Survey Says: Schoolteachers Don’t Toe the Party Line

This article from Science Daily discusses the results of a survey on the teaching of evolution in the United States. Among the more salient points:

Less than one-third of high school biology teachers believe that God had no part in evolution, nearly one-half believe God had a hand in evolution, and almost one in six believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

This quote from the study’s authors says it all:

Even the strongest legal ruling “still gives boards of education, school districts, and especially teachers considerable leeway” he says. Teachers are still in charge of implementing state standards, adhering to court decisions, and integrating textbooks into their classrooms. “And about this,” the authors write, “we are less sanguine.”

The authors are presumably upset with the half of teachers that believe God played some sort of role in evolution. But isn’t insistence on God’s non-activity as much of a religious belief as insistence on his activity? And wouldn’t that be teaching religion in school? And isn’t that “bad”? The authors don’t address that point.

Fortunately, there is a solution:

Rather than adjusting government regulations, Berkman et al. argue, raising the certification standards for teachers could have a significant impact on the amount of time they spend on evolution.

Those pesky teachers simply need to be reeducated.

19 comments on “Survey Says: Schoolteachers Don’t Toe the Party Line

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    No, we’re not upset with teachers who believe in God. We’re upset with teachers who teach garbage to children, those who mold their own millstones, if you catch my drift.

    It’s not that evolution is anti-God — it’s not. Darwin was a faithful Christian his entire life. Most innovations in evolution theory came from Christians.

    It’s that creationism is false, stupid, anti-science, anti-intellectual, counter-historicity, and wrong.

    If a social studies teacher taught that capitalism means “stab your neighbor in the back and every person for himself,” and that communism meant that “everyone shares nicely,” that would be much closer an analogy to a biology teacher teaching creationism: Dead wrong on the discipline, dangerous, and stupid.

    What do you have against good education? What do you have against good, solid academics? Why do you favor dumbing down our schools?

  2. Michael says:


    Thanks for your comments. If you take a look around this blog, you’ll see that I’m favorable to much of what falls under the heading of evolution. And, I agree with you that evolution doesn’t have to be necessarily anti-religion. But it’s evolutionists like Dawkins and bodies like the NCSE who insist that it is, not me!

    Take a look at this study, for instance. It’s not talking only about strict Creationism. It’s upset with simple facts like half of teachers believing God had some hand in evolution. That automatically disqualifies them?

    Yes, students should understand evolution very well, and teachers should be required to present it competently. But to tolerate no critiquing of an atheistic interpretation of evolution is wrong. And I very seriously doubt that re-education of the teachers is going to change anything. Most teachers already understand evolution very well. It’s not terribly complicated, and the evidence is easily reviewable. One can hardly get a biology degree without understanding it. But, understanding it, they still question, and allow their students to do so as well. Is that so wrong?

  3. Jason says:

    ^ Bravo!

    We don’t want the science teachers to teach that god exists and we don’t want them to teach that god doesn’t exist. We want them to teach _science_.
    Is that too much to ask for?

  4. Ed Darrell says:

    NCSE’s position is quite contrary to your statement. NCSE does not argue that evolution is incompatible with religion. Never has, doesn’t now.

    Dawkins’ argument is that religion is unevidenced, and as a faith-only line of reasoning, is opposed to all of reality. NCSE doesn’t make the same claim in any fashion.

    As I noted earlier, scientists are not upset with teachers who believe God had a hand in religion. Ken Miller’s book is the most commonly used biology text in America, and he’s a lifelong, every-Sunday-in-church Christian. Miller’s problem is with creationists who teach things that are demonstrably false, and claim things that are simply not true — such as the claim that scientists are alarmed at teachers who are Christian.

    The scientific method is not “atheistic.” In fact, it was developed within Christian circles, with specific appeals to things like honesty and openness. You’ve got a little bit of voodoo history going here, too.

    I have encountered few teachers in public schools who understand evolution well — sadly, also among biology teachers. It’s not terribly complicated, but creationists have made it virtually impossible to teach it well anywhere. In most public schools, evolution is given the bum’s rush.

    I think you misunderstand the degree to which elementary and secondary school teachers understand evolution, greatly. There is absolutely no problem with questioning anything in science, so long as the questioning is done with evidence.

    But there is no evidence for creationism or intelligent design. Under oath, now in two federal trials over 30 years apart, creationists and IDists have confessed there is no evidence to support their claims for creationism, nor their claims against evolution.

    Why do creationists tell the truth only under oath? Is creationism so morally corrupting that’s the only way to go?

  5. Michael says:


    First, a correction: you are right. I was thinking of the NABT definition of evolution (“an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process”), not the NCSE. My mistake. Apologies.

    I agree that the scientific method isn’t atheistic, and I’ve noted in previous posts on this blog the critical importance believers have played in the history of science.

    I don’t think that I misunderstand how much schoolteachers misunderstand evolution, being one myself. I know Miller’s book that you mention, because it is the textbook I teach from.

    Please provide references for the creationists and IDists saying that there is no evidence for their positions. The ones I know seem to have a lot to say. Note that doesn’t mean the evidence isn’t open to various forms of interpretation. Why is that physicists can openly postulate and discuss various theories of gravity or cosmic inflation or quantum mechanics, using only shreds of evidence? They can even study wholly unsupported string theory, and not be called cranks — but biologists cannot deviate from Darwinism an inch without being told they must shut up because they have no evidence. When was the last time a physics teacher was shouted down for showing his students “The Elegant Universe” (a popular NOVA documentary on string theory)? It seems the physicists are humble enough to admit that they don’t know everything yet. We can’t do the same for biology?

  6. Ed Darrell says:

    First, a correction: you are right. I was thinking of the NABT definition of evolution (”an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process”), not the NCSE. My mistake. Apologies.

    Not the NABT, either:

    And these parts of the NABT statement make a rather potent case for evolution:

    Evolutionary theory is significant in biology, among other reasons, for its unifying properties and predictive features, the clear empirical testability of its integral models and the richness of new scientific research it fosters.

    - The fossil record, which includes abundant transitional forms in diverse taxonomic groups, establishes extensive and comprehensive evidence for organic evolution.

    - Natural selection, the primary mechanism for evolutionary changes, can be demonstrated with numerous, convincing examples, both extant and extinct.

    This is the stuff the creationists try to strike out of the texts in Texas. Nothing like hiding the facts to help make a weak case stronger.

    In the Arkansas case in 1981 there are the depositions of the creationists. In each case, creationist experts were asked to provide the scientific evidence for creationism; in each case they testified there was nothing they knew of. In each case, the creationist experts testified that they were relying on a literal reading of one of the Genesis stories. Here’s a copy of the decision in that case, and I think it adequately covers the issue:

    More recently, in the Pennsylvania case, creationists were challenged in deposition and on the witness stand to produce their evidence. As Judge Jones noted, no such evidence was forthcoming. That decision is 139 pages, but the pages are not so long as a book’s pages would be — it’s a quick and easy read, and it adequately demonstrates the science problems of creationism and intelligent design:

    Physicists use shreds of evidence where there are only shreds; that’s different from claiming that evolution has never been observed, for example, when speciation has been observed and documented dozens or hundreds of times, and it’s different from claiming there are “no transitional fossil species” when we have no fewer than 20 transitional species leading to modern humans alone. Physicists don’t put forth the argument that angels push the planets around in the face of the mountains of evidence that gravity and inertia do the trick. String theory is not “wholly unsupported,” but it is difficult to prove. Oddly, creationists don’t object to string theory on any basis I can find. Instead, they pick on evolution, which has mountains of evidence.

    Intelligent design is not similar to string theory in any way. There is no evidence at all supporting intelligent design. There is no mathematical model to support it, and those incredibly few ID hypotheses that have been advanced have been thoroughly falsified by observations in the wild.

    It seems the physicists stick to using science, and the IDists don’t. That’s the difference.

  7. Michael says:


    I’m glad to see the NABT has changed their definition. The version I quoted was from their original 1995 statement, which it seems they revised in 1997. It seems they have removed the references to evolution being “impersonal and unsupervised.” I was unaware of this change, and I’m glad they made it.

    Good point about creationists never critiquing string theory. But that’s a sword that cuts both ways — why don’t scientists critique teachers who teach it? You know the answer to that as well as I: the religious implications.

    And hey, if you can show me a science teacher who says that “Angels pushing the planets around,” is a scientific explanation for orbits, I’ll join you in questioning his competence. Whenever you see a teacher saying, “We can’t even think about evolution because it’s wrong,” likewise I’ll join you. But if you’re telling me a science teacher can’t say, “The mechanisms of change between species are not fully known,” or even postulatie that Darwinism cannot explain everything we find in the fossil record, then I disagree. There are problems with some aspects of traditional evolution — for example, can random muation create new information? It’s not clear how it could, and the odds are against it.

    And likewise there are valid arguments for intelligent design. I would direct you to Behe’s molecular work and Dembski’s mathematical analyses, but I bet you already are famliar with them. Whether you agree with them or not, they are serious arguments, and I would claim as well supported as physics hypotheses like “multiverses” and such that are accepted as valid. That doesn’t mean they are true, or that traditional evolution can’t also attempt to explain what they want to explain, it just means that ID arguments should be validly considered, and given a chance to be tested before we censor what teachers are allowed to say.

  8. Ed Darrell says:

    Good point about creationists never critiquing string theory. But that’s a sword that cuts both ways — why don’t scientists critique teachers who teach it? You know the answer to that as well as I: the religious implications.

    String theory gets a mention in high school texts, I suppose, but surely you are not arguing that string theory is taught in public high schools. That would be wonderful to see — got an example? Where did they find the teacher?

    String theory, and its criticisms, are based on solid evidence and potential interpretive differences of the same theory. That doesn’t obtain for creationism in any form. As the witnesses admitted on the witness stand under oath in Pennsylvania, there are no known valid arguments for ID (Dembski begged to be let out of testifying, and was. Odd.) If Behe has done any molecular work, it’s news. He told me six years ago he was doing nothing to test any ID hypothesis, and he’s never published any work on the issue in any science journal.

    I don’t regard non-hypotheses published in church bulletins with no research as serious arguments in science. Unlike multiverses, there is no mathematical nor experimental work to support the claims.

    ID arguments are considered on the basis of the data that carry them. So far, there have been no data.

    I think if you read the current biology texts, they suitably note all the unknowns, where they exist. Saying we don’t understand all the mechanisms of change doesn’t seem to be enough to please creationists, however, who argue that such change cannot occur at all.

    How can random mutation create new information? It does so by reconfiguring the genes, and expressing new forms or new enzymes or hormones. It’s been demonstrated to occur in the lab and in the wild. I cannot imagine why we would hide that information.

  9. Michael says:


    Right. String theory gets a mention in the texts. It’s not the bulk of the curriculum. Would you be OK with a similar mentioning of ID in a biology class? I mean, the survey linked in the post talks about teachers including creationist theories, not teachers teaching creation exclusively. When I teach evolution, I spend most of my teaching time defending evolution from bogus criticisms that my students bring up — “So why are the monkeys still around?” and such like. No student should leave a high school level biology class without a solid understanding of evolution. But would you say that teachers cannot say “And there’s also theorists who think that random mutation with natural selection cannot account for all the changes we observe, so they postulate other sources, like environmental effects on which mutations occur, some sort of evolutionary front-loading, or design by an intelligent source?”

    I’ve read studies that show mutations generate new functions, but only with a net loss of information — like Miller’s mousetrap-tie-clip at Dover. (Very clever, I admit.) Things can break and confer a new advantage, like resistance to a drug. I’ve also seen studies that show new functions by activating previously silent genes. What I haven’t seen is any studies showing a new function arising through entirely novel genetic information — i.e. turning the clip into a mousetrap — and I’d be interested in seeing any that you know of.

    And I have, by the way, known several physics teachers who showed “The Elegant Universe” in class, because it’s so admittedly “cool.” Students seem to respond well to it and get excited about theoretical physics. But I don’t imagine a teacher showing a pro-ID film at a school would be tolerated.

    I’m a bit unclear on what you would consider as evidence for ID. Nothing less than the front page of Nature? ID hasn’t been around that long as an hypothesis, and also many biologists have such a knee-jerk repugnance to it that I’d imagine it would be hard to even get a paper on it considered.

    Keep in mind what ID is: the theory that certain biological features are better explained by an inference to design than by inference to natural causes. Dembski has detailed the mathematical criteria for that inference in The Design Inference, as well as elsewhere. So evidence is going to be primarily of the sort that shows “natural processes cannot account for X.” I think that the literature based evidence for ID is likely going to be small bits of data like this, which aren’t setting out to show anything about ID, but rather show that Darwinism is flawed. Over time they may accumulate into an overall picture of the cell as a structure that cannot have developed by chance. Or maybe not. Let’s keep an open mind and see.

    Do IDists have their work cut out for them in terms of research? Absolutely. Does that mean the idea can’t be mentioned to students now? Why not? They may very well be the ones who grow up to prove — or disprove — it. Let them know what issues for research currently are. In other words — what’s so wrong with letting it be discussed? What are the Darwinists afraid of?

    Also, remember that this is a Catholic blog. Remember that Galileo fellow? We were on the wrong side of consensus science once before, and you can imagine we’re now rather cautious about the bigwigs telling the underdog to shut up.

  10. Ed Darrell says:

    Right. String theory gets a mention in the texts. It’s not the bulk of the curriculum. Would you be OK with a similar mentioning of ID in a biology class?

    As soon as ID hypotheses are posed and developed as well as string theory, sure. Do you think that might happen within the next 50 years? String theory has been well-developed for at least a decade, now — but ID has been mentioned for two decades without being able to pose a single hypothesis.

    Until there is any science in ID, no, I don’t favor mentioning it in the same breath as science.

    You define ID almost exactly as Paley did in his 1802 book. Of course, that was all falsified by 1860, by the discovery of the fact that what appeared to be design was natural process instead. Are you proposing we forget about 150 years of science to allow ID a pass to make a claim? Or are you urging that we teach how ID has been falsified?

    About the only thing ID has going for it right now is the authority of fundamentalists in the U.S. If you’re really sensitive to the Galileo issue, shouldn’t you ponder whether it makes sense to agree with the Protestant fundies when they make the same mistake the Catholic church made? I’m not sure that their being Protestants makes their claims any more solid.

  11. Michael says:

    Here is Brian Greene, the prominent string theorist, responding last year to Lawrence Krauss’ critique that string theory has, after 37 years of existence, “no evidence and no testable hypotheses:

    “Greene shot back that the theory does make predictions, but testing them is beyond the reach of current technology. “Naturally,” he said, “you’d like to make a powerful microscope and look down and say, ‘There it is, the string!’ But the strings we envision are pretty damned small, about a billion billion times smaller than the distances we can probe with even our most powerful accelerators.

    He added that no matter how radical string theory sounds, its proponents are not trying to step outside the scientific method: “We will not believe this theory until it’s experimentally tested.”


    But until it is tested Greene and his string theorist colleagues are not being driven from the halls of science or education because of their views. Why? I think because it is not as religiously charged. Evolution is a flashpoint. Creationists reflexively attack it, most biologists reflexively defend it — and as Kissinger once put it, the debates are so fierce because the stakes are so low. Everybody just needs to calm down and eat some fruit or something. Let’s admit how much we don’t know and let science proceed and evaluate the evidence honestly — harboring skepticism about a theory, perhaps, but not jumping down the throats of its proponents.

    Now, speaking for myself, I think ID is similar. There are some fairly testable hypotheses for ID: if we draw up the criteria for design detection and then apply those criteria to biological systems, we may find systems that meet the criteria. We use the criteria instinctively most of the time — I know your comments on this post are not the random product of a computer glitch. But how do I know that? Describing those criteria are what many ID proponents are working on right now.

    To claim that we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that natural processes account for every biological system is absurd for the simple reason that every biological system is not fully understood. It’s reasonable to assume that most of those that we don’t understand will eventually be explained by a natural process. However, it isn’t a foregone conclusion — and 150 years after Darwin, evolution is harder to explain, not easier. Neither Paley nor Darwin had no idea of what modern molecular biology and genetics would reveal. Traits were passed on but they had no idea how. Then, along comes Watson and Crick and DNA and it looks fairly clear how the traits are replicated and combined and passed on. Things look good for Darwin. But then, the more and more we look into it the more and more complicated it gets. Life is not just homogeneous blobs of material, like science at Darwin’s time envisioned, but is actually far more complicated and specifically complex than anything that man has ever designed. I think it is telling that beneficial mutations are often observed in the lab and in the wild at higher frequencies than known processes can explain. There’s something else going on in the cell affecting the mutations in the genes, and we don’t know what the something is. I don’t think its God reaching down into the petri dish and swapping out the base pairs so the bacterium will survive, but there do seem to be mechanisms that affect the mutations and the gene expression that are not understood. If someone wants to hypothesize design, fine by me, as long as they’ll take future experimental and observational evidence into account when it becomes available.

    So yes, as you say, Darwin superseded Paley. But modern science supersedes Darwin. And we see that Darwinian processes explain an awful lot. But we’ve also yet to conclusively prove that they account for everything. We just assume that they do. But in the meantime the mathematical probabilites are growing more and more prohibitive as evidence mounts. Nevermind the changing of the genes themselves — we still have nothing more than speculation about how the machinery that expresses the genes got set up in the first place! And yet you make the a priori judgment that design cannot be an option.

  12. Ed Darrell says:

    If there were an a priori judgment that design can’t be an option, you’d have the beginnings of an argument. The problem is that there is no piece of design ever proposed for which we have not discovered a natural, non-supernatural explanation. Not one. It’s not that scientists think it can’t happen at all — they are the ones who go out looking for them and trying to see what is behind the appearance of design. Such research is never conducted by intelligent design advocates.

    So if there is blame to be attached here, let’s be clear: ID isn’t considered science because ID advocates can’t be bothered to do the science necessary. Blame them.

    But don’t claim, contrary to history and present evidence, that it’s science bias, unless you’re clear that the bias in science is for real information, and not fantasy.

    ID is not similar to string theory in any way. String theory is what has been arrived at after more than a century of exciting discovery in atomic and subatomic physics. String theory explains in large measure why many subatomic particles behave as they do — testing it is a problem. Physicists argue about it, but no one claims that there is any religious idea backing it.

    ID, on the other hand, is a religious idea, according to the testimony given by creationists under oath over several trials over the past 40 years. If it arose from observations in nature, it would be proposed by people who observe nature. Instead, the proposal for ID comes from a criminal procedures professor whose admitted purpose is to promote the Bible in his imagined fight with science.

    I’m not sure how anyone can really confuse the two. String theory is religious in no way; ID is scientific in no way.

    Maybe more later.

  13. Michael says:

    Ed –

    So your argument against ID is that it’s not science because: (1) its proponents do no experimental or observational research to test it, and (2) ID proponents are not biologists but rather people with a religious agenda.

    I just want to make sure I understand what you are saying, so correct me if I’m reading your argument wrong.

    The first point seems to be your strongest. Give me time to think up a response to that.

    The second point I find more puzzling. ID is a theory held by a lot of people — many of them in the fields of engineering and information theory, which would make sense because it is basically a theory about information, but there are biologists as well. I don’t deny for a moment that I find ID appealing because it is congruent with my religious beliefs. But that doesn’t affect its truth or falsity. Many scientists originally had difficulty with the Big Bang theory because of its uncomfortably religious allusions, but it’s the evidence that convinced them. Understanding the motivation behind a person’s advocation of a theory has its place, to be sure, but ultimately shouldn’t the argument be considered on its own merits?

  14. Ed Darrell says:

    ID isn’t science in any fashion, and don’t go off on a wild hare chase on the science credentials of the few ID advocates who have them, or their authority that may come from having a degree in science. This isn’t about authority.

    No one has a hypothesis of ID (the Discovery Institute is quite explicit about this when they argue there is nothing in ID to teach in a public school). What few snippets of ideas that might be hypotheses have been soundly disproven, like Dr. Behe’s notion of irreducible complexity (which would have posed a testable hypothesis, though Behe never tried to pursue it; others took his examples, and showed they were functions of natural processes and not intelligent intervention, or that the designs were not irreducibly complex). To add emphasis, no ID advocate besides Behe is working in any hypotheses, either. I’ve looked now for 15 years: There is no such thing as laboratory where ID research is carried on.

    Intelligent design theory is not based on any set of observations of nature, really — no one since Paley has laid out a set of observations that might lead to a conclusion of design. ID is instead based almost solely on the religiously-based idea that Darwin can’t have been right.

    So, you’re missing the key point: ID isn’t science because it isn’t science. There is no hint of a search for data to answer questions, because there are no questions to pursue. There is no theory, there is no set of data from which to hypothesize a theory. There are no hypotheses to go get data for. There is no pragmatic application of any idea in ID, because there are no data to back up development of a theory.

    That’s why it’s not science. That its proponents do no science is merely data to the point that ID isn’t science. ID proponents, few as they are, include a small handful of biologists — but they do no research in ID, they pose not hypotheses, they offer no scintilla of a theory. This most assuredly is not an argument about lack of authority. ID has plenty of people who have the degrees and experience to do science. They simply do no science.

    As to the second point, you need to think that one through, too. You say that ID is “a theory held by a lot of people,” mostly engineers in information.

    I urge you to look up science definitions of what a theory is. Can you state for us just what “the theory of intelligent design” is? Can you state it in 25 words, or 50 words? There is no theory in ID. There are several people, a tiny handful, really, who think that if things look as if they were designed, that must be so. That’s the hypothesis developed most significantly by William Paley in his 1802 book, Natural Theology. But it was disproven: There is no archetype of a species, there is wide variation within species, and there is no bright line between species. Instead of a grand blueprint from which there are minor variations, there are instead individual blueprints for each individual, carried in genes, with no hint of any intelligent intervention anywhere.

    The engineers in ID are not information engineers for the most part, and the notion of ID being an information-based theory is hooey, developed by no information engineer. Genes are not electronic pulses in a wire or radio wave, and Shannon’s theory is inappropriate to the circumstances. Cells in reproduction are not electronic pulses.

    Religious belief does not affect the validity of a theory. You are assuming there is science in ID that does not exist, however. There are people who believe ID should work, but that belief is not based on any data from information theory, nor especially any data from biology. Even in the case of David Berlinsky, a crackpot who claims to be atheist, the belief in ID is in the nature of faith, of necessity, since there is no evidence.

    I know of no scientist who had difficulty with Big Bang because a few religionists liked the idea of time having a beginning. I think if you check the history of the development of Big Bang, you’ll see that simply not so (you might want to check the tribute to Ralph Alpher on my blog, for example). In any case, Big Bang was a result solely of astronomical observation and calculations based on solid theory. There never was a time when a religiously based group said that something like the Big Bang had to exist, and then data were found.

    The motivations of the people involved are of no real consequence, except to explain their motivations. Ken Ham, William Dembski, Phil Johnson and the rest are motivated to try to make their religious beliefs “as sure as” science. They are uncomfortable holding faith (which makes them agnostics, really, but we can excuse that).

    Whatever their motivations, there is no attempt to find a hypothesis of ID, and there is no attempt to do research to find any data.

    What merits are there to any ID theory? Well, first you’ve got to find the theory, which the chief ID proponents agree does not exist. Where does that leave you?

  15. Ed Darrell says:

    The guy who left this comment is an MD engaged in evolution-related research. Check out his remarks, think about the math (17 million research papers with no ID?), and think about what you’d think if you were paying for the ID research that doesn’t exist:

  16. Michael says:

    Both Eddington and Hoyle found the idea of the universe having a beginning unpalatable.

    I agree that credentials are secondary. You brought them up. For my part, I think good ideas can come from anywhere. Even patent clerks.

    You’re right about DI not advocating for the teaching of ID in public schools, but wrong about them admitting ID is not an hypothesis or a theory. Their website says:

    Q: Is intelligent design a scientific theory?

    A: Yes. The scientific method is commonly described as a four-step process involving observations, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusion. Intelligent design begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.


    What’s with the electronic pulses? There’s more kinds of information than electronic pulses — like base pairs coding for functional proteins. Only some combinations work. Only some have useful information. How that information came about and can change is the question. Darwin explains a lot, if not most. Does he explain everything? Doesn’t seem to yet.

    Theory: a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena.

    ID seems to hold up to all of those except, you insist, the experimentation. But then again string theory has no experimentation either. I hate to bring it up again, but I’m still not sure why you harp on the “experimental evidence” part as damning to ID but excusable for String Theory.

    Let’s assume you are correct. If IDists suddenly started doing experiments and publishing results, would you think it would be an acceptable scientific theory?

    Another question that I think will help clarify your position for me: What is the difference between design detection by SETI and design detection by ID? I assume you’ll say its that SETI has actually built telescopes and is looking for signals, whereas IDers just twiddle their thumbs.

    Also, regarding the link you posted: ID is not necessarily an inference to a supernatural designer, just a designer. I agree that identifying that designer as supernatural is a non-scientific extrapolation.

  17. Ed Darrell says:

    Beginning of the universe bugged them, but evolution didn’t. Don’t confuse the cosmological issue with the biological issue. Especially Hoyle who is often hoist on the shoulders of creationists for his silly claims against archaeopteryx: Hoyle renounced all doubts about archy after viewing the specimen in the British Museum, and he complained that creationists are wackos, and he especially didn’t like their unscientific views (Hoyle thought 4 billion years not quite enough for the current level of diversity, and so he proposed life originating and evolving elsewhere, and then seeding and evolving on Earth).

    I didn’t bring up credentials; you asked whether my complaint was that “ID proponents are not biologists but rather people with a religious agenda.” It’s not religion that makes it not science, but rather the lack of science that makes it so. That the lack of science doesn’t stop the religiously motivated people, like Dembski and Behe as they push the religiously-developed ideas of “complex specified information” and irreducible complexity. I also noted IC would be scientific were there data to support it. But there are no such data. No one in ID has been able to name any structure in biology that is irreducibly complex upon cursory investigation.

    My complaint is the lack of science, no hypotheses (and no theory), no research, no data, no applications, no nuthin’.

    Dembski’s claims about complex specified information are all based on Shannon’s model of information. Shannon, of course, was writing about electrical signals in wires or broadcast. As with almost all arguments in creationism, Dembski’s claim takes an analogy and assumes that it is not an analogy, but an accurate description of a much different biological entity or process. DNA isn’t information in the Shannon sense, not only because it uses a quaternary or quadratic code, but because DNA is at once the information, the signal, the sender and receiever, the amplifier and processor. Shannon’s theory of electronic information deals with outside things acting on the signal. That’s completely inappropriate and inadequate for DNA. DNA is the actor. DNA is the blueprint and builder, and synthesizer of some substances. The analogy that DNA is a “code” simply falls apart when Dembski tries to interpret it as a code like a computer code or piece of cryptography.

    Intelligent design has no research and no experimentation, but it’s not because the theory is beyond our present ability to detect some effects predicted, as with string theory (and you might want to watch — some of string theory may be testable depending on results of the new Hadron device at CERN; Lisa Randall and other string theorists are already booked for experiments this year). ID’s lack of productivity is due to the laziness of its advocates, and the weakness of the idea. The observation that things look designed is subject to the Potter Stewart fallacy (Stewart was the Supreme Court justice who said he couldn’t define obscenity, but “I know it when I see it.”) I’ve watched Behe actually say that he can’t define irreducible complexity or intelligent design — and I’m quoting — “But I know it when I see it.” Such standardless observation is simply untenable in science. For research purposes, I have to be able to lay out hard criteria for my graduate students to be able to make black-or-white observations: Is this design or not? Is there intelligent intervention here? What is the intervention? How do we know?

    For example, Behe said in his book that blood clotting of humans is irreducibly complex, and he named a specific protein that he said is absolutely essential for the process. Dolphins lack that specific protein, but their blood clots anyway. Behe, though admitting that protein isn’t the key, still says blood clotting looks, to him, to be irreducibly complex. What hooey. No one else can replicate an experiment, if only Behe can tell what the results are. That’s not science. It’s not even sleight of hand. It’s just muddled, wishful thinking.

    String theory, on the other hand, is based on hard observations. The predictions of string theory are beyond our present ability to detect, but the theory explains well all that we presently observe. Lisa Randall can tell her graduate students what to look for and go to the beach confident that if they find the results, she will not be the only person who can tell. I’m probably using too many words here and fuzzing up the point, but string theory is based on data, it has definite predictions that anyone could see if we could see it. ID is based on a wish that evolution doesn’t work, and the only ones who can see it are confirmed believers, who cannot then describe what it is they think they see, other than it confirms their fondest hopes.

    There’s a huge difference between making predictions that cannot yet be detected and failing to make predictions at all.

    ID would be acceptable theory if there were research done that produced confirming data, if there were a hypothesis out of those data, and if that hypothesis were confirmed as workable. My judgment would have nothing to do with it. Scientific advances depend on the real operations of nature, not on anyone’s judgment.

    But of course, ID has no theory, no confirming data, because there has been no collection of data, because there has been no posing of any hypothesis. There isn’t even work to develop a hypothesis.

    What other wishes would you like to get into the science books? Fairies? Bigfoot (DI seems to be on that one, too, by the way)? Turning lead into gold? DI is on an equal footing with fairies right now. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks we should be teaching fairy theory.

    SETI’s hypothesis is that certain radio signals cannot be generated solely by natural processes. In radio static, for example, we have never found signals that represent three prime numbers in a row. Were we to get radio signals that listed five or six prime numbers in a row, it would almost have to be generated by another intelligence guiding the transmission.

    What is the equivalent design criterion ID offers? As I noted, I can’t find such a hypothesis.

    If you think Phillip Johnson and Bill Dembski think ID might find little green men instead of God, you’re really not paying attention. Theologists reject ID when they realize that finding a designer other than God rather nullifies the God hypothesis. No one in ID — well, maybe Berlinski, but I think he’s gone around the bend — thinks the designer they are looking for is not God. In fact, in sessions I’ve attended, they suggest that may be the reason there is no evidence of intelligent intervention, because God magically covered His tracks. Of course, if you have proper faith, you can see those tracks.

    Get serious. Look at the Kitzmiller transcript. ID advocates are happy to say they aren’t necessarily looking for God, especially if it hoodwinks others to write to the school board to pass a rule requiring ID be taught in public schools.

    There is no part of real science that has ever asked school boards to put it in the books without mountains of evidence already in hand.

    Why should ID get into the texts without doing the work? Why are you asking special privileges, if ID can’t stack up scientifically? Is God so weak that He can’t survive without a school board’s censoring science?

  18. Michael says:


    Eh? I’m not confusing the biological and cosmological issues. You said you knew of no scientists who had difficulty with the big bang because of its implication that time had a beginning, as many religions teach. I named two. I agree, evolution is a completely different theory.

    Also, I don’t think schoolboards should be censoring science at all. Evolution is a robust theory with much explanatory power, supported by evidence . As long as they don’t go beyond it into philosophy — “And this diproves God” — it should be integral to any study of biology. I don’t think school boards should be censoring evolution or ID, or requiring ID either. But I do think that it’s legitimate for a particular teacher to let his students think about ID and investigate its merits and flaws if they want to.

    “SETI’s hypothesis is that certain radio signals cannot be generated solely by natural processes.”

    Right, and ID’s hypothesis is that certain biological structures cannot be generated solely by natural processes. SETI’s never yet found those radio signals. And you claim ID’s never found those biological structures. Fair enough, but that juts means they’re alike.

    Of course Dembski and Johnson and Behe don’t think ID is going to find little green men, and neither do I. But inasmuch as it is attempting to be a scientific theory, strict ID implies only a designer. Stepping from that scientific conclusion to the broader conclusion of God is valid, I think, but has no bearing on design detection as a scientific hypothesis. Your argument about the lack of evidence if far stronger.

  19. Ed Darrell says:

    But I do think that it’s legitimate for a particular teacher to let his students think about ID and investigate its merits and flaws if they want to.

    What is the gain? To what purpose? String theory is not studied, and yet it has more serious implications. Quantum theory is barely mentioned, and yet it has practical applications. Cold fusion is much better documented than ID. Why can’t ID wait its turn?

    What would a curriculum to study ID look like? Which story of Genesis would be taught?

    Right, and ID’s hypothesis is that certain biological structures cannot be generated solely by natural processes. SETI’s never yet found those radio signals. And you claim ID’s never found those biological structures. Fair enough, but that juts means they’re alike.

    Except that there are several dozen papers supporting the SETI hypotheses, SETI is a small, continuing research project with hypotheses and experiments designed to provide data or disprove the hypotheses, and SETI isn’t crying to school boards to be accepted as equal to anything in any text. SETI doesn’t have a $2 million annual public relations budget (I’d be surprised if SETI spends that much total).

    Why can’t ID wait like SETI to find data before demanding access to innocent minds?

    What part of ID hypothesis implies a designer? What set of data suggest a designer? Which piece of research produced these data, and where is that research write-up accessible?

    Design detection? Where is there a hypothesis for detecting design that any ID promoter has enough faith in to try to set up a SETI-like experiment?

    In the end, even the advocates of ID understand they lack the science of even pie-in-the-sky science projects. Of what possible use is teaching it in school, other than the illegal promotion of religion?