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Planet Earth

In Search of the Elusive Intelligent Design Laboratory

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerAugust 2, 2006 8:27 PM


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This morning the Kansas State Board of Education is all shook up. Last year the board voted 6-4 for much-criticised, creationism-friendly science education standards. Yesterday the primaries for the board elections took place, and on balance, the science-standards bloc lost two seats to Republic opponents. So it looks as if the balance is going to shift to 4-6, and the standards are going to go down. The vote is all the more notable for the fact that the primaries saw a big media campaign carried out by the Discovery Institute, the main organization pushing intelligent design (a k a "the progeny of creationism"). During the campaign, the Discovery Institute claimed over and over again that they were not actually promoting the teaching of Intelligent Design. They were simply supporting the Board's call for the "critical analysis" of evolution. But how are teachers supposed to teach "critical analysis" according to the Board? One way is to dredge up the red herrings and other fallacious arguments that have been repeatedly invoked by creationists in the past. Another way is to consider "alternatives" to evolution, such as--surprise--intelligent design. So, despite their protestations, yesterday's elections represent a political loss for the Discovery Institute. And, as Panda's Thumb notes, this is the latest in a series of disappointments for them, from the polls to the courthouse. I haven't yet seen a reaction from Intelligent Design advocates to the new defeat. But in the past, advocates of intelligent design have brushed off their defeats as irrelevant. Apparently, despite all their press releases, op-ed columns, radio ads, court testimony, and cable news appearances, it's all about the science. In December, when parents in Dover, Pennsylvania, got intelligent design ejected from science classes, the lawyer for the school board scoffed to the New York Times:

"A thousand opinions by a court that a particular scientific theory is invalid will not make that scientific theory invalid," said Mr. Thompson, the president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says it promotes Christian values. "It is going to be up to the scientists who are going to continue to do research in their labs that will ultimately determine that."

William Dembski, now of the Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary told the reporter, "I think the big lesson is, let's go to work and really develop this theory and not try to win this in the court of public opinion...The burden is on us to produce." Those remarks came nine months ago. How has it been going in those labs? Have these unnamed scientists been publishing a stream of papers in peer-reviewed biology journals in which they test hypotheses based on intelligent design, in which intelligent design is shown to provide a superior understanding of the world compared to other theories? Medline, one of the world's biggest medical and biological literature databases, reveals that the answer is no. Search for papers (not news reports) with the phrase "intelligent design," and you get zip. Try other phrases--"Discovery Institute," "irreducible complexity,"--and again, nothing. Try the names of Ph.D.s at the Discovery Institute--Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, for example--and once again, zip. By the way, claiming on a web site that someone else's paper about gene networks supports intelligent design does not count--especially if you studiously ignore the paper's discussion of evolution and the complete absense of the phrase intelligent design from its pages. To put this silence in perspective, I then searched the database for papers about evolution published since December, when the Dover trial ended. The result: 4298 papers. I'm curious to see the inside of one of those intelligent design laboratories Thompson was talking about. They seem like quite the hopping places. Update 12:15 pm: The ID reactions are arriving. Guess what--the standards don't matter. (See Ed Brayton for more.)

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