Sunday, July 11, 2010

Surprise! The definition of ID has 'evolved'

Mark Farmer, over at The Panda's Thumb has a great post "More DI Word Games". Apparently a few months back he was working on something and snagged the definition of Intelligent Design (ID) from the Discovery Institute (DI) website. Now this should not surprise anyone. If you DARE write anything about Intelligent Design the DI, through its toothless attack chihuahuas like luskin and klinghoffer, will immediately whine if they feel you are not representing ID correctly. Well if you aren't an ID supporter, they will whine no matter what you say, but getting the definition usually cuts down the whining a small amount. OK, so far, so good, Mark went and got this from their site:

"Intelligent design is a scientific theory which holds that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, and are not the result of an undirected, chance-based process such as Darwinian evolution."
Now even more recently he went and looked up the definition again and guess what? It had changed to this:
"Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. 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."
In all honesty, is anyone really surprised at this? The definition of Intelligent Design has changed. Now what I was curious about was had it changed before? So I checked out the Of Pandas and People text, the book that became so central in the Dover PA trial. You know, the trial that declared "The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID [Intelligent Design] is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory." (Dover Decision) Well in that text ID was defined as:
"Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, etc." (Since I don't have a copy of this book, I used the Dover Transcripts for this definition).
Those of you familiar with the trial probably realize that this definition was the definition of Special Creation/Creationism prior to the re-editing of the text following the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision that ruled against the mandating the teaching of "Creation Science" alongside Evolution.

During the Dover Trial. Dr. Kenneth Miller, testifying for the plaintiffs, defined Intelligent Design as
"Intelligent design is the proposition that some aspects of living things are too complex to have been evolved and, therefore, must have been produced by an outside creative force acting outside the laws of nature."
Also during the trial Michael Behe, a senior fellow over at the Discovery Institute, called Miller's definition "a mischaracterization", saying that ID is a scientific theory, not a proposition. Of course Behe never did provide a definition of ID -- which I found interesting. Later in the trial I think he had to back off on his calling Miller's definition a mischaracterization because he had to agree that for ID to be considered science, the basic definition of science would have to change to include supernatural causation. I think Miller was dead on with his definition!

Something that I didn't realize when I suffered through the book "Signature in the Cell" by Philosopher and another senior fellow over at the Discovery Institute Stephen C. Meyer. He is using the latest definition, the one that no longer identifies ID as a scientific theory, but identifies is as a research program,. a community of scientists, and a theory (remember there is a difference between a colloquial theory and a scientific theory). I hadn't noticed the change, so I am very glad Mark Farmer pointed it out.

Well as we can see the definition since 1987 and today has certainly evolved. What I want to understand is WHY it has changed. Unlike science, which changes as new knowledge, new ideas are supported, and new work is accomplished, the basic definition of Intelligent Design has changed not due to any known work, but appears to have changed because of the criticisms of both the idea itself and the tactics of it proponents, chiefly the Discovery Institute (DI).

Think about it, one of the frequent criticisms was it being identified as a 'scientific theory' in the first place, without having done the work and rigor required of any scientific theory. So since no one was going to let that one slide, no matter how often the DI claimed it to be true, it was a sticking point -- so they dumped it. ID is no longer a Scientific Theory, but just a theory -- an idea, a concept. I think I can agree with that.

Another complaint was falsification. Remember that falsification is the scientific principle that in order for a hypothesis to become a theory, there has to be some identifiable way to determine that it could be false. Not that is has to be false, but there has to be a way of identifying if it no longer applies. For example a rabbit found in the stomach of a dinosaur would show that evolution no longer applies. Charles Darwin himself said that if any biological organism that could not have possibly formed through incremental changes over time, then his theory may be false. Of course nothing has been found that meets that description, but you can see his point. By changing from a scientific theory to just a theory, you remove the onus on falsification, or at least the requirement for falsification. Of course if they ever wish to become a scientific theory, and they do the work and rigor to support it, then they will have to address falsifiability -- but that seems to have been deferred to the future.

Notice that the phrase 'chance-based process' is also gone from the definition. While this should signify a change in the various evolutionary attacks by people like Meyer and Dembski because their main arguments are frequently against the odds of biological changes happening by chance. But Meyer didn't back off of this whine in his book, I think the removal from the definition to be more flash than substance, but we shall see.

The last noticeable change that instead of trying to attack Darwinian Evolution as a whole, they are just attacking Natural Selection. I think one of the reasons is that every time they try an attack Evolution, especially using the term Darwinian Evolution, they seem to keep forgetting how much evolutionary theory has changed since Darwin's Day. Their attacks on Evolution as a whole have failed. The topic is too well supported within the scientific community and even without. I mean when a Conservative Judge, appointed by a Republican President who publicly announced support for ID can't side with the DI -- they had to change tactics.

That's all this is -- a definitional change -- a change in tactics. The ID movement has certainly proven that it is quite malleable as it suffers defeat after defeat in the courts and in state and local school boards. Remember in Texas half of the 'special committee' to examine the science curriculum was made up of DI fellows and other ID proponents -- and they still failed! Go back further and you can see the entire Creationism movement has been changing after each set-back. Can't mandate Evolution not be taught, ask for equal time for Creationism. Can't teach Creationism in science class because it's not science -- change the name to Creation Science. Can't teach Creation Science -- change the name to Intelligent Design. Can't call Intelligent Design a Scientific Theory -- redefine it. They have to evolve and this definition seems to be the latest evolution -- an evolution of a bad idea, but still evolution.


  1. So it's a "theory" and a community of scientists. That's two - two - TWO definitions in ONE! The Discovery Institute - blurring the line between sense and nonsense since 1990.

  2. I do wonder how many biologists are members of this so-called community? If I remember right there were about 120 biologists who signed the foolish "Dissent from Darwinism" petition. The NY Times reported that none of them were working in any evolutionary biology field. The NYT also reported that many of the signatories had been unfamilar with the Discovery Institute when they signed and were also unfamilar of the various uses the DI had planned for their dissent. So back to my original question, how many biologists would be considered members of such a community?

    I guess I have a second question as well. Since they have shifted from Darwinism to Natural Selection, should the "Dissent from Darwinism" petition be changed to now be a "Dissent from Natural Selection"? You know I think I have my next blog entry . . . a poll to see how many scienctists would sign their petition if it were changed to reflect the new defintion of ID. I know what I am doing this evening :-) Thanks scripto!

  3. At least the new definition is a wee bit more honest than the original definition.

    Hiya Ted! Nice post.