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Using Scientific-Sounding Language to Psychoanalyze ID Proponents

Earlier this year David Klinghoffer commented on a paper that tried to psychoanalytically link support for ID to the fear of death. As I noted in my recent analysis of law professor Frank Ravitch’s 2011 Cambridge University Press book attacking ID, we commonly see attempts to dress up otherwise uncivil dismissals of ID with scholarly rhetoric.

Interestingly, another Cambridge University Press book that does much the same thing as Ravitch’s book is the 2010 volume Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classroom, by Penn State professors Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer. (Berkman and Plutzer are the same pair who co-authored the recent survey of evolution-education published in Science, which suggested students should not “should make up their own minds” on evolution.) They deemed it appropriate to undertake a scientific evaluation of whether people who support teaching criticisms of evolution in public schools are “rational.” Thankfully, they found that those people are “rational,” although they suggested some suffer from “science illiteracy” (p. 52), and many are not “highly educated.” (p. 79)

Then, they felt it worthwhile to scientifically investigate the attacks of Richard Dawkins on Darwin-skeptics. This is an amusing read:

The second part of the anti-evolutionist stereotype suggests that those who do not accept the evidence for evolution are poorly educated, ignorant, and unintelligent. … Richard Dawkins … writes, for example: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)” (Dawkins, 1989). In this section, we will see whether there is some truth to this stereotype by examining three potential indicators of ignorance and knowledge: general cognitive ability, general scientific literacy, and formal educational attainment. (p. 75)

While these scholars are kind enough to rule out a lack cognitive ability, and feel that scientific illiteracy is only a minor factor, they do conclude that “education is a strong predictor of attitudes toward teaching evolution.” (p. 83) But isn’t the mere fact that they felt obliged to scientifically investigate Richard Dawkins-style stereotypes and insults just a bit disconcerting?

Apparently scientifically investigating the intellectual abilities of Darwin-critics is now a legitimate scholarly exercise for opponents of intelligent design. This approach was also taken in a 2011 book from Routledge titled Epistemology and Science Education: Understanding the Intelligent Design Controversy. This volume contains various essays that attack ID as unscientific, joined by a wholesale refusal to acknowledge the scientific accomplishments and research of ID proponents.

The opening chapter of Epistemology and Science Education: Understanding the Intelligent Design Controversy has zero citations to any ID literature yet managed to conclude that “there are numerous examples of how scientific discourse and practices are perverted by proponents of ‘intelligent design.'” (p. 18)

The third chapter, titled “Differences in Epistemic Practices Among Scientists, Young Earth Creationists, Intelligent Design Creationists, and the Scientist-Creationists of Darwin’s Era,” by Clark A. Chinn and Luke A. Buckland, offers inaccurate but scholarly sounding attacks on what it blithely refers to as “intelligent design creationists.” Much like Josh Rosenau or Frank Ravitch, the authors find it convenient to simply deny that ID’s scientific research program exists, making statements like:

  • “IDCs perform no experiments to verify their claims … nor do they propose and test hypotheses regarding potential alternatives” (p. 54)
  • “IDCs have not launched empirical research initiatives to investigate their claims” (p. 63)
  • “The Discovery Institute has no such journals of new empirical research.” (p. 63)

Apparently they haven’t heard of BIO-Complexity, which is not a “Discovery Institute journal” but rather a venue where Discovery Institute fellows and other scientists not affiliated with Discovery Institute have published peer-reviewed papers describing new empirical research testing and investigating the claims of intelligent design. Nor have they followed much of the research published by pro-ID scientists supporting pro-ID claims.

These critics find it easier to respond to a body of scientific findings when you just claim that it doesn’t exist. What’s most ironic, therefore, is that these same authors charge that “IDCs have had to actively ignore an enormous body of empirical evidence” (p. 58).

One of the book’s authors (Chinn) is a psychology professor at Rutgers, so it’s not surprising that the book delves into the psyche of ID proponents, claiming that “IDCs hold a heavily overconfident view of their own cognitive capabilities” (p. 60) The book further claims that ID proponents “have refused to acknowledge criticisms and contrary evidence when it is placed before them” (p. 62), “ignore or radically reinterpret almost all lines of empirical evidence supporting evolutionary theory” (p. 70), have ideological goals “rather than truth-seeking” (p. 65), and “continue to make assertions that are refuted.” (p. 70) Again, what an irony given the falsity of these same authors’ confident claims about the non-existence of ID empirical research!

Conclusion: Be Encouraged
The examples cited in the recent articles I’ve written here on anti-ID rhetoric show that books and articles by leading ID critics often amount to little more than the kinds of inaccurate and uncivil arguments we commonly see in blog rants. They argue that ID proponents and Darwin-skeptics are uneducated, scientifically illiterate, “intellectually dishonest,” and have overinflated intellectual egos as well as a myriad of other faults and failings. Of course, these critics simply deny the existence of ID research, but then ironically charge that “IDCs have had to actively ignore an enormous body of empirical evidence.”

Their charges against ID are demonstrably false, of course. But what is really going on here? Well, returning to the observations of Inna Kouper and Dale L. Sullivan, they are using “mockery,” “ridicule,” “emotional and insulting evaluations,” and public scorn in displays of derision” in order 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” and “de-authorize publications that could be perceived as dangerous to the community.”

This is the level of rigor and civility we’re seeing in many anti-ID publications from highly respected publishing houses like Cambridge University Press and Routledge, and numerous other ID critics not discussed here.

ID proponents who really do care about truth-seeking should find strong reasons in all this to be encouraged: If these are the quality of counter-arguments coming from some of the top scholarly critics of intelligent design, then we can be confident that ID arguments are strong. If our opponents had something else to say, anything of greater substance, you can assume we would have heard it by now.


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.



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