September 2, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Is “Intelligent Design” the New Cussword?

The phrase “intelligent design” is being bandied about everywhere.  Pro-Darwin scientists generally put it in quote marks with palpable derision; it has practically sunk to the level of the older cussword, “creationism.”  Yet a groundswell of support for I.D. continues not only in America but in other countries.  Here are recent events, attacks and counterattacks about evolution, intelligent design and education:

  • Aussie Glossy:  The transcript of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation story aired Aug. 30 featured proponents and opponents of the proposal to permit intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinian evolution in public schools down under.  The report was interspersed with scenes from the ID film Unlocking the Mystery of Life.
  • Rusher Flusher:  William Rusher, writing Aug. 31 in Human Events, thinks the label “evolutionism” is too nice.  He thinks “accidentalism” would be more appropriate.  He finds irony in Darwinists referring to the Scopes Trial, when this time it is they who are forbidding the competition to be taught.
  • The Case Against I.D.:  Karl Lembke in Opinion Editorials defends the position that Darwinism (as he carefully defines it) is scientific, and intelligent design is not.  He insists that methodological naturalism is a rule of science and claims evolution is falsifiable.
  • Albuquerque Quirk:  The school board is trying to come to a consensus on how to teach science now that more and more students and parents are asking questions and complaining about the Darwin-only policy.  Rick Cole, New Mexico Science Teacher of the Year in 2001, who elevated his high school’s science fair from non-existent to award-winning status, taught intelligent design alongside evolution for 11 years.  He used the controversy to help his students learn to think critically about the two positions, until a single phone call from an atheist brought down an order from the department chairmen for him to stop.
  • Big Guns:  Big-time Darwin defenders Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne came out swinging in The Guardian, intent on stuffing intelligent design into the science trash can once and for all.  Claiming that there is “no evidence” in favor of intelligent design, but “massive” evidence for evolution, they say, “The weight of the evidence has become so heavy that opposition to the fact of evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data.  Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.”
        Amidst this bluster, however, they did admit in some depth that there are deep and serious debates between evolutionists that are “genuinely challenging” – such as neutral vs. adaptive selection, group selection, punctuated equilibrium, cladism, evo-devo, the Cambrian explosion, mass extinctions, interspecies competition, the relative roles of natural and sexual selection, the evolution of sex, evolutionary psychology and Darwinian medicine – yet they argue that I.D. is “not an argument of the same character as these controversies” because it is “religious,” not “scientific.”
        David Berlinski, as usual, was quite amused by all this.  He wrote to Evolution News inviting people to read Coyne and Dawkins’ diatribe, “endeavoring not to laugh, chortle, snicker, hoot or whistle,” which he claimed could not be done.  He was gratified to see them finally admitting that “Darwinian theories are simply riddled with problems for which Darwinian theories have no answers,” as critics have been saying for years.  “The list of problems that Coyne and Dawkins have produced could be extended far into the night,” Berlinski says, “but it’s a good beginning.  That they use the deficiencies of Darwinian theory to argue against ID is an added pleasure.”
  • Spectator Sport:  Paul Johnson in The Spectator wrote a correspondingly vicious attack against the evolutionists, especially Richard Dawkins, who he called the “ayatollah of atheism.”  He senses a “groundswell of discontent at this intellectual totalitarianism” and predicts its collapse: “The likelihood that Darwin’s eventual debacle will be sensational and brutal is increased by the arrogance of his acolytes, by their insistence on the unchallengeable truth of the theory of natural selection – which to them is not a hypothesis but a demonstrated fact, and its critics mere flat-earthers – and by their success in occupying the commanding heights in the university science departments and the scientific journals, denying a hearing to anyone who disagrees with them.”  Case in point: Iowa State, where Discovery Institute says the “thought cops” and “inquisitors” are leading a crusade against astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez (08/30/2005).
  • Red Blog:  Homunculus is trying to get a debate going on ID on the blog.  Rob Crowther on EvolutionNews was glad he got the definitions right, but suspects he will be “inundated by rabid Darwinists irked by such an insightful post.”
  • Don’t Teach the Controversy:  John Derbyshire on National Review votes against teaching the controversy over Darwinism.  To him, Darwinism is accepted science and ID is not.  Plenty of good scientists are religious people, he agrees, and so are some Darwinists.
  • Ho-Hum, Old Stuff:  Alan Cutler reviewed Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature by Keith Thomson (Yale, 2005) in Science1 and treated the design-vs-naturalism debate like it’s as hoary as the hills.  He pointed out that the question in Robert Boyle’s time was not whether science and God could be reconciled; “It was whether science and atheism could be reconciled, and the answer seemed to be a definitive no.”  By popular consent now, though, Darwin settled the question once and for all; “According to Thomson, it was principally Darwin’s theory that, by removing the necessity of a designer, doomed natural theology.”  Interestingly, Cutler cut down natural theology not as much for its scientific arguments as for its theology.  In his opinion, William Paley’s divine watchmaker is little more than a “compassionless technocrat” –

    Natural theologians had long been criticized for emphasizing God the Creator over God the Redeemer.  Paley’s book nowhere mentions Jesus.  When Darwin grieved over the death of his beloved daughter at the age of ten, Paley’s watchmaker God was cold comfort at best.  It was this, as much as any intellectual argument, that undermined Darwin’s Christian faith.  Natural theology’s theology was ultimately as unsatisfying as its science.   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

    (See 09/01/2005 commentary.)  When Thomson devoted a mere few pages to the current intelligent design controversy, Cutler dismissively remarked, “This is enough.  The answers to their arguments are basically the same as the answers to Paley’s.”

  • Dumb design:  In a short piece on the evolutionary water-to-land transition, Science Now used the phrase “intelligent design” as a Darwinian counterthrust.  Robert Carroll described the awkward stance of presumed primitive tetrapod Ichthyostega: “It’s not a very intelligent design,” he chuckled.  (For more on Ichthyostega and the evolution of tetrapods, see “Evolution of the Darwin Fish,” 08/09/2003.)
  • Friendship Evo-evangelism:  Science editor2 Don Kennedy liked the movie March of the Penguins (08/19/2005) so much, he thinks it could provide a teachable moment for Darwinist evangelists to use on the ignorant: “By all means see March of the Penguins.  Better still, you can accomplish a good work by inviting an advocate for ‘intelligent design’ to accompany you.  After the show, buy him or her a beer, and ask for an explanation of just what the Designer had in mind here.”  If that advocate were Paul Nelson, undoubtedly he would have a counter-question ready in response, as he hands Kennedy a Diet Coke.

1Alan Cutler, “Science and Religion: 200 Years of Accommodation,” Science, Vol 309, Issue 5740, 1493-1494 , 2 September 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1116362].
2Donald Kennedy, “Emperors on the Ice,” Science, Vol 309, Issue 5740, 1494 , 2 September 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1118709].

OK, we’re going to do the Darwin Party a favor, and list all their talking points as bullets.  Readers are invited to print these out alongside our Baloney Detector and exercise their critical thinking skills:

  • Evolution is a fact.
  • Evolution is science.
  • Creationism is religion.
  • Intelligent design is just creationism in disguise.
  • ID refers to the supernatural, which is disallowed in science.
  • Evolution is comparable to the law of gravity.
  • Intelligent Design is comparable to alchemy and belief in a flat earth.
  • Evolution is supported by massive amounts of evidence.
  • ID has no evidence.
  • Science must be naturalistic by definition.
  • ID only finds fault with evolution and has no answers of its own.
  • Evolution promotes fruitful research.
  • ID brings science to a halt by saying God did it.
  • ID is just another “god-of-the-gaps” non-answer.
  • Evolution employs natural laws, not miracles.
  • Evolution has been highly successful in explaining living things.
  • Evolution helps us understand medicine.
  • Evolutionists will solve their problems given enough time (and funding).
  • Nothing in biology makes sense apart from evolution.
  • ID advocates are religiously motivated.
  • The principle of “separation of church and state” precludes ID being taught.
  • ID is unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court said so.
  • ID can be taught in religion, history and sociology classes, but not in science class.
  • “Teaching the controversy” is just as dangerous as teaching creationism.
  • There is no controversy over evolution among scientists.
  • Evolutionists are motivated only by love of the truth.
  • Teaching ID would require teaching every culture’s creation myth equally.
  • Allowing alternatives to evolution is like allowing Holocaust-deniers to have equal time in history class.
  • Evolution is falsifiable.
  • ID is not falsifiable.
  • Evolution does not need to explain the origin of life.
  • Evolution does not need to explain the origin of the universe.
  • ID needs to answer the question, “who designed the Designer?”
  • ID is a “disingenuous euphemism” (Dawkins) for religious advocacy.
  • Educators and politicians must not give in to the pressure from the ID zealots.

Parents and teachers may wish to print this list in one column, and the types of propaganda tactics, logical fallacies and smokescreens from the Baloney Detector in another column, and have students draw lines connecting them (multiple lines per item are permitted).  Or, they can make a game of the exercise, like a Scavenger Hunt – the student who reads Dawkins’ article and finds the most big lies wins.  Suggested prize: [root] beer.

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