Relating “Intelligent Design” to Other Religiously Motivated Antievolution is Easy

There is discussion over at “After the Bar Closes” where the issue of whether “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) has a relationship to creation science and other terms for religiously motivated antievolution. Specifically, a commenter there forcefully expressed an opinion that “intelligent design” was obviously different from earlier “creationism”. I wrote the following in response.

But that is telling a falsehood, since every argument that makes up the content of IDC either is some misleadingly stated “evidence against evolution” or has a direct precursor in the religiously motivated antievolution literature. The commenter may not agree with me that having the same argumentative content is rather stronger than the weak and flabby term “relationship” implies, but then again, it isn’t the commenter who needs to be convinced. Cheerleaders rarely switch allegiances, no matter what may happen, which is why I think the term “IDC cheerleader” is so fitting of a number of people arguing online.

Last time around, we convinced a conservative, religious judge of this. It was helpful that the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision discussed the purpose prong in terms of a sham.

While the Court is normally deferential to a State’s articulation of a secular purpose, it is required that the statement of such purpose be sincere and not a sham. See Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S., at 64 (POWELL, J., concurring); id., at 75 (O’CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment); Stone v. Graham, supra, at 41; Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S., at 223-224. As JUSTICE O’CONNOR stated in Wallace: “It is not a trivial matter, however, to require that the legislature manifest a secular purpose and omit all sectarian endorsements from its laws. That requirement is precisely tailored to the Establishment Clause’s purpose of assuring that Government not intentionally endorse religion or a religious practice.” 472 U.S., at 75 (concurring in judgment). It is clear from the legislative history that the purpose of the legislative sponsor, Senator Bill Keith, was to narrow the science curriculum. During the legislative hearings, Senator Keith stated: “My preference would be that neither [creationism nor evolution] be taught.” 2 App. E-621. Such a ban on teaching does not promote == indeed, it undermines == the provision of a comprehensive scientific education.

It is equally clear that requiring schools to teach creation science with evolution does not advance academic freedom. The Act does not grant teachers a flexibility that they did not already possess to supplant the present science curriculum with the presentation of theories, besides evolution, about the origin of life. Indeed, the Court of Appeals found that no law prohibited Louisiana public school teachers from teaching any scientific theory. 765 F.2d, at 1257. As the president of the Louisiana Science Teachers Association testified, “any scientific concept that’s based on established fact can be included in our curriculum already, and no legislation allowing this is necessary.” 2 App. E-616. The Act provides Louisiana schoolteachers with no new authority. Thus the stated purpose is not furthered by it.

The Alabama statute held unconstitutional in Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, is analogous. In Wallace, the State characterized its new law as one designed to provide a 1-minute period for meditation. We rejected that stated purpose as insufficient, because a previously adopted Alabama law already provided for such a 1-minute period. Thus, in this case, as in Wallace, “appellants have not identified any secular purpose that was not fully served by [existing state law] before the enactment of [the statute in question].” 472 U.S., at 59.

Furthermore, the goal of basic “fairness” is hardly furthered by the Act’s discriminatory preference for the teaching of creation science and against the teaching of evolution (8). While requiring that curriculum guides be developed for creation science, the Act says nothing of comparable guides for evolution. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. @ 17:286.7A (West 1982). Similarly, resource services are supplied for creation science but not for evolution. @ 17:286.7B. Only “creation scientists” can serve on the panel that supplies the resource services. Ibid. The Act forbids school boards to discriminate against anyone who “chooses to be a creation-scientist” or to teach “creationism,” but fails to protect those who choose to teach evolution or any other noncreation science theory, or who refuse to teach creation science. @ 17:286.4C.

If the Louisiana Legislature’s purpose was solely to maximize the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of science instruction, it would have encouraged the teaching of all scientific theories about the origins of humankind (9). But under the Act’s requirements, teachers who were once free to teach any and all facets of this subject are now unable to do so. Moreover, the Act fails even to ensure that creation science will be taught, but instead requires the teaching of this theory only when the theory of evolution is taught. Thus we agree with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the Act does not serve to protect academic freedom, but has the distinctly different purpose of discrediting “evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism . . . .” 765 F.2d, at 1257.

It is precisely because I am familiar with much of the antievolution literature that I can see that the ensemble of arguments remains the same, and that each new label simply is attached to a subset of that ensemble of arguments. The new version that re-labels IDC, variously called “teach the controversy”, “critical analysis”, and “strengths and weaknesses”, among others, still falls afoul of that line of the 1987 SCOTUS decision:

Thus we agree with the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the Act does not serve to protect academic freedom, but has the distinctly different purpose of discrediting “evolution by counterbalancing its teaching at every turn with the teaching of creationism . . . .” 765 F.2d, at 1257.

The clear intent wherever “teaching the controversy” and cognates has been advanced is precisely to insert the arguments made by religiously motivated antievolutionists into the science curriculum. This is a simple fact that is easily confirmed by examination of the record of proposed curricula, such as Bryan Leonard’s “debate” lesson plan in Ohio. It is this identity and propagation of content that will be at issue whenever a court case involving “teach the controversy” or a cognate term comes up.

One observation made about the Kitzmiller decision is that it corresponded to the McLean case, and that IDC still has its Edwards v. Aguillard case to be done in the future; that is, a case with IDC at issue that is taken right up to the SCOTUS. I now am uncertain whether there ever will be such a case. It appears that the Discovery Institute wishes to forestall any such case from happening, likely because they have no confidence in the line of argument the commenter excoriates me for not credulously accepting. They even have made a point of noting that they advised the Dover Area School District to drop the “ID policy” that they had adopted in order to prevent or resolve the lawsuit. The DI would like the next legal dustup to occur over something like its “Explore Evolution” textbook instead. I don’t think that the re-labeling will prove effective, and I don’t think that it at all impugns my integrity to say so. As for IDC as a term, I am convinced that omitting the “C” from it would be misleading in light of the evidence from the KvD case. I prefer not to be complicit in the propagation of a sham.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

9 thoughts on “Relating “Intelligent Design” to Other Religiously Motivated Antievolution is Easy

  • 2007/12/29 at 8:09 am

    To see how people sympathetic to evangelism see ID, there is an article in the Boston Globe (“Evangelicals gather to brainstorm”)about the “emerging evangelical intelligentsia” that makes the amusing observation:


    “As an example of the influence of these thinking-person’s evangelicals, Shah and Berger point to the fact that “intelligent design” has entered the vernacular. Shah is not sure he buys the concept, and Berger labels it theology, not science.

    Science depends on falsification [of inaccurate hypotheses], and you can’t falsify God,” Berger said.

    But both call intelligent design a more sophisticated response to Darwin than evangelicals’ traditional, literal belief in the Genesis account of creation.

    Tossing overboard the term “creation science” demonstrates a defining trait of this faith-based intelligentsia.

    [Close quote]

    Changing the term without changing the substance is apparently the extent of the “intelligence” behind creationism.

  • 2007/12/29 at 7:13 pm

    To be clear to the lurkers, I do not challenge in any way the “common ancestry” between ID and other forms of creationism. Nevertheless, I have to add my usual caution (copied from a recent post to Talk.Origins):

    Most rank and file creationists think that “creationism” means an honest belief in a particular alternate natural history. Since most of them are YECs (but not flat-earthers or geocentrists) their definition coincides with that of most rank and file NON-creationists. Some of the smarter ones on both sides know to include the various OECs and non-Biblicals. And some also include theistic evolution.

    The problem is that most anti-evolution *activists* these days bait-and-swich the definitions. As used by critics, “creationsm” has come to mean something far different that what the general public thinks. Specifically it’s any set of arguments that promotes unreasonable doubt of evolution, and directly or indirectly proposes a design-based alternative (non-)explanation. Thus it excludes TE, and the “naturalistic” alternatives of Schwabe, Senapathy and Goldschmidt, but includes ID and even the designer-free “teach the controversy” variant.

    So one must be careful when saying that ID “is” creationism. All an ID scammer needs to do is show how ID is not YEC (very easy since ID makes no YE claims), and, to most audiences *we* will be the ones with egg on our faces.

  • 2007/12/29 at 10:34 pm

    ID is a *form* of creationist and religiously motivated antievolution. It is not identical to what has gone before, because like any successful sham, it drops the parts that have been especially problematic in previous attempts. It is comprised of a subset of the arguments of previous labeled versions of creationism.

    It’s like somebody trying to pass off pressed cardboard as a breakfast cereal. No matter what label or brand they put on the outside of the box, the contents will provide all the evidence needed that on any particular outing they are up to no good. Keep that in mind, and I doubt that any reasonable person will mistake your meaning.

  • 2007/12/30 at 6:53 am

    Again, I completely agree. The problem is that most people think that there is only one form of creationism, and it doesn’t take much for a scam artist – or even a well-trained cheerleader – to show that ID is not that. Even to reasonable people who just don’t have the time or interest to think it through. Such people also might not be aware that the “problematic parts” that have been dropped by ID are not just the legal risks of teaching YEC or OEC stories, but the fact that their positive claims just don’t fit the evidence. Faced with total scientific failures, and hopeless contradictions to boot, “don’t ask, don’t tell” was their only option.

  • 2007/12/31 at 6:33 am

    I’ve just been reading the article in which you’re quoted in today’s Palm Beach Post. The quotes from the various school board members also in that article illustrate well the “bait and switch,” I think, but one was so blatantly stupid and self-contradicting that I had to reproduce it!

    “Science is, well, not an exact science. It’s all so subjective. There are a lot of holes in the theory of evolution…I can’t imagine that we would teach science and not teach intelligent design…” (Carol Hilson, Chair of the Saint Lucie County School Board)

    Clearly, she knows that intelligent design isn’t science, but she wants to teach it anyhow. Errr, yeah.

  • 2007/12/31 at 9:34 am

    About the Palm Beach Post article: Oh, my. Either I had a brain fart on the phone, or the reporter got one bit he attributes to me garbled. Not too bad overall, though.

  • 2007/12/31 at 6:03 pm

    Those arguing against ID=creationism need to recognize:

    1. probably 25% of the leading IDers are straight-up YECs

    2. The rest are OECs

    3. OECs are still fundamentalists (= believing in Biblical inerrancy) and still unambiguously creationists

    4. ID is not really a “more liberal than OEC” position, in actuality it is *in between* the YEC and OEC positions, in that it officially tries to remain agnostic on the age of the earth, so that the YECs and OECs can cooperate and collaborate under a “big tent”

    5. Position #4 is scientifically just as ludicrous and shameful as straight-up YEC. And is just as motivated by the desire to defend Biblical inerrancy.

    6. Virtually no IDers actually accept the common ancestry of, say, humans and chimps. Behe is basically the only exception, and even he is squidgy on the issue. But because of Behe a great number of partially informed people, generally familiar with ID but without detailed knowledge, toss off claims like “IDers generally accept common ancestry”.

    Recommend people read this:

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