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Say What You Want About Intelligent Design

intelligent design

Literally, say whatever the hell you want. You can say things that are true. Or you can say things that are false. Either is fine, but with most mainstream media outlets, false is likely preferable.

Writing at the slick science magazine Nautilus, Brian Gallagher demonstrates yet again that there is no accountability when criticizing ID is on the agenda. He tries to draw a line connecting last month’s story about Turkey eliminating evolution from 9th grade science class, with “fundamentalist” Christianity, with creationism, with intelligent design, and with academic freedom legislation. Let’s see how he scores on credibility.

From the article:

True, creationist attempts to ban evolution in favor of a literal interpretation of Genesis have largely failed because of the Supreme Court’s adoption of the so-called “Lemon test” in 1971. This made creationism virtually impossible to constitutionally protect since, one, it doesn’t have a secular legislative purpose; two, its primary effect is to advance religion; and three, it results in excessive government entanglement with religion. Yet creationism continues to linger in public schools across the country. Why? Because it “went underground,” John E. Taylor, a professor of law at West Virginia University, wrote last month. Creationists began clamoring for “equal time” in the classroom or, at the least, disclaimers on textbooks stating that evolution is “just a theory, not fact.” A creationist rebranding, “intelligent design,” which holds that evolution was God-guided, was also advanced as a credible alternative to evolution to be discussed in class for the sake of “academic freedom.”

These tactics haven’t been entirely unsuccessful. In 2008 in Louisiana, and then in 2012 in Tennessee, laws passed allowing teachers to discuss the supposed “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory—a loophole, some science-education advocates said, through which creationism would creep in. And there’s good reason to think that it is: A 2008 nationally representative survey of U.S. high school biology teachers found that nearly half of the responders agreed or strongly agreed that creationism or intelligent design was “a valid, scientific alternative” to evolution, just over 15 percent reported adhering to young-Earth creationism, and 18 percent said they either explicitly advocated creationism in class or endorsed it in passing. [Emphasis added.]

Mr. Gallagher gets a point for at least linking to, where we’re able to explain the meaning of ID ourselves rather than having the National Center for Science Education tell us what it means. Yet while oddly not quoting the NCSE, as these articles almost always do, Gallagher otherwise might as well be taking dictation from them.

Let’s go through it briefly.

  • To get this out of the way, here’s what we, in fact, said about the Turkey business, “Evolution Out of the Curriculum? If So, a Bad Idea from Turkey.” That couldn’t be clearer.
  • He repeats the myth about ID as “rebranded” creationism. Hardly. One is an inference from science, the other from the Bible. That’s a big difference. One regards the great age of the Earth, reckoned in billions of years, with equanimity and is open to the idea of common descent. The other doesn’t and isn’t.
  • No, as a matter of scientific inference, ID does not attribute the design in nature to God.
  • ID is not “advanced as a credible alternative to evolution to be discussed in class for the sake of ‘academic freedom.’” ID’s leading institutional proponent, Discovery Institute, warns against introducing intelligent design in public school classrooms.
  • We support the idea of introducing students to objective, scientific sources on evolutionary theory’s strengths and weaknesses. That is called academic freedom. But we support it for the sake of sharpening young minds by exercising their critical faculties on a vital subject, not “for the sake of ‘academic freedom,’” which doesn’t even make sense. Academic freedom for the sake of academic freedom?
  • He thinks academic freedom laws are a “loophole…through which creationism would creep in,” and cites as evidence a study reporting survey information from 2007 from around the country. That was the year before the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act, the first of two laws he points to, was passed. So the LSEA was inviting creationist sentiment into the classroom nationally before it was a law in one state? That’s quite a trick.
  • The survey itself is poorly constructed. How can a teacher answer a question about “creationism or intelligent design” and whether “this is a valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species”? Again, creationism and ID are two different ideas – quite different. There’s no single referent for “this.” The only correct answer would be “Not applicable/No answer,” selected by 14 percent of the teachers surveyed. Good for them.
  • This leaves aside the question of how laws that expressly exclude religious teaching from protection would act as secret signal to religion, in the form of creationism, to enter the classroom.
  • And check out the gratuitous scare quotes in the phrase about “supposed ‘weaknesses’” of evolutionary theory. It’s the old “No weaknesses!” talking point. What weaknesses, I wonder, did Brian Gallagher investigate and conclude they only merited to be called “supposed”?

So it goes when the media turn to the subject of intelligent design and academic freedom. You can say anything you want, however distorted, and only we stand ready to correct you. See my further comments on our Long-Term Media Accountability Experiment over at The Stream.

Mr. Gallagher could profitably have a conversation with State University of New York biologist Scott Turner whose new book is Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It. Neither a proponent of intelligent design nor an “anti-Darwinist,” Turner concludes that orthodox Darwinism is in a fatal crisis. The book is out from HarperOne on September 12. As we noted already, there are good reasons to preorder your copy now.

No weaknesses, you say? Austrian evolutionary theorist Gerd Müller was only a little more circumspect than Dr. Turner at November’s Royal Society meeting in London when he catalogued the “explanatory deficits” – meaning the huge subjects it cannot explain – of modern evolutionary theory.

Photo credit: taniadimas via Pixabay.