Tuesday, June 23, 2009

5 years later

Doing my usual wandering around the web, I frequently check out PZ Myers 'Pharyngula' blog and am rarely disappointed. Today was certainly no exception. He linked to an article published 5 years ago. An interview with several Intelligent Design proponents, including Phillip E. Johnson, William Dembski, and Paul Nelson. I had seen excerpts of some of the comments before, but I hadn't read the whole article.

PZ focused his comments on one question in his blog post "Put your affairs in order, biologists. Your time is nigh!" That question was "Where is the ID movement going in the next ten years?" Of course Dembski predicted the demise of evolution. Nelson was actually a little better claiming the biggest challenge is "to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design." Well in the past 5 years we have yet to see any sign of crumbling in evolutionary theory, we also have yet to see any sign of an actual 'Theory of Biological Design." I was also struck by the fact Nelson didn't include the word 'Intelligent' in his response. I was also interested in the rest of the article and here are a few things that struck me.

Johnson immediate brought up the whole 'prejudice' line in his first comment. How A.E. Wilder-Smith and and Michael Denton were "brilliant men were noticed to some degree, but prejudice prevented their ever gaining a fair hearing." AE Wilder Smith was one of the people pushing the dinosaur and human footprints existed at Paluxy River. You know, the ones found to be doctored and carved. So it's 'prejudice' to expose a fake? Denton seems to have changed his mind. In 1998 he published his second book, Nature's Destiny, which appears to assume evolution as a given. He no longer openly associates with the Discovery Institute and they no longer lists him as a fellow. Funny, this interview was in 2004, yet Johnson makes no mention of Denton's 1998 work. But he does adhere to the party line, claiming prejudice and discrimination as the reasons why Intelligent Design can't seem to get off the dime. Interesting how it doesn't stop real scientists, but it does seem to be a major roadblock to the pseudo-scientists.

Johnson's next comment just killed me "Freud, Marx, and Darwin were all revered as major scientific heroes throughout the twentieth century. Of the three, only Darwin retains any scientific standing."

First of all, Sigmund Freud has no scientific standing? Since when? Granted some of his ideas have been superseded by recent work, but the Father of the psychoanalytic school of psychology still has a great deal of standing. Like Newton and Darwin, his work only went so far. People kept taking it expanding it in many areas and even replacing it in others.

Now Karl Marx, revered? At least that is the Marx I think Johnson was referring to. I doubt it was Groucho, Chico, Harpo, or Zeppo (or the lesser known Gummo -- yes, Gummo, look it up). First of all while I recall studying up on Marx a bit, I would never put him in the same class as Freud or Darwin. In his own lifetime his was a relative unknown. I think this is the first time I have seen those three names linked in such a fashion, but it also plays to the Discovery Institute party line of linking Darwin with Hitler, eugenics, and racism. Why not communism?

Another question was "What are the implications for morality of Darwinism and intelligent design?" To which Johnson replied: "The fundamental issue is whether God is real or imaginary. An imaginary God has no moral authority. Intelligent design is bitterly resisted because it threatens to allow God to re-enter the realm of reality as the object of public knowledge."

This is a mis-characterization, to say the least. The reason Intelligent Design is contested is simply the precise reason mentioned by Nelson. There is no theory supporting it. There is no work, no evidence, no explanations that can be taught as science! Until that happens it deserves to remain lumped in with Astrology and the other wanna-be sciences. The fact ID is so tightly woven with God and Creationism is mainly because of Johnson's own words (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_strategy):

  • "If we understand our own times, we will know that we should affirm the reality of God by challenging the domination of materialism and naturalism in the world of the mind."
  • "Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools."
  • "This isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. Its about religion and philosophy."
  • "So the question is: "How to win?" That’s when I began to develop what you now see full-fledged in the "wedge" strategy: "Stick with the most important thing" —the mechanism and the building up of information. Get the Bible and the Book of Genesis out of the debate because you do not want to raise the so-called Bible-science dichotomy. Phrase the argument in such a way that you can get it heard in the secular academy and in a way that tends to unify the religious dissenters. That means concentrating on, "Do you need a Creator to do the creating, or can nature do it on its own?" and refusing to get sidetracked onto other issues, which people are always trying to do."
So, in other words, Johnson is still trying to remove the specter of 'God' from Intelligent Design and he has failed. Without an 'Intelligent Designer' his ideas have no place to go. Here we are 5 years after this interview and Intelligent Design still has no theory, it has no support other than some degree of popular support. Even though the Discovery Institute opened its own lab, there is still no theory. For all it's marketing, which this interview is certainly a part of, there is still nothing to teach other than as a failed philosophy. There is nothing to present to science. My expectation is there never will be because rather than just buckle down and do the science, they are spending all their time marketing.

OK, enough from me. Go see the article for yourself and enjoy. There is so much more to read there. I have only scratched the surface. Here are a few phrases that caught my eye:
  • [ID's] main importance is cultural
  • People’s intuitions will continue to lead them to see the design in biology
  • More than half of the work of the ID community is still directed to pointing out the problems with Darwinism
  • biologists even now freely employ the concept of design, saving themselves from charges of heresy by arbitrarily attributing the design to natural selection. [huh?]
  • [Dembski actually said this] Natural selection acting on randomly varying replicators is fruitful and certainly a factor in biology
There you go, please read it., laugh at the funny parts and think how much of this will change int he next 5 years.

I honestly believe ID proponents would rather cry "Prejudice" than "Eureka!"


  1. Johnson's comment about Freud isn't as inaccurate as you make it out to be. If you take an intro psych course at almost any major university, Freud will be barely mentioned. And when he is mentioned it will primarily be "see this is wrong" or "see this is untestable."

  2. Actually I checked with a headshrinker I know. She says Freud seems to ride a curve. For a while he was king, but his crown faded. In recent years the study of neuro-psychoanalysis is bringing back many of his theories because there has been physical evidence of brain structures that correspond with his ideas.
    My friend says most books address the historical Freud, it's not until you get into the neuro-psychoanalysis that you learn he is still relevant.
    I told he she needs her head examined, and she didn't think that was funny. Then she cracked me up by reaching into her purse, pulling out a small notebook and made a little mark. Then she told me she had heard that joke over 8,000 times. I was suitably chagrined.