About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Intelligent Design is (a form of) creationism

My latest column in Skeptical Inquirer just came out, on the topic of what sort of idea (“theory” would be far too generous) Intelligent Design really is. I conclude that it is creationism pure and simple, despite the frequent protestations to the contrary by illustrious ID figures like Bill Dembski and Michael Behe.

Of course, Judge John E. Jones III, who presided over the Dover, PA trial in 2005, agrees with my conclusion (if you didn’t already, make sure to catch the NOVA special on Dover). The Judge wrote: “An objective observer would know that ID and teaching about “gaps” and “problems” in evolutionary theory are creationist, religious strategies that evolved [pun unintended, I suppose] from earlier forms of creationism.”

Judge Jones points to an interesting piece of evidence for the claim that ID is simply repackaged creationism, a point emphasized in the NOVA special on the trial that aired recently on some PBS stations (some stations in the South, predictably, thought the show was “offensive” to some of their viewers -- I get offended every time I see George W. Bush on TV, but that doesn’t seem to stop any station from purposefully irritating me). Jones noted that evidence presented at the trial traced significant changes in several drafts of the ID book “Of Pandas and People” by Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis. Besides the fact that the authors are known creationists, and that the publisher, FTE, is classified by the IRS as a Christian organization, there is worse, much worse.

An early draft of Pandas was prepared before the historical Supreme Court decision in the 1987 Edwards case that banned the teaching of creation science because it is a form of religion. As Jones notes, “By comparing the pre and post Edwards drafts of Pandas, three astonishing points emerge: 1) the definition of creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition of ID [in later drafts]; 2) cognates of the word creation (creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and 3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and cannot be taught in public school science classes in Edwards.”

In other words, Judge Jones had used a technique similar to Dembski’s “design inference” to conclude that the authors of Pandas engaged in (malicious) intelligent re-design of their book! How deliciously ironic.

There are other reasons to conclude that ID is simply a form of creationism, as I detail in the SI article, but the main one remains that both ID and standard creationism invoke a supernatural agent to “explain” natural processes. This not only is, by definition, not science (because science can only deal with natural explanations), but it also explains precisely nothing (because “God did it” is not an explanation unless we are told how and why she did it). For all the huffing and puffing performed by Dembski & co., they still haven’t progressed intellectually past good old Reverend Paley. And they never will.


  1. Hi Massimo. OT, as you may know, self-proclaimed psychic medium John Edward is doing a series of shows this week at the North Fork Theatre in Westbury. I did a post on him last night. Since you are a fellow Long Islander, I would be interested if you had pearls of wisdom to offer on this guy.

  2. Hiya Massimo --

    You are absolutely right in the context of American IDers generally, and your cited example specifically, but please note that a deity is not a logical neccessity of ID theory. Many IDers hypothesize aliens as the creative agency.

  3. Tommy,

    good luck with Edward! Never met the guy, but I read about Shermer's debunking of him. Nasty stuff.

  4. thumpalumpacus,

    yes, I know, even Dembski admitted the logical possibility that the designer is actually a race of alien beings. But of course we wouldn't have any controversy if all they were proposing was a nebulous version of the panspermia hypothesis...

  5. It is clear from this post that you are not a cdesign proponentsist.

    Classic. Absolutely classic...

  6. cdesign proponentsist

    Thank you Frank. I've been trying to google it all afternoon, and just couldn't get it right.

    For those who want to know more check out
    Panda's Thumb

  7. cdesign proponentsist

    Ha, and me thinking Frank had pretty bad spelling. Priceless indeed.

  8. Today on a radio show I heard a commentator describing the administration's attitude towards the situation in Afghanistan as "reality is what you think it is, not what the world shows you it is."

    The small town I live in just elected a mayor who is inclined to say of local situations "I don't think it is a problem." Then poof, it is gone. Or at least not allowed back up for discussion.

    Judge Jones based his ruling on the kind of logic I can understand, but it is irrelevant to most politicians and, for that matter, most people (religious, believing in ghosts, etc.) in the country. The creationists have learned a lesson, and next time--there will be a next time--they will cover their tracks with greater skill and better lawyers.

    I'm in the midwest, not in a coastal big city; but there are a lot of people out here. And in general, they believe that "reality is what you think it is, not what the world shows you it is." That makes hunting for a logical place to refute the "cdesign proponentsist" a hike on a scree-filled mountainside.

  9. thumpalumpacus,

    You are completely wrong. The basic premise of intelligent design is that life is too complex to have arisen via natural, undirected processes.

    Logically, therefore, the same must apply to any other life that may exist elsewhere in the universe.

    So, if one postulates an alien as the designer of life on our planet, this merely places the supernatural entity at one remove from us.

    I also have heard such claims from IDiots but this is just another of their disingenuous attempts to disguise the religious nature of their claims.

  10. Peter,

    Your objection is well-taken. Thank you for the correction.

    I should rather have written: "...please note that IDers do not regard a deity as a logicall neccessity. Many IDers hypothesize aliens as the creative agency. this however, only moves the problem of abiogenesis, or deity, to another planet."


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