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     Response to ACLU ID FAQ: Part 3

     "Where did intelligent design come from?"

by Casey Luskin

FAQ 3: "Where did intelligent design come from?"
  • 3a. "The term 'intelligent design' was popularized in Of Pandas and People, the very textbook that was adopted for use in the Dover Area schools."
  • 3b. "Intelligent design and Of Pandas [sic] emerged in the wake of the Supreme Courtís decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, which ruled that it was unconstitutional to teach so called "creation science" in the public schools."

  • Response:
    FAQ 3A. "The term 'intelligent design' was popularized in Of Pandas and People, the very textbook that was adopted for use in the Dover Area schools."

    While Pandas was one of the first books to contain the phrase "intelligent design" it surely didn't "popularize" the theory. As a conclusive example, on Amazon.com, Pandas has an abysmally low sales ranking of #117,176. In contrst, Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box, published in 1996, has an extremely high Amazon sales ranking of 2,323 (this means that out of all the hundreds of thousands of books sold on Amazon.com, only 2322 books have sold more than Darwin's Black Box)!

    Which book really "popularized" intelligent design?
  • Of Pandas and People (1989, 1993): Amazon Sales Ranking of 117,176.
  • Darwin's Black Box (1996): Amazon Sales Ranking of 2,323

    In other words, for every copy of Pandas sold on Amazon.com, Darwin's Black Box has sold about 50 copies. Behe's book, published 7 years after the first edition of Pandas, is clearly the book that "popularized" intelligent design theory--not Pandas!! And if we care about the book which popularized intelligent design, we should pay careful attention to what it says about the identity of the designer: "The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer." (Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box, pg. 197) In his award-winning history of intelligent design theory, Doubts about Darwin, Thomas Woodward gives scant mention to Pandas. Woodward finds that "[f]our principal spokespersons represent the Design Movement" (Woodward 2003, pg. 24) but none of them are the authors of Pandas. When Pandas coauthor Dean Kenyon is introduced in Doubts About Darwin, (pg. 44) he is mentioned in relation to his 1969 textbook Biochemical Predestination but no mention is even made of Pandas. Indeed, in Woodward's entire history of intelligent design, the index lists only 3 pages mentioning Pandas. The most that can be said for Pandas was that it represented "a milestone in the infancy of design" (Doubts About Darwin, pg 89) where the word "infancy" testifies as to how early in the game Pandas emerged. One might not necessarily expect it to fully represent modern ID theory.

    As a final testimony to the lack of influence Pandas has had upon the public's understanding of intelligent design, when two of the nation's largest newspapers covered intelligent design theory with prominent articles, neither mentioned Pandas (see Biologists Face a New Theory of Life's Origin, by James Glanz, New York Times, April 8, 2001; Enlisting Science to Find the Fingerprints of a Creator, by Theresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2001).

    FAQ 3B. "Intelligent design and Of Pandas [sic] emerged in the wake of the Supreme Courtís decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, which ruled that it was unconstitutional to teach so called 'creation science' in the public schools."

    The ACLU's claim here is quite odd as the concept of intelligent design has a long tradition and history with arguments that go all the way back to the days of Plato and Aristotle, and was starkly debated by 18th and 19th century philosophers (see Michael Ruse, "The Argument from Design: A Brief History," in Debating Design, Cambridge Univ. Press 2004). Of course modern intelligent design theory was formulated much more recently, but Eugenie Scott says that modern intelligent design theory has its origins in the book The Mystery of Life's Origins (as stated at her talk at Scripps Institution for Oceanography on Jan 10, 2005), which incidentally was published in 1984, 3 years before the Edwards v. Aguillard decision was handed down. Plus, the intelligent design movement has its roots in scholars who were not in any way affiliated of the creationist movement of the 1980's. People like Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, Stephen Meyer, and William Dembski, some of the most influential people of the intelligent design movement, had nothing to do with the creationist movement in the 1980's.

    But let's assume here that the ACLU is correct--let's assume that intelligent design did emerge in the wake of the Edwards v. Aguillard decision. As noted, in Edwards, the Supreme Court declared creationism unconstitutional because it taught there was a "supernatural" creator--a "religious viewpoint." It is entirely possible that the idea that some aspects of life were created could have been formulated as a scientific theory--however creationists behind the law in question in Edwards failed to formulate their ideas in a scientific manner because they appealed to a "supernatural" being which could not be investigated by scientific methods, and thus required religious faith. If anything, intelligent design is the result of outsiders to the creationist movement who saw what was wrong with creationism, but also recognized that some of its ideas could be salvaged and formulated in a scientific manner. They then formulated a scientific approach--and there is nothing to be ashamed of in regards to this. If anything, these people should be commended for trying to create something which is appropriate for scientists and the science classroom rather than trying to bring religion into the science classroom, as was done in the creationist movements of the 1980's.

    In short, creationists of the 1980's saw that there were arguments from informational complexity which implied that a mind was behind life. However when these creationists formulated their ideas, they did something eminently unscientific in that they explicitly named that "mind" as a supernatural God. What if intelligent design theory finally had the boldness to excise the unscientific and unconstitutional aspects of creationist thought and formulate a pure scientific theory which could investigate the nature of objects caused by intelligent agents. If this is what happened, then the ACLU should not be criticizing intelligent design proponents but praising them for taking creationism, looking at one of its propositions (i.e. that life was designed), and then excising the unconstitutional religious and unscientific elements (i.e. that the designer can be identified as God or a supernatural being), and focusing on the pure empirical claims and developing scientific methods such that intelligent design can be investigated.

    To reiterate, if the ACLU's pedigree of intelligent design is correct and intelligent design simply emerged in the wake of Edwards v. Aguillard intelligent design proponents have done something wonderful for education: they have taken the notion that life was designed, excised the religious components, and tried to formulate a pure scientific approach to testing if life was designed. If anything, they should be praised, whatever their pedigree may turn out to be.

    However, given that all of the leading members of the ID movement had nothing to do with the creationist movements of the 1980's, the ACLU's attempt to connect ID to creationism appears questionable.

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    Note and Update
    Original note with corrected URLs: This musing is merely a commentary on the "ACLU's 'Intelligent Design' FAQ" as found on the ACLU website. While I am a lawyer, and this response to the ACLU ID FAQ mentions the case over teaching intelligent design theory in Dover, Pennsylvania, this commentary is not intended to be legal advice for anyone. This is simply my thoughts about the claims made by the ACLU in its ID FAQ on their website. Some of their claims, and thus some of my commentary relates to case law, but much of this discussion is also completely unrelated to legal issues. A full legal discussion about whether or not it is constitutional to teach intelligent design would go into much more depth than the commentary made here. This is not intended to fully or adequately discuss the general question of whether or not it is constitutional to teach intelligent design theory. My purpose here is simply to respond to the various sorts of claims made by the ACLU in its ID FAQ. If readers have further questions about the author's opinion, they are invited to contact the author at casey@ideacenter.org.

    Update [10-26-05]: Also, these response pages were originally posted on February 11, 2005. I just learned today that as of September 16, 2005, the ACLU had published an updated ID FAQ at the same URL where the original FAQ was located. Thus, I apologize if there has been any confusion as this response was written months before the new FAQ replaced the old one. Thus, this response here is in response to the original ACLU ID FAQ which is still available at http://www.aclupa.org/downloads/doverfaq.pdf. I have tried to change links to the ACLU's ID FAQ throughout my response to reflect the change in their URLs. I would also like to thank the ACLU for making me aware of the changes in the URLs and their FAQ.


    [Addendum added 2/22/06: I realized today that this FAQ had previously stated that I was not a lawyer. That is because I wrote this before I was admitted to the California bar. I am now an attorney and have updated this page accordingly today.]