ID’s legal status considered

I’ve never written a law review article, and my first stab at the genre turned into a bit of a beast to wrangle. While most of the papers in the journal ran to perhaps a dozen pages, mine weighs in at 68, in which I offer a brief exploration of evolution for the lawerly set, a review of creationism’s legal and social history, a short defense of the Kitzmiller decision striking down ID in public schools, and a review of current anti-evolution efforts, especially so-called academic freedom laws. For all that, I think it hangs together nicely, a tribute to the students at the University of St. Thomas who helped edit this paper and organize the symposium over all.

The paper’s title, “Leap of Faith: Intelligent Design after Dover” is a reference both to the chalky cliffs of the English Channel, to the town in which ID itself took a fall, and to the politically and economically suicidal effects of pushing creationism into public schools. Along the way, I was able to work in some other subtle digs at ID, including this summary of the recent history of the ID movement:

Intelligent Design advocates have struggled without success to achieve academic acceptance as scientists. For example, some attempts have been made to create ID-specific journals comparable to those of creation scientists, but they have all become moribund, and an academic society dedicated to ID is similarly defunct. Major academic ID goals set in a fundraising document in 1998 have gone unachieved, such as the promise of a major monograph by Discovery Institute fellow Paul Nelson, which has been reported as nearly ready to print for over a decade. The proceedings of a Discovery Institute conference held in the summer of 2007, supposedly highlighting “the very kind of research our critics say we don‘t sponsor,” remain unpublished. William Dembski, once heralded on a book jacket as “the Isaac Newton of Information Theory,” has been reduced to rewriting and analyzing toy computer programs originally written for a TV series and popular books in the 1980s by biologist Richard Dawkins as trivial demonstrations of the power of selection. Dembski explained his poor record of publication in peer-reviewed scientific literature by saying, “I‘ve just gotten kind of blasé about submitting things to journals where you often wait two years to get things into print. And I find I can actually get the turnaround faster by writing a book and getting the ideas expressed there. My books sell well.” Alas, they don‘t convince mathematicians of his mathematical arguments, prompting Dembski to reply to one critic: “I‘m not and never have been in the business of offering a strict mathematical proof for the inability of material mechanisms to generate specified complexity.” This, despite his claim to have developed a “Law of Conservation of Information” about which he states in one book: “The crucial point of the Law of Conservation of Information is that natural causes can at best preserve CSI…, may degrade it, but cannot generate it.”

In 1998, the Discovery Institute explained to its donors that research was crucial stating, “Phase I [described as ‘Research, Writing and Publication‘] is the essential component of everything that comes afterward. Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.” Judges and others seeking to assess the merits of ID going forward need issue no harsher judgment than the Discovery Institute has presented here. By its own standards, ID is intellectually stagnant, and must be regarded as “just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade,” in line with previous creationist movements.

The Kitzmiller ruling cited as “[a] final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant… the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory.” The movement, however, did not take this as a call to return to the labs and produce novel results in readiness for future legal challenges [fn: Discovery Institute did create what amounts to a Potemkin laboratory – the Biologic Institute. … Attempts to view the lab spaces or examine their research have been blocked. See Celeste Biever, Intelligent design: The God Lab, THE NEW SCIENTIST, Dec. 15 2006, at 8-11. According to one report, the only research finding offered by Biologic actually contradicts a central claim of ID. …”We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information”).]. Instead, the movement has produced a the third edition of Pandas (renamed Design of Life and no longer aimed at high schools) and a successor to Pandas, called Explore Evolution, which contains even less substance and scientific accuracy than its predecessor. The Intelligent Design documentary, Expelled!: No intelligence Allowed mangled interviews and the history of the Holocaust, and has been called “one of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time.” In addition, Michael Behe published a successor to Darwin’s Black Box, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, while still failing to address criticism leveled at the earlier work, even those he himself acknowledged.

Later, I consider ID’s claims to peer reviewed scientific papers and contrast that with the wide acceptance of evolution in relevant scientific communities:

To understand a theory‘s impact and scientific validity, it is necessary to review how it fares when later researchers examine its claims, and how much new research is generated by insights from a given line of thinking. In the case of those few papers claimed as peer-reviewed defenses of ID, none has met any favorable response, or been cited as generating successful predictions for future researchers.* By contrast, the number of papers building on evolutionary theory and deepening our knowledge of the field has grown rapidly in recent years, due in part to the theory‘s ability to generate new insights into the burgeoning fields of molecular biology, genomics, and developmental genetics. This reflects a community-wide consensus among relevant scientists on the merits of evolution, a consensus further strengthened by assessments of scientific bodies. Groups including the National Academy of Sciences and its international counterparts, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and professional societies representing groups with special knowledge of evolution, including biologists of many sorts, geologists, physicists, historians, philosophers, and many others, have issued statements representing their members‘ agreement that evolution is foundational to modern biology, is well-supported, and belongs in science classes.

* DISCOVERY INST. THE COLLEGE STUDENT‘S BACK TO SCHOOL GUIDE TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN (2009), available at _FN.pdf. The pamphlet states, “Criticss [sic] often claim that intelligent design proponents do not publish peer-reviewed scientific papers or that they do not do scientific research.” To rebut this claim, 6 papers are cited, none from later than 2004. One of those was discussed at length in testimony by Kitzmiller defense witnesses, with the court describing that paper as “The one article referenced [by defense‘s scientific witnesses]… as supporting ID …. A review of the article indicates that it does not mention … ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically realistic population size were used.” Another proffered article was repudiated by the journal which published it, with the editors noting that it “represents a significant departure from the nearly purely taxonomic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 124-year history. … We have met and determined that all of us would have deemed this paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings.” A review of the other papers listed by the Discovery Institute in Science Citation Index finds two of the papers have no citations at all, and the few citations garnered by the remainder are either self-citation by the same ideologically driven group of authors, or are citations rejecting the paper‘s findings. For context, the 254 papers turned up in a search for the narrow topic “evolutionary developmental biology” published in 2004 have been cited an average of 13 times, compared to an average 7 citations for ID‘s top papers, some of which have had many more years to accumulate citations. The marketplace of ideas has spoken.

The community of jurists has spoke as well, issuing ruling after ruling blocking creationism from public school science classes. I conclude the paper by noting that this trend is unlikely to change:

Even before Intelligent Design was ruled unconstitutional in science classes, a new strategy to advance creationism had been formulated. This strategy consists of state laws which radically reshape the concept of ―academic freedom‖ to allow public secondary school teachers and students unprecedented leeway in their presentation of science (and only science), and encouraging science teachers to present creationist-inspired “evidence against evolution” rather than advocating teaching creationism by name. These strategies have yet to be directly tested in court, but it would be an error to regard this absence of evidence as evidence for the constitutionality of the new approach. Courts are rightly skeptical of claimed “academic freedom” to present creationism as no statutory claim of academic freedom could justify an abuse of the First Amendment rights of students. The rhetoric used to promote these new laws, policies, and educational supplements produced to support them, shows many of the same constitutional flaws which courts found in earlier creationist tactics. Given the extensive similarities between these and earlier creationist strategies, school districts and courts are wise to be as cautious about this latest version of creationism as they were of creationism‘s previous incarnations.

Check it out and have fun with it.


  1. #1 Greg Laden
    April 2, 2010

    Niiiiiice… Long though. But still nice.

  2. #2 Harbo
    April 3, 2010

    Yes Very nice, we will quote from this for years to come.

  3. #3 John Farrell
    April 3, 2010


  4. #4 The Gregarious Misanthrope
    April 3, 2010


    I have been an avid reader of Scienceblogs for a few months now and have recently begun reading your posts regularly. I enjoy your work immensely and feel you provide a great service to those of us who fight the creeping malevolence that is creationism and ID.

    That said, I think we, as a science-based community, have fallen into a rhetorical trap most often employed by the right wing. That is, we have taken to, on occassion, applying our own labels to things which we use as a shorthand to mock and belittle them.

    Examples of this phenomenon on the right include death panels, death tax, partial-birth abortion, and any number of Obama slurs. By co-opting the proper name of something or someone, the calibre of debate often devolves to the schoolyard level. While in some cases, these renamings actually apply the proper meaning or stance of the person, idea, or institution (for example: Pro-Birth vs. Pro-Life), more often it serves only to cut off debate of the merits, or lack thereof, of those same people, ideas, and institutions. It becomes little more than name-calling.

    Words matter and their meanings matter. For those of us in the STEM world, it should matter very much indeed and I think we should refrain from stooping to that level at least in our more formal discourse, which appears to be the case in this post.

    In the anti-ID world, the most common example is the co-opting of the Discovery Institute, typically as Disco. ‘Tute, or similar. I agree that the very name Discovery Institute is oxymoronic, but it is the name they have chosen, like it or not. I agree also that the Discovery Institute is richly deserving of scorn and the occassional mockery and that Disco. ‘Tute is probably more befitting its level of intellectual rigor.

    Nonetheless, starting out a debate with name-calling is not good practice as it will instantly harden attitudes against one’s arguments, regardless of their merit and accuracy. Could you imagine a Presidential debate wherein the the candidates referred to each other as McStain and Obongo?

    I note that Disco. ‘Tute, is in fact a grammatically correct abbreviation, but it seems chosen for its lyrical mockery, of which I heartily approve on a personal level. Still, Disc. Inst. or DI would suffice.

    Food for thought.

  5. #5 V. infernalis
    April 3, 2010

    Just read it; good stuff.

    FYI, there’s a weird typo on page 315 right after “3.14159” – perhaps a remnant editorial comment?

  6. #6 Moshe Averick
    April 3, 2010

    When all is said and done (and written ) the bottom line is perhaps best summed up in the following:

    (A) blogs (Nature Publishing Group) – Anna Kushnir 3/9/2009: The Origins of Life Initiative and the Harvard Alumni Association hosted a day long symposium at Harvard’s Science Center entitled “The Future of Life” focused on discussing…what is life, and how did it begin? [Among the speakers were] J. Craig Venter…Jack Szostak…George Whitesides…George Church…it may be difficult to believe, but there was a common theme to this seeming cacophony of scientific expertise and discovery. The theme was “we just don’t know”. No one knows how life began- or even how to define “life” if you want to get all philosophical about it…Underneath it all, it was refreshing to hear a bunch of really smart folks say “we don’t know.” It was humbling and put things in a grandiose perspective. No one knows how we all got to be here, but the researchers in the Origins of Life Initiative and beyond are trying to find out.

    and (B) This statement by one of the world’s leading chemists, Dr. George Whitesides. He made the following remarks in an article published in “Chemical and Engineering News” on March 26, 2007.

    “The Origin of Life. This problem is one of the big ones in Science…Most chemists believe as I do that life emerged spontaneously from mixtures of molecules on the prebiotic earth. How? I have no idea…on the basis of all chemistry I know it seems to me astonishingly improbable.”

  7. #7 Michael D. Barton, FCD
    April 3, 2010

    Don’t you mean 48 pages, not 68?

  8. #8 TomS
    April 4, 2010

    A list of errata:

    page 288 line 17 quotes from Genesis should read “according to their kind” (singular – the plural of “kind” does not occur in the Bible)

    footnotes 116 & 121 are almost identical

    footnotes 190, 237, 257 are missing

    footnote 193 should read “Case supra note 188”

    footnotes 210, 211, 214, 217, 220, have incorrect back references

    page 315 line 3 from bottom reads “3.14159False It is” – I don’t know what it should be

  9. #9 Anonymous
    April 5, 2010

    There is no constitutional principle of separation of bad science and state.

  10. #10 SLC
    April 6, 2010

    Speaking of ID, is Mr. Rosenau going to comment on his Friend of Hitler award?

  11. #11 hannodb
    April 7, 2010

    “In the case of those few papers claimed as peer-reviewed defenses of ID, none has met any favorable response, or been cited as generating successful predictions for future researchers.* By contrast, the number of papers building on evolutionary theory and deepening our knowledge of the field has grown rapidly in recent years, due in part to the theory‘s ability to generate new insights into the burgeoning fields of molecular biology, genomics, and developmental genetics.”

    The only problem is, people easily forget all the predictions made by Neo-darwinism that turned out wrong. The latest casualty is the notion of “Junk-DNA”. ID proponents predicted that these non-coding regions will have function. ID, not Darwinism, was correct in this regard:

    Also, it is clear from abiogenesis research that live must have been designed. No explaination using change and chemical necesity alone is capable of explaining the information – specified irregular complexity – found in biochemistry. In fact, there is no known force or process in the entire universe capable of generating information. The generation of information requires a quality that nature does not possess: foresight. All the abiogenesis experiments since the Urey-Miller experiment demonstrates the need for design: To selectively select and preserve a certain feature for future advantage. And this is why all abiogenesis models fail, including the RNA-world scenario: The problem of origin of live is not a chemical problem, it is an informational problem. Just to get an RNA molecule to partly replicate itself, requires an information rich arrangement of nucleotides. However, quite apart from the informational problem is the natural environment which will be for from ideal for RNA’s to be preserved in the first place: Nothing prevents it from destructive chemical reactions which will destroy its potential for further biological evolution.

    Biochemistry will ultimately sink the materialistic view of live: if not Neo-Darwinism as a whole, at least the preposterous notion that unguided chemical processes is sufficient to get live going. Of cause, no amount of evidence will ever be sufficient for those with metaphysical motivations to keep supporting Darwinism. However, scientific resistance to this doctrine unsupported by empirical evidence is rising and rising quickly. While Darwinists comfort themselves with the “science vs religion” argument, serious scientists – some of which have no particular religious inclination – are starting to doubt Darwinian theory, and resistance to Darwinian dogma is growing. It is only a matter of time for the science to escape the bondage of materialism. This doctrine of materialism have lead to many dead ends such as eugenics, the steady state universe, evolutionary phycology, string theory and other forms of pseudo-science. It is from the design paradigm that science was born. After darwinism, philosophical materialism started to pollute scientific though, and science progressed in the 20th century not because of materialism, but despite of it.

  12. #12 Paul
    April 7, 2010

    “However, scientific resistance to this doctrine unsupported by empirical evidence is rising and rising quickly.”

    Could you give an example of how this resistance is manifesting itself? With supporting citations?

  13. #13 NJ
    April 7, 2010

    @12 Paul:

    Don’t hold your breath.

    Today, at the dawn of the new century, nothing is more certain than that Darwinism has lost its prestige among men of science. It has seen its day and will soon be reckoned a thing of the past.

    Eberhard Dennert, 1904

  14. I wrote such an article once as a student. I recall that you’re supposed to have a lot of footnotes in those things. I think my final article actually had more footnotes than it had text! So I hope you made sure to include myriad footnotes!

  15. #15 Jim Lippard
    April 8, 2010

    Anonymous #9 raises a good point. If all that’s being offered is criticisms of evolution that make no reference to religion, there’s not going to be a good case for a First Amendment violation. As Anonymous points out, there is no constitutional separation of bad science and state.

    The separation of church and state also doesn’t prohibit teaching *about* religion, so long as it’s not a government *establishment of* religion.

    I think this is why nobody has filed a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s academic freedom bill. There’s probably no chance of a facial challenge, as opposed to an “as applied” challenge if a particular teacher uses it as an excuse to teach something that is religious.

  16. #16 Midwifetoad
    April 9, 2010

    Looking at this link,

    Why is it the more we know about the genetic code, the more it looks like the designer is Rube Goldberg?

    I mean, if Einstein, with his love of elegance and simplicity, had encountered some fundamental law of physics as convoluted and self referential as genetics, he might have thrown up his hands in disgust.

    It looks, for all the world, like the designer just throws stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

  17. #17 Maya
    April 9, 2010

    You probably already know this, but Clive (Baby) Hayden of Uncommon Descent is a fan of yours:

    You should invite the UDers over for a chat!

  18. #18 abb3w
    April 14, 2010

    Minor quibble: p. 311 uses Cobb County’s sticker as an example of “post-ID strategy”. However, that sticker was voted on in 2002, with an initial ruling in Jan 2005 (that continued to an appeal process before dying); Dover’s case from idiot-vote trigger to judge’s ruling ran from 2004 to Dec 2005 (that didn’t).

    While it IS an example of the “teach the controversy” creationist strategy that does continue post-Kitzmiller, I would consider it less accurate to call it “post-ID” and more accurate to characterize it as an example of an earlier (or even contemporary) variant tactic that creationists initially considered less promising, but which tactic appears marginally better able to thrive than ID in a post-Kitzmiller environment.

    Which is an interesting bit of evolution. =)

  19. #19 James
    May 6, 2010


    As an editor for the Journal who worked on this piece, I will forever go back and look at these errors we missed kicking myself.

  20. #20 genotypical
    September 16, 2010

    Comments like the first part of #11 always make me laugh. I’m an old-time geneticist, a veteran of the Human Genome Project, and I can personally assure you that biologists as a group NEVER though that noncoding DNA was all or mostly nonfunctional. We were interested in what its functions might be waaaay back before the ID movement began (in the 1980’s, as I recall). E.g. Ohno was putting quotation marks around “junk” DNA back in the early 1970’s. During the HGP, the people in our group only used the term when we were teasing our Alu expert–nothing got him fired up faster than hearing someone refer to repetitive sequences as “junk”.

  21. #21 John Kwok
    September 17, 2010

    @4 The Gregarious Misanthrope –

    Personally I prefer the name “Dishonesty Institute” as a more apt description of its modus operandi, as a central clearinghouse for the promotion of its favorite mendacious intellectual pornography, Intelligent Design creationism, as well as the one that is climate change denialism.

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