A review of some of the more common lies and misconceptions spread by the Intelligent Design Creationism movement.
Throughout this document the acronym IDC is used to refer to proponents of “Intelligent Design”, Creationism, “Creation Science” or “Scientific Creationism” … some IDC’s will try to insist it has no religious motivation but the first three sections (“Intelligent Design” is/is not a Religious Movement/Scientific Theory/Creationism) indicate otherwise.
“Intelligent Design” is not a Religious Movement.
The Intelligent Design movement was founded by Professor Phillip E. Johnson who advocates the teaching ID over The Theory of Evolution which he refers to as atheistic. Johnson freely admits that ID is a religious concept that is strongly opposed to naturalistic science,
“If we understand our own times, we will know that we should affirm the reality of God by challenging the domination of materialism and naturalism in the world of the mind. With the assistance of many friends I have developed a strategy for doing this … we call our strategy the ‘wedge.’” (Johnson, 1997).
In adopting his wedge strategy he promotes the idea that The Theory of Evolution is in crisis despite the fact that the vast majority of scientists consider that to be untrue. Johnson is credited with the following:
“The first thing you understand is that the Darwinian theory isn’t true. It’s falsified by all of the evidence and the logic is terrible … the next question that occurs to you is, well, where might you get the truth?” … “I start with John 1:1. In the beginning was the word …”
“Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.”
“This isn’t really, and never has been a debate about science. It’s about religion and philosophy.”
“The objective (of the Wedge Strategy) is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to ‘the truth’ of the Bible and then ‘the question of sin’ and finally ‘introduced to Jesus.’”
Brian Spitzer, a professor of Biology, has described Johnson’s “Darwin on Trial” as the most deceptive book he has ever read saying that almost every scientific source Johnson cited had been misused or distorted, from simple misinterpretations and innuendos to outright fabrications.
Despite Johnson’s (and the Discovery Institute’s) claims to the contrary the Theory of Evolution is extremely well supported and accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. IDC advocates argue that schools and universities should “teach the controversy” when in reality there is no significant controversy at a scientific level and that IDC’s “Wedge” strategy is drumming up popular support for the lie of a supposed controversy is no reason to stop teaching evolution as science or to teach the religious ID movements claim alongside real science. From the mouth of Johnson, considered by both colleagues and critics as the father and architect of the ID movement and its strategies, it can be seen that ID is a first and foremost a religiously oriented movement.
“Intelligent Design” is a scientific theory.
Although IDC’s will try to insist otherwise the “Intelligent Designer” must be a creator god (a deity that has created the cosmic all) because if it were something else (presumed an advanced alien race of some description) they would be subject to the same arguments for ID as humans and the world that exists around them. A creator god, understood to be the creator of everything, must inherently be above and beyond the normally available scientific detection methods, cannot be validated, cannot be falsified and nor can any specific evidence of that deities handiwork. Indeed, under cross examination in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover School Board US legal case, one of the leading proponents for ID, Dr. Michael Behe conceded that:
“there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred”.
Professor Phillip E. Johnson has further conceded that the ID movement is simply a means of putting “God” back into science and the school curriculum. Any hypothesis involving such a creator god can have no observable, measurable, or experimental consequences to test … that does not mean per se that such a god cannot exist but it does mean that its existence must be taken on faith.
The implication of the proponents of Intelligent Design referring to their claims as “The Theory Of Intelligent design” is that ID qualifies as a theory and is equal to (or better than) the theory of evolution – however the fact is that the “Theory of Intelligent Design” does not fulfil any of the criteria necessary to be considered scientific and indeed, on the basis of Johnson’s (the father of ID) remarks must be considered a religious movement and no religion or religiously oriented claim can be considered to be science.
“Intelligent Design” is not a variant of creationism
ID is the latest in a line of attempts to push a specific form of creationism (scientific creationism or creation science) forward into the public arena the history of which is beyond this articles remit and to force-fit a religious belief system into science (see Lenny Flank’s “Attacks on Science” and SJS’s “The History of Creationism”).
ID proponents will, of course, claim that ID is not a form of creationism but ID and creationism tend to use the same arguments (and many of the same resources) interchangeably, the same proponents of ID tend to be ones that were known to be creationist, both “theories” are anti-science because they rely on a non-testable creator of some description, both rely wholly on negative evidence that attempts to discredit scientific theories whilst not specifically supporting t heir own (indeed neither “theory” actually has a specific definable theory as would be expected in a scientific theory) and both feature claims heavily refuted in peer- peer-reviewed research material.
Indeed Philip E. Johnson has admitted that the goal of the ID movement is to cast creationism as a scientific concept and says, “Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.”
Evolution is “Only a Theory”
IDC’s frequently claim that the theory of evolution is “only a theory” implying that it is somewhat uncertain in the minds of both public and the science community but nothing could be further from the truth … there is a very big difference between the word “theory” as it is used in common everyday language and the way in which it is used in science.
A scientific theory implies little in the way of doubt or uncertainty as the word “theory” does when used in commonplace, every day language … in science a “theory” is “a system of ideas explaining something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the particular things to be explained (e.g. atomic theory or the theory of evolution); the exposition of the principles of a science etc.; a collection of propositions to illustrate the principles of a subject (e.g. probability theory or the theory of equations).”
The Theory of Evolution is an attempt to explain the vast diversity of life and how it has evolved from a single common ancestor and in fact (common use) evolution is the only explanation accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community as explaining the development of the diversity of life around us today. Science is concerned with fact but IDC’s, when they use the word “fact”, confuse the scientific use of the word with its common usage. A fact implies certainty in common use but in science a fact, except possibly in a mathematical sense, does not imply absolute certainty or absence of doubt … that would be bad science. Facts are those things that science understands to be so and in this sense it is a fact that evolution occurs i.e. evolution is defined as a “change in allele frequency in a population over time.”
When IDC’s claim “it’s just a theory” WRT to major scientific theories they simply demonstrate themselves to be ignorant of science and all it represents!
Bogus “Laws”: “The Law of Cause and Effect”
Whilst it is true that every effect has a cause that is simply an observed truth, it does not qualify as a hypothesis, a theory or a law in any scientific sense; there is no “Law of Cause and Effect”. The Theory of Evolution explains how the diversity of life we see around us arose from a presumed single common ancestor and is supported by a staggeringly huge amount of evidence including the fossil record, the geologic column and comparative physiology (there is much more). Evolution is a biogenetic (life from previously existing life) study … in other words it implicitly concedes that life had to come into existence by some manner that is outside its field of the study. The Theory of Evolution does not consider how life first came to exist and those who claim otherwise or imply that by doing so it breaks some kind of “Law of Cause and Effect” demonstrate little but their own ignorance of science.
Bogus “Laws”: “The Law of Biogenesis”
Putting it simply this is claimed to be a law that states that life may only arise from life and although evolution is a biogenetic (life from previously existing life) discipline there is (and never was) any such law. The area of study concerned with how life first arose is called abiogenesis (life from no life), scientists continue to actively investigate the conditions specific to the origin of life on Earth as it cooled, including water vapour and the nature of the atmosphere at that time … much research has been (and continues to be) done in that area but abiogenesis is a heavily speculative discipline due to the lack of observable or inferable evidence. Abiogenetic hypotheses abound, no theories have yet been proposed and so the explanation is as yet forthcoming – but science is making progress.
Bogus Laws: “The Second Law of Thermodynamics”
For once this is an actual law but it is repeatedly misrepresented by proponents of creation and intelligent design. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a fundamental law of physics that states that there is a general tendency of all observed systems to go from order to disorder (or more accurately, move towards a higher state of entropy) and the claim is often made by ID/creationists that the big bang & evolution would violate this law. However, thermodynamic experiments are carried out in laboratories in near-perfect closed systems and spontaneous entropy decreases can, and do, occur all the time in nature, providing sufficient energy is available (Steiger, 1997) and the ONLY example of a perfect closed system is the universe itself.
Take a look around you … things move from disorder to order all the time and without intelligent direction, it happens in nature all the time. Look at snowflakes … very beautifully formed aren’t they but why do they form in such delicate beautiful patterns? Sand dunes, tornadoes, stalactites, graded river beds and lightening are other examples of things moving from disorder to order.
Bogus IDC Quotes
Many of us have significant experience with debating IDC’s and one we rapidly learn is their love of quotations, they will quote anything that will advance their cause. We have also learned that such quotations should be checked out (a fairly easy thing on the internet most times) because there will almost always be something wrong with the quotation and it will fall into one of the following categories:
- Out-of-Context: most IDC quotes are of this nature where the IDC quotes part of a discussion passage for example where a scientist admits difficulty (or perhaps a gap in scientific understanding) with some established scientific concept but subsequently explains how that difficult was or can be resolved … the IDC will only quote the section of the quotation that serves their warped purpose.
- Superceded: Science constantly changes, our understanding of the universe around us changes with it but IDC’s remain fond of creating older (outdated) scientific opinion for example Pettersson’s dust measurements (1960) used in an attempt to prove the shallow level of Lunar dust shows a 10,000 year old Earth.
- Ulterior Motivated: Many IDC leaders appear to be fleecing their followers, often selling something which one assumes makes them a reasonably comfortable living … a prime example of this would be US Creationism evangelist (and convicted tax evader) Kent Hovind.
- Irrelevant Authority & Opinion: Everyone is entitled to their opinion and sometimes those opinions can be highly relevant but it is a curious thing, when being critical of the Theory of Evolution, that so many of the IDC’s armoury of supporting scientists are not practising evolutionists and whose views devolve to little more than unsupported opinion.
- Invented: One final category of IDC statement is the invention or lie and is particularly noticeable where they claim the existence of a number of unanswered (presumed unanswerable) flaws in the theory of evolution when, in fact, those claimed flaws have been repeatedly explained to them.
Evolution by Chance
The foundation of evolution is indeed random in the form of mutation and the rate of mutation averages out at approx. 0.0001% but only a very small number of those mutations are potentially beneficial to an organism. The remaining mutations can be either neutral or harmful but some may become advantageous at a later stage. A number of other factors (there are considered to be 8 in all) such as gene recombination, sexual selection, natural selection also act within evolution and a key point to note is that selection has a cumulative effect. While IDC’s are correct to note the harmful effect in stating that the vast majority of mutations are in fact harmful they fail to note that natural selection operates AGAINST the majority of harmful mutations immediately and discards them whilst simultaneously operating in favour of beneficial ones.
Despite the fact that mutation alone cannot be the basis of evolution, without mutation there would be no variability and no evolution – but what is absolutely crystal clear is that, to use the eloquent words of Richard Dawkins, if evolution were really a theory of chance it is blindingly creakingly obvious it could not work. IDC’s that claim it is, yet again, merely demonstrate their ignorance of science.
Behe’s irreducible complexity argument is very similar to William Paley’s in that both are essentially, “if it looks designed then it must be designed” style arguments except that Behe’s is somewhat more up-to-date. The problem with both arguments is the same … Paley was premature, relying on the then current level of scientific knowledge, when he proposed that the eye could not have possibly come existed in a lesser form (we now know that the eye exists in functional “lesser” forms throughout nature and often within the same class) and Behe was premature when he proposed that a given bacterium with components comparable to an outboard motor could not function with any missing parts (bacterium have subsequently been discovered fully functional with a less than full complement of components.).
Ultimately both arguments are simply arbitrary definitions of what something should can or cannot be; are absolute in nature (and if there’s one thing science reflects, it is our understanding that no explanation can ever be considered beyond challenge) and are based on one individual or groups personal POV or lack of vision. Ultimately what Behe should have done is considered the possibility that an organism may have been irreducibly complex and then proceeded to attack that concept with every means at his disposal rather than, as he appeared to do, write popular science books and make himself the darling of the IDC community.
IDC’s often use the term “Darwinist” in a pejorative sense, a strawman referring to those who accept evolution as the best current understanding of how life developed to what we see around us today in a negative sense implying that they are unable to look at other (assumed equally valid) explanations of how that life & variety may have come to exist. Few, if any, biologists refer to themselves as “Darwinists” and the term appears to be used by IDC’s as a method of branding opponents as an opposing ideology rather than simply scientists attempting to ascertain the best explanation for a given set of data. Additionally it can be used to refer to common descent, all modes of speciation/diversification, abiogenesis, cosmology or any field of science they choose and the term is bandied about in contexts of abstract philosophical claptrap; metaphysical naturalism, materialism, secular humanism all of which are often nothing more than covert references to atheism (Alex Gallagher & Chris Hyland).
ID is kept out of Scientific Literature
IDC’s frequently claim that science is dogmatic and resistant to their “theories” often suggesting that scientists suppress these ideas because it is a naturalistic/atheistic endeavour, that science keeps “theories” like Intelligent Design out scientific literature and from being taught in schools & universities. The truth is that science is an empirical discipline investigating the natural universe and nothing else has, to date, been shown able to properly explain the universe around us … whilst individual scientists or groups can be resistant to new ideas, science as a whole is not.
A fundamental reason for this is the peer-review process, a process that does not (as IDC’s would have us believe) hobble the search for knowledge but in fact opens up the whole of modern natural philosophy to all of the scientists all of the time. By the very act of publishing ones work others are made aware of it and a given generalisation is brought into an arena where it can be tested by them. Peer-review is essentially a formalised version of scientific challenge and the difference that process makes is immense … everything every scientist does (or group of scientists do) is checked (peer-reviewed) by others. That doesn’t mean mistakes can’t happen, frauds can’t be perpetrated but it does mean that such mistakes (purposeful or otherwise) will one day, almost certainly, be uncovered and reversed and also ensures that the research that does get published is of a high standard and represents our best current understanding of the phenomena being discussed. IDC’s are fond of highlighting what they see as the mistakes of science (Piltdown man, Nebraska Man and others) but in reality such examples are more notable for the fact that scientists later uncovered the fraud or flaw and can thus be seen as an example of science being exactly what science should be … self-correcting.
It is also the reason why IDC material does not tend to get published in reputable scientific journals … it simply isn’t of a high enough standard and IDC’s typically prefer to appeal to like minded theistic individuals and to “common sense” style reasoning in the general population. Though IDC’s claim otherwise the real reason their material doesn’t get published in reputable scientific journals is because if they attempted to do so their claims would be ripped to shreds so quickly that it would hardly have been worth applying their twisted reasoning to paper. The reason that IDC “theories” do not typically appear in scientific literature is for the very same reason that astrology, parapsychology, ghosts, the lost of Atlantis, little green men in flying saucers and other similar crackpot “theories” don’t appear.
The Teleological Nature of ID
Scientific theories are not, as IDC’s often imply, guesswork or approximations but extensive explanations developed from well-documented and reproducible sets of data derived from repeated observation of natural processes. From these data models are developed and it is important to note that these models (and their subsequent outcomes) are not decided in advance but can be modified and improved, as new empirical evidence is uncovered. Science is constantly subject to peer-review and is a self-correcting attempt to understand nature and the observable universe. Science is not teleological, that is to say theories do not start with conclusions, refuse to change and acknowledge only data that the initial conclusions support. Further, science does not base theories on untestable collections of dogmatic proposals but is characterised by questions, hypothetical proposals, design of empirical models and conceptual frameworks with the aim of researching natural events.
An excellent example of teleology by IDC proponents was given by Dr. Michael Behe when, under oath, he admitted that his simulation modelling of evolution with Snoke had in fact shown that complex biochemical systems requiring multiple interacting parts for the system to function and that required multiple, consecutive and unpreserved mutations to be fixed in a population could evolve within 20,000 years even if the parameters of the simulation were rigged to make that outcome as unlikely as possible (Wikipedia, “Michael Behe”).
Ultimately ID is (see above) simply a repackaged version of creationism and by their own admission as well as by determination in a number of US legal cases such “theories” are teleological and essentially non-scientific i.e. they start and end with the dogmatic proposal that the universe around us was formed by the direct acts of a creator of some description. Science does not work in this manner and ID (along with creationism) is, effectively, opposed to everything that true science stands for because it works under the assumption (and acknowledgement) that there is a creator.
The Self-Evident? Nature of Design
Design, according to the IDC’s, is obvious in nature … the more we understand of biochemical systems the more inconceivable it is that they evolved, the more obvious it is that they are designed. Engineers (IDC’s say), presumed to be experts in judging the design of complex systems, can see that complex biological systems are designed or show features of design; that biological systems are perfect, super-efficient, obviously designed. In fact the human body (in common with all terrestrial life) is far from the perfection IDC’s claim and various evidences can be offered in support of this from the observation that all life demonstrates poor resistance to disease and environmental extremes to the ribald comment of one individual remarking on the poor design aspects of running a sewage pipe through a recreational facility (the human waste & reproduction system).
At root such ID arguments are no different to either Behe’s or Paley’s in that, like them, they are “if it looks designed then it must be designed” style arguments. They have the same basic flaws, of relying on the (then) current level of scientific technology and of being arbitrary definitions of what something can or cannot be; are absolute in nature (something scientific knowledge doesn’t reflect) and are based on one individual or group’s personal POV or lack of vision. The reality is that the more we understand about such systems the more they look like something that has arisen through unplanned, unguided processes; the more we learn about them the more the arbitrary & personal the views of such proponents appear as their statements become progressively outdated.
Science is an ongoing and self-correcting attempt to understand the universe around us so perhaps the best way to look at this is to learn a little of what our ancestors “knew” a 1000 years ago, compare it to what we “know” today and finally try to imagine what we will “know” a 1000 years from now … and doesn’t that sound intriguing?
Number of Scientists Supporting ID
IDC proponents frequently point out that x number of scientists support ID (the number I heard bandied about was 450) and it entirely possible that that is true … all kinds of pseudoscience have some measure of support within the scientific community but the fact is that such numbers, whilst touted as apparently significant in an attempt to convey the impression that there is some huge controversy concerning the theory of evolution, are insignificant compared to the number of scientists that actually support evolution. In 2002 the US National Center For Scientific Education announced “Project Steve” where they encouraged scientists supporting evolution to sign to a list with the catch that they had to have a first name of “Steve” or some variant of it. Given that approximately 1% of the population is called some form of “Steve”, that they had approximately 220 scientists called “Steve” on the list at that time, 367 by mid 2003 and 720 at time of writing we can reasonably assume that something like 70’000 scientists support evolution compared to the 500 or so that don’t. Ultimately both the creationist claim and the scientist’s response are arguments from popularity neither of which are science but it’s worth noting that the latter is simply a humorous response to a meaningless claim made with the usual IDC twisted implications.
Arguments from Popularity
Arguments from popularity (or “Argumentum ad populum”) are fallacious because, as the name suggests, many people believe it is so. To give an example, many people appear to believe that out of body (OBE) and near death experiences (NDE) actually occur but the relatively limited testing that has been performed to date (numbers or notes unknown to the person or patient hidden within locked boxes) imply rather strongly that that is not what happened. Many people also believe that our fates are guided by the stars, that people have been abducted by UFO occupants and that ghosts exist yet there is no evidence for any and when tested all of these fail. Ultimately each of us has our own views, opinions, and tastes regarding every aspect of life, they are an important part of what separates us from all other known species (with the possible exception of dolphins), but they are all subjective and not objective. Opinions can gain credibility when expressed by an increasing number of voices; however, nothing can turn opinion into truth. (Hollings, 1998)