The logic of intelligent design tells us that it is not the same as creationism. Many proponents of intelligent design are not creationists. And more and more creationists are distancing themselves from intelligent design. Nevertheless, most critics of ID insist on equating intelligent design with creationism. While I am sure there are many critics who are sincere (although misinformed) when equating intelligent design with creationism, nevertheless, the accusation has many of the hallmarks of propaganda.
Wikipedia has a nice summary on propaganda, defining it as "a specific type of message presentation directly aimed at influencing the opinions of people, rather than impartially providing information."
The author also writes, "Historically, the most common use of the term propaganda is in political contexts; in particular to refer to certain efforts sponsored by governments, political groups, and other often covert interests."
Now, given its political nature, I'm sure many will point out that the Intelligent Design Movement has a propagandistic dimension (to say the least). And I would not dispute that argument. More interesting, however, is that many of those who are battling the ID movement are just as political. In fact, many critics were introduced to ID by the socio-political movement ("The Wedge"). Thus, this initial perception shapes all subsequent perceptions, leading them to view all ID arguments, concepts, and proponents through the prism of political consideration. What's more, the vast majority of critics consider ID to be nonsense at best and a "sham" at worst. With those perceptions of ID, it is rather safe to conclude that most critics are invested in the idea of defeating ID. And that's where propaganda comes in handy.
The author of the Wikipedia article lists "techniques of propaganda generation" and many of them converge on the common attempt to equate ID with creationism. Let's briefly consider them:
1. Stereotyping or Labeling: This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable.
Clearly, the effort to turn an "intelligent design proponent" into an "intelligent design creatioinist" is a textbook example of labeling and stereotyping. And it is certainly clear that in many segments of society, especially academia, creationists are feared, hated, loathed, or deemed undesirable.
2. Transfer: Also known as association, this is a technique of projecting positive or negative qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organization, nation, patriotism, etc.) to another in order to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it.
Many critics of ID work very hard at associating ID, and its proponents, with creationism. Any and all similarities are amplified (and even invented), while any and all dissimilarities are downplayed or ignored. In fact, often times the dissimilarities are spun as lies and tactics, as the critic attempts to keep the process of transfer as robust as possible.
3. Intentional vagueness: Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analyzing their validity or attempting to determine their reasonableness or application.
Intentional vagueness often goes hand-in-hand with the stereotyping and transfer, as the critic rarely defines "˜creationism' when labeling an ID proponent as a creationist. When pressed, the critics will often come up with various ad hoc definitions that illustrate they are painting targets around arrows.
4. Obtain disapproval: This technique is used to persuade a target audience to disapprove of an action or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience.
By equating ID with creationism, the critics are at the very least trying to say that ID is popular among the fundamentalists and "religious right." This is key part of the strategy. We often see this tactic at work, for example, when the critic tries to label an argument as a "creationist argument."
5. Argumentum ad nauseam: Uses tireless repetition. An idea once repeated enough times, is taken as the truth.
The creationist label is tirelessly repeated, even to the point where critics insist that it is permanently linked to ID as "ID Creationism."
6. Appeal to fear: Appeals to fear seek to build support by instilling fear in the general population.
The creationist label is an appeal to fear. Many segments of society fear the "religious right" and often express great anxiety about some coming theocracy. By linking ID to creationism, the critic taps into this fear and thus successfully appeals to the target audience's emotions. It is no coincidence that ID is often portrayed as a "threat," even to the point where Ken Miller warns his fellow scientists that "everything is at stake."
It should thus be clear why so many critics insist on equating ID with creationism. In one word, they successfully find a vehicle for propagandistic techniques such as Stereotyping or Labeling, Transfer, Intentional Vagueness, Obtain Disapproval, Argumentum ad nauseam, and the Appeal to Fear. It's a powerful buzzword if you are in a political battle to shape public perception.