Tom Gilson

I Had No Idea Intelligent Design Proponents Were So Stupid

I had no clue that ID proponents were so stupid, until today when I heard the Diane Rehm NPR podcast about teaching evolution vs. creationism. Intelligent Design proponents think bacterial antibiotic resistance has nothing to do with selection pressure and population genetic changes, nothing to do with evolution at all. We think everyone should get all their knowledge about natural history from Genesis 1-3, and that all public schools should teach the Bible. We’re doing our best to confuse children into misunderstanding everything about science. And if we succeed, Western civilization will surely collapse.

The podcast was a discussion on this report from the National Academy of Sciences. I’ve ordered my copy, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about it in a week or two.

By “discussion,” I mean that for the most part, Diane Rehm let us listen to several anti-ID scientists; and she repeatedly cut off the pro-ID spokesperson, John Calvert, in the middle of his sentences. I’m not sure he was ever given the chance to complete a thought. If he had been, I believe he would have put the lie to claims of ID idiocy.

It’s not that he didn’t try. He mentioned “materialism” several times. She asked him once, about halfway through, what he meant by it. She cut him off in the middle of his answer. It became apparent later on that she really knew nothing about philosophical materialism, and that she thought he was talking about buying expensive things. Near the end he almost had another chance to explain it, and she cut him short again. In spite of this she was ready at the end to pronounce him wrong and his disputants right. Alan Leshner, one of his disputants, got materialism wrong too. I don’t know how Calvert kept his patience–especially since he was being presented as the one who didn’t know what he was talking about.

At least NPR was honest about one thing: they made no pretense of presenting a balanced view. This is what their web page (linked above) said about the program:

A new report by the National Academy of Sciences emphasizes the importance of teaching evolution in public schools. We’ll look at what the Academy says and why creationism does not belong in the science classroom.

They looked at what the Academy says. They had an ID proponent on the show, but they displayed little interest in what he said. ID’s (“creationism’s”) definition was provided only by its detractors. If ID were indeed what they said it was, yes, it would be idiotic. True to the typical course of these things, however, ID was in fact badly misrepresented throughout. Real ID proponents bear no resemblance to the show’s straw-man stereotypes.

Toby Horn was the one who said “creationists” are confusing children about what science is. I’d like to talk with her about what confusing means. She and the other Academy representatives misused terminology throughout the whole discussion. For them, Intelligent Design equals Creationism. This misuse happens enough to convince me that for many, it’s a rhetorical strategy intentionally employed to promote confusion.

Let’s see how deeply we have to analyze things in order to figure it out. Take a deep breath now, for this might be difficult; after all, a whole lot of prominent scientists have stumbled over it. Ready now? Here we go:

  • Creationism is a word with a distinct meaning;
  • Intelligent Design is a term with a distinct meaning;
  • Their meanings are not identical; therefore,
  • Intelligent Design does not equal Creationism.

Whew, that was some tough sledding. Are you still with me? (Feel free to take a short break if you need one.)

They misused the term evolution, too, though perhaps not intentionally. (I’m granting them some benefit of the doubt.) For example, they illustrated “creationist’s” scientific intransigence with the old story about evolutionary theory being essential to understanding bacterial antibiotic resistance. But Intelligent Design proponents–and even genuine creationists–have no quarrel with that kind of evolution. This has been said over and over and over again. But what rhetorical advantage would it leave the evolutionists actually to acknowledge this fact?

Halfway through the show, someone asked why ID has to keep bringing religion into this issue. I always find that an ironic question, since ID doesn’t do that, its opponents do.

(For more on these issues, see the Intelligent Design topics here.)

The main question on the table, though, was whether evolution conflicts with religion. I’ll spend a lot more time on that after I read the NAS report, which I expect to arrive in 3-4 days. For now I have an easy answer to the question:

  1. Yes, evolution conflicts with religion.
  2. No, evolution does not conflict with religion.
  3. It’s an entirely wrong way to present the question.

You could define “evolution” and “religion” to make either 1 or 2 true, or both. So where would that get you? Nowhere. Thus, answer number 3.

More to come later.


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6 thoughts on “I Had No Idea Intelligent Design Proponents Were So Stupid

  1. I would go with #3 off-hand but I too I waiting to read the report. The problem that I see is that the grounds of the debate are so different. I really see ID as primarily a philosophical question/proposition, creationism as a religious proposition, and evolution as a scientific theory. I also think that theory gets confused with hypothesis in much of the rhetoric where theory is defined as that which has assumed rather than proven conclusions on which it is based.

  2. Perhaps the answer is “all of the above.” (1) Yes, evolution conflicts with religion when a specific item of faith makes a claim that is contradicted by a body of scientific evidence. (2) No, evolution does not conflict with religion when either (a) faith comports with scientific evidence, or (b) faith makes a claim outside the ambit of scientific investigation. (3) It’s the wrong way to present the question, although I find the reason for this opinion difficult to state. Religion is basically a personal internal understanding of the world, whereas science requires a shared understanding, one that (almost!) everyone who appreciates the evidence can agree with.

  3. Half the battle in any debate is always defining the terms. I’ll look forward to your future posts on this critical issue.

  4. Terms are important especially making sure that we have a clear understanding of what theory actually means and that we do not get in confused with hypothesis, assertion, or assumption. I think that happens in the ID literature too often and it gets confusing.

  5. This program was exceedingly frustrating because it was not just four against one, it was four plus the call screener against one. Hence, with the callers selected to promote the conclusion of the producer, it was about ten against one. However, based on reactions from listeners who have contacted me, I believe the show may have actually helped because the neutral listener would have left the program with a big question due to the incoherence of the dialogue. That itself is an accomplishment.

    For anyone interested in a short and to the point discussion of ID click on the following link for a two-page article titled “ID for Dummies:”

    This article covers all the issues in a very summary form. The subject is actually not as complicated as the Materialists would like to make it.

    Although Diane does not know what a materialist is (if she truly is an anti-creationist – and I am not sure that is the case because she seems to think that the process was guided) she is by default a materialist if she is an anti-creationist (in the sense used on her show to deny all intelligent causes whether explained by the Bible or otherwise.}

    As to the question, I agree with 3 because chemical and biological evolution do not conflict with certain religions like atheism and humanism. There is a clear conflict between materialism and traditional theistic religions because those religions specifically claim that change over time is to some extent guided by an intelligence. The materialist disagrees and uses chemical and biological evolution to make their case for their disagreement. I was able to point out during the program that even the Academy in its report admits that its theory of chemical evolution is not currently plausible. As I mentioned on the show effects due only to material causes lack purpose (something that only a mind can produce). Hence, if life is an occurrence rather than a design, it lacks purpose and there is no need to ask an absent or non-existent God about the purpose of life. This was covered to some extent in the Quote I read from Daniel Dennett.

    John Calvert

  6. Thank you for stopping by, John! I appreciate the additional insight. My copy of the NAS report just came in the mail. It’s going to be an interesting read.

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