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Dressing Up Uncivil Attacks on Intelligent Design with Scholarly Rhetoric

As a 2009 article by Inna Kouper in the Journal of Scientific Communication put it, intelligent-design critics are often “eager to demonstrate not only their rightness, but also to distinguish their group of reasonable and worthy individuals from others, who are wrong, unintelligent, and overall worthless.” They thus make heavy use of “emotional and insulting evaluations” and “mockery.” Or as a 2000 article in Technical Communication Quarterly explained, evolutionists often use “ridicule” and “public scorn in displays of derision” in order to “de-authorize publications that could be perceived as dangerous to the community.”

Many examples of such discourse among ID-critics could be given — though the word “many” really doesn’t do justice to the extent of the phenomenon under discussion. In recent months, however, several examples have caught my eye because they sought to dress up such attacks with scholarly jargon, and because they were published by respectable outlets.

These examples also merit our attention because, despite their air of scholarship, they are extremely inaccurate at very basic levels. Like Josh Rosenau, they consistently ignore ID scientific research. They also make false statements about the policy positions advocated by ID proponents.

Let’s first consider Frank Ravitch’s 2011 Cambridge University Press book, Marketing Intelligent Design: Law and the Creationist Agenda.

Ravitch, a law professor at Michigan State University, declares that ID is merely “a marketing strategy based on religious apologetics and not a truly scientific approach” (p. x). He takes aim at ID proponents, stating that “the scientific proof for evolution is so overwhelming that it would be ludicrous to ignore it.” (p. 3) (How does one measure “ludicrousness” in scientific terms? He doesn’t say.) He argues that ID proponents adopt “dishonest” tactics in order to serve “the ends” of “service to God”:

This, along with the rhetorical and “scientific” exploits of ID advocates, has caused some to accuse the movement of dishonesty. The obvious import is that a religiously grounded movement, or one that at least openly acknowledges its support for the concept of a strong values system, engages in inexcusable hypocrisy by being dishonest. As we saw earlier, this assertion is question begging. Religious apologists often believe the ends (the service to God) justify the rhetorical means, and therefore higher values may demand a certain amount of spin to convince people of so-called truth. I believe this accounts for the ID movement’s savvy marketing plan that seems to the scientific and legal world to promote intellectual dishonesty at the very least, if not outright bunk. (p. 265)

There you have it: the old “lying for Jesus” line dressed up in scholarly rhetoric. Is that all it takes to get published by Cambridge University Press these days?

Much like Josh Rosenau, Frank Ravitch seems incapable of acknowledging that ID proponents do real scientific research. Professor Ravitch thus offers criticisms like:

  • “ID proponents make no attempt to falsify their ultimate hypothesis that Big D exists and that Big D designed many complex organisms, nor do they attempt to falsify their arguments that evolution cannot explain much of what is seen in the natural world or directly try to prove Big D’s existence through experimentation that can be reproduced, so it is obvious that ID is not science under the traditional definition of that term in the era of modern science.” (p. 41)
  • “ID advocates … have failed to engage in experiments that could support or contravene evolution through natural selection depending on outcomes.” (p. 46)

Of course, as we’ve discussed, there is a significant body of research that refutes these claims (see here, here, or here).

And I know personally that Mr. Ravitch is aware of some of this research. The last time I wrote about his work, Ravitch e-mailed me and during our dialogue I informed him of various papers that refute his claims that ID has produced no research. He couldn’t bring himself to admit that ID research existed in our private exchange, and he has continued to repeat his false claims in his book. Instead, by simply citing the inaccurate Kitzmiller ruling (which is his citation for the first quote above) he can act as if his false claims about the non-existence of ID research are true.

There are many additional errors about ID in Ravitch’s book but here are two more that caught my attention:

Yes, apparently all it takes to get published by Cambridge University Press these days is a willingness to say something on par with a blog rant that repeatedly calls ID “intellectually dishonest” or “ludicrous,” dress it up with some scholarly sounding terminology, and cite Judge Jones to justify false claims about the supposed non-existence of ID research.

This is the level of rigor and accuracy we’re dealing with in the arguments of many ID critics.