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ACLU Rhetoric Falls Flat

Casey Luskin

Today an ACLU attorney, T. Jeremy Gunn, authored an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled, “It’s a belief, and wrong for science courses,” which was placed side-by-side with an op-ed by Discovery Institute fellow David K. Dewolf and attorney Randall Wenger entitled “Anti-ID stance is good old intolerance again.” The arguments used by Mr. Gunn mimic those being made by the plaintiffs in the Dover trial, and are self-refuting and do not hold up to scrutiny.

Firstly, Mr. Gun claims that:

“ID is simply the latest incarnation of what first was promoted as ‘creationism.'”

This is one of the oldest and most tiresome lines of criticism against intelligent design. It’s also one of the most simply factually incorrect criticisms of ID. Let’s trace its pedigree.

As early as 1989, Eugenie Scott wrote the following in an NCSE publication about Of Pandas and People:

“The book [Of Pandas and People] is cleverly-disguised “scientific” creationism, the “theory” that the six-day Genesis creation story, literally interpreted, can be supported scientifically. Scientific and educational organizations have roundly criticized “scientific” creationism as being bad science and bad education. Consensus opinion is that it has no place being advocated as a scientifically accurate history of the world. Pandas has fooled many teachers and even some scientists because it does not use creationist terms but instead contrasts evolutionary theory with a neologism called the “theory of intelligent design.”

Scott & Uno (1989): Introduction to NCSE Bookwatch Reviews for Of Pandas and People by Eugenie C. Scott and Gordon E. Uno; in Bookwatch Reviews: Candid Appraisals of Science Textbooks Published by the National Center for Science Education, Inc. Volume 2, Number 11, 1989

Scott (and Uno) had it wrong from the very beginning. Firstly, they call Pandas a young earth creationist book, which it isn’t. Pandas nowhere claims that the earth is young, and at many places seems to use dates from an “old earth” chronology (see 2nd ed., pages 99, 101, 110-112 for some examples).

Indeed, the 2nd edition (published in 1993, after Scott’s statement) explicitly disclaims that the intelligent design theory promoted in Pandas requires a young earth:

“Moreover, the concept of design implies absolutely nothing about beliefs and normally associated with Christian fundamentalism, such as a young earth, a global flood, or even the existence of the Christian God. All it implies is that life had an intelligent source.”

(Pandas, 2nd ed, 1993, pg. 161O;

(Perhaps Scott should retract her claims that Pandas promotes the “six-day Genesis creation story” unless she wants another Larry Caldwell episode on her hands.)

Scott and Uno go on to say that the ideas promoted in Pandas are just like all other forms of creationism. Yet Scott herself has explained that creationism is marked by postulating a supernatural creator:

“Creationism generally refers to the idea that a supernatural entity(s) created the universe and humankind. Creation stories are extensively studied in comparative religion and in the anthropology of religion. Christian creation theology stories take a wide range of forms, from the most general – “God created” – to the specific – exactly what, how, and when God created.”

I completely agree 100% with Scott’s definition of creationism here. In fact, many scholars and authorities on all sides of the debate have commonly defined creationism by noting that it appeals to a specifically “supernatural creator.” The question must be asked, does Pandas meet Scott’s definition for creationism by stating that “a supernatural entity(s) created the universe and humankind”?

The answer is clearly no:

“If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause. But what kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy. But that should not prevent science from acknowledging evidences for an intelligent cause origin wherever they may exist. This is no different, really, than if we discovered life did result from natural causes. We still would not know, from science, if the natural cause was all that was involved, or if the ultimate explanation was beyond nature, and using the natural cause.” (Pandas, pg. 7, emphasis added)

“Today we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Archaeology has pioneered the development of methods for distinguishing the effects of natural and intelligent causes. We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science.” (Pandas, pg. 126-127, emphasis added)

It’s clear that Pandas fails Eugenie Scott’s test for creationism.

Gunn’s opening shot has thus failed in that it follows a long line of people fuzzy and factually incorrect arguments about Pandas promoting creationism. (More to come about allegations that Pandas used the word “creationism” in earlier versions” in a subsequent post.)

Mr. Gunn then goes on to use a typical argument-to-authority against intelligent design:

“Dozens of America’s leading scientific organizations and scores of Nobel Prize winners denounce ID as unscientific. No legitimate scientific organization in the country credits ID for being anything other than a distraction from science.”

Mr. Gunn cites to “Dozens” of leading scientific organizations which have denounced ID. The question I want to ask is, “Is this opposition coming from a fair and objective evaluation of the evidence, or is it stemming from political opposition?”

Firstly, it should be noted that even prominent Darwinists admit that ID faces harsh political opposition from the scientific community. Prominent Darwinist philosopher of science Michael Ruse concurs that intelligent design faces such intolerance from the powers that be in scientific community:

“To say that Intelligent Design is controversial is to offer a truism. It is opposed, often bitterly, by the scientific establishment. Journals such as Science and Nature would as soon publish an article using or favourable to Intelligent Design as they would an article favourable to phrenology or mesmerism – or, to use an analogy to the claims of the Mormons about Joseph Smith and the tablets of gold, or favourable to the scientific creationists’ claims about the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs. Recently, indeed, the American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] (the organization that publishes Science) has declared officially that in its opinion Intelligent Design is not so much bad science as no science at all and accordingly has no legitimate place in the science classrooms of the United States.” (Michael Ruse and William Dembski in General Introduction to Debating Design, pg. 3-4 (Cambridge University Press, 2004))

As mentioned by Ruse and Dembski above, one of the of organizations Mr. Gunn might have had in mind is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In 2002, the AAAS released an “AAAS Board Resolution on Intelligent Design Theory,” asserting without any discussion of the scientific evidence, that “the ID movement has failed to offer credible scientific evidence to support their claim that ID undermines the current scientifically accepted theory of evolution.” Additionally, the AAAS board members who themselves issued the edict appeared uninformed about intelligent design theory (see Intelligent design could offer fresh ideas on evolution. Importantly, the AAAS Declaration encourages other scientific organizations to similarly oppose intelligent design.

When top scientific organizations issue directives to the scientific community to oppose a particular theory, not only is this bizarre behavior for supposedly eminent and open-minded scientists, but it exposes the political pressure urging other scientists to oppose intelligent design. Such a political climate is hostile towards scientists who support intelligent design.

The AAAS Declaration has led to discrimination and circular logic from those opposing intelligent design. The scientists persecuting Dr. Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian privately cited the AAAS statement as justification for their discriminatory actions. Additionally, when the Biological Society of Washington repudiated the publication of a paper in their journal providing scientific evidence supporting intelligent design, they cited the AAAS statement as justification.

Yet the AAAS statement urges scientists to oppose intelligent design because intelligent design has supposedly failed to offer credible evidence in favor of intelligent design. This circular logic reveals that intelligent design is being handed guilty verdicts and sentences of excommunication from the scientific community without any being given any right to a trial, much less a fair one.

Mr. Gunn also cites to “scores of Nobel Prize winners” who denounced ID as unscientific. Does Mr. Gunn have any idea what they actually said or why they denounced ID? In reality, as I discussed here, the 38 Nobel Laureates completely misunderstood ID. I explained:

According to these [Nobel Laureate] critics, ID isn’t science because it investigates the unobservable supernatural. But as those who actually read the writings of ID proponents already know, ID theory does not identify the designer because to do so would go beyond the realm of testable science. ID theory thus limits its claims to those which can be established via the scientific method: it limits its claims to detecting the action of intelligence–something which we have observed, and the effects of which we understand quite well. It does not get into metaphysical speculation about the nature or identity of the designer, because to do so would go beyond science. So the reality is that ID theory purposefully avoids the very mistake these Nobel Laureates attribute to it.

Additionally, Mr. Gunn didn’t realize that in their letter, the 38 Nobel Laureates defined evolution in religious terms:

“evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection”
(emphasis added)

These precise sorts of statements were declared by Ken Miller, while on the witness stand, to be religious in nature. It seems that these Nobel Laureates only oppose ID because it conflicts with their religious views, not because they understand the science of ID and oppose it on its merits. (Why isn’t the ACLU prosecuting textbooks which use such religious descriptions of evolution? Stay tuned for more to come on religious advocacy in pro-evolution textbooks and the ACLU’s selective enforcement of the law in a future post.)

At this point, I am reminded of a famous line by anti-ID activist Eugenie Scott that “Science is not a democracy.” Eugenie uses this line to remind people that it isn’t the number of people who believe something that matter, but rather it is what the evidence says. Eugenie made this argument to encourage people to not let popular politics decide education issues, but rather let science tell us what should be taught.

I agree with Eugenie that evidence, not political force, should determine science. I thus find it highly ironic that immediately following Mr. Gunn’s reference to all the scientific organizations, is a perfect example of how scientists aren’t letting the evidence direct them, but rather politics:

Even ID proponent professor Michael Behe, of Lehigh University, has been repudiated by his own colleagues with regard to his ID opinions. On its Web site, the university’s Department of Biological Sciences says:

“The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory… While we respect Professor Behe’s right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.”

I find great irony in the fact that Mr. Gunn thinks that this statement supports his side. In reality, these sorts of declarations and statements show that there is a tremendous bias against ID proponents in the scientific community. Even Behe mentioned this on the stand today that this is evidence of political bias amongst scientists. Behe noted that these statements typically come without any discussion of the evidence. This is the epitome of issuing statements without doing your homework. These edicts against ID are proof of strong anti-ID political forces at work in the scientific community. And it shows that their rejection of ID is political, not based upon the merits of ID theory.

Mr. Gunn then makes another false assertion about ID:

“ID has been unable to gain a scientific foothold. Rather than first publishing its “evidence” and “proofs” in serious scientific journals, its supporters have taken the backdoor approach of trying to insert its doctrines into school textbooks and of lobbying school boards.”

Um, what was that again? Perhaps Mr. Gunn just simply isn’t aware of various peer-reviewed papers which provide both direct and indirect support for ID. A list of peer-reviewed articles in mainstream scientific journals, by ID proponents, supporting ID is detailed here.

Perhaps Mr. Gunn also didn’t know that Discovery has always opposed Dover’s policy to mandate the teaching of intelligent design.

Mr. Gunn then goes on to insult the AAAS, Aristotle, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Lyell (the “father of modern geology”), and the one, the only, Charles Darwin:

“We can be grateful that real scientists such as Jonas Salk, Marie Curie, and Louis Pasteur spent their time in productive scientific research rather than engaging in ID-style public relations campaigns and issuing press releases.”

What do Newton, Aristotle, Lyell, and Darwin all have in common? You guessed it: they all first formulated their theories in BOOKS and other publications, outside of normal works of the scientific community! Does this make their work unscientific? Absolutely not!

But there is one unscientific thing which fits Mr. Gunn’s description: the AAAS News Release condemning ID! Mr. Gunn’s argument is eminently self-refuting!

Not only is Mr. Gunn’s “A argument” (i.e. that ID proponents rely upon press releases and don’t publish peer reviewed papers supporting their theory) wrong, but his “B argument” (that it’s inappropriate to publish your ideas outside of the mainstream scientific community) would disqualify many other mainstream scientific theories.

In fact, ID proponents have found great opposition from the scientific community towards publishing their ideas, because of an incredible bias. This should come as no surprise, because Thomas Kuhn explained that new ideas, such as those promoted by the visionaries listed directly above, are often opposed by “normal scientists”:

“No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all. Nor do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and they are often intolerant of those invented by others.” (Kuhn, T., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Ed, 1970, Univ of Chicago Press, pg. 24)

Kuhn notes that evaluating different paradigms cannot be done by looking at how one paradigm (i.e. a set of journals) treats another paradigm:

“Like the choice between competing political institutions, that between competing paradigms proves to be a choice between incompatible modes of community life. Because it has that character, the choice is not and cannot be determined merely by the evaluative procedures characteristic of normal science, for these depend in part upon a particular paradigm, and that paradigm is at issue. When paradigms enter, as they must, into a debate about paradigm choice, their role is necessarily circular. Each group uses its own paradigm to argue in that paradigm’s defence.” (Kuhn, T., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd Ed, 1970, Univ of Chicago Press, pg. 94)

Perhaps 50 years from now, Kuhn would add to the list Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and/or William Dembski’s The Design Inference. For now, it seems clear that the opposition to ID which Mr. Gunn so proudly cites is coming from (a) complete misunderstandings of how ID theory works, and (b) extreme politics, plain and simple.

Mr. Gunn ends with a scare-tactic:

“Only last week an advisory panel created by the National Academies (which includes the National Academy of Sciences) issued a report warning of the drastic dangers to the United States as it continues to lose its competitive edge in science and science education.”

While Gunn’s account of the NAS report may indeed be correct, the relevant question is: “is the status quo working?” Currently, the vast majority of public schools in America only teach the evidence which supports Neo-Darwinism. So if there’s a problem currently, perhaps the solution is to change the status quo.

When it comes to studying biological origins, students aren’t learning it in a way which fosters (1) critical thinking, (2) increased student interest in science by exposing them to a lively debate about an interesting subject (i.e. where they came from), or (3) a better understanding of the facts. I thus think Mr. Gunn’s final quoted statement provides a powerful argument that something needs to change about biological origins education!


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



ACLUAmerican Civil Liberties UnionKitzmiller v. Dover Area School District