ICYMI: My Presentation on Intelligent Design and Darwin Devolves at the CFI

Hello friends! Last night I gave a webinar for the Center for Inquiry on the Intelligent Design (ID) movement and its latest attempt to sow doubt about the validity of evolutionary theory and its ability to account for the origin and diversity of life. To wit, the book Darwin Devolves, written by Michael Behe, was published last year and championed by ID proponents as a substantial challenge for modern evolutionary theory. (It isn’t.)

In case you missed the presentation, here it is:

I would like to also provide links to some of the things I mentioned in the webinar, as well as give more credit where it is due. First, the important links:

Now I need to give more credit to people whose work I made reference to:

  • I credited Kenneth Miller with the work on the evolution of the blood clotting cascade, but Russel Doolittle actually did much of the scientific work that Miller later popularized.
  • Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross have compiled an excellent early history of the DI. Read it here. And, if you can get your hands on it, Nicholas Matzke’s book, “But Isn’t It Creationism?” documents the origin of “Intelligent Design” as creationism playing scientific dress-up because of defeats in the US courts.
  • Regarding the polar bear discussion, I had forgotten how much of a team effort it was to dissect just how incorrect Behe’s claims were. I remembered working until 3:00A.M. reading the Liu paper and analyzing Behe’s claims against the data in the paper myself, but I had forgotten about the discussion over at Peaceful Science that led me to do that. This, this, this, and this thread show how not just Art Hunt and I, but also Dave Carlson, Josh Swamidass, John Mercer, Andy Walsh, Curtis Henderson, Mikkel Rumraket, and several others (evograd, T_aquaticus, BJB Brandon) all worked together.

And now to correct a couple of misstatements that I made. They’re all minor, tangential, and do not in anyway undercut the main thrust of my presentation. It was a brand new talk, a very large crowd, and a format (zoom) that I am still not comfortable with, so I was amped up on adrenaline and misspoke a couple times. So in the spirit of honest transparency, I want to correct the record. But all in all, I am very happy with how the presentation has been received and I have many emails to answer.

  • Phillip Johnson has died (and by all accounts was a kind and generous man). I knew that, but I inadvertently used the present tense when I referred to his affiliation at UC-Berkeley Law School. Also, he was usually called the “godfather” of ID, not the “father,” both by fans and adversaries, because he did not found the movement, but rather assumed de facto leadership in the late 1980s.
  • In the Q/A, I accidentally said “Richard Paley,” when I meant to refer to William Paley, the 18th century theologian and philosopher. I knew that, too, and I actually prepared a couple of slides on the history of the concept of design in nature, mentioning Newton, Descartes, Boyle, Aquinas, and going all the way back to Cicero and the ancients, but these were cut for time.
  • I got some details wrong about the founding of the Discovery Institute. First, I overstated the role of Phillip Johnson, who was more of an organizer for the ID movement itself and less involved in the DI. Second, the DI was not created out of whole cloth to promote Intelligent Design, but rather grew out of the Hudson Institute and was founded to promote a “rigorously God-centered view of creation, including a new science based solidly on theism.” The Hudson Institute is a conservative political think tank, thus emphasizing the political origins of the DI. I obviously regret this error since the reality proves my point even better that the DI is, at its core, a political group with an explicitly religious agenda.
  • At certain points, I misspelled “Jonathan Wells,” “Phillip Johnson,” and the “McLean” court case in my slides.
  • I mispronounced my friend Josh Swamidass’s last name. It is actually pronounced “Swamidass.” 😉

Once again I thank the Center for Inquiry for the invitation to tell this important story. -NHL


4 thoughts on “ICYMI: My Presentation on Intelligent Design and Darwin Devolves at the CFI

  1. Though Philip Johnson wasn’t the top-down founder of the Discovery Institute, the various members of the ID gang consider him a pivotal figure in the moment, and his method of apologetic attack is ubiquitous in the current advocates, especially Steve Meyer.

    I wasn’t aware of the Polar Bear Chart flap so nods to Nathan for bringing it up again. I spent the day tracking down the sources on it that I didn’t have in my reference field (the S7 chart is available as a spreadsheet download from the full text html version), and it’s definitely going into Vol 2 of “The Rocks Were There”, as another fine instance of the cherrypicking tendency of Behe, as well as the attack dog response mode of whoever it is who actually pens the anonymous Evolution News posts that tried their darnedest to downplay the fact of the omissions.

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  2. The origin of Intelligent Design can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and their telic thinking Read “the Design Matrix”- it is all documented there.

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  3. It would be interesting to ask the proponents of ID, who, in their opinion, their “intelligent designer” is. That could be interesting from the theological or religious point of view. The religions differ you know.

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    1. Given the history and demographics of the ID movement (presentations at conservative Christian church venues and colleges, the public pronouncements of their leadership, etc) it would be only rare exceptions for one to get other than the God of Abraham on that. Michael Denton is a rare agnostic in their fold, and his design notions don’t graduate to theoretical clarity let alone speculating on the vague designer.

      Of greater interest would be how the ID defenders determine how many designers might have been involved. Nothing in principle requires just one, nor that the same designer team need be responsible for dinosaurs as opposed to Cambrian arthropods, nor that any of the hypothesized designers need be around now. But those alternatives slam into their Hide the Ball ulterior religious perspective so don’t get addressed at all (if any researchers have examples of IDers thinking about that, I’d love to be apprised of it).

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