‘intelligent design is not creationism in any shape or form’ – yeah, right!

By Alison Campbell 03/01/2011

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.

0 Responses to “‘intelligent design is not creationism in any shape or form’ – yeah, right!”

  • I don’t know much about ID to be honest, as it has always seemed to be a slightly dishonest version of creationism, with just a renaming of the parts. Rather than a god, there’s a designer – one assumes with the same degree of omnipotence etc and invisibility-requiring-faith…

    If there is an agent behind the “design” and origination of the diversity of life we see around us and within us, then either they are observable or they are not. If the former, game on, if the latter, why bother to apply any thought to the matter?

    It all seems a bit pointless, really. Or am I missing some ID subtlety?

  • Rainman, The “point” of it is (well, was) to try work around the legal rulings so that they might continue to try place creationism into science classes, etc.

  • Thanks Alison! Great post. I think what sparked the comment on my post wasn’t the post itself but something I may have said on the radio. Last Friday I was interviewed by Noelle McCarthy and I think I may have mentioned Creationism and ID in the same breathe which is what obviously riled Graham. It was my first time on live radio and I can’t quite bring myself to listen to it to see what I actually said. I just remember talking way too fast! I mentioned vaccination too so i’m surprised they haven’t started on me too….

    • Nothing wrong with mentioning creationism & ID in the same breath – I do it myself all the time :) In fact I was rather hoping when I wrote that post that a few creationist/ID persons might drop by… (But then, I never seem to get the anti-vax types either… & I did try!)

  • This issue is a semantic mess and is really rather pointless unless you fear a covert conspiracy where Christians are trying to sneak the biblical creation story into schools under the guise of something else.

    Firstly, there is nothing to fear, even if it is true. Students can think for themselves, can’t they?

    Secondly, it’s hardly a covert goal of Christians to get people to believe in the bible. These documents that are quoted from were hardly secret either. Even so, ID does not deny any account of origins of man that squares with a reasonable interpretation of the evidence. If people/scientists could get over their issue of a supernatural, ultimate cause, then there is no reason why every single element of non-theistic evolution (and indeed all origins, not just human origins) can be accepted. There is no reason to cast out belief in a designer who set it all in motion. That’s not my view, though. I’m a “full on fundy” if you know what I mean.

    Thirdly, a science “consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” is not a science that “is the same as” Christian and theistic convictions, otherwise they would’ve said that. It allows for enough parallelism and similarity so that people can interpret the evidence with a wider scope (yes, you can take that as a pun/vague reference if you want) than the current process of science which is biased towards a lack of belief. And yes, that is as much a bias as belief can be.

    It’s worth pointing out that the term “supernatural” is often used to fear-monger. It’s hardly a problem for scientists when you take the perspective that everything with an origin (of sorts) from outside the time and space of our universe must be supernatural by any normal understanding. Perhaps the terms non-natural, extra-universal, or even supra-natural are more useful. That would make Stephen Hawking one of the leading supra-natural theoretical physicists for instance.

    Happy raging :-)


    PS. sorry for the late reply. I was hoping to get to this yesterday but some woodwork needed to completed on schedule.

    • Sam, the problem is that in the US, where this whole thing first blew up, Christians are tyring to sneak the Biblical creation story into schools. (And in some ‘special character’ schools in NZ creationism is taught as an exclusive statement of fact; our school system is rather weak in that regard. There were concerted efforts to get ) That was the whole point of the manoeuvring by the Dover District School Board. Your comment ‘even if it is true’ is disingenuous in the extreme – the plethora of court documents generated by the Dover trial make the Board’s agenda quite clear.

      Students can think for themselves & I encourage them to do so. But I also make sure that they have access to accurate information to enable them to do so. ID materials are inaccurate and misrepresent the current state of scientific knowledge. ID is not science & in fact I use it as an example when talking about the nature of science – but that’s in a university classroom where I have a bit more time at my disposal than hard-pressed secondary teachers.

      The ‘Wedge’ document may not be secret but it’s not exactly immediately obvious either – perhaps because the ID camp, in trying to convince everyone that they are doing real science, at one point removed it from display. After all, if you’re claiming to be science-based, presenting a document that makes it obvious that your founding document promotes creationism is hardly a good look!

      Some ID proponents (Philip Johnson among them) do deny accounts of human origins that ignore creationist explanations. Look again at the first sentence in the Wedge document.

      And I don’t think science is going to ‘get over’ its objections to supernaturalism any time soon. By definition, supernatural is outside of nature & outside of science.

      And I see my ‘regulars’ have got in ahead of me already :) Blame the fact that I’ve been dealing with student enrolments all day & trying to write this in the gaps between appointments!

  • @samhight
    “This issue is a semantic mess and is really rather pointless unless you fear a covert conspiracy where Christians are trying to sneak the biblical creation story into schools under the guise of something else.
    Firstly, there is nothing to fear, even if it is true. Students can think for themselves, can’t they?”

    Sam I think your choice of wording is very appropriate, “sneak” being the operative word. If Christians (or any other religious group) want their religion taught in schools then they should try and get religious studies taught in schools not “sneak” religion in under the guise of science. I had religious studies classes at school and I had no problem with it.

    Also, I disagree with the “students can think for themselves”. Given that it seems to me that only a minority of adults appear able to think rationally for themselves what makes you think students are any better. I cringe when I compare the thinking skills I had at school to those I had at school and I was considered one of the more able students in my final year.
    Educators have an obligation to teach students how to think rationally (amongst other things) and exposing them to ID/creationist arguments is more likely to confuse them (unless of course they are used as examples of what science isn’t).

    As far as I’m concerned “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” is not science at all. Science is only consonant with objective and verifiable observations and facts. Twisting facts to fit around theological mythology is not science.

  • Damn, I’m going to blame the hot temperatures for my errors in my previous post. (I’m on holiday in Palmerston North until tomorrow and it is so hot and humid I’m worried sweating on the keyboard might short out my laptop).
    I mean to say that that “when I compare the thinking skills I had at school to those I have now, it makes me cringe as to how limited they were.
    I think I will log out now and go and stand beside the open fridge :-)

  • This issue is a semantic mess

    What is a “semantic mess” about saying that ID was set up to work around the legal issues blocking those creationists that try get creationism into (USA) schools? That’s pretty straight-forward, isn’t it?

    trying to sneak the biblical creation story into schools under the guise of something else

    ID proponents (in the USA) have (tried) to present ID as an alternative “scientific” theory (it’s not) saying it “must” be included because it’s “science”, rather than present it as the religious belief it is. Although this is too silly to be missed, it is trying to get it in as something it’s not. This, in turn, is why the courts ruled against them. (It’s quite different thing to asking that it be included in, say, a comparative religion class.)

    There is no reason to cast out belief in a designer who set it all in motion.

    There’s no reason to include something as worthy of being taken seriously solely on the basis of belief. This applies to anything else: homeopathy, reflexology, astrology, etc. Religious beliefs are no different in this respect. (‘Belief’, or popularity, alone is not a reason to take something as being right or worthy of study. [The link is to a post I wrote last year.])

  • There were concerted efforts to get
    Drat & bother; that’s what comes of trying to multitask.
    What I meant to say was, there were concerted efforts by a couple of lobby groups to get the evolution content of the 2007 national science curriculum watered down, & creationist views inserted, while the curriculum document was out for public consultation before it was finalised. However, we are talking the science curriculum & so this didn’t happen. As Michael says, such views are fine in a religious studies context (although I would hope that other religions’ creation myths are given equal time!)

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