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The Chicago Tribune unwittingly shows why ID should be taught in schools

A general briefing on how Intelligent Design evolved appears in the Chicago Tribune today, with the usual missing core to the story, which is what the content of this theory is supposed to be, beyond its simple claim.

The prime engine propelling the dissemination of ID is the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank whose $4 million budget is heavily funded by conservative Christian donors. Discovery’s Center for Science & Culture, which used to be the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, laid out its goals in a 1999 fundraising document called “The Wedge Strategy.”

Determined to drive a “wedge” into the tree trunk of “scientific materialism,” it said, “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialistic worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”


Chicago Tribune

Evolution of intelligent design

By Lisa Anderson Tribune national correspondent Sun Oct 30, 9:40 AM ET

Fictional presidential candidate Matt Santos on NBC’s “The West Wing” recently discussed it, as did real-life President

George Bush in the White House, not to mention “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, more than three dozen Nobel laureates and numerous school boards across the country.



A decade ago most Americans had never heard of intelligent design, or ID. But, in the last year, the term has surfaced repeatedly in politics, media and education as the rallying point for religious conservatives in the culture war over the teaching of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Although polls show about half of Americans still don’t recognize the expression, the background and meaning of ID are focal points of a landmark 1st Amendment case unfolding here in Pennsylvania’s capital.

A very old phrase that gained new currency about a decade ago, ID presents itself as an alternative scientific theory to evolution. It posits that some aspects of the natural world that are not yet explained by Darwin suggest design by an unnamed intelligent agent.

The prime engine propelling the dissemination of ID is the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank whose $4 million budget is heavily funded by conservative Christian donors. Discovery’s Center for Science & Culture, which used to be the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, laid out its goals in a 1999 fundraising document called “The Wedge Strategy.”

Determined to drive a “wedge” into the tree trunk of “scientific materialism,” it said, “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialistic worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

John West, associate director of the Center for Science & Culture, pointed out that the wedge proposal was a plan, not a scholarly document.

“That document was about more than intelligent design. It was about the larger cultural context and the anti-religious agenda of some people in the name of science,” he said.

Indeed, the document went beyond the scientific debate, extending the argument into the world of politics. It equated Darwin with Karl Marx and others whom it described as viewing humans not as “spiritual beings but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry and environment.”

This materialistic conception “eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art,” the document said.

The Center for Science & Culture’s five-year plan, much of which already has been achieved, called for funding research fellows at major universities, publishing numerous articles and books on ID, generating significant media coverage and getting 10 states to include ID in science curricula.

Discovery says it doesn’t want schools to mandate the teaching of ID, but to “teach the controversy.”

Most scientists say there is no controversy.

Pennsylvania is the first state to see ID included in a school district’s curriculum, but Ohio and Minnesota and at least one district in New Mexico include critical analysis of evolution in their science standards. Kansas is expected to do so this fall. More than 24 state and local authorities have considered similar changes to their science curricula over the last year, according to the National Center for Science Education, a California-based non-profit group dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in public schools.

A week ago, intelligent design made its European debut in Prague, Czech Republic, at an international scientific conference drawing some 700 people from Europe, Africa and the U.S., according to The Associated Press. Many who spoke at “Darwin and Design: A Challenge for 21st Century Science” were from the Discovery Institute, including Stephen Meyer, the Cambridge University-educated director of the Center for Science & Culture.

Of the Discovery Institute’s strategy, Jerry Coyne, a professor in the ecology and evolution department at the University of Chicago, said, “They’re smart people, in general, with respectable academic positions and degrees. . . . It’s their media savvy, combined with their money. And they have learned a lot of lessons from the old creationists, that is to be much less evangelical.”

Critics call theory `Neo-Creo’

Because ID makes no mention of the Bible or the divine, some critics call it “Neo-Creo,” that is, a new version of creationism’s adherence to the Genesis account of creation.

They view its secular language as a tactic to skirt the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision finding creationism a religious belief and banning it from public school classrooms as a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

Proponents of ID particularly criticize the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection, by which all life, including humans, evolved from a common ancestor over some 4billion years, according to Darwin’s theory, which most scientists laud as the cornerstone of modern biology.

Every major U.S. scientific organization and the aforementioned group of Nobelists dismiss ID and say there is no credible controversy over evolution. They consider ID a new bottle with a high-tech label for the old wine of natural theology, creationism and scientific creationism, serial concepts based to some degree on the biblical account of creation.

ID is “creationism in a cheap tuxedo,” according to Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Kansas Museum and Biodiversity Research Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

Not so, said William Dembski, a Discovery fellow and leading ID proponent, who directs the Center for Science and Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

“Creationism was consciously trying to model the science on a certain interpretation of Genesis. You don’t have anything like that in intelligent design,” said Dembski, who holds doctorates in mathematics from the University of Chicago and in philosophy from the University of Illinois and a master of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.

`Watchmaker’ argument

Long before evolution, creationism or ID, there was natural theology, a popular concept based on reason and observation rather than Scripture.

In his 1802 book “Natural Theology,” British theologian and philosopher William Paley made his famous “watchmaker” argument. Paley said that if one stumbled across a watch, one rationally would conclude it was designed. So, too, he said, one can look at aspects of nature and infer that they had a designer and that the designer is God.

But after Darwin’s 1859 publication of “On the Origin of Species,” Dembski said, “The sense that you needed a watchmaker disappeared. The watch could put itself together.”

More than a century later, Richard Dawkins, Oxford University’s Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, played on Paley’s analogy to champion evolution in his 1986 book, “The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design.”

After Darwin’s publication, the term “creationism” arose in opposition to the popularity of so-called Darwinism. It asserted the biblical account of creation. But creationism suffered damaging ridicule after Tennessee’s Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925.

Eventually, it morphed into “scientific creationism.” Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, advanced the concept. It makes scientific claims for the six-day creation account in Genesis, an Earth age of less than 10,000 years, the simultaneous creation of all things, Noah’s global flood and the non-evolutionary creation of humans.

Scientific creationism points to gaps in the fossil record, geological evidence of the effects of global flood and examples in nature that give the appearance of design, such as the human eye, as refutation of evolution. It has many supporters: In a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 53 percent of adults surveyed said “God created humans in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it.” And polls consistently show a majority of Americans favor teaching both evolution and creationism.

But after the Supreme Court ruling in 1987, creationism couldn’t be taught in public schools.

And it was around that time that the current ID movement began to emerge. It uses a term attributed to British philosopher Ferdinand C.S. Schiller. In his 1903 book “Humanism,” he wrote, “It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design.”

Whether ID is a scientific theory or a religious belief is at the heart of the 1st Amendment case Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District in central Pennsylvania, the apparent inspiration for “The West Wing” script earlier this month.

Parents of Dover students sued the district and school board over a requirement that 9th-grade biology students be informed of ID as a scientific alternative to evolution. The parents, who claim that ID is creationism in disguise, contend that such a requirement is religiously motivated, thus violating the constitutional separation of church and state and the Supreme Court’s ban on creationism in public schools.

Attorneys for the school district argue ID is not a religious belief but a valid scientific theory and that the school district intended only to expose students to views critical of and differing from evolution. The case, in its sixth week, may influence how biology is taught in public schools around the country.


It mentions all the usual suspects, including William Dembski, who is a remarkable phenomenon in his own right. A charming and resourceful debater, he has a degree on mathematics and one in philosophy, yet seems to us oddly incapable of understanding the emptiness of his own speculations on this topic, for which he has become a leading spokesman.

The empty vessel at the center of this and every other story about Intelligent Design is the absence of any theory of ID ie any ramifications of ID beyond the simple claim that any mystery about evolution which concrete evidence or plausible theory hasn’t yet explained must be attributed to the hand of God, or whatever intelligence is imagined as lending a hand to the design of bacteria with propeller propulsion and other currently inexplicable jumps in complexity.

But what does this amount to, if it is accepted? A simple statement of a single claim, with no further ramifications other than the list of puzzles it claims to “solve”.

As we have noted in a previous post, it is hard to see why it would be a problem to teach this claim to the innocent pupils of the public school system, since it would take all of five minutes or less, depending on whether one included the story of how it came about that such non-explanatory explanation ever achieved the status of something worth teaching. This would be of great practical benefit to the kids in letting them know how foolish and empty headed even those with a mathematics degree and a philosophy degree can be.

But there is another obvious lesson in this we believe which might be worth teaching. And that is how religious thinking of any kind survives and prospers only because it is exempt from the usual demand made upon the stock of knowledge about the external world that man passes along from one generation to the next, and that is the demand that its credibility be established by objective measurement and some kind of evidence other than the credulity of its proponents.

In this case we are being asked to believe without any evidence of any positive, substantial kind at all that there is a supernatural intelligence at work helping evolution along. The only evidence for this suggestion is negative ie that there are missing links in evolutionary history and at the moment no one has a better explanation for them.

This is nothing more than the primitive impulse of the brain to prefer an explanation of any kind rather than not to have any explanation at all, a human characteristic now fairly well established by neuroscientists such as Michael S. Gazzaniga of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College, as he notes in his recent book, The Ethical Brain (Dana Press, 2005),

Certainly Dembski, the chief philosophical apologist for ID, is plausible and intellectually entertaining for a short while when he appears on stage to embroider the simple claim with all kinds of convoluted logical justifications without any real content we can discern, as he demonstrated very well at Columbia a few months ago. Perhaps because of the fear that academics have of discussing things in plain and simple terms, he often gets the better of his opponents in this kind of Jesuitical discussion, possibly because they are embarrassed to use overly reductionist arguments.

But the plain and simple fact is that if the ID claims he advances are accepted for the sake of argument there is really nothing left for him to say. For there is no theory of Intelligent Design. It is simply a claim without any substance to discuss.

This is what is so foolish about the inability of his opponents to dispense with his claim with a few well chosen references to the absolute necessity of logic and evidence, and the lack of it in this case. What is absurd is the fact that the claim is religious and faith based, by definition. in that it lacks any positive, substantial evidence whatsoever, and this at once disqualifies it from any scientific discussion, and they should be able to point this out and bring the debate to an instant close.

After all, if a group arose of the opinion that there were little green men living hidden in the craters of the moon but to date unseen in NASA’s explorations, would scientific critics be confounded by their inability to prove the negative?

But instead, of course, they face the paralyzing dilemma that confounds all who attempt to reason with the religious, and that is that their opponents do not share the vital premise that logic and evidence are the foundation of all credible claims about the external world, and subjective faith is emotionally significant but irrelevant to all truth seeking about the outside world of nature.

The fudging of this distinction between objective external natural reality and subjective internal human reality is the fundamental confusion that allows the ID proponents to gain a foothold in discussions that would otherwise ignore them, it seems to us. This is the mistake which allows the religious impulse to confound the clarity of scientific sense.

This error is the flawed basis of the supposed growing overlap between religion and science that is being pushed by so many groups in America today, from the ID gang to the religious right to the Center for the Study of Science and Religion at Columbia, and many other institutions which constantly hold seminars and conferences on this trendy idea, seeking to expand common ground between science and religion.

Seems to us with cosmologist Stephen Weinberg that on the contrary there is no common ground whatsoever between science and religion and there never will be, because science in inherently objective and religion is inherently subjective, and never the twain shall meet. Religious oil does not mix with the pure water of science.

In fact, there is substantial danger in allowing the religious impulse anywhere near science. The egregious consequences of doing so are seen every day in the realm of HIV?AIDS and its supposed science, where the faithful beliefs of the vast majority in the ideology taught by the authorities are entirely contradicted by the best scientific reviews which reject them totally on the basis of reason and evidence.

But of course in life as in science reason and evidence are not responsible for many of the beliefs held by the world, and certainly not the religious beliefs which hold the most powerful sway over the emotions of most people.

Reason, evidence and measurement are the life blood of the sciences, yet as frightening and alien as Satan himself to the religious.

This is why, perhaps paradoxically, we would welcome the teaching of Intelligent Design in the schools. Nothing is more likely to teach the pupils more quickly the difference between vacuity and content, sense and absense, evidence and unprovable belief than setting the two views side by side.

And the fact that the intellectually sophisticated can overlook the difference, if sufficiently driven emotionally to do so, would be a priceless lesson for all pupils.

After all, what have we right now as a result of never putting the fighting cocks of science and religion into a pit in every school?

This degree of common fantasy:

In a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 53 percent of adults surveyed said “God created humans in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it.”

On the other hand…..

And polls consistently show a majority of Americans favor teaching both evolution and creationism.

Well, there we are. Maybe that majority is right, though for reasons it doesn’t suspect.

Let’s take them at their word, and teach creationism in schools. Then, when it pops like a beautiful soap bubble after a minute or less as the teacher runs out of things to say about it, we shall see the pupils learn a lesson about the contrast between vacuous fantasy versus rich experiential fact which they might never otherwise be taught so fast and well.

3 Responses to “The Chicago Tribune unwittingly shows why ID should be taught in schools”

  1. Robert Houston Says:

    Thank you, Truthseeker, for your fresh and insightful discussion of this controversy. This may be the first time in history that a knowledgeable critic of Intelligent Design has suggested that it be permitted to compete with evolution in the academic market of ideas. We can hope that one day both views in the HIV?AIDS controversy would also be taught. At present both sides of the issue of human-driven climate change are routinely reported in the press, yet there is never a whisper of acknowledgment of any substantive dissent from the cultist reiteration of HIV-the-virus-that-causes-AIDS.In his final work, the anthropologist Gregory Bateson pointed out how mind and nature are inextricably linked: that mind is a product of nature and that nature through evolution functions as form of mind, generating ideas (i.e., mutations) and choosing the best (i.e., the fittest) via natural selection. (See G. Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, 1980, Bantam.)

  2. Robert Houston Says:

    More precisely, Dr. Bateson viewed biological evolution as itself a mental process. Formerly professor of anthropology at Harvard, he was a co-founder with Norbert Weiner of the science of cybernetics. In Mind and Nature (Dutton, 1979), he wrote about the ID issue:

    Samuel Butler’s criticism of The Origin of the Species was essentially to accuse Darwin of excluding mind from among the relevant explanatory principles… We would correct the nineteenth-century thinkers…by proposing that thought and evolution are alike… Both are mental processes… (p. 149)The parallelism between biological evolution and mind is created not by postulating a Designer or Artificer hiding in the machinery of evolutionary process but, conversely, by postulating that thought is stochastic. The nineteenth century critics of Darwin (especially Samuel Butler) wanted to introduce what they called “mind” (i.e., a supernatural entelechy) into the biosphere. Today I would emphasize that creative thought must always contain a random component. The exploratory processes – the endless trial and error of mental progress – can achieve the new only by embarking upon pathways randomly presented, some of which when tried are somehow selected for something like survival. (p. 182)In sum, the intracranial stochastic sysem of thought or learning closely resembles that component of evolution in which random genetic changes are selected by epigenesis. (p. 183)

  3. Darin Brown Says:

    I have often wondered how quickly HIV/AIDS might fall apart if the two sides of the debate were actually given a fair hearing in say…I don’t know, undergraduate biology and chemistry textbooks, or undergraduate biology and chemistry classes? Of course, some undergraduate textbooks are willing to descend from their lofty stratosphere of untouchability to mention the HIV/AIDS debate, but almost always along similar lines as the mainstream science journals have, i.e. along the lines of presenting it as some kind of “Duesberg phenomenon”. One shouldn’t be so hard on them, though…after all, they’re probably only taking their cue from the mish-mash they read in the editorials and “News and Views” in Science and Nature. I even read one “Think About It” box (or whatever it was called) in an undergraduate textbook, whose final question to the impressionable undergraduate mind was, “Do the dissidents, due to the paucity of the evidence supporting their arguments and the recognizable harm they cause, surrender their right to free expression and dialogue?” This is the level at which the “debate” is being presented to undergraduates. I often wonder, if they were really exposed to the full depth and breadth (or in the orthodox case, the shallowness and narrowness) of the debate, if a great number of them might not side with the dissidents, or at least wonder if there was something more to look into.

    TITLE: Debunking Dembski
    BLOG NAME: Dean’s World
    Truthseeker gives it a try.

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