The Secret Shame of Intelligent Design

This one from the Discovery Institute is bizarre — and amusing. It’s titled Quiet Self-Censorship and the Academic “Consensus”, written by Sarah Chaffee, whom we call “Savvy Sarah.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Next week we will be opening up nominations for Censor of the Year. You can get started now thinking about your favorite candidates.

That’s exciting news! Then she says:

Here’s the only problem — I mean, the only problem with nominationg [sic] censors. When it comes to origins science, discrimination and intimidation indeed pervade academia. Yet most of the time, animosity towards proponents of intelligent design results in self-censorship. Professors and students keep quiet or comply with onerous restrictions in order to pursue their scientific careers.

Oh, the horror! Savvy Sarah tells us:

We understand why they do so. But this means that some of the worst censors are veiled, and cannot be named. Where their names are known to us, we can’t identify them because that would endanger the vulnerable scientists and scholars who are under their thumbs!

The Discoveroids are so understanding! She continues:

The phenomenon of self-censorship can get pretty extreme. We know a tenured science professor who in giving presentations in a private setting needs to begin his talks with a peculiar slide — a disclaimer that he does not speak on behalf of his university. He must include it, even though, again, he is speaking at a private event.

Could that be Michael Behe? We’ll never know. Let’s read on:

Or just take a look at our pictures on Evolution News [the Discoveroids’ creationist blog] of the Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design. You may see the very tops of students’ heads, no more. Not their faces, not an inch of their profile. Those we carefully crop out. This is to keep participants’ identities a secret. It’s so their career prospects will not be harmed by an association with intelligent design.

Can you imagine the horror? Those creationist students know The Truth, but they must stay in the closet. Another excerpt:

It goes further than this. We ask all students to refrain from posting pictures on their personal social media accounts of themselves with other students. Imagine such precautions being necessary at a seminar discussing materialistic evolution. No, people would publicly celebrate their participation, talk about it with colleagues, on Facebook, etc.

It’s so unfair! And now we come to the end:

As we’ve said here before many times, this is how the illusion of an academic “consensus” against ID is maintained.

We remember that one. She quoted an irrelevant social science article — see Discoveroids Say Scientific Consensus Is Nonsense.

And so, dear reader, we take our leave of the Discoveroids. The burden they bear is all but unendurable, yet somehow they carry on.

Copyright © 2018. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

26 responses to “The Secret Shame of Intelligent Design

  1. It seems like the DI has the worst self censors. And really, why shouldn’t someone making controversial claims say that they don’t speak for the university? The pro-evolution Sandwalk blog has the following disclaimer:

    Some readers of this blog may be under the impression that my personal opinions represent the official position of Canada, the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, the University of Toronto, the Faculty of Medicine, or the Department of Biochemistry. All of these institutions, plus every single one of my colleagues, students, friends, and relatives, want you to know that I do not speak for them. You should also know that they don’t speak for me.

  2. Michael Fugate

    The censor of the year? The scientific community or the ID community? Which is it Sarah? Which is the bigger censor?

  3. The whole truth

    Sarah barfed: “Professors and students keep quiet or comply with onerous restrictions in order to pursue their scientific careers.”

    They wouldn’t have to worry about censoring themselves if they were actually doing origins SCIENCE instead of pushing bible babble poorly disguised as ‘Intelligent Design’.

  4. The self-censorship of ID is the silence w/r/t an alternative to evolution. ID does not tell us Who the designers are, if any. When they act (YEC or various OECs). What, Where, Why or How?

  5. I nominate the Discotute themselves for refusing to acknowledge who their Intellimagical Designer is.

  6. Sarah’s right. I lie awake at night worrying about poor Michael Behe, persecuted by his colleagues to the extent of having been promoted, on a pretty thin resume’, Full Professor

  7. How about the openly, proudly announced censorship practice of “conservative” schools, from K-12 through postgraduate?

  8. Indeed. Who forced Dembski out of academia?

  9. Mark Germano

    To get the full effect, I play this song whenever I read Sarah’s stuff:

  10. Holding The Line In Florida

    @ Mark Germano, Perfect!!!

  11. Sarah, we won’t teach atheism in your church if you won’t teach religion in our science class.

  12. Fringe elements always complain about persecution and censorship and that resonates with many people’s sense of fairness, particularly where religion is concerned. But the burden is on Sarah and her friends to provide good, solid evidence for their claims that science is wrong about evolution and human origin. They don’t need to publish in a peer reviewed journal, just post the evidence online: enough scientists read their screed for entertainment so if they’re really on to something they’ll get noticed. That’s evidence I’m asking for, not philosophical arguments, not redefined terms, not bible quotes. Just do science by commonly accepted scientific methods.

  13. Incredibly, they think they do just that. They even imagine that BIO-Complexity,, is a real journal, and that people like Axe and Gauger are doing valid science. You can even, if you like (I didn’t bother), download a pdf full of papers that they say are peer-reviewed and support intelligent design.

    The secret is the Intelligent Design Filter TM, which filters out all self-criticism from the ID literature, along with humor and irony

  14. But the burden is on Sarah and her friends

    Could be the title of a great TV show: Sarah and Friends

    Get Klankleklopper, Sarah and Westie on a comfy couch to discuss the IDiocy of the day. I tell you, it’s got a future!

  15. @Paul Braterman

    You prompted me to take another look at Bio-Complexity. The paper I looked at did not mention intelligent design nor did it put the results in any kind of evolutionary context, even though it used the word “coevolutionary” many times. Normally, this geneticist can get something out of a scientific paper either from the introduction or discussion. Not in this case: though the paper ostensibly dealt with a subject relevant to evolution (game theory) and even used the words “homozygous” and “genome”, the paper was written in computer science jargon comprehensible (?) only to a computer engineering specialist. There was nothing obviously biological about the paper. Clearly, if these folks have a case to make, they need to do a better job of communication in their “peer reviewed” science. And, yes, I’m aware of the criticism that scientists often write difficult to understand papers, but I couldn’t even understand the abstract, let alone get the gist of the paper. It appears that this specialized branch of computer science, inspired by evolutionary biology, has appropriated and modified the language beyond recognition. Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many engineers are on the creationist/ID bandwagon.

    Here are the first few sentences of the paper. If this paper is relevant to biological systems and evolution, why not explicitly say so?

    “Coevolutionary searches are searches where the fitness
    of a particular solution depends not only on that solution,
    but also other factors. Such searches have been
    used in a wide variety of situations. Examples include
    sorting networks [1], the morphology and performance of
    competing agents [2], backgammon [3], checkers [4] and
    chess [5]. While traditional searches require the expertise
    of penalty function artists to craft a fitness function that
    guides the algorithm, coevolution is viewed as not requiring
    this prior expertise.”

    The paper’s title is “Conservation of Information in Coevolutionary
    Searches” I’ll bet that misleads when cited. Apologies for the length of this post.

  16. When someone offers an alternative explanation to an explanation for the “tree of life”, the nested hierarchy of biological taxonomy, then we can discuss the comparative reasons. What happens so that there are the similarities and differences of varieties of life, without mentioning common descent with modification?

  17. You prompted me to take another look at Bio-Complexity.

    It’s called bafflegab in polite society, although the more rustic definition has been employed by philosophers such as Harry Frankfurt. All of “intelligent design” creationism is written in bafflegab, including the definition itself.

    Ah, so pure!

    The “art” of bafflegab is to grab any three words, stuff them into your Ronco Word Salad shooter and faster than you can gab you have baffle.

    “Penalty function artists,” or PFA’s – yes, a well-known term among, hmmm, let’s see, ah, yes – no one at all, ever – is a perfect example.

    Actually, to be fair, Penalty Function Artists is the name of my favorite Portland band, famous for such hits as “Call Me Irreducible,” “The Green, Green Screens of Home” and who can forget, “No R.E.S.P.E.C.T.”

  18. @Paul Braterman – is it self-delusion, or deceit by design?

  19. Hmm – I kinda like that – “deceit by design”. Sums it up pretty well, don’t ya think?

  20. @Scientist: “Penalty functions” are a legitimate device in algorithm design and evaluation, and will presumably be relevant to genetic algorithms. Clear (even to me) introduction at

    But the real function of the paper seems clear from the first three words: “Conservation of information”. I have read claims (which I am not qualified to evaluate) that in some sense information is conserved, but if there is any truth in this, then clearly it does not apply to the relevant subset of total information, namely the information contained in the code of an algorithm, or the DNA of an organism. If this were my area, I would be asking myself why what looks like perfectly legitimate but rather boring research is being published in Bio-Complexity, whether the results are novel or significant, and what the standing is of the authors in their field.

    @TomS, creationists account for nested clades by saying that the Designer will achieve similar results by similar means. The refutation is to point to convergent evolution, where similar effects are produced by separate acts of mutation and selection. Thus the DNA of a Tasmanian Tiger is clearly that a marsupial, while that of a Bengal tiger is clearly that of a placental carnivore.

    @retiredsciguy, my own feeling (others disagree) is that these people really worked very hard at deceiving themselves, by using the Intelligent Design Filter TM, before deceiving others. They really believe their salvation depends on their ability to do so.

  21. The phenomenon of self-censorship can get pretty extreme. We know a tenured science professor who in giving presentations in a private setting needs to begin his talks with a peculiar slide — a disclaimer that he does not speak on behalf of his university. He must include it, even though, again, he is speaking at a private event.

    What’s “peculiar” about it? A tenured professor can say pretty much what he wants, but if he does so without a disclaimer he will be laying claim to the endorsement of his university. If the university doesn’t care to have people think that it supports the professor’s views, it has to require that he attach a disclaimer to any presentation.

  22. Consider this situation:

    A professor at a conservative Christian institution is asked his opinion on evolution, and he replies that evolution is not in his professional expertise.

    Even if he prefaces his remarks with the disclaimer that he is not speaking on the behalf of the institution. Even if he is a professor of French or Art History is that disclaimer enough to protect him for not speaking on the subject?

  23. Many such institutions have a statement of faith, including a commitment to biblical literalism and in some cases explicitly to six days special creationism, which all faculty members are required to sign, in some cases annually.

    I would expect that in the situation you describe, the university administration would ask the faculty member to reaffirm this statement of faith. I seem to remember a recent case in which the administration “clarified” the statement of faith, making it much more rigid.

  24. Consider the situation in which the professor is asked his professional opinion on the evolution of kinds, and responds that, while that is out of his area of professional competence, the official statement of his institution is such-and-such.
    This would remind one of the stand taken by Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”.

  25. Thomas More, although now a Saint, is a poor role model regarding freedom of expression, given his attitude to the burning of heretics.

    Religiously conservative American universities have a morally stronger position than Henry VIII, who imposed his laws on all his subjects, whereas University faculty have chosen where to work in knowledge of their employers’ policies, have made a declaration of faith when accepting employment, and in many institutions have repeated this annually. None of this mitigates the hypocrisy of those who claim that evolutionists persecute dissidents, but don’t consider enforced creationism and biblicalism worthy of comment.

    For more on required creationism, see creationist-colleges-and-courses/

  26. Michael Fugate

    This won’t help the DI, but seems that many are legitimately worried over academic freedom.