Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Steve Reuland has an excellent post at the Panda’s Thumb shredding the DI’s claim that 2/3 of doctors reject evolution. For nearly 2 years now, the DI has been making this claim and it’s based on a Finkelstein survey that they go to great lengths to selectively distort to try and support their argument. The survey asked lots of specific questions, out of which the ID folks pick out one vague one to misinterpret:

One question gives respondents three choices, each of which requires the respondent to make a statement about his or her belief in God. The choices are as follows: 1. God created humans exactly as they appear now; 2. God initiated and guided an evolutionary process that has led to current human beings; 3. Humans evolved naturally with no supernatural involvement – no divinity played any role. This question is practically identical to one commonly asked in surveys for the general public, which provides a handy means of comparison…

The trick played by Egnor and the DI is to take the answers to 1 and 2 and combine them together, claiming that anyone who agrees with those choices must be an ID supporter, whereas only those who agree with the third option are “Neo-Darwinists” or whatever it is they’re calling us these days. But this is extremely dishonest. The Discovery Institute knows good and well that many people who choose option 2 are ardent supporters of evolution and opponents of ID. In fact, many of their harshest critics, including some of us here at the ‘Thumb, are theists who believe that God guided evolution in some sense. Yet they reject ID and accept Darwinian evolution in no uncertain terms.

Option #2 – God initiated and guided an evolutionary process that has led to current human beings – is not ID, it’s theistic evolution. So what do the ID folks say about theistic evolution and ID? Well here’s what Bill Dembski said in a response to theistic evolutionist Howard Van Till:

Howard Van Till’s review of my book No Free Lunch exemplifies perfectly why theistic evolution remains intelligent design’s most implacable foe. Not only does theistic evolution sign off on the naturalism that pervades so much of contemporary science, but it justifies that naturalism theologically — as though it were unworthy of God to create by any means other than an evolutionary process that carefully conceals God’s tracks.

He’s hardly alone. Other ID advocates have also argued vehemently that ID and theistic evolution are conflicting positions, yet here they are trying to grab theistic evolutionists into their camp to reach the result they want. But the intellectual dishonesty doesn’t stop there. In fact, the doctors surveyed were asked quite specifically whether they supported evolution or ID. Needless to say, the DI never mentions the results for that question.

When asked “Do you agree more with evolution or more with intelligent design?” the results are not good for ID. 63% say evolution, while only 34% say ID. And that’s with only 4% of respondents being atheists and over 70% being Christian or Jewish. And it’s with only 25% being politically liberal. Likewise when asked “What are your views on Evolution?” the results are precisely the opposite of what the DI claims: 78% accept it and only 15% reject it. And here’s my favorite: when asked “Do you believe that intelligent design has legitimacy as science or do you believe it is only a covert way of getting creationism into the schools?” nearly 58% agreed that it was religiously-inspired pseudo-science. It appears that doctors aren’t nearly as disconnected from reality as the DI wishes they were.


  1. #1 David C. Brayton
    March 17, 2007

    I hate reading your blog in the morning. After this and the previous Gingrich post, I just want to bang my head against the wall for the rest of the day.

  2. #2 Henry Neufeld
    March 17, 2007

    I commented a bit on this over on my threads blog, but I just want to note here that as a theist, I would still have to answer #3 to that question. While I think God is the ultimate source of the laws that govern evolution, and that he could guide evolution, I see absolutely no reason to believe that he has.

    To me the second option leaves open a sort of stealth intelligent design–we’ll never detect it, but it’s there, and it specifically produces human beings. I don’t agree. I think evolution is wonderful, and I think that, like existence, God is its ultimate source, but I think it works without requiring intervention or guidance.

  3. #3 Herb
    March 17, 2007

    nearly 58% agreed that it was religiously-inspired pseudo-science

    But a total of 65% said ID should either be allowed or required to be taught in schools. Little bit of a confusion there…?

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    March 17, 2007


    That’s not at all surprising and it goes back to this very simple (and overly simplistic) idea of “fairness” that is fairly ingrained in the American consciousness. That’s part of the rhetorical brilliance of the “arguments for and against” mantra we hear from the ID folks these days. Even where people disagree with a position, as long as their disagreement isn’t very strong, Americans still think both sides should “have their say.”

  5. #5 MarkP
    March 17, 2007

    Let’s also not forget that some people filling out surveys have internally inconsistent views, misunderstand the questions, just make mistakes, or simply don’t care. Florida 2000 anyone? Surveys can be a good source of information, but let’s not forget that at its core, a survey is nothing more than a collection of anecdotes, second-hand data. As much credibility as large samples and proper techniques warrant, it is still not as solid as first-hand, experimental data.

    However, even granting all that, Ed’s commentary is dead on. This is yet another example of the creationist/IDers being intellectually dishonest and reaching conclusions that, even considering all the limitations of surveys, are still completely unreasonable. Especially noteworthy is how dramatically this survey counters the contention in much creationist/IDer literature that those opposed to them are typically atheistic liberals. The survey data is clear: Ken Miller, not Richard Dawkins, represents the mainstream opposition to creationism/ID, and I say this as one far more sympathetic to Dawkins views.

  6. #6 Daniel Kim
    March 18, 2007

    I suppose I can be described as a “theistic evolutionist”. What I will sometimes tell people is that while God knows every sparrow that falls, that doesn’t mean he specifically knocked it out of the sky.

  7. #7 mark
    March 18, 2007

    Yep, they’ve sure convinced me that it’s all about science, and has nothing to do with religion. Who did this bit of DI research–Dr. Egnor?

  8. #8 Dr. X
    March 18, 2007

    “I suppose I can be described as a “theistic evolutionist”. What I will sometimes tell people is that while God knows every sparrow that falls, that doesn’t mean he specifically knocked it out of the sky.”

    That’s closest to my position. If given the survey I would have to reject response #3, but #2 doesn’t quite get it either. I’m more like a 2.6 if I try to fit my views to a simplistic model that designates divine control and nature as opposite poles on a linear scale. The problem is that it doesn’t work that way for me, but evangelical theology is too painfully simplistic (or the study authors are too nefariously calculating) to present a survey that recognizes that there are many believers who find the study’s questions woefully inadequate for assessing our views on evolution.

    May I suggest asking physicians a different question:

    Do you believe that evolution or intelligent design explains the emergence of human life?

    Answer: Evolution. It’s not so difficult to just ask the question.

  9. #9 Steve Reuland
    March 18, 2007

    Without a doubt, that particular 3-part question is not a very good question, because it forces the diverse and subtle views of theistic evolutionists to fit into an either/or God guided it or God had nothing to do with it dichotomy. The Finkelstein authors however didn’t invent that question; it’s been asked on surveys for many years, and therefore it gives us a direct way to compare the responses of doctors vs. those of everyone else. So it’s good that they asked it.

    I don’t think there’s such a thing as a non-flawed survey question. Every question is marred with potentially loaded words, too few choices, too many choices, or oversimplifications. That doesn’t mean you can’t wring useful information out of them though. Luckily, in this case we can compare the results of several questions, some of which ask about ID and evolution directly, and what we see is that half or more of people who say that God guided evolution are unequivocally anti-ID.

    Like Ed, my favorite question is the one in which 58% of doctors agree that ID is religiously inspired pseudoscience. There is simply no way of interpreting that result as anything other than stark rejection of ID. If anything, the wording of the question cuts in favor of ID because the alternative (“ID is a legitimate scientific speculation”) is equivocal and conciliatory, and people with doubts always tend to gravitate towards such options.

  10. #10 Jonathan Bartlett
    March 18, 2007

    “Option #2 – God initiated and guided an evolutionary process that has led to current human beings – is not ID, it’s theistic evolution”

    Depending on your notion of “theistic evolution” (there are multiple) then most ID’ers are in the theistic evolution camp. Denton, MikeGene, Krauze, John Davison, Michael Behe, and several others fall into this camp.

    So, if you want to say that this option is theistic evolution, then you are saying that ID (at least some forms of it) is theistic evolution.

  11. #11 Ed Brayton
    March 19, 2007


    When any of those people actually provides us with a model of what the designer actually did and when, then it’s possible to discuss where it falls on that spectrum of possibilities. But none has ever done so to my knowledge.

  12. #12 DuWayne
    March 19, 2007

    Jonathon –

    The difference between ID proponents and people like myself (I’m a theistic evolutionist) is not as much in belief, but in what we want to see taught in schools. I believe that God had a hand (though I do not know how much or where) in evolution. I also believe that God directly effects my life. I also recognize that this is my religious belief, mine, not everyone elses. I do not want to see my religious beliefs, or anyone elses, taught in public schools. I am not sure what most of the men you list believe, but I am a little familiar with Behe and while I would disagree on quite a few points, our beliefs are not all that far apart. It’s not what he believes that I have a problem with, it’s what he tries to do to it. It is not science, it’s religion – period.

    That’s the crux. I believe that evolution is how life happened on earth. I also believe that the universe also “evolved” in it’s own way – though personifying the universe, implies a life cycle, rather than evolution. That is rather well supported by science. I also believe in a personal God, who affects my life. I cannot help but believe that he also plays some role in the ever changing universe around us and in the evolution of life on this planet and probably many others. If little old me is worth bothering with, then so must that which is so much greater than I. The how and where of it is incidental. These beliefs are not based on any science, they certainly are not scientific, in any regard. It is not the beliefs that bother me so much, it is the claim that they are science that I disagree with. And it is the blatant dishonesty that they use, many of them, in the name of my God, that makes me quite angry.

  13. #13 Ginger Yellow
    March 19, 2007

    I was so happy when I saw the PT post on this. You couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of the IDers dishonesty and disingenuousness, and it’s straight from the horse’s mouth. From now on any time they claim that the designer doesn’t have to be God, we can just throw this in their faces. We don’t need to employ arguments about infinite regress or marshall lots of evidence of past pronouncements. Anybody can understand the deception here and it can’t possibly be explained away.

  14. #14 Steve Reuland
    March 19, 2007

    Depending on your notion of “theistic evolution” (there are multiple) then most ID’ers are in the theistic evolution camp. Denton, MikeGene, Krauze, John Davison, Michael Behe, and several others fall into this camp.

    Those guys are definitely not “most” IDers. Denton I think has mostly if not completely broken with the movement, and Davison is just some crank whom I believe does not has any connection with the ID movement at all (other than having had a paper of his published in their in-house journal, which is so desperate for submissions that they’ll take almost anything). And Mike Gene and Krauze are bit players who don’t carry much weight.

    Although I don’t think anyone has ever done a survey, I think it’s safe to say that most IDists are anti-evolutionists. People like Behe are outliers. And this is the leadership I’m talking about. When looking at their fan base within the general public, there’s no doubt that they’re overwhelmingly creationist.

    In my opinion, the proper demarcation between theistic evolutionist and IDist is that the latter finds it necessary to attack evolution (whether common descent or mutation and selection) in order to shore up the “theistic” part of his beliefs. Theistic evolutionists as generally understood do not have a problem with evolution and do not subscribe to the panoply of arguments used by the ID movement. Even though their theological beliefs may overlap to a large extent, this is I believe the main distinction.

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