Whatever happened to ID?

Mano Singham has a few thoughts on the Intelligent Design creationism movement.

ID seems to have disappeared from view. One no longer hears from its most prominent advocates. There is not doubt that the 2005 Dover trial where the judge ruled that ID was essentially a religious belief structure and thus had no place in public school science curricula was a serious blow, exposing their entire stealth strategy of pretending that there was no underlying religious basis for their beliefs. In my 2009 book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom that was a historical review of the fights against evolution from the Scopes trial in 1925 up to the Dover trial, I said that it looked like ID had run out of steam and had nothing more to offer, something that one of their leading theories, the late Philip Johnson, agreed with.

During the period when I was engaged with ID, I was invited by them to many debates and panel discussions so I met many of the key players (Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, J. P Moreland) and we had friendly exchanges. I never encountered William Dembski or David Klinghoffer though. After the Dover trial, Dembski washed his hands of the whole ID movement, especially expressing bitterness towards two religious groups whom he accused of undermining ID. One was the ‘theistic evolutionists’ (people who believe that evolution and belief in a god can be reconciled) who he said attacked ID because they felt that it was bad science and bad religion. The other was Young-Earth Creationists whom he accused of turning against ID when they realized that ID was not going to serve as a stalking horse for their literal interpretation of the biblical Genesis story of creation.

The tension between the intellectual approach taken by the ID movement and the YEC group was always apparent to those following the issue. When I spoke at ID-sponsored debates, it was quite something to see the people on the panel talk in sophisticated terms about science and religion and then later mingle with the audience and discover that they were biblical literalists to the core, right down to Adam and Eve, the serpent, heaven and hell. With one or two exceptions, they were nice to me even though they knew that I was not at all sympathetic to their ideas. They seemed to feel sorry for me that I would eventually be stewing in hell.

He’s right, you know. ID hasn’t literally disappeared, but it’s lost all the PR oomph it briefly held in the early 2000s — you can visit sites like Uncommon Descent and still find the zealots yammering ineffectually about it, but they’re all simply repeating the same tired pseudo-arguments over and over. When Stephen Meyer is your leading intellectual light, you’re in big trouble, because goddamn he is a tedious pompous bore with no substance to his arguments. ID is the same repetitive, ridiculous nonsense as young earth creationism, but with all the religious appeal cored out. And yes, it was exposed as a poor defense against scientific arguments in the Dover trial, and people realized it was a tissue paper shield, so why bother?

A lot of the ID proponents were motivated entirely by their religious ideology, trying desperately to hide it behind that pretentious pseudoscientific veneer. It didn’t work. Everyone saw right through it.

Nowadays, look where the money is going to see who won the ID vs. Open Creationism battle: it’s not the Discovery Institute, which has been branching into culture war nonsense instead (hi, Chris Rufo, I see you, you lying asshole). The winner is…Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, the brain-dead religious approach that doesn’t even try to make good scientific arguments. No wonder Dembski is pissed off at them. Kent Hovind is making cult leader money and getting attention on YouTube and that’s about it. Young Earth Literalism turned corporate is the one successful strategy the creationists have cultivated.

So what happened to ID? Science and philosophy made it irrelevant, and then the religious creationists murdered it.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    You are perpetuating a typo. Phillip E. Johnson has two ‘L’s in his first name.

  2. raven says

    Whatever happened to ID?

    Part of it was that Intelligent Design was too subtle and complicated for the Creationists to understand. And not xian enough.
    The Designer could be Vishnu, Cthulhu, the Greek gods, Ra and Anubis, or alien gods living 20,000 light years from here.

    It takes effort to understand ID and its flawed arguments.
    YECism is easier to understand.
    God poofed everything into existence 6,000 years ago.
    Then there was the Big Boat Incident when he tried to fix his mistakes by killing everyone except for 8 people.
    When that didn’t work, he sent himself down to get killed to…fix his own mistakes again.
    We are coming up on Plan D, where god who loves us will show up, kill 7.8 billion people, and destroy the earth

  3. robro says

    raven — I’m not sure that “god” has to do anything directly for Plan D. Plan D might just be “let the idiots do it to themselves.” Humans seem quite capable of it and are willingly go along with the plan because the “boss men” say so.

  4. PaulBC says

    I don’t believe that Dembski has ever fully appreciated that his “mathematics” serves mostly as a cloud of squid ink to conceal the vacuousness of claims such as Behe’s irreducible complexity, which itself is just pseudoscientific veneer on Paley’s argument from incredulity.

    Very few other than Dembski care about his analysis. To the extent that it is even correct, it applies to an imaginary system that looks nothing like evolution. My hunch, though, is that he really did think he was on to something initially: that he could somehow infer “design” from strings of information. I think he is also smart enough to have figured out that his initial optimism was unwarranted, which now leaves him feeling bitter and abandoned.

    Ken Ham on the other hand has the instincts of P. T. Barnum and knows what most creationists really want. Of course YECs are going to win the creationist side. People (or the overwhelming majority) do not become creationists because they see unpatchable holes in evolutionary biology. They start out with literalism for reasons that have to do with preserving hierarchy and rigid behavioral controls, and not because Genesis is a very believable explanation of anything.

  5. says

    They couldn’t win by force of argument, now they hope to win by force of armament. They side with and support “culture wars” and those aligned with Cheetolini, in hope that democracy falls and they get their own petty fiefdom within it a dictatorship.

  6. says

    lol, I have a book review awaiting editing which goes into George Gilder, DI’s founder. His last three books have all been on the theme that true artificial intelligence is impossible because creativity comes from “our creator”, and did u kno that Godel and Turing mathematically proved that human thinking and true creativity must come from an unspecified outside? Huge if true! I’m pretty sure Gilder came up with all the “complexity” arguments for ID, ‘cos he started on that theme in the 1990s when he was a hip Wired magazine tech guru.

  7. PaulBC says

    David Gerard@6

    did u kno that Godel and Turing mathematically proved that human thinking and true creativity must come from an unspecified outside

    Nope. And I’m in a better position than the “average bear” to know what they actually did prove (as computer scientist and admittedly not a mathematical logician). Their mathematics say nothing about intelligence or creativity. Turing did speculate informally about artificial intelligence, but that’s unrelated to his resolution of the Entscheidungsproblem.

    It’s sad how creationists will simply latch onto something whether it’s quantum physics, thermodynamics, or in this case some work on formal logic, dress it up in whatever they want it to say, and foist it on a public (not to mention journalists) that has no basis to evaluate the claim.

  8. says

    And yes, it was exposed as a poor defense against scientific arguments in the Dover trial, and people realized it was a tissue paper shield, so why bother?

    cdesign proponentsists still brings me joy.

  9. says

    Reginald Selkirk @ #1:

    You are perpetuating a typo. Phillip E. Johnson has two ‘L’s in his first name.

    Yes, not to be confused, for example, with the architect and sometime Nazi Philip Johnson.

  10. says

    Speaking of ‘gods’: can’t use it today, but I saw a bumper sticker years ago cheering on Egyptian gods. It said —
    ISIS, ISIS — RA, RA, RA!
    We need to balance serious rational thoughts with a sense of humor now and then.

  11. sparc says

    Looking from Europe it seems that ID isn’t necessary anymore and have never really been. The right-wing movement had its victory with Trump’s election. Even though he is gone for now they continue to undermine democracy with the very same tactics. The goals laid out in the wedge document don’t depend on ID which was just another lie of the day.

  12. PaulBC says

    shermanj@11 OT I always appreciated Obama’s insistence on “ISIL”. Why smear the reputation of an Egyptian goddess, not to mention a Saturday morning live action TV show of my youth starring the lovely Joanna Cameron?

    (My friends in the know say “Daesh” anyway.)

  13. PaulBC says

    Really really OT. I see that Joanna Cameron died last October and that makes me sad. Last time I looked her up (a few years back) she was alive and well.

    For those who don’t know, Isis was a cheesy kids’ superhero show that aired on Saturdays. I remember liking it better than its sibling show Shazam! (Captain Marvel) back then. Isis was a very wholesome show, as the Wikipedia article about it says: “Most of the program’s storylines involved Isis coming to the rescue of high school students who found themselves in danger due to unwise choices.” I don’t know if Cameron did much acting after, but she seemed to be living happily in Hawaii just a few years ago and had a personal web site if I recall correctly.

    This is really stupid, but it always pissed me off to hear (mostly Republicans) say “ISIS” for Daesh, because first off, “Isis” already means something, and second, they were intruding on a somewhat embarrassing but happy memory from my childhood. Fuckers.

  14. Rich Woods says

    not to be confused, for example, with the architect and sometime Nazi Philip Johnson.

    Or indeed with my former grammar school headmaster. Although we did make several crude jokes about his authoritarian instincts at the time.

  15. PaulBC says

    SC@17 Isis definitely had more of a lasting cultural impact than intelligent design. (to get back on topic)

  16. nomdeplume says

    Leaving aside the nonsense about “irreducible complexity” which was one of the worst “theories” ever proposed, the other major problem was the lack of any theory at all, let alone evidence, for how a “god” would interfere directly with genomes of tens of millions of species, and do it in such a way that it was indistinguishable from evolution.

  17. microraptor says

    Intelligent design depended on two mutually exclusive ideas: that it wasn’t religious and that refusing to teach it was discriminating against someone’s religious beliefs.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    Tradidional pre-ID creationism has the advantage that you can use “I Dream Of Jeannie” as an instruction film for how the Universe was created.