Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Cordova vs Dembski

You might have seen this post by Sal Cordova over at Dembski’s blog. I’m not going to criticize the dishonest quote mine, which he clearly labels such and files under humor (though don’t be at all surprised to see other creationists quoting that line from Darwin as though it was real sometime soon). But I do find this curious given where it occurs. In the letter Sal quotes, Darwin does indeed use the phrase “intelligent design”:

The point which you raise on intelligent Design has perplexed me beyond measure; & has been ably discussed by Prof. Asa Gray, with whom I have had much correspondence on the subject…One cannot look at this Universe with all living productions & man without believing that all has been intelligently designed; yet when I look to each individual organism, I can see no evidence of this.


The part in bold is the part that Cordova thinks would make a great (though obviously highly dishonest) textbook sticker. But in the comments on the thread, he tries to compare that statement to the one Nick Matzke made recently about the origin of the ID movement:

intelligent Design has perplexed me beyond measure

Charles Darwin, 1861

And then we have:

As everyone now knows, even though the ID guys will never admit it, “intelligent design” as such originated in the 1989 ID textbook Of Pandas and People

Nick Matzke

Now let’s compare that to the statement made by William Dembski in his expert report prepared for the Dover trial before he mysteriously withdrew:

Of Pandas and People was and remains the only intelligent design textbook. In fact, it was the first place where the phrase “intelligent design” appeared in its present use.

One wonders why Sal didn’t contrast the quote from the Darwin letter with that quote from Dembski. The key to both quotes, of course, are the modifying clauses – in Nick’s case the phrase as such and in Dembski’s case the phrase in its present use. Neither of them is claiming, or has ever claimed, that the phrase “intelligent design” had never been uttered prior to 1987; that would be quite absurd.

But Matzke does claim, and Dembski confirms, that the use of that phrase as a label for a movement and a (still non-existent) theory began in 1987, not coincidentally right after the Edwards ruling came down. Indeed, the fact that this very same first and only “intelligent design textbook” used precisely the same definition, word for word, for “creation science” in its pre-Edwards manuscripts as it used for “intelligent design” in its post-Edwards manuscripts is quite a problem for ID advocates.

It was probably the single most damning fact presented in the Dover trial because it showed, beyond all doubt, that those who authored the the world’s “only intelligent design textbook” – a group that includes many of the most prominent advocates of ID today – considered “creation science” and “intelligent design” to be synonymous. The fact that they must resort to the transparently absurd tactic of pretending that the argument could only be true if the words “intelligent design” had never appeared together in all of recorded history only shows that they have still not recovered from that fatal blow.

At any rate, one must ask: why didn’t Sal contrast that with Dembski’s statement? It’s an equally good fit. But to do so would be to admit that Matzke’s statement has been confirmed by one of their own, on whose blog Sal was writing. Awkward, isn’t it?