Discovery Institute: Dover Derangement Syndrome


THAT picture was first used here: Casey Luskin is Behe’s Parakeet, and it’s time to deploy it again.

Casey Luskin is our favorite among the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids), and his latest article at the Discoveroid blog only enhances our opinion of him: Misrepresenting the Definition of Intelligent Design.

The article is typical of Casey’s Discoveroid writing, long and agonizingly twisted, so we’ll excerpt only a small portion that contains the essence of his message. As most of you will recognize, his references to the “Dover trial” refer to the creationist fiasco resulting in the superbly reasoned opinion by Judge John E. Jones III, issued on 20 December 2005, in the case of TAMMY KITZMILLER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants. That’s the 139 page opinion (pdf file). You may want to look at this Wikipedia article about the case, which has a great deal of worthwhile background information.

Also, the “Ken Miller” Casey talks about is Kenneth Miller, a key witness against the creationists. Okay, enough introduction. Casey says, with bold font added by us:

At the Dover trial, Ken Miller asserted under oath that intelligent design is merely “a negative argument against evolution” which requires an appeal to the supernatural:

[Casey quotes Miller:] It is what a philosopher might call the argument from ignorance, which is to say that, because we don’t understand something, we assume we never will, and therefore we can invoke a cause outside of nature, a supernatural creator or supernatural designer.

That didn’t find its way into Judge Jones’ opinion, but Miller did so testify on the first day of the trial. Casey continues to discuss Miller’s testimony:

Dr. Miller even stated this holds true in all cases: “The evidence is always negative, and it basically says, if evolution is incorrect, the answer must be design.” (Day 1 PM Testimony, pp. 15, 36-37.) These are outright misrepresentations of ID made by Dr. Miller, and it’s likely you’ll hear these same mistakes at any anti-ID lecture Dr. Miller gives.

Miller said that. It’s in the trial transcript at the same link we just gave you. It was a part of his answer to this question: “And is this not a completely negative argument? I mean, it sounds like this is an attack on evolution?” Miller’s full response was this, with Casey’s quoted portion shown in blue:

This is in every respect a completely negative argument. And if one combs the pages Of Pandas and People or, for that matter, if one looks at Dr. Behe’s book or if one looks at the writings of other people who consider themselves to be intelligent design advocates, all that one finds is example after example, argument after argument, as to why evolution couldn’t produce this, didn’t make that, and doesn’t provide an explanation for the following.

I have yet to see any explanation, advanced by any adherent of design that basically says, we have found positive evidence for design. The evidence is always negative, and it basically says, if evolution is incorrect, the answer must be design. Never considers an alternative idea.

Okay, back to Casey. Now he says:

At the Dover trial, ID proponents were extremely clear that ID is not merely a negative argument against evolution, but a strong positive argument. Michael Behe refuted Miller’s testimony by stating: “This argument for design is an entirely positive argument. This is how we recognize design by the purposeful arrangement of parts.” (Day 10 AM Testimony, p. 110.)

We don’t think Casey is insincere in his fawning over Behe’s testimony. He believes in Behe, and if Behe says his argument is positive, then it must be positive. Behe’s mere declaration that it’s positive is sufficient to refute Miller’s testimony. There’s no need to actually provide any positive evidence; Behe’s word is authoritative — at least for Casey.

It obvious to us that Casey literally doesn’t know what’s going on here. All that Behe ever says, in effect, is: “I’m totally stupefied by this (e.g., the flagellum). Therefore … Oogity Boogity!“ Casey truly thinks that’s a positive — and persuasive — argument for ID.

Casey’s article goes on and on, rehashing the testimony of other ID “experts” on the same theme. Click over there to read it all if you like. We’ll give you only one more excerpt:

ID proponents have made it clear that ID appeals to an intelligent cause, and necessarily not to a supernatural one.

Oh. Their “theory” isn’t necessarily religious. Okay. We’ve said this before, and we’ll probably have to repeat it from time to time:

ID is utterly untestable, and therefore it’s a scientifically worthless concept. Every creationist claim that “X couldn’t possibly have evolved, therefore the mysterious designer did it” is unquestionably the declaration of a negative proposition — specifically: “X couldn’t have happened by any natural means.” That’s the entire substance of ID.

If a creationist makes an assertion such as “X is impossible,” then he has the burden of proof — or rather, the burden of coming forward with credible, verifiable evidence. How can that burden be met? Unless a proposition’s denial clearly contradicts something known to be true, negative propositions literally can’t be established, because they require an infinite number of observations and tests. They can be easily disproved, however, merely by proposing a plausible evolutionary explanation. It’s not necessary to show that a possible evolutionary pathway is what actually happened — merely showing that such a possibility exists is sufficient to refute a claim that “this had to be designed.”

So where does this leave Casey, Behe, and the rest of the ID-creationists? It leaves them where they’ve always been — on the outside, where they belong, frantically trying to mobilize political muscle to force their way into scientific respectability.

The only new feature of their anti-science crusade is that they’re suffering from Dover Derangement Syndrome (DDS). Sorry, Discoveroids, your condition is incurable.

If you want to read more about the Dover case, check out: Kitzmiller v. Dover: Is ID Science?

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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17 responses to “Discovery Institute: Dover Derangement Syndrome

  1. Regarding the title “Misrepresenting the Definition of Intelligent Design”:

    IDers never miss an opportunity to whine that “Darwinists” misrepresenting the definition of ID. Whether or not they are correct (I agree that some “Darwinists” are careless with the definition) the fact is that old-style YECs and OECs constantly misrepresent the definition of ID. Yet curiously I don’t recall any IDer ever whining about them.

  2. Irony #1. Even if you grant that “ID itself” makes a positive statement, the DI does not want “ID itself” taught, but rather the “weaknesses” of evolution that are strictly negative by definition.

    Irony #2. Even if you grant that “ID itself” makes a positive statement, that statement is unfalsifiable and scientifically useless.

    Irony #3. Some IDers, if not “ID itself” have made positive statements, such as Behe’s ancestral cell, and Dembski’s speculation that the designs were all in place at the big bang. But neither of those would be any comfort to YECs or OECs who deny common descent, so they keep retreating from positive statements with “we don’t need to connect no stinkin’ dots” type excuses.

    Irony #4. Miller’s testimony would have sunk ID with or without his statement that ID is purely negative.

    Everyone please feel free to add more ironies.

  3. Does ID make positive assertions?

    I suggest that it does not come up to the standards that we all heard about in our lessons on writing expository essays:

    What is the immediate product of an “intelligent design” in the world of life? In the most general sense, what sort of thing? An individual living thing, an organ in a given individual, a population of individuals, an entire ecological system, a pattern, a lineage … what? And, by way of distinction, what sort of thing is not the result of design?

    When does/did that design take place? And when did it stop (if ever)? Over a few days, a few thousand years ago, or was it some hundreds of millions (or billions) of years ago, or is it still happening today?

    Who did it? Here I would quote Behe,
    “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.” (Michael Behe, “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis,” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2001), pg. 165,quoted by Casey Luskin online at )

    Why did they do it? For example, why did they design the world of life in such a way that humans turned out to have a place in the tree of life as neighbors to chimps and other apes? Were the designers presented with a world that was not to their liking, which they decided to change?

    How did it happen? From pre-existing material, maybe even a redesign of already existing living things, according to the laws of physics and chemistry? In already existing space-time? From nothing, with no restrictions? What would it look like if we were to see an “intelligent design” taking place right now? And, of course, how would that be different from anything else happening?

    And I might as well round this out with Where? On earth, in heaven, in the mind of God?

  4. I think that ID is really a request for a mechanism. When the flagellum is presented, ID is really saying, how was this produced? What is the mechanism?

  5. Most of us are trying to think up what ID’s next gambit will be, but I was caught flatfooted over the suggestion that ( as paraphrased by a PT regular) jesus sneaks the “information” into the fitness landscape, which then gets transferred to the genome through NS- sort of the opposite of frontloading. Backloading?

    Over at PT:

  6. TomH: “When the flagellum is presented, ID is really saying, how was this produced? What is the mechanism?”

    And refusing for 13+ years to even state testable hypotheses of how, let alone get out there and test them. Meanwhile “evolutionists” are actively invesigeting potential mechanistic details, and making progress. It would be absurd to expect an atom-by-atom account of Precambrian flagella and their precursor, yet that’s what IDers demand before they’ll ever concede that mainstream science is correct. That demand is made even more outrageous given their own refusal to work on an alternative.

  7. Gabriel Hanna

    It’s very simple: can they think of an organism (or anything else) that could not possibly have been designed?

    For example, I present for your consideration what appears to be a smooth pebble of basalt one picks up anywhere along the Columbia River. OR SO IT WOULD APPEAR; perhaps it is the new sculpture from avant-garde artist Thaddeus P, “Amphibological Whimsey Dances”.

    Is there any test that can distinguish an undesigned pebble from “Amphibological Whimsey Dances”? No. And that is why the “design inference” is fundamentally unscientific, unless you know the abilities and intentions of the supposed designer, like when you find arrowhead or when Marcel Duchamp signs a urinal.

  8. So it’s absurd to expect an explanation which includes a detailed mechanism? I’m confused. I thought that evolutionary biologists were doing science. I’ve always heard that science requires mechanisms; if this is true, then, without a mechanism, all you have left is philosophy. Help!

  9. TomH, I really don’t think we can help you here.

  10. Ah well, I see that Brad Monton has devastated Pennock’s dodgy Dover philosophy here: ; I thought this might interest you all especially since you all seem to be so much into philosophy and all. I really dig philosophy.

  11. A purposeful arrangement of parts?

  12. Gabriel Hanna


    Behold intermediate stages in the evolution of the flagellum.

    Did you ever bother to look? No. Will you? No. You prefer to just assume there can’t possibly be any answer, so God did it by magic.

    Did any of the ID people explain how “the Designer” made the flagellum, or why “the Designer” made flagellum instead of tiny rockets or something else? No.

  13. An interesting paper, even if very turgid.

    ok so he disagrees with Pennock’s testimony at the trial, but it is of no help for ID, because the paper saying :-

    1). If circumstances are found, or advancements in science, allow for the study of supernatural events, then go ahead and study it. Until either of these events happen we can not study it, but we should not rule out any areas of possible investigation by erecting a wall around it, and calling it supernatural.

    2). Which brings us to the main point of the paper. In that the Dover court should not have rejected Id for being theistic, but because it is bad shoddy science, with no positive evidence.

  14. Flakey says: “… the Dover court should not have rejected Id for being theistic, but because it is bad shoddy science, with no positive evidence.”

    Deciding what’s shoddy science isn’t what courts do. The only authority Jones had was to decide if ID is a religious doctrine. Both sides agreed that this was the issue in the case, so that’s what he looked at.

  15. TomH: “So it’s absurd to expect an explanation which includes a detailed mechanism?”

    Nice try, but anyone can see that that’s not what I said. I said specifically that it’s absurd to demand and absurd to expect an atom-by-atom account of Precambrian flagella. Especially when those who demand that cannot even agree on whether the first flagellum existed billions or just thousands of years ago. Much less test their ideas and have healthy debates on their differences.

    So here’s your chance to change that, and state your own “pathetic level of detail.” Start with how old you think life is, and whether you accept common descent.

  16. The Discovery Institute is so frightening. I assume you’ve read the Wedge document? Absolutely absurd.

  17. sadiesynonymous says: “I assume you’ve read the Wedge document?”

    Oh yeah. Creepy bunch.