Megan Downs at Florida Today called for people to send her their opinions about “intelligent design”. I fully expect the resulting article to be a mess, but I’d like to be pleasantly surprised. In any event, here’s what I’m sending along:
I’ve been interacting with “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) advocates since presenting at one of their conferences held in 1997. There, Phillip Johnson made clear that the theme was to “legitimate the question”, meaning that they were seeking a concession or acknowledgment that IDC was properly and rightly considered a scientific endeavor. I and other critics there asked a simple two-part question: what would an “intellligent design” hypothesis look like, and how would we test it? They had no answer then, and they have no answer now. This alone would disqualify IDC as rising to even a minimal level of science, but since 1997 we have found that IDC’s origin stemmed from a collaborative act of deceit.
In 2005, evidence in the “Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District” case showed that the 1989 and 1993 editions of the “intelligent design” textbook, “Of Pandas and People”, had started out as — and still contained verbatim sections from — drafts advocating “creation science”. Chillingly, and tellingly, a critical difference between drafts in early 1987 and late 1987 involved the wholesale replacement of references to “creationism” and “creation science” to “design” and “intelligent design”. The cause? 1987 is the date of the US Supreme Court ruling in “Edwards v. Aguillard” holding that “creation science” was a “sham” and narrow religious viewpoint that was unconstitutional to insert into the public school curricula. The response of the group putting together “Of Pandas and People”, which included many of the people now known as IDC advocates, was to perpetrate another sham in simply re-labeling the same content and treating it as if it represented a new field of scientific inquiry, “intelligent design”.
This unseemly act of creation introduced its own fall from virtue, as the actions of IDC advocates since that time have incorporated all sorts of political machinations and sharp practice, from the picayune to the spectacular, such as holding a Congressional “briefing” billed as bringing “top scientists”, when the IDC advocates who came were mostly lawyers and philosophers, and one recent doctorate and one mid-rank biochemist. In 2005, IDC followers grabbed power in Kansas, holding “hearings” over new science standards, where many IDC advocates were brought in to testify that the IDC version of the standards were superior. The transcripts reveal that many of the IDC witnesses were willing to testify that the IDC version was the better, even though they had to admit under questioning that they had not bothered to read the original set of standards. Even one of the state board of education members indicated that she hadn’t read the original standards, either. Last year, the third edition of the IDC textbook, “Of Pandas and People”, appeared. Titled “The Design of Life”, its editor made a point of publicly commenting on early favorable reader reviews on Amazon.com, the online bookseller. The same editor attempted to get Amazon to remove an early critical review, which for a time was taken offline, and later restored. There were six favorable reviews posted within three days of the book’s release, and all of those who posted the early reviews were people closely associated with the book’s editor or with an easily discovered history of advocating IDC. The editor and publisher each published comments making it clear that they closely scrutinized pre-publication requests for courtesy and review copies, denying those to people they believed would be critical of the book. In Florida now, several county school boards are passing antievolution resolutions calling on the state board of education to gut the draft science standards. The versions of these resolutions bear uncanny resemblances to one another, leading to the inference that these efforts are connected by a single source, operating behind the scenes and out of the sunshine. These are the actions of people without legitimacy, but desperately trying to create a false impression that they have such.
“Intelligent design” creationism is not science. IDC is not even a legitimate field of human inquiry. It is, at basis, simply a political ruse, a sham, intended to evade clear legal precedent that excludes narrow religious doctrines from being advocated by the government. The intent of IDC advocates is to introduce as many of the standard religiously-motivated antievolution arguments as they can manage into public school science curricula, and they seem not to care what means they must use to do so. They speak of “alternatives” to evolutionary science, but often refuse to identify just what they intend to offer as such alternatives. They speak of presenting “weaknesses” of evolutionary science, though they will not specify what those weaknesses might be, nor whether they have the sort of scientific accountability that evolutionary science does bring with it. Antievolution arguments are historically and currently comprised of misunderstandings and falsehoods, often intermixed and intermingled. There is no moral imperative to teach students antievolution falsehoods. There is no benefit for students to learn both science and anti-science, and anti-science is precisely the content of IDC argumentation.
Florida’s citizens should demand that their school boards and political leaders come clean when they talk about “alternatives” to science, or “weaknesses” of science. What, precisely, do they propose to teach Florida’s students, and where did they get the idea that the content they are talking about would be good for students to learn? Does that content have a documented history of presentation to the scientific community, such that the scientific community is generally convinced by the arguments given? Scientists have not had to hold fake “briefings” and “hearings”, game review systems, or organize political resolutions on the sly in order to make their findings accountable and useful for students to learn. Why should we accept the word of people who choose such underhanded and unfair tactics as the IDC advocates have used?
Wesley R. Elsberry, Ph.D.