh
Greenwood Press
MIT Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Polity Press
Science and religion
Intelligent design (teleology)
Controversies and disputes
Darwin, Charles Robert
Scopes, John Thomas
Dawkins, Richard
Gould, Stephen Jay
Time Periods
21st century
20th century
20th century, late
19th century
20th century, early
United States

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