Debating tricks and defenses in the IDC debate

In the postings this week, I have been looking at the way that IDC people have been using language to blur crucial distinctions and to hide their true agenda.

In order to combat this, the scientific people have to be very careful and adopt two strategies. The first is to not let the IDC people control the vocabulary of the debate. The second is to constantly expose the long-term agenda of the IDC people.

In the first case, we should not let the IDC people pretend they are not talking about god when they refer to an ‘intelligent designer.’ If they claim that what they are proposing is science, we should demand that they, like any scientist who invents a new concept, produce an operational definition for their concept of ‘intelligent designer.’ Then we can compare their operational definition with that of an operational definition of god to see if we are talking about two different things or the same thing. For a definition of god we can tentatively propose (following the Oxford English Dictionary definition) “A superhuman person….who is worshipped as having power over nature and the fortunes of mankind.” But is this operational? An operational definition of god might be “an entity who cannot be detected by measuring instruments but is yet capable of influencing events in the natural world.” Of course, this definition does not rule out other entities like the devil and other spirits, so it needs to be fine-tuned. I am open to suggestions for improvement.

We should also not let them assert that they are not creationists simply because they do not use that particular word. Again, we need an operational definition of a generic creationist and see if the operational definition of intelligent design does not meet that generic category. I assert that it does because ‘creationism’ can be operationally defined as the belief that certain things come into being that are outside the workings of natural laws, and IDC definitely makes that assertion. I will use Robert Pennock’s label of Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) to make clear that theirs is just a variant of creationism that can be distinguished from young-Earth creationism (YEC), old-Earth creationism (OEC), and extra-terrestrial creationism (ET-IDC) but still falls under the creationist umbrella.

Third, we should reject their attempt to divide science into ’empirical science’ and ‘origins science’ and to use that spurious division to imply that theories that fall into the latter category are evaluated by different means than those in the former category. This strategy enables them to avoid any empirical evidence for the theory of intelligent design. This division is spurious since all science is empirical and all require evidentiary warrants.

The real, and long-term, goals of the IDC people should also be relentlessly emphasized. The spokesmen for IDC downplay their goals and make minimalist claims when they are speaking to general audiences and trying to influence public policy. Then they claim that all they want is for IDC theory to be accepted as an alternative to evolutionary theory or for the ‘controversy’ about evolution to be taught.

But that is not what they want. As their Wedge Strategy document clearly states, they seek “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.” The “Governing Goals” of the movement are to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies” and to “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

In short, they want to overthrow the very foundations of modern scientific practice and everything that goes along with them. Basically, they want to turn the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment. In fact, as Marshal Berman (of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico) points out in the latest issue of the American Physical Society News (vol. 14, no.9, October 2005), the disdain that the IDC people have for the Enlightenment and nostalgia that they have for the Dark Ages (i.e., the name given to the period before the Enlightenment) is palpable and should cause concern for everyone. Here is a quote from Unapologetic Apologetics by William Dembski and J.W. Richards, 2001, p.20. (Dembski is, along with Phillip Johnson, an important theoretician of the IDC movement):

From the sixth century up to the Enlightenment it is safe to say that the West was thoroughly imbued with Christian ideals and that Western intellectual elites were overwhelmingly Christian. False ideas that undermined the very foundations of the Christian faith (e.g., denying the resurrection or the Trinity) were swiftly challenged and uprooted. Since the enlightenment, however, we have not so much the means to combat false ideas as the will and the clarity.

Ah, yes, the good old days when we were not afraid to use the inquisition and torture chambers and the burning of witches and other heretics to “swiftly challenge and uproot” the ideas of those who disagreed with Christian orthodoxy. Now, they lament, while we have much more advanced coercion techniques (Abu Ghraib reveals some), we have, alas, lost the “will” to use them because all this science stuff has caused us to become confused and lose our “clarity.” But with luck and help from their political allies, IDC will enable us to return to those glory days when we could depend on our religious leaders to tell us what was good and bad and right and wrong. And I think that we can guess what “challenge and uproot” might mean for those who advocate any thinking other than that approved by the new defenders of the faith.

This, shorn of all its pretences, is the main goal of IDC, to create nothing less than a theocracy based on a very narrow view of Christianity. And we need to make their ultimate goal the main focus of the debate and get beyond the word games that they have been trying to play.


It is rare that I have such good timing in my posts. I had written the above words about IDC advocates’ yearning for the ‘clarity’ of the Dark Ages early in the week. But this very week, in testimony at the Dover, PA trial on including IDC ideas in science classrooms, IDC advocate Michael Behe (author of Darwin’s Black Box) seemed to lend further credibility to my thesis. Under cross-examination by attorney for the parents Eric Rothschild, Behe “acknowledged that under his definition of a scientific theory, astrology would fit as neatly as intelligent design.”

Behe’s testimony also showed how IDC does not have the ability to make any predictions:

In an attempt to pin Professor Behe down, Mr. Rothschild asked, “What is the mechanism that intelligent design is proposing?”

Mr. Behe said: “It does not propose a mechanism in the sense of a step-by-step description of how these structures arose.” He added that “the word ‘mechanism’ can be used broadly” and said the mechanism was “intelligent activity.”

In other words, “Stuff happens, we haven’t a clue why or how or how to even investigate it, but figure it must be god.” And that is basically the IDC case.


Here’s the story of evolution (going backwards) told in 50 seconds flat to the pounding beat of Sammy Davis Jr. singing The Rhythm of Life– and it’s in a beer commercial! (Thanks to Cathie)

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