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Council of Europe Makes Its Dogmatism Official: Intelligent Design poses “a threat to human rights” (Part 1)

Casey Luskin

censorshiplogo.jpgThis month the Council of Europe (CoE) adopted a resolution regarding “The dangers of creationism in education,” which calls intelligent design (ID) “a threat to human rights.” The CoE is a non-governmental body in Europe that aims to protect human rights, but its resolutions carry no force of law. Even if the CoE’s edicts did carry the force of law, it’s difficult to take this resolution seriously due to its assertion that questioning Darwin somehow threatens human rights. David Berlinski, a mathematician and Discovery Institute senior fellow who lives in Paris and has made many scientific critiques of Darwinian evolution, has given us an insightful analysis of the resolution, here. As Dr. Berlinski puts it, “if this is what a threat to human rights amounts to, count me among its supporters; I’m threatening away with the best of them.”

We previously assessed the resolution and the rebuttal from the European Center for Law and Justice here, but it’s worth looking closer at this resolution as an example of the fusion of bad science, bad education, and dangerous politics. Additionally, it’s worth noting that although the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly has over 640 members, only 48 voted in favor of this resolution (~7%). Two weeks ago I e-mailed the CoE’s press office inquiring why so few votes were cast on the resolution; as of yet, I have received no reply to my question.

Misinformation, Beginning with the Resolution’s Title
The title of the resolution, “The dangers of creationism in education,” inappropriately lumps ID as “creationism.” Next, in its first sentence, the resolution wrongly asserts that, “Creationism in any of its forms, such as ‘intelligent design’, is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning.” This statement is blatantly false.

First, intelligent design is different from creationism. Creationism starts with some religious text and tries to see how the findings of science can be reconciled to it. ID starts with the empirical evidence of nature and seeks to ascertain what scientific inferences can be drawn from that evidence. Unlike creationism, ID does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural. Michael Behe explains this point:

The most important difference [between modern ID and Paley] is that [ID] is limited to design itself; I strongly emphasize that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent God, as Paley’s was. I hasten to add that I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. Thus while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel–fallen or not; Plato’s demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being. Of course, some of these possibilities may seem more plausible than others based on information from fields other than science. Nonetheless, as regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton’s phrase hypothesis non fingo. (Michael Behe, “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis,” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2001), pg. 165, emphasis added.)

The resolution and its accompanying report fail to recognize these basic facts about ID and its differences from creationism. (For further detailed information about why ID is different than creationism, see here or here.)

Second, ID does use scientific reasoning and is based upon empirical data. The scientific method is commonly described as a four-step process involving observations, hypothesis, experimentation, and conclusion. ID begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.

The charge that ID is “creationism” is a rhetorical strategy on the part of Darwinists who wish to delegitimize ID without actually addressing the merits of its case. The CoE has deftly applied this strategy, asserting ID’s illegitimacy without making any critique of the actual methods advocated by design proponents for detecting design. Instead, the resolution depends on a report of Parliamentary Assembly member Guy Lengagne, which dismisses ID by wrongly equating it with a supernatural explanation, and making the bald assertion that ID employs “blatant scientific fraud, intellectual deception or communication that blurs the nature, objectives and limits of science.” No examples are given to back up the claims of “fraud” or “deception,” and ID proponents have in fact long explained why even methodological naturalism does not disbar ID from being science.

Is ID Science?
In its “Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science,” the U.S. National Academy of Sciences defines science as follows:

Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data–the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science.

In Traipsing Into Evolution, we demonstrated why ID meets this description of science:

Intelligent causes can be inferred through confirmable data. The types of information produced by intelligent causes can be observed and then measured. Scientists can use observations and experiments to base their conclusions of intelligent design upon empirical evidence. Intelligent design limits its claims to those which can be established through the data. In this way, intelligent design does not violate the mandates of predictability and reliability laid down for science by methodological naturalism (whatever the failings and limitations of methodological naturalism). (Traipsing, page 37)

Yet Mr. Lengagne’s report simply makes the bald assertion that ID appeals to the supernatural and engages in “fraud.” This report does not engage any of the actual arguments of ID proponents.

Part 2 will further assess the dogmatism in the CoE’s resolution.


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.



Council of Europe