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Wikipedia “Intelligent Design” Entry Selectively Cites Poll Data to Present Misleading Picture of Support for Intelligent Design

Casey Luskin

I recently discussed how Wikipedia has inaccurate information on intelligent design, or constantly rebuts (fallaciously) the claims of ID proponents. This post looks at merely two sentences out of the long Wikipedia entry on intelligent design and finds inaccuracy, misrepresentation, bias, and hypocrisy. These two sentences come from Wikipedia’s discussion of polls and intelligent design. Wikipedia presently states:

According to a 2005 Harris poll, ten percent of adults in the United States view human beings as “so complex that they required a powerful force or intelligent being to help create them”.[17] Although some polls commissioned by the Discovery Institute show more support, these polls have been criticized as suffering from considerable flaws, such as having a low response rate (248 out of 16,000), being conducted on behalf of an organization with an expressed interest in the outcome of the poll, and containing leading questions.[18]

There are a number of biased and/or inaccurate aspects of this statement:

(1) Support for the intelligent design viewpoint is much greater than 10% of Americans: Intelligent design includes a broad spectrum of beliefs. It includes those who accept common descent and support a form of intelligently guided evolution. It also includes those who believe that an intelligent agent designed life-forms separate from other species in something close to their present form. ID doesn’t require special creation by any means, but special creationists do share with other intelligent design proponents the view that the complexity of life arose via intelligence, and not an unguided / random process like natural selection acting upon mutation. William Dembski explains this:

Intelligent design does not require organisms to emerge suddenly or to be specially created from scratch by the intervention of a designing intelligence. To be sure, intelligent design is compatible with the creationist idea of organisms being suddenly created from scratch. But it is also perfectly compatible with the evolutionist idea of new organisms arising from old by gradual accrual of change. What separates intelligent design from naturalistic evolution is not whether organisms evolved or the extent to which they evolved, but what was responsible for their evolution.

(William A. Dembski The Design Revolution, pg. 178 (InterVarsity Press, 2004).)

The Harris Poll does not present a single question that itself tests solely for support of intelligent design. The Harris Poll did find that only 10% of Americans agreed with the statement: “Human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force or intelligent being to help create them.” But it also found that 64% of Americans agreed that “Human beings were created directly by God.” People could only choose one of these. So guess what? If you believe that “Human beings were created directly by God” then you necessarily also believe that “Human beings are so complex that they required a powerful force or intelligent being to help create them.” The converse isn’t a true statement, but this means that in reality, at least 74% of Americans support the intelligent design viewpoint. A Venn diagram describing the relationship of these viewpoints might look like this:

Note: there are MANY other possible intelligent design views besides the one which states that “Human beings were created directly by God.” But I only list those two here as they were the only ones used in the poll.

Conclusion: The Harris poll did not present a question which precisely tested support for the general intelligent design viewpoint, and the Wikipedia article misrepresents the poll’s findings by making support for intelligent design appear over 7 times less than a correct interpretation of the data would suggest.

(2) Wikipedia’s statement compares two different types of poll questions: overall support for intelligent design versus overall support for teaching ID: Wikipedia favorably cites the Harris Poll because it implies (using the misinterpretation of poll data discussed above in point (1)) a low overall support for intelligent design (10%). Wikipedia acknowledges that some polls “show more support” for intelligent design, but then tries to attack them by citing to an article by Chris Mooney (more on Mr. Mooney below). But the 2001 Zogby poll questions attacked in the Mooney article cited by Wikipedia do not discuss overall support for ID! Rather, the questions Mooney attacks assess overall support for teaching intelligent design in schools.

Conclusion: Wikipedia did not actually refute poll questions which “show more support” for ID because their cited-source critiques only poll questions assessing support for teaching ID, a different type of question.

(3) Wikipedia selectively present only the low poll data regarding intelligent design, and presenting it inaccurately: Wikipedia cited the Harris Poll favorably, and the only data cited implies low support for intelligent design (10%, though that number is misinterpreted). Yet the intelligent design entry ignores the fact that this same 2005 Harris poll found that 59% of Americans support teaching ID.

Moreover, when there is high poll data regarding intelligent design, the site attacks the poll, as in the case of the 2001 Zogby poll that found that 78% of Americans support teaching ID. Wikipedia’s bias is exposed in that the site praises a 2005 Harris Poll when there is low poll data, but fails to mention that high poll data from that same poll, and when it does cite (vaguely) high poll data from a different poll, it attacks it:

Basic type of poll question 2005 Harris Poll (actual) 2005 Harris Poll (as reported by Wikipedia) 2001 Zogby Poll (actual) 2001 Zogby Poll (as reported by Wikipedia)
Do you support intelligent design? 74% 10% 69% Wikipedia did not report this data
Do you support teaching intelligent design? 59% Wikipedia did not report this data 78% Wikipedia did not report this data

As can be seen, the two polls are in general agreement on both questions about general support for ID, and support for teaching ID (the Harris Poll indicates slightly greater acceptance of ID, and the Zogby poll indicates somewhat greater support for teaching ID). In the table above, emboldened text indicates what was actually reported by Wikipedia: Only the lowest statistic–misinterpreted to appear low–is cited by Wikipedia.

Conclusion: Wikipedia’s intelligent design entry selectively presents only the lowest poll data regarding intelligent design (which it misinterprets to be much lower than it actually is).

(4) Wikipedia claims Discovery Institute’s poll is biased, but hypocritically cites a highly biased source to make that point: That reference given is an article printed in a plainly biased source, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, whose co-founder, Paul Kurtz, is one of the leading atheist activists of the 20th and 21st centuries. According to Wikipedia, Kurtz and “is founder and chairman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry,” “is founder and chairman of … the Council for Secular Humanism,” “”contributed to the writing of Humanist Manifesto II,” and “was largely responsible for the secularization of Humanism”! The article’s author is Chris Mooney, apparently “copresident and a founding member of the Yale College Society for Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics,” who “interned with the CFA [Campus Freethought Alliance] … where he helped draft the organization’s ‘Bill of Rights for Unbelievers.'” Mooney’s column is called “Doubt and About.” Does all that sound unbiased?

Conclusion: The Wikipedia authors are so biased against intelligent design, they’re willing to cite a heavily biased source in order to allege a bias on the part of ID-proponents. Chances are, they didn’t even notice the logical hypocrisy in what they did.

The most interesting question is this: Will Wikipedia’s Darwinist editors now allow this post to be cited as a 3rd-party refutation of their statements about polls and ID? If they do cite it, will they allow it to be unrebutted? Time will tell.


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.