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A Response to SDUT's “Advocates for teaching option to evolution in schools gaining”

More misunderstandings and stereotypes abound

By: Ryan Huxley
First posted 2/21/05, updated 2/26/05

The San Diego Union Tribune recently ran an article by Jon Hurdle from Reuters on recent events in Pennsylvania related to Intelligent Design (ID). Given that ID is receiving more media coverage and attention, common stereotypes and misconceptions are pervading much of the ID media exposure (e.g. see the response to a recent Newsweek article on ID). Unfortunately, Mr. Hurdle has perpetuated some of the misconceptions regarding what ID entails. Soon, given the number of articles reporting these erroneous ‘facts,’ readers are likely to begin to believe they are correct.

A couple of the most common false impressions of ID that Mr. Hurdle helps foster are that ID is a religious movement and it claims “nature was designed by an all-powerful force.” Mr. Hurdle buttresses his claim by providing a comment from an apparently anti-design/pro-evolution only proponent, Steve Case, who claims, “[i]t's pretty clear that there is a religious movement behind intelligent design.” Mr. Case is evidently unaware of agnostics (e.g. David Berlinski and Todd Moody) and even atheists (e.g. an ‘eccentric’ group known as the Raelians) approving of the ID movement.

Consider a comment by Dr. David Berlinski (e.g. see his relatively recent article and ensuing exchange “A Scientific Scandal?”) where he clearly notes he is not religious at all: “As I have many times remarked, I have no creationist agenda whatsoever and, beyond respecting the injunction to have a good time all the time, no religious principles, either.” Todd Moody is another example of a non-religious proponent of ID (e.g. see his piece on “Three Levels of Design”). Simply because there are religious individuals involved in the ID movement does not therefore mean ID is a religious movement – formally speaking, this is the genetic fallacy. If one were to be consistent with faulty reasoning such as this, then the scientific method, physics, and the theory of electro-magnetism must also be religious – Sir Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, and Michael Faraday are just a few Christian forefathers of modern science whom were often motivated by their belief in God in their scientific conceptions.

There is no ‘agenda’ to ‘hide’ the identity of the designer(s), ID proponents are simply being honest regarding the limitations of the science of ID. Does one need to identify who designed the stone faces on Easter Island to say that they are designed? The same methodology utilized in archaeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI is utilized in ID – ID is simply applying it to biology. What appears to be occurring with the author (and other evolutionists) is the inability to separate premises and implications. There are no religious premises in ID; however, there are religious implications. ID does not rely upon any sacred text for its presumptions, but it can provide corroborating evidence for theistic and deistic worldviews. The same could be said for the Big Bang theory. Simply because a given theory has religious or philosophical implications does not make it non-scientific or pseudo-scientific. Realizing this is fundamental to understanding the incorrect claims made regarding ID being a religious theory or one that invokes a supernatural agent.

To some readers, this may seem counter to what is next claimed in the Reuters article. Mr. Hurdle quotes Mr. John Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network as saying, "Intelligent design promotes a rational basis for belief in God." I personally contacted Mr. Calvert to confirm that this was indeed an accurate quotation of his statements. Below is the result of an email exchange in which I asked Mr. Calvert some questions regarding this quote. Ryan: “Mr. Calvert, in this recent article, you were quoted as saying that "Intelligent design promotes a rational basis for belief in God." Is this an accurate quote?”
Mr. Calvert: “No. An inference of design provides [not promotes] a rational basis for belief in a God." (emphasis in original)

Ryan: “How long was your interview with Mr. Hurdle?”
Mr. Calvert: “I don't recall. I have talked with him a couple of times. I think we may have talked for at least an hour.”

Ryan: “Do you think ID is a religious movement? Why or why not?”
Mr. Calvert: “Our organization seeks INSTITUTIONAL objectivity in origins science. That is, it seeks to get any kind of religious or naturalistic bias out of the institutions like peer reviewed journals, public schools, and other institutions of learning. Objectivity is necessary to do good science in the area of origins because it is an historical science where normal empirical methods like direct observation and experiment are unavailable. Evolutionary biologists construct "historical narratives." The only way to test these narratives is to find evidence – data - that both rules in a particular claim AND that rules out the competing claim. If evolution cannot be tested by the claim of design, then evolution winds up not being tested. It remains just a speculation. For evolution and design to be credible, both must test the other. Presently there is an institutional bias against design that interferes with this test. That produces bad science.
“The bias also inserts religion into science because the bias of Naturalism is the fundamental tenet of religions like Secular Humanism, atheism, scientism and agnosticism.
“So, are we seeking to impose religion on science? No. We seek to take religion out of science by removing institutional religious and philosophic bias and replacing it with objectivity. That produces the best science and also yields religious neutrality.
“All of this was communicated to Mr. Hurdle.”
As can be seen, it’s apparent that the author conveniently made a word switch – from “provides” to “promotes.” While these are similar in concept, they are distinctly different. Such a switch runs counter to journalistic wisdom given the important nuance between these words. Readers are left with an inaccurate representation of ID, by an ID proponent. It is unclear if this error was intentional or out of ignorance; in either case, accuracy is lost.

Another important point to emphasize from Mr. Calvert’s correspondence is that many (if not all) ID proponents desire to encourage “objectivity in origins science. That is, it seeks to get any kind of religious or naturalistic bias out of the institutions like peer reviewed journals, public schools, and other institutions of learning.” To put it another way, a more suitable understanding of science that would unencumber it from any philosophy or religion would be to recognize it as the study of natural phenomena, resulting from whatever causes the evidence indicates.

Indeed, the renowned philosopher Sir Antony Flew, former atheist and now philosophical theist (similar to a deist), holds to this notion of proper scientific understanding: “My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.” (from ABC News, ‘Famous Atheist Now Believes In God’) As a consequence of Flew’s rational approach to origins science, he has rejected the notions of atheism and purely naturalistic explanations for the existence of life promoted by the likes of Richard Dawkins. (For a relatively brief encompassing [well referenced] look at Flew’s recent transition from atheism to a theism of sorts, see the article on ARN.) Flew was not only motivated by the lack of any satisfactory naturalistic explanation, but also by the hallmarks of design he observed in the information rich DNA molecule: “What I think the DNA material has done is show that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements together. . . The enormous complexity by which the results were achieved look to me like the work of intelligence.” (as seen at, accessed 2/26/05) Perhaps Flew’s move from atheism as a result of the design argument, which in no way is a technically logical necessity, is the main cause for concern by materialists. In other words, the implications of design provide rational support for a belief in a deity. What appears to be occurring frequently with opponents of ID is the inability to separate premises and implications.

Mr. Hurdle notes that many people contend that ID is merely “a version of creationism – the theory that God created the world as described in Genesis.” While it is true many people consider this to be the case, it is unfortunate Mr. Hurdle did not correct the misconception. ID is not akin to creationism, as evidenced by prominent creationist organizations. For example, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) as well as Answers in Genesis (AIG) criticizes ID for not seeking to defend the Biblical creation account and identify the designer as God. More specifically, AIG has even noted that “many prominent figures in the IDM reject or are hostile to Biblical creation, especially the notion of recent creation….” AIG also notes that “philosophically and theologically the leading lights of the ID movement form an eclectic group.” ICR has said that because ID does not employ “the Biblical method,” it is not enough. (For those interested, see the article by Carl Wieland, “AiG’s views on the Intelligent Design Movement,” August 30, 2002, accessed 2/5/05. For an ICR article on ID, see the one by Henry M. Morris, “Design is not Enough!”, Institute for Creation Research, July 1999, accessed 2/5/05.)

As ID’s media exposure continues to escalate, one can only hope that truthful journalism will properly inform readers of this intriguing theory. Yet, as more periodicals improperly characterize ID, the more people begin to believe convenient, yet erroneous, stereotypes for reality.