John Lynch has a post critical of the Discovery Institute’s self-serving obfuscation over the phrase “intelligent design” and its history. Lynch makes a great number of cogent criticisms, but it seems to me that the manner in which the conversation goes may still work to the DI’s benefit. I left the following comment there:
The issue isn’t whether the design argument is ancient or even whether the phrase “intelligent design” had been used somewhere, sometime prior to 1987. The issue is that “intelligent design” was first offered as referring to a field of science suitable for instruction in public schools in drafts of the supplemental textbook “Of Pandas and People”. The use of “intelligent design” to mean an alleged field of scientific inquiry was definitely seen in the draft following the SCOTUS decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.
No IDC advocate has ever provided any earlier usage that showed the phrase “intelligent design” as meaning an alleged field of scientific inquiry. End of story.
Why does it matter what meaning is attached to “intelligent design”? Because the courts had already noted that science could not be excluded from classrooms to privilege sectarian religious views. The antievolution movement seized upon that as their ticket to inject their narrow sectarian views into public school classrooms by the strategem of re-labeling the ensemble of arguments as being science, the category of content already noted as approved by the courts. The first tests came when the label of “creation science” was scrutinized, and failed. The switch in label from “creation science” to “intelligent design” occurred in association with the failure of the earlier phrase. The overall strategy remained the same; all that changed was the label to be floated as if it constituted a scientific endeavor that students in public schools should be informed of.
Arguing about prior deployment of “intelligent design” as a descriptive phrase seems to me to be not pointed enough. The IDC advocates aim to sow confusion over this, and allowing them to get people arguing over descriptive uses allows them to make some progress in obfuscation. Every time they trot out the same old BS they should get a uniform reponse that they aren’t dealing with the real issue, that what “intelligent design” was supposed to mean changed significantly in 1987, and did so with the clear intent of permitting the antievolutionists to evade yet another inconvenient outcome in the courts.