Intelligent Design, the Great Incongruity

WHAT is Intelligent Design (ID)? It’s described here, at the website of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). We devoted an entire post to their definition: Intelligent Design Redefined.

This is your Curmudgeon’s more realistic description of ID “theory,” which you’ve probably seen before:

An unknown intelligence (whether it’s a solitary creature or a vast swarm is never addressed), with utterly unknown characteristics (mortal or immortal, sexual or asexual, plant or animal, physical or spiritual), whose home base is unknown, and whose ultimate origin is a mystery (evolved, created, or eternal), arrived on earth somehow (in a flying saucer, perhaps), at some unspecified time (or several times), and then in some unspecified way (technological or magical), for unspecified reasons (boredom, or maybe cosmic fulfillment), did something (or maybe several things) to influence the genetic characteristics of some (but maybe not all) of the creatures on earth.

How does ID differ from that good old fashioned, down-home, foot-stompin’, psalm-singin’, floor-rollin’, rafter-shakin’, old-time creationism? Traditional creationism is openly and honestly religious, while ID is the Discoveroids’ “Don’t ask, don’t tell” version of creationism. ID creationists have repackaged their dogma into an ostensibly secular concept which they claim is a scientific theory. Despite ID’s complete lack of any scientific attributes, it is promoted as a scientific alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution. But it’s a flimsy disguise — a reversible coat with meaningless science jargon on the outside and miracles on the inside — a garment made for flashers.

Given that ID is creationism in all but its name and a few trivial, superficial linguistic trappings of science, what’s the purpose of attempting to create a new persona for an old concept? Astrologers have never renamed their belief, nor have alchemists, witches, sorcerers, nor the practitioners of any other ancient belief system. Why are creationists engaging in this bizarre exercise of re-making their image? Their reason is one aspect of the incongruity which is the subject of this essay.

The first thing to understand is that ID creationists have ambitions that the followers of other beliefs don’t have. See Discovery Institute: Enemies of the Enlightenment.

The problem the creationists have traditionally encountered in the US is that the First Amendment (and similar provisions in state constitutions), prohibits government from promoting religion. In case after case, state laws attempting to create some kind of affirmative action for creationism have been struck down as being unconstitutional. See: Ten Major Court Cases about Evolution and Creationism.

Thus the image remake — with which the ID creationists hoped to bamboozle the entire federal judiciary and bypass the First Amendment so they could, as a first step, force their religion into public school science classes. Only one court case has dealt with this masquerade so far, and it hasn’t gone very well for the creationists. See: Kitzmiller v. Dover: Is ID Science?

Undaunted in their theocratic ambitions, the ID creationists have been promoting their Academic Freedom Act in state legislatures. They got one such law passed in Louisiana, but elsewhere the campaign has so far been a failure. Yet they keep trying.

Besides failing catastrophically in court, ID has produced nothing in the world of science, and has no utility in medicine, pharmacology, industry, or agriculture. It’s track record is indistinguishable from that of astrology. It has nevertheless attracted an intense following among the scientifically illiterate segment of the population. In fact, its following is largely the same as that of creationism, which is not at all surprising.

So where’s the Great Incongruity that our title promised? It’s no surprise that ID is nonsense. And it’s no surprise that ID’s promoters have ambitions — many groups have perverse political ambitions. Nor is it surprising that ID, like many other pseudo-science movements, has a large following of unwashed, brain-dead, utterly uneducated ignoramuses. It’s certainly no surprise that ID has failed to bypass the First Amendment. All of that was obvious and foreseeable from the start.

The surprising thing is that the promoters of ID actually thought they could accomplish everything described in their Wedge strategy: attain scientific standing, popular appeal, bypass the Constitution, and achieve their political goals too. That, dear reader, is the Great Incongruity.

Somehow, the masterminds behind ID deluded themselves into thinking that they could have it all their way. But how could ID, with its immediate and primitive appeal to creationists, possibly confuse the entire judicial system? If the least educated could so easily see that ID was thinly disguised creationism, surely so could the judiciary. Yet the promoters of ID thought their scheme was foolproof.

When one considers the amazingly blind arrogance of the ID masterminds in thinking that they could devise a doctrine would easily attract the rubes — yet simultaneously baffle the educated population, including scientists and judges, the enormity of the Great Incongruity is striking indeed.

How did such arrogance occur? Well, politicians routinely make absurd claims and promises, and they often make contradictory statements to different groups. When their grand schemes fail, they blame everyone but themselves. They get away with it most of the time, and they prosper. Perhaps such conduct inspired the ID masterminds. They were correct as far as popular appeal is concerned, but they forgot that they were also dealing with the science community and the legal system — a difficult set of opponents for a genuinely goofy objective.

There are still people who haven’t figured it out, and perhaps there always will be. Some creationists — the young-earth types with the most sincere religious motivations — reject ID because they’re repelled by its secular pretensions. Also, there are some hopelessly misguided ID fans who imagine that they are the true champions of science; they reject the simplistic beliefs of the young-earth creationists.

But many — perhaps most — young-earth creationists are well aware of the ID game, and embrace it because of their hatred of science and reason in general. In one of our early posts about Don McLeroy, the creationist dentist (see Texas Anti-Evolution Debate: Pure Creationism), we quoted an article at his website which was presumably written by him, praising ID in these words:

What is our main target? … Is it Darwinian evolution? Darwinian evolution is not biblical either; it is not supported by evidence. Yes, that must be the target but Darwinian evolution is not the main target we need to focus on. In intelligent design there is a bigger target.

What is this bigger target? In the words of Phillip Johnson it is “metaphysical naturalism” or “materialism” or just plain old “naturalism”; it is the idea that nature is all there is. Modern science today is totally based on naturalism. In all of intelligent design’s arguments against both Darwinian evolution, and the chemical origin of life, it is their naturalistic base that is the ultimate target. The important aspect of Darwinian evolution is its naturalistic claim that all life is a result of purposeless, unintelligent, material causes.


And why is intelligent design considered a “big tent”? It is because anyone opposed to naturalism is welcomed into the movement. All of us, progressive creationists, recent creationists, old earthers, and young earthers are welcomed in this tent. … There is no reason to attack one another over our disagreements … . Remember, naturalism is the main target.

McLeroy is a hard-core young-earth creationist, so if he understands the situation, virtually everyone does. And that means ID is effectively dead — notwithstanding its numerous fans.

So that’s where we are. The ID movement is clearly a failure, yet its promoters persevere. We’re not done with them. With each setback, they devise yet another batch of tactics. But we suspect that those will fail too. One day, ID will be like the zoot suit of the 1930s, or the pet rock of the 1970s — a fad that briefly flourished, and then passed into oblivion. But those who hate the Enlightenment will still be with us, so we must remain forever vigilant.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Intelligent Design, the Great Incongruity

  1. retiredsciguy

    An excellent summation! Are you a lawyer?

  2. waldteufel

    One of your very best posts!

    I have never seen a better synopsis of what lurks in the sewers of Seattle.

  3. retiredsciguy asks: “Are you a lawyer?”

    Do I remind you of Casey? Actually, there are moments when I think I’m channeling Clarence Darrow. But such moments swiftly pass, and I resume my Curmudgeonly ways.

  4. waldteufel says: “One of your very best posts!”

    Thanks. I’m particularly fond of the flasher imagery for ID’s disguise.

  5. So if ID (and it’s own “replacement scams” like “academic freedom”) goes away, and the YEC activists regain control, the anti-evolution movement can only get more like science, if only because we will again be seeing more testable statements regarding “what happened when” in biological history.

    Of course it will never be sufficiently like science, because it will never test its own hypotheses and develop its own theory. Rather it will forever be centered on promoting unreasonable doubt of evolution and misrepresenting the nature of science. And forever use tactics like cherry picking evidence, mining quotes, defining terms to suit the argument, etc.

  6. I’ll take this opportunity to draw to your attention this essay by Herbert Spencer from 1852 (that is, 7 years before “On the Origin of Species”) about the vacuity of creationism: “The Design Hypothesis”, available online at Wikisource:

  7. Indeed, if it weren’t for wealthy religious fundamentalists striving to destroy the perceived threat of metaphysical naturalism propelled by science, the Discovery Institute would have roughly the same clout as the Time Cube guy.

  8. Gabriel Hanna

    it’s a flimsy disguise — a reversible coat with meaningless science jargon on the outside and miracles on the inside — a garment made for flashers.

    That’s a fantastic sentence, SC.

    (As for Clarence Darrow, I’m not a fan; any good he might have done in the Scopes trial is more than offset by what he did for Leopold and Loeb.)

  9. Gabriel Hanna

    Is intelligent design perhaps the first intellectual movement to have no adherents?

    Everybody who supposedly believes in it actually believes in divine creation.

  10. @Gabriel Hanna: What’s wrong with Darrow’s defense of Leopold and Loeb?

  11. Gabriel Hanna says:

    … any good he might have done in the Scopes trial is more than offset by what he did for Leopold and Loeb.

    I had forgotten that one. Haven’t thought about it for years.

  12. While Leopold and Loeb isn’t as well-known as Darrow’s defense of Scopes, I would note: “Few trial transcripts are as likely to bring tears to the eyes as that of the 1924 murder trial of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold. Decades after Clarence Darrow delivered his twelve-hour long plea to save his young clients’ lives, his moving summation stands as the most eloquent attack on the death penalty ever delivered in an American courtroom.”

  13. Gabriel Hanna

    What’s wrong with Darrow’s defense of Leopold and Loeb?

    He made them out to be “boys” (they were adults) who were captives of their heredity and their education (reading Nietzche in college!).

    Dogmatic opponents of capital punishment revere the arguments made in this case, of course. But ever since criminals have been arguing that they are the real victims.

    The most disgusting example is the Menendez trial, where the defense successfully put the murder victims on trial.

  14. Gabriel Hanna

    Darrow at the hearing:

    Nature is strong and she is pitiless. She works in mysterious ways, and we are her victims. We have not much to do with it ourselves. Nature takes this job in hand, and we only play our parts. In the words of old Omar Khayyam, we are only Impotent pieces in the game He plays Upon this checkerboard of nights and days, Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays, And one by one back in the closet lays. What had this boy had to do with it? He was not his own father; he was not his own mother….All of this was handed to him. He did not surround himself with governesses and wealth. He did not make himself. And yet he is to be compelled to pay….Tell me that you can visit the wrath of fate and chance and life and eternity upon a nineteen- year-old boy!”


  15. So because Darrow saved Leopold and Loeb from a death sentence (they got life imprisonment instead) that makes him the bad guy? What nonsense. I would argue with your explanation except this isn’t the place for it and I will make no further comment about it.

  16. Gabriel Hanna

    So because Darrow saved Leopold and Loeb from a death sentence (they got life imprisonment instead) that makes him the bad guy?

    It’s the WAY he did it, not the fact that he did it; and the way he did it has had, I think, a terrible effect on our justice system.

    Of course he’s not anything like as bad as Leopold and Loeb.

  17. Boy, Mudge, are you in Trouble! Mr. Robert Crowther, Director of Miscommunications at the Discovery Institute is going to be all over you like a duck on a June bug for getting the Definition of “Intelligent Design ™” RONG!

    You only left out the most important part: The Universe.

    From the DI website and sanctioned by Mr. Robert Crowther is the actual bone fed definition of ID. I present it to you thusly:

    The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

    See that? “… features of the universe …”

    So, the aliens, project designers or whatever have also messed with galaxies and black holes and nebulae and cosmic rays and probably the Moon!

    Mr. Robert Crowther, Esq. is probably very angry at you and I don’t blame him.

  18. Doc Bill says:

    Mr. Robert Crowther, Esq. is probably very angry at you and I don’t blame him.

    That distresses me deeply, because my greatest desire is to be universally loved. I’ll just have to try harder.