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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

Who Operates "The Misinformation Train"?

Casey Luskin writes in the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views blog concerning the widespread perception that "intelligent design" invokes supernatural explanation. Luskin says that critics of ID have misled the public on this issue, and that all becomes clear when one examines what ID advocates have to say on the matter. Luskin goes on at length concerning his conjectures of the structure of misinformation about ID; it's a relatively amusing read. But don't expect much in the way of empirical support for the claims.

Here is Casey's primary argument in the article.

Without nitpicking over the many inaccurate details of this description, here again we see the same implicit criticism of ID: "ID proponents say it doesn’t identify the designer, but everybody knows the designer is “God” [at this point, Eugenie Scott adds in her famous “wink wink, nudge nudge” line], therefore it isn’t science."

I found this criticism interesting, because a different article on the same day made the exact opposite criticism against intelligent design: ID isn’t science because it supposedly DOES identify the designer as a supernatural deity.

In support of this, Luskin provides quotes to ground the reality of each purportedly contradictory claim. Well, actually, the first "quote" is a pseudo-quote. it isn't the actual words said by an actual critic where one might actually be able to go and find them for oneself.

“My main problem with ID is that it purports to not identify the designer when everyone knows it's really just God. Intelligent design thus shouldn’t be taught because it is essentially creation science repackaged. Thus, it’s just an untestable appeal to the supernatural. However, if I had to choose, I would actually prefer creation science to ID because at least creation scientists are up-front about who they think the designer is.”

The second quote does at least come from a public source identified by Luskin. This one provides Luskin's substantiation of the first critical argument.

“[ID is] the notion … that an unspecified creator (who sounds an awful lot like the Christian notion of God) is responsible for the creation and development of everything, including human beings.”

The third quote is cited from a public source, and provides Luskin's substantiation of the second form of critical argument.

“Intelligent design fails as science because it does exactly that - it posits that life is too complex to have arisen from natural causes, and instead requires the intervention of an intelligent designer who is beyond natural explanation. Invoking the supernatural can explain anything, and hence explains nothing.”

And, finally, Luskin quotes from the Kitzmiller v. DASD case.

"Intelligent design is a non-scientific argument or assertion, made in opposition to the scientific theory of evolution, that an intelligent, supernatural actor has intervened in the history of life..."

Let's fill in the ellipses.

Intelligent design is a non-scientific argument or assertion, made in opposition to the scientific theory of evolution, that an intelligent, supernatural actor has intervened in the history of life, and that life 'owes its origin to a master intellect'.

(The Baptist Standard)

Where is the inconsistency between these that Luskin was claiming? Remember, Luskin said that these last two quotes are "the exact opposite" of the first two. But the last two quotes have exactly the same message as the first two, and simply do not address the matter of identification. About the only way to begin to make sense of Luskin's error here is that, apparently, Luskin cannot posit that more than one supernatural entity might exist to be identified. (Note the quote from Michael Behe listing an angel as a possible designer other than God for other ID advocates being somewhat more on the ball than Luskin on this point.) Far from being "exact opposites", Luskin has documented a consistency of perception of ID among critics.

Of course, Luskin goes on to say that ID doesn't really involve invoking the supernatural.

Reading these quotes from leading ID theorists makes it completely clear that ID theory does not identify the designer, and cannot even really get very far into elaborating upon the nature of the designer. The reason for this is also clear: there are natural empirical limitations to what science can study. If we can’t study the identity of the designer, that’s not ID’s fault, that’s just the nature of the limits of science.

Why then do so many Darwinists publicly criticize ID as if it has the very weakness (i.e. advocating for an explicitly supernatural creator) which it goes out of its way to clearly avoid? The answer is simple: mischaracterizing ID as an appeal to the supernatural places it both outside the scope of science, and also outside legal rules laid down in Edwards v. Aguillard for legitimate origins ideas. But the whole notion that ID does identify the designer as supernatural is false.

The problem with Luskin's argument here is that he provided three short quotes from ID advocates, and then takes those quotes as if they were the whole content of all ID claims. Luskin does not address the various quotes from ID advocates that indicate that ID actually does concern religious issues and invocation of a supernatural actor. It is certainly true that various ID advocates have engaged in "damage control" to mitigate the content of those other ID claims, and it is sometimes the very same person involved in each case. As, for example, William Dembski, who Luskin quotes saying:

"Intelligent design is modest in what it attributes to the designing intelligence responsible for the specified complexity in nature. For instance, design theorists recognize that the nature, moral character and purposes of this intelligence lie beyond the competence of science and must be left to religion and philosophy." (William Dembski, The Design Revolution, pg. 42)

Another quote from Dembski does a lot to support the position of the critics, and show that Luskin's facile collection of quotes fails to capture the whole essence of ID:

"The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design, on the other hand, readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." - with A., Kushiner, James M., (editors), Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design, Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001.


Then there's Phillip Johnson talking...

Phillip Johnson, a senior fellow at the Institute, stated last year on a Christian radio talk show that "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."

(Elizabeth Nickson)

And back to Dembski:

But there are deeper motivations. I mean, I I think, at a fundamental level, and this is, you know, this is I think, you know, in terms of what drives me in this, is that I am, uh, you know, I I think, I think God's glory is being robbed by these naturalistic approaches to biological evolution, creation, the origin of the the world, the origin of biological complexity and diversity, uh, when you're attributing these, you know, the wonder of nature to these mindless material mechanisms God's glory is getting robbed.

(William A. Dembski, Sunday School talk, 2004/03/07.)

And now to Del Ratzsch:

Second, design could be built protohistorically into the very fabric of nature and nature's operations. For instance, a fine-tuning of natural constants for some specific purpose would involve a design not introduced into nature but a designing of nature itself. This second broad category, involving as it does the giving of definition even to what nature is, is obviously an option only for supernatural agents.

(Del Ratzsch, Mere Creation, p.290)

Then there is the Wedge document.

The output of ID advocates is awash in both explicit and implicit invocation of the supernatural, and does include occasional direct identifications of the supernatural agent in mind as the Judeo-Christian God. This inconvenient part of the public record (inconvenient, at least, for those trying to spin ID as a purely secular endeavor) goes completely unaddressed by Luskin. In trying to paint ID as "clearly avoiding" the supernatural, it is Luskin who is misinforming the public, not the critics of ID. The whole essay by Luskin is amazingly Orwellian in this regard.

Update: Casey Luskin has a response to this post up on the Discovery Institute site, with a note on the DI blog pointing to it.