October 21, 2005

Debating tricks and defenses in the IDC debate

In the postings this week, I have been looking at the way that IDC people have been using language to blur crucial distinctions and to hide their true agenda.

In order to combat this, the scientific people have to be very careful and adopt two strategies. The first is to not let the IDC people control the vocabulary of the debate. The second is to constantly expose the long-term agenda of the IDC people.

In the first case, we should not let the IDC people pretend they are not talking about god when they refer to an 'intelligent designer.' If they claim that what they are proposing is science, we should demand that they, like any scientist who invents a new concept, produce an operational definition for their concept of 'intelligent designer.' Then we can compare their operational definition with that of an operational definition of god to see if we are talking about two different things or the same thing. For a definition of god we can tentatively propose (following the Oxford English Dictionary definition) "A superhuman person….who is worshipped as having power over nature and the fortunes of mankind." But is this operational? An operational definition of god might be "an entity who cannot be detected by measuring instruments but is yet capable of influencing events in the natural world." Of course, this definition does not rule out other entities like the devil and other spirits, so it needs to be fine-tuned. I am open to suggestions for improvement.

We should also not let them assert that they are not creationists simply because they do not use that particular word. Again, we need an operational definition of a generic creationist and see if the operational definition of intelligent design does not meet that generic category. I assert that it does because 'creationism' can be operationally defined as the belief that certain things come into being that are outside the workings of natural laws, and IDC definitely makes that assertion. I will use Robert Pennock's label of Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) to make clear that theirs is just a variant of creationism that can be distinguished from young-Earth creationism (YEC), old-Earth creationism (OEC), and extra-terrestrial creationism (ET-IDC) but still falls under the creationist umbrella.

Third, we should reject their attempt to divide science into 'empirical science' and 'origins science' and to use that spurious division to imply that theories that fall into the latter category are evaluated by different means than those in the former category. This strategy enables them to avoid any empirical evidence for the theory of intelligent design. This division is spurious since all science is empirical and all require evidentiary warrants.

The real, and long-term, goals of the IDC people should also be relentlessly emphasized. The spokesmen for IDC downplay their goals and make minimalist claims when they are speaking to general audiences and trying to influence public policy. Then they claim that all they want is for IDC theory to be accepted as an alternative to evolutionary theory or for the 'controversy' about evolution to be taught.

But that is not what they want. As their Wedge Strategy document clearly states, they seek "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies." The "Governing Goals" of the movement are to "defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies" and to "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

In short, they want to overthrow the very foundations of modern scientific practice and everything that goes along with them. Basically, they want to turn the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment. In fact, as Marshal Berman (of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico) points out in the latest issue of the American Physical Society News (vol. 14, no.9, October 2005), the disdain that the IDC people have for the Enlightenment and nostalgia that they have for the Dark Ages (i.e., the name given to the period before the Enlightenment) is palpable and should cause concern for everyone. Here is a quote from Unapologetic Apologetics by William Dembski and J.W. Richards, 2001, p.20. (Dembski is, along with Phillip Johnson, an important theoretician of the IDC movement):

From the sixth century up to the Enlightenment it is safe to say that the West was thoroughly imbued with Christian ideals and that Western intellectual elites were overwhelmingly Christian. False ideas that undermined the very foundations of the Christian faith (e.g., denying the resurrection or the Trinity) were swiftly challenged and uprooted. Since the enlightenment, however, we have not so much the means to combat false ideas as the will and the clarity.

Ah, yes, the good old days when we were not afraid to use the inquisition and torture chambers and the burning of witches and other heretics to "swiftly challenge and uproot" the ideas of those who disagreed with Christian orthodoxy. Now, they lament, while we have much more advanced coercion techniques (Abu Ghraib reveals some), we have, alas, lost the "will" to use them because all this science stuff has caused us to become confused and lose our "clarity." But with luck and help from their political allies, IDC will enable us to return to those glory days when we could depend on our religious leaders to tell us what was good and bad and right and wrong. And I think that we can guess what "challenge and uproot" might mean for those who advocate any thinking other than that approved by the new defenders of the faith.

This, shorn of all its pretences, is the main goal of IDC, to create nothing less than a theocracy based on a very narrow view of Christianity. And we need to make their ultimate goal the main focus of the debate and get beyond the word games that they have been trying to play.


It is rare that I have such good timing in my posts. I had written the above words about IDC advocates' yearning for the 'clarity' of the Dark Ages early in the week. But this very week, in testimony at the Dover, PA trial on including IDC ideas in science classrooms, IDC advocate Michael Behe (author of Darwin's Black Box) seemed to lend further credibility to my thesis. Under cross-examination by attorney for the parents Eric Rothschild, Behe "acknowledged that under his definition of a scientific theory, astrology would fit as neatly as intelligent design."

Behe's testimony also showed how IDC does not have the ability to make any predictions:

In an attempt to pin Professor Behe down, Mr. Rothschild asked, "What is the mechanism that intelligent design is proposing?"

Mr. Behe said: "It does not propose a mechanism in the sense of a step-by-step description of how these structures arose." He added that "the word 'mechanism' can be used broadly" and said the mechanism was "intelligent activity."

In other words, "Stuff happens, we haven't a clue why or how or how to even investigate it, but figure it must be god." And that is basically the IDC case.


Here's the story of evolution (going backwards) told in 50 seconds flat to the pounding beat of Sammy Davis Jr. singing The Rhythm of Life– and it's in a beer commercial! (Thanks to Cathie)


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There is just as much scientific proof for intelligent design as there is for evolution. The term mitochondrial eve is a term used by scientists to signify the female who we are all descendents of. It is believed that she lived 150,000 years ago in Africa or the Middle East. This validates at least a portion of the theory of intelligent design as outlined by Christianity and other faiths. Most stories of creation consist of an Adam and an Eve... although they do take on different names in non-Christian religions. The theories of evolution are no more proved than those of intelligent design. Sure... they've seen the evolution of small traits in living species. However, the proof of the link between man and ape has yet to be found. It is all theoretical science. This also leaves other unanswered questions, where did the matter for the big bang come from?

The complexity of the human form is far too complex to have come from pebbles. The human eye, the reproductive system, the soul... none of these can be described by evolution. They are far too complex for random things to fall into place. What are the odds that two beings could evolve nearly identically and be able to reproduce?

Barring my opinion on the matter, there is not any more undeniable evidence that evolution is a valid theory. Scientists take the missing pieces of the explanation and explain it away with "it hasn't been found yet."

Both of these theories come down to two elements of faith. Intelligent design: A higher power exists. Evolution: The missing links exist and the matter somehow always existed. They are two faith based theories with scientific backing. While nothing has disproved evolution, nothing has disproved intelligent design. Why should one faith be given preferential treatment in the classroom? Isn't that a violation of the Bill of Rights?

The argument for intelligent design in the classroom does not ask to adopt Christian beliefs as our primary means of teaching our origin. It just merely asks for fairness in the teaching. Both theories have scientific backing. If both faith-based theories are presented, the students are left to decide what to believe, hence securing our freedom of religion.

Posted by Chad on October 21, 2005 09:57 AM

"the proof of the link between man and ape has yet to be found."
Do some searches for the human fossil record. There is an extensive trail of fossils we have found that show a distinct link to a common ancestor.

"This also leaves other unanswered questions, where did the matter for the big bang come from?"
The matter (energy) was already there. It was just in a highly compressed state.

"The complexity of the human form is far too complex to have come from pebbles."
It did not come from pebbles. Eyes -
The soul is a religous fabrication. You can't expect evolution to explain that can you?

"What are the odds that two beings could evolve nearly identically and be able to reproduce?"
This isn't how evolution works. Please read up on it further.

"They are two faith based theories with scientific backing."
You can keep saying IDC has scientific backing all you want, but that doesn't make it true. Did you cite any evidence?

Posted by Drew on October 21, 2005 10:30 AM

Scientists have found evidence of the link to one common female.

As far as evolution... they have found evidence that suggests the link, but nothing that proves it. There are many gaps... research it.

Ok... here's a question for you... Where did the matter for the big bang come from? How can you assume "It was always there?" Do you have evidence of that? It's all faith-based science. What put the matter there? Saying "It was always was there" sounds a lot like a Christian’s interpretation of God.

Posted by Chad on October 21, 2005 10:56 AM

IDC and religious theory can no more answer the question 'where did matter come from before creation' than science. Who created God?

Also, YES evolutionary theory links us to common ancestors! Of course! Your 'mitochondiral eve' does nothing to disprove Evolution and is not evidence for IDC - after all, you have said nothing about where this eve came from. Go on down to the Geology department and talk to Dr. Aronson about Lucy.

Posted by Marie on October 21, 2005 11:25 AM

Chad is right that scientists do make certain assumptions about certain things like initial conditions. Does that make it "faith" in the same sense that we understand a belief in God?

Not quite. Because the assumptions that scientists make are part of a framework that generates consequences, with predictions that we can look for. For example, making the assumption that all matter was in the form of a hot quark-gluon plasma a few microseconds after the beginning of the universe enables scientists to predict things like the relative percentages of light nuclei in the universe, or the temperature of the cosmic microwave background. People can then go look for these things. This is why we say that science is evidence-based. Evolution is done the same way.

But faith in god is of a different kind. It does not make predictions you can look for and test. Same with IDC, as even the IDC advocates concede. This is why they seek to overthrow the basis of how scientists operate. So when scientists say they "believe" certain things, the word has a different connotation from when religious people do it.

As for the gaps, there will always be gaps because of the way things are classified. If you (say) find an intermediate species between two distinct species, you can look at it one way saying the link has been found, or you can look at another way and say that now two gaps exist, between the new intermediate species and the two earlier ones. So finding a link can always be interpreted as making things worse! This is why scientists do not attach much credence to the "missing link" argument against evolution.

I am not quite clear what you are inferring from the mitochondrial DNA argument for a common female ancestor. Are you saying that she is the Biblical Eve and that Africa is where the Garden of Eden was?

Posted by Mano Singham on October 21, 2005 11:30 AM

I am saying that as Christian beliefs describe, that one person is Eve. As far as the Garden of Eden, that would actually not be where it is. In the Bible Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden for giving into the devil. However, as far as the origin of man goes, Biblical Eve is that common female ancestor. In the contexts of another religion, she could be known as something other than Eve, but the concept is the same.

I am not trying to disprove evolution. Evolution is a very real thing for organisms on earth. However, it is the origin of life that is in question. I find both to be valid theories in the eyes of science. However, they are both theories, they cannot be proven. They do both have scientific supporting evidence, so in my opinion, the schools should present both theories to the children.

I understand that considering science a religion is a bit of a stretch. However, it is very closely related. Teaching evolution as the origin of humans on earth discourages religions that believe in intelligent design. We have been entitled to freedom of religion. If we go to school and have our religious beliefs attacked, this is a violation of that freedom.

My little sister went to school and was told about evolution. My family and I had to sit down with her and reteach our religion to her. We should not have to do this.

When I took biology in 9th grade, I had already established my religious beliefs. However, being told my religion was not real was one of the most uncomfortable situations I have ever been in.

I do not see what is wrong with presenting both ideas equally in our schools. It still gives those who are not religious the opportunity to believe in evolution; however, it does give believers in intelligent design that same chance. It gives them choice. It gives the students the freedom of religion that they are guaranteed.

Posted by Chad on October 21, 2005 01:04 PM


A couple of things. Darwin's theory of natural selection deals with the evolution of life, not the origins.

You say: "We have been entitled to freedom of religion. If we go to school and have our religious beliefs attacked, this is a violation of that freedom."

But freedom of religion simply means that you are free to worship as you please, not that you have the right to be shielded from anything that disagrees with your religious belief structure.

In science classes, we teach science. And science follows its internal dynamic wherever it may lead and cannot avoid certain issues simply because it has the potential to cause discomfort to other beliefs. There will always be times when the current scientific paradigms will cause problems for people with specific religious beliefs. It has done so for a very long time, so this is nothing new. If science could not teach anything that contradicted religious beliefs, then we would still be teaching about a flat Earth because that was a religious belief of that time.

If the science curriculum had to be structured to not disagree with any and all religious beliefs (Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, Paganism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, not to mention the variations within each belief structures) we would not be able to teach anything at all.

For example, the accepted age of the Earth comes into conflict with the beliefs of young earth creationists. Should we then not teach anything about geology?

Science classes should teach science. Religious institutions should teach religion. People can work out for themselves what they want to believe.

Posted by Mano Singham on October 21, 2005 03:17 PM

First I will address age discrepancies. In the bible, they were referred to as "days." What if those "days" were not days in a 24 hour sense, but just periods of time? Then that would hold true.

You say that evolution does not discuss the origin, however I disagree. When I was taught evolution in 9th grade Biology, I was told that man has evolved from the pebbles on this earth.

You say that we are simply entitled to freedom of religion. Now, how does teaching intelligent design in parallel with evolution? While it may not be widely accepted by the scientific community, it has been discussed as a possible scientific theory. There is scientific evidence that points towards intelligence design. What is the harm of presenting these theories? I understand that we cannot force every teacher to teach this, but why are they restricted from doing so? Just as you said, people can hear the stories of evolution and disregard them if they violate their personal beliefs. Why can the believers in evolution do the same with the theories of intelligent design?

Posted by Chad on October 22, 2005 10:46 AM

In the bible, they were referred to as "days." What if those "days" were not days in a 24 hour sense, but just periods of time?

This doesn't answer Mano's question. You're describing your interpretation of Genesis, but others believe those days are literal days. If we avoid exposing you to scientific findings that conflict with your religious beliefs, then to be fair, we must do the same for Biblical literalists and their beliefs. The same would apply to all other faiths. The student-teacher ratio makes it impractical to tailor the curriculum to each individual student, so only the least offensive subset - which includes extremely little science, if any at all - could be taught under these restrictions. Is this what you advocate?

When I was taught evolution in 9th grade Biology, I was told that man has evolved from the pebbles on this earth.

It sounds like you might not have been taught very well. There are scientific ideas about the possible origins of life - I don't know whether any of them are very well-established so far - but that's outside the scope of Darwin's theory.

Matter is constantly incorporated into and removed from our bodies, so it's very likely that the atoms currently in our bodies were, at some point in the past four billion years, part of rocks. But for the same reason, this statement is not very significant regarding the origin or development of life. We're more interested in how this persistent organizational pattern of atoms came about - a pattern that is independent of the particular atoms that happen to be part of it at any one time.

While it [IDC] may not be widely accepted by the scientific community, it has been discussed as a possible scientific theory.

It hasn't been discussed that way by scientists, because it doesn't qualify as science. Scientific explanations make predictions. If your explanation doesn't make predictions, then it isn't science. That doesn't mean it isn't valuable, but it is different, and that difference should be recognized.

There is scientific evidence that points towards intelligence design.

You mentioned the "mitochondrial Eve", but this only indicates that humans have common ancestry. It does not indicate that humans were created by God. Since evolution and IDC share the idea of common ancestry, evidence of common ancestry does not support one over the other. On the other hand, there is fossil evidence of common ancestry for not just all humans, but humans and other apes. This idea is not shared by IDC, so this evidence does support evolution over IDC.

You also said that some biological features "are far too complex for random things to fall into place." I think you've misunderstood evolutionary theory here. It does not say that species develop randomly. There are two main components to the development of species: mutation and selection. Mutation is random, but selection is certainly not. If we could see all the mutations that happen, they would appear just as random as they are. But selection weeds out many mutations; only those that contribute to survival remain. So the features left for us to see are just as non-random as they seem. Evolution and IDC are in agreement as far as the randomness of what we currently see goes. Where they differ is in how the complexity came about.

More fundamentally, they differ on how much we can possibly know about how it came about. The scientific approach is simply to look for a naturalistic, predictive explanation. Presented with two or more competing explanations that are naturalistic and predictive, we favor the ones that give the most accurate predictions. Science never offers certainty, but it offers increasing degrees of accuracy in its predictions, and increasing detail. Religion claims certainty, but sharply limits detail.

What is the harm of presenting these theories?

Teaching IDC in science classes will blur the distinction between science and other fields. This situation is bad enough already - many people don't have a clear idea of what makes science science.

I understand that we cannot force every teacher to teach this, but why are they restricted from doing so?

Because despite all the obfuscation, IDC is, in its essence, religion. So while you may teach it to anyone who will listen, public institutions may not.

Posted by Paul Jarc on October 22, 2005 09:49 PM!1psdFdW3uWZp-A3c-JeidiRg!2607.entry

Posted by sevencastles on October 26, 2005 05:27 AM

Ran across this in another forum, had to put up the link in here.

Mano, you really should read this. I hope you post about it. I can't vouch for the authenticity, but it's definitely chilling if it is true.

Posted by on November 8, 2005 10:58 AM

Mano -

Ran across this in another forum:

If it's authentic, it's chilling.

~ Liz

Posted by Liz V on November 8, 2005 11:13 AM

This is genuine. In fact, I have written about this "Wedge" strategy several times, the latest one being here

Posted by Mano Singham on November 8, 2005 02:32 PM

hi hope Im not butting in. i just want to get my two cents in and chime in for Chad's cause because hes not getting much support. Anyway, in the Weekly Standard in 2001 hundreds of scientists from schools like: Cambridge, Cornell, Stanfordm, Yale, Rutgers, Princeton, etc. published an open letter voicing there disagreement with Darwinism. They called it "A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism"and said that they were skeptical of the ability of random mutation and natural selection to explain the complexity of life and that evidence for Darwins theory should be carefully examined. My point is that even if you dont teach ID/creationism you should mention holes in Darwinian theory and at least give some voice to the dissenters. The assertion that molecules to man evolution is an airtight case seems really puzzingly if all these professionals with doctorates are challenging it. A bit of affirmative evidence for ID/creationism or whatever is the fine tuning of the laws of physics. The force of gravity is perfectly calibrated to allow human life and the cosmological constant, density of empty space, is perfect. Any variation in this constant and no life. There are a myriad of other variables that provide similar results. Does the fine tuning of physical laws indicate a designer? Is it more credible to say that all these laws of physics occured at random and then life randomly sprung forth? The infinite universe theory also does not eliminate this amazing fine tuning and brings up its own set of issues as well.

To Marie: did you graduate from Rhodes?

Posted by on March 1, 2007 08:55 PM