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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

Script of SMU Presentation


The following is my script for the fifteen minute presentation I gave at the SMU debate on April 25th. I hope to do some more with this, but I need to check with the organizers to make sure I won't step on any toes, if they plan to sell audio or video from the event.



Tonight I am considering a public policy question. That question is, "Should intelligent design be taught as science in the public schools?"

[Short answer]

The short answer is, of course, no. I'm going to give some background, and come back to elaborate on the short answer.

[Not could be slide]

First, you have to recognize that "intelligent design" (or ID for short) is a recognizable body of arguments. This is not about what ID could be, would be, or even should be. This is about what ID demonstrably has been. We first saw it systematically used and defined as a phrase in the Dallas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics's supplemental high school textbook, Of Pandas and People. Remember that. We'll come back to it.

To understand "intelligent design" or any modern religious antievolution, you have to know that it is based on a two-model view of the world, one I heard expressed in March of this year by ID advocate William Dembski, that ID and evolutionary causes were mutually exclusive and exhausted all the possibilities between them, therefore evidence against evolution counted as evidence for design. This is about as convincing an argument as, "Yo momma!" But this is what religious antievolutionists are stuck with, to simply attack evolution and trust to cultural literacy that people will then fall into their camp.

Evolutionary biology has a big idea, that organisms are linked in a shared history of descent with modification from one or a few original forms. This is the theory of common descent. In examining aspects of common descent, researchers are interested in both the patterns of heritable change in populations and the processes by which those patterns are made.

In the 19th century, evolutionary views of species replaced the earlier idea of fixity of species put in place by special creation. Since 1859, the year of publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, researchers have assiduously put the theories concerning evolutionary pattern and process to rigorous test. The scientific literature developed since then is voluminous. Darwin's work provided a starting point, but the field has grown in ways that demonstrate the diversity of views of the researchers, incorporating technical work on theoretical biology, mathematical models, observational studies, experimental studies in both the field and the lab, applied work in agriculture, medicine, and wildlife management, and even computational models that serve both theory and practical applications in engineering. The field of evolutionary biology today is state-of-the-art science.

[Picture of 4 years of Evolution]

This picture shows the journal, Evolution, through four years worth of publication. That's over 7,000 pages averaging about twenty-five papers per issue, for about six hundred total papers in the pictured issues. This is but one journal out of hundreds that publish the results of studies that incorporate evolutionary biology. In sum, there are hundreds of thousands of research papers bearing upon evolutionary biology.

Outside of the scientific community, though, evolutionary biology has been the target of concerted efforts to minimize its acceptance among the general public. These efforts began even before convincing accounts of evolutionary processes made their formal appearance in the mid-1800s. By far the most common motivation for this antievolutionary activity has been the promotion of a narrow religious view. In 1802, the Reverend William Paley published his book, Natural Theology, which presented forms of the very same arguments that are featured in creation science and intelligent design. Paley was forthright in saying that the appearance of design implies a designer, whose character and motivations can be inferred thereby. The argument that evolution is a theory in crisis and that antievolution is the preference of more and more scientists goes back to about 1825, and is a canard belied by the fact that this supposed always-growing body of antievolutionists has over 14 decades remained a tiny minority of scientific practitioners. It is not clear that the growth has even kept up with the rate of human population increase.

Unable to make inroads in the scientific community, the antievolution movement has relied upon political action to gain the backing of the government for their views.

There are recognizable strategies in the political action that has gone on here in the USA so far.

[Scopes slide]

First, direct exclusion was tried. The Butler Act in Tennessee, the basis for the 1925 Scopes trial, banned the teaching of any theory contrary to the literal account in Genesis.

[Epperson slide]

In 1968, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in the Epperson v. Arkansas case. The message was that things that are science cannot be excluded from the science classroom to favor religion. The next strategy was to simply label as science the same old arguments long known in the antievolution ensemble and insist that those be taught alongside evolution. This strategy was overturned in four cases, Daniel v. Waters, McLean v. Arkansas, Edwards v. Aguillard, and Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Edwards was decided by the Supreme Court in 1987. Another strategy aims for indirect exclusion, most notably via the use of disclaimers that aim to de-emphasize evolution. This strategy was overturned in Freiler v. Tangipahoa and Selman v. Cobb County.

The current situation can be described simply. The religiously motivated antievolution movement is intent on inserting as many of the classic antievolution arguments as possible into science classes.

What this body of arguments may be labeled is unclear -- teach the controversy, critical analysis, evidence against evolution, strengths and weaknesses, gaps and problems, purposeful arrangement of parts, free speech, academic freedom, sudden emergence theory, and intelligent evolution have all been heard. What we can confidently predict is that the content will be the same lame stuff that's been passed around ever since Paley, previously sold under the labels of special creation, creationism, scientific creationism, creation science, and intelligent design.

[Why not slide]

Why not teach "intelligent design"? Well, it isn't science. ID advocates are on the record as saying that ID could be, but is not yet science, as saying that ID should achieve recognition by the scientific community before going in the curriculum, as saying that ID is not ready for teaching in high school.

[Koons slide]

In 1997, I presented at the Naturalism, Theism, and Scientific Enterprise conference held down the road in Austin. Rob Koons, ID advocate and conference organizer, said that for ID to become a progressive research program, it would have to do more than criticize "Darwinism".

[Gordon slide]

Bruce Gordon, ID advocate at Baylor University, said that ID had been hijacked for political purposes and its inclusion in a curriculum was premature, and that what ID needed was to be recognized as making a contribution to science by the scientific community.

[Nelson 1]

Paul Nelson in an interview said ID was not "fully-fledged". That's an understatement. They don't have a glimmer of a theory that isn't an argument against evolution, and given the two-hundred plus years of failure to produce one, it's silly to imagine one will pop up just now.

[Nelson 2]

And here we have Nelson more recently saying that the theory is to be referred to in the highly speculative future tense.


Here we have Mark Ryland, spokesman for the Discovery Institute, saying that the DI has never advocated mandating the teaching of ID. As Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, defenders of ID in the Kitzmiller case, said, the DI has merely published a variety of essays and books encouraging that very thing.

[ID pass]

Earlier this year, I got to ask Michael Ruse, an ID critic, and William Dembski, an ID advocate and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, whether ID got a pass to skip out on demonstrating its worth to the scientific community before going into the curriculum. Ruse said no. Dembski said more, but the meaning was "no".

[maybe a new name]

Recently, even cartoonists have been catching on to the shenanigans. Here, Toles shows the evolving labels of religious antievolution argumentation: creationism, creation science, and intelligent design, with the note, "We're not making much progress." But even better is

[anim red border]

this bit here in the corner. Let me enlarge that for you.

[anim enlarge]

Maybe a new name... this has been the religiously motivated antievolution strategy ever since Epperson. Don't junk the content, just call it by a different name and hope no one notices.

[ID sham]

Which leads us to yet another reason, as if we needed it, for why intelligent design does not belong in schools, public or otherwise. ID is a sham. This is a legal term of art, and we saw it in the Edwards decision from 1987, which warned against shams.

[OPAP Judge Jones]

And this is where we come back to the textbook Of Pandas and People. In the Kitzmiller trial last year, a considerable amount of analysis and testimony went to the point that the drafts of this textbook were explicitly advancing "creation science" until the Edwards ruling.


Then the drafts suddenly replaced "creation science" with "intelligent design" throughout the text, but left the content almost completely unchanged otherwise. Even the definition was left the same, except for swapping out the phrases.

[missing link]

And there is this amusing instance of an incomplete edit giving us the dissonant "cdesign proponentsists".

[ID is unfair]

I think that the final reason I will note here is that teaching ID as science is unfair. Science has a process by which good ideas are retained and bad ideas get weeded out. It's not perfect, but it works. You can think of ideas as being in line for getting into the science curriculum. The line is actually more of an obstacle course, really, with the occasional bit like, "Your hypothesis must have at least this much confirming evidence to proceed." ID advocates have tried to cut in line, or avoid the line entirely and still have ID put in the school curriculum. This is clearly unfair. It goes against common sense, common decency, and even what ID advocates have said, that ID must prove its worth and be recognized by the scientific community before it can be considered ready for schools.

ID advocates will say that ID and evolution can be compatible, then immediately talk about how design and evolutionary causes are mutually exclusive. ID advocates will say that they have no problem with microevolution, then go off on long-winded rants about peppered moths, finch beaks, and antibiotic resistant bacteria and how these aren't actually examples of evolution. ID advocates will claim to be doing science, but once you let them near a science standards writing body, they will redefine science so that ID, as well as astrology and other conjectures that are not amenable to test themselves can be called "science".

Let me close with some reminders:

ID, and all other religiously motivated antievolution, relies upon negative arguments against evolution.

ID's initial systematic appearance was an attempt at deception.

You can recognize that ID is creation science renamed because it is a subset of creation science arguments. The renaming to anything else in the future will be recognizable in the same way. Arguments like young-earth and flood geology are avoided because the public considers them fringe ideas. But ID never renounces them - just claims that "it doesn't matter". Well, whether the Earth is six thousand or four billion years old "matters" to real science.

ID is unfair. It seeks a political solution to its problem of failing to have any theory of its own. Rather than engage the scientific community, ID advocates make an end run, or seek to eliminate the "line" entirely by defining it out of existence.

ID is not only not suitable for public schools, it is unsuitable for any school where fair play, truth, and plain dealing are considered virtues.