15 Comments

A few weeks ago one of my fellow SciBloggers, Siouxsie Wiles, wrote an interesting piece about a childrens’ film that she’d seen where the underlying message seemed to be: you don’t have to understand, you just have to believe. Which as she says, does rather encapsulate a lot of pseudo-scientific nonsense that’s promoted these days (homeopathy, ‘miracle mineral supplements’, etc etc etc). Anyway, Siouxsie mentioned creationism in her post, & now a new commenter has dropped by to inform us that ‘intelligent design… is not creationism in any shape or form, but serious scientific debate about the latest evidence for the origins of life.’ My immediate response emulated the famous Tui billboards (here’s an example), but then I & other regulars there went on to point out that this comment is a long way off-base. And I thought the subject was worth revisiting in a separate post.

For Siouxsie’s correspondent is wrong – so-called ‘intelligent design’ is creationism, pure and simple, and not a valid scientific explanation for life’s diversity. There’s a lot of evidence out there to back up this statement.

One line of evidence is actually rather farcical. It came up at the “Dover trial’ (of which more later), where it transpired that a popular creationist text, Of Pandas & People, had been remastered into an ‘intelligent design’ volume. Very clumsily remastered, as Barbara Forrest demonstrated (after an exhaustive comparison of the orginal book and a draft of the intelligent design version). On page 3-40 of the 1987 creationist version there’s the phrase “Evolutionists think the former is correct, creationists accept the latter view.” The ‘intelligent design’ version (also 1987) says “Evolutionists think the former is correct, cdesign proponentsists accept the latter view” (emphasis added by Forrest). The editors of the Pandas book had simply gone through the earlier version & replaced all instances of the word ‘creationists’ with the phrase ‘design proponents’. All instances but one, that is…

More substantive data comes from what could be regarded as the ID movement’s founding document, the so-called ‘Wedge’ strategy written by Phillip E. Johnson & setting out the goals of the ‘Centre for Renewal of Science & Culture’ (a Discovery Institute think-tank, now called the Centre for Science & Culture). This document begins with the following statement: “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built” and claims to have “re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature.” And the Wedge document’s ‘Five Year Strategic Plan Summary‘ clearly states that the goal of the ID movement is to replace current scientific understandings of the world with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.  If that’s not a creationist viewpoint then I don’t know what is.

I’m in good company in this: as many of you will know, the proposition that ‘intelligent design’ is a valid scientific alternative to evolution was tested in the ‘Dover trial’ – and found wanting. In 2005 the Dover, Pennsylvania school district board attempted to introduce the ID version of Of Pandas & People as a science text. A group of concerned parents & teachers (Kitzmiller et al.) took the board to court, citing a failure to observe the legal requirement for separation of church & state. Although ID supporters argued that intelligent design is science, not a thinly-disguised religious viewpoint on life’s origins & diversity, the judge ruled that this was indeed an attempt to have creationist material presented in science classrooms. You can read Judge Jones’ very thorough and detailed decision here, and the full transcripts can be found in the TalkOrigins archives. There’s also an excellent PBS documentary available on-line.

In fact, the defendants’ arguments relied substantially on setting up a false dichotomy, along the lines of ‘evolution can’t explain X, so therefore intelligent design is true,’ something that the judge ruled was not neither scientific nor evidence for ID. Judge Jones also noted that two of the witnesses for the Dover school board admitted that their personal view is that the designer is God and Professor Minnich testified that he understands many leading advocates of ID to believe the designer to be God. In addition one of the defense’s expert witnesses stated quite explicitly that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and allows for the inclusion of supernatural explanations for observed phenomena. This led the judge to conclude that  that ID is not science (contrary to the assertions by Siouxsie’s commenter), for the following reasons:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. … [It] is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.

Whatever else it might be, ID is not science.