Intelligent Design nearly down the drain

January 8, 2023 • 9:15 am

The Wedge Document, the manifesto written by the Discovery Institute (DI) to outline the future proliferation of Intelligent Design (ID), was composed in 1998. It was leaked a long time ago, and you can see it here. If you read it, you’ll find that they’ve missed their temporal “goals” by a long shot. Below are the document’s goals for five years after the document (2003) and for twenty years after (2018). We’re  now five years past their twenty-year mark, and, as you see, nothing much has happened. (Bolding is mine.)

Five Year Goals

  • To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory
  • To see the beginning of the influence of design theory in spheres other than natural science.
  • To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda.

Twenty Year Goals

  • To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science
  • To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
  • To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.

Ooops! We’re now 25 years in, and they haven’t even reached their five-year goals! In fact, Intelligent design has been discredited, and in the 2005 Kitzmiller decision in Pennsylvania, Judge Jones declared ID “not science” so that teaching it in public schools was prohibited as an incursion of religion into government. ID pretty much died after that, and there have been no further judicial decisions, so banning ID from public schools is the law. (Fingers crossed that the new, religiously conservative Supreme Court doesn’t change that.) ID sure as hell isn’t “the dominant perspective in science.”

I often wonder if ID’s proponents, like Wells, Behe, Dembski, and Meyer, who still act as if they triumphed, ever lie awake at night and think about how badly theyt failed. For this is science, and the truth will out. But they’re still at it, like a cow walking in circles forever even after it’s been disconnected from the water mill.

Over at The Panda’s Thumb site, ID opponent and biology professor Nathan Lents summarizes a year of dismal failure for ID and the Discovery Institute. If you’ve followed the DI, you’ll know that they founded a “Biologic Institute” to do “research” on ID, but to get their work publicized they not only had to found their own journal, BIO-Complexity, but they hardly published anything. (Most of the articles were written by the editors.)

Lents announces in the article below (click on screenshot), and Matt Young in another Panda’s Thumb post (click on screenshot), that the Biologic Institute was more or less a nothingburger, and has finally closed down (see my post on its fakery here). No more ID research! Oh no—how will they make it the “dominant paradigm in science without research?

First, their “impressive year”, in which the journal BIO-Complexity published a total of three—count them, three—articles

Lents describes a new paper in the journal about how the human ankle is so complex that it must have been designed (ergo Jesus), and makes a few point about that paper and the journal itself. I’ve left out some points, but the indented ones below are in Lents’s words:

 

1). This is just the third and final article published in in the journal in all of 2022. Their original ambitious goal was one article per month (lol), but they have yet to exceed four articles in any calendar year. In 2017, they published just one manuscript in the “research article” category and one “critical review.” This year, the three published articles are in the “critical focus” category, meaning they did not publish a single “research article” in 2022.

2). The article above was written by someone who is also on the editorial board of the journal. In fact, nearly all of the contributing authors in the history of the journal are also editors and most are also Discovery Institute fellows or contributors. In 2010-2011, the journal published a total of seven articles across all article types, four of them co-authored by editor-in-chief Douglas Axe. Of course, it is not unheard of that a journal occasionally publishes original work by someone on the editorial board, but this practice is usually kept to a minimum for obvious reasons.

3). 2022 was exceptional, however, because the three articles published in BIO-Complexity [sic] are all by different authors! In most years, to reach the impressive feat of 3 or 4 articles, they publish multiple articles from the same author or team of authors, essentially by cutting articles into pieces. For example, the entire published work of the journal in 2021 is three articles, all by the same author, with titles ending in “part 1,” “part 2,” and “part 3.” In the year before that, two of the four published articles were by the same trio of authors and cover the same topic. The exact same was true for 2016.

4.)  The article above was written by someone who is also on the editorial board of the journal. In fact, nearly all of the contributing authors in the history of the journal are also editors and most are also Discovery Institute fellows or contributors. In 2010-2011, the journal published a total of seven articles across all article types, four of them co-authored by editor-in-chief Douglas Axe. Of course, it is not unheard of that a journal occasionally publishes original work by someone on the editorial board, but this practice is usually kept to a minimum for obvious reasons.

It’s hilarious that ID “research” is coming out in only one to four articles per year, but also that there were seven articles in 2020-2011, four of which were couthored by the “journal’s” editor Douglas Axe, who, as you see below, was the only employee of the Biologic Institute. Most of the other articles were written by journal editors, which of course shows that ID research is not taking over the field, but is limited to a small band of God-fearing zealots.

The second post, put up in May of 2021 by Matt Young, announces the closing of the Biologic Institute, and also gives some interesting info from its tax returns. (The last paper they list under their published research came out in 2014.) This is from Young’s piece:

The blogger known as the Sensuous Curmudgeon reported yesterday that the Biologic Institute, supposedly the research arm of the Discovery Institute, is closing:

Appears the Biologic Institute [An enterprise of the Discovery Institute] is history, green screen and all. On their 2019 990, Director Axe will no longer draw a salary, but will be a prof at Biola “Univ.” Office space is for rent. Location is listed as “permanently closed.” Their final 990 showed a loss of $133,000. [Emendation in original.]

I checked Guidestar for their latest IRS Form 990-EZ, which is dated 2019 and covers the fiscal year 2018 (Charity Navigator is a year behind). Sure enough, it contains the following statement on line 28:

DR. AXE ENTERED INTO AN AGREEMENT WITH BIOLA UNIVERSITY TO SERVE AS THE MAXWELL VISITING PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY DURING THE 2018/2019 ACADEMIC YEAR, WITH REGULAR VISITS TO CAMPUS. IN AUGUST 2019, DR. AXE BECAME THE MAXWELL PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AT BIOLA, WORKING FULL TIME ON TEACHING AND WORKING TO HELP BUILD A COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH ENVIRONMENT AT BIOLA THAT INCLUDES ADVANCED UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS. ALTHOUGH HE NO LONGER DRAWS A SALARY FROM BIOLOGIC INSTITUTE, DR. AXE CONTINUES TO SERVE AS THE DIRECTOR AND IS EXPLORING WAYS IN WHICH BIOLOGIC CAN PARTNER WITH BIOLA.

The “Dr. Axe” in question is Douglas Axe, the president of the Biologic Institute. His salary of $133,333 in 2018 was the bulk of the total expenses of $201,873. Revenue was $68,600, leaving a deficit almost exactly equal to Dr. Axe’s salary. Inasmuch as Dr. Axe “no longer draws a salary from Biologic Institute,” it seems safe to say that they are effectively out of business, even though he “is exploring ways in which Biologic can partner with Biola.”

Biola University,” of course, used to be known as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and is an evangelical Christian school. It’s also the Elephant Burying Ground for all moribund IDers, including Eric Hedin, who left Ball State after they refused to let him teach religious ID in his science class.

In view of this, I feel that I can declare that the Wedge Strategy has failed, that Intelligent Design’s influence in the scientific community, rather than having become the “dominant paradigm”, has shrunk to a nearly invisible nubbin, and that the Discovery Institute no longer produces research but spends its time attacking evolutionists like me (Michael Egnor seems to be obsessed with me).  Since Egnor and his confrères are reading this, I’m going to give them a big fat raspberry and ask them “Where’s the beef?”

52 thoughts on “Intelligent Design nearly down the drain

  1. I suspect there is little room for ID people between atheist and non-atheist Darwinists and literal believers in the Bible.

    1. Keep in mind that the ID community is divided into two. The majority, like myself (and ironically Dr Kenneth Miller) are theological and metaphystical proponents of ID who accept Theory of Evolution and modern Science.

      Whereas proponents of ID as a scientific alternative to Darwinism (like the Michael Behe or the Discovery Institute) are in the minority.

      As Dr Miller famously noted following the Dover Case, the whole reason he rejected ID being taught as science in public schools is because he believed in an Intelligent Designer as a practicing Christian and he did not want his school age children (or other children) to feel that their religious faith and Science were in conflict.

      1. I’m sorry, but I don’t think Ken Miller is a proponent of ID in any sense. He believes in God and some of Christian truth assertions, but I don’t think he’s a “theological and metaphysical proponent of ID.” If what you’re saying is that he believes in a Christian theistic God, that’s one thing, but that is NOT ID, which asserts that God intervened in the evolution of “creation” or living organisms. That’s ID. It’s not the same thing as pious Catholicism, which is what Miller espouses.

        And in what sense do YOU believe in ID as distinguished from simple theistic belief?

        1. I would never have said Ken Miller was a proponent of ID in any sense until he himself said it in the aftermath of the Dover case, when explaining why he rejected ID as science.

          Basically, in the theological and metaphysical sense, Miller as a Christian believes that God set in motion the natural processes of creation that include Big Bang and Evolution. This is also what I believe. In fact, this is what the majority of Christians outside of the U.S. believe.

          The problem is when ID is (mis)presented as Science. This type of ID is both bad science and bad theology.

          1. Could you give us the quote in which Miller said he was a proponent of ID?

            In fact, ID is IN NO WAY equivalent to conventional deistic religion (God created the universe and then let it roll). ID is the view that god or a designer (e.g., GOD), has continuously intervened in the history of life to overcome barriers to complexity. That is how the IDers themselves characterize it.

            Anyway, I’m waiting for Miller’s self characterization as a proponent of Intelligent Design.

            1. Looking for the quote. It is is one of his lectures or conference talks he gave post-Dover. It opens with something like “In the broadest sense I believe in an intelligent designer…” I’m going through various videos trying to find the exact exchange.

              But I see where you are coming from. No, neither Miller nor myself are proponents or believers in ID as defined by Discovery Institute, Michael Behe, and others that promote ID as science or anti-Evolution ideologies. My apologies if I gave that impression.

              Rather, Miller’s point is that Young Earth Creationists and ID(-as-alternative-to-Science) promoters have hijacked the terms “creationist” and the concept of “intelligent designer”. The vast majority of practitioners of Abrahamic religion are creationists and believers of an intelligent designer in the broad sense.

              The problem is neither creationism nor intelligent design. The problem is that we have allowed a minority of Christians who are predominately American Fundamentalist to hijack these terms and concepts in a manner that is anti-Science.

              1. He did not, then, say he was a “proponent of intelligent design”. Miller would never say that.
                Of course, believing that the Universe was created by a god IS a form of creationism, and that is anti-science because there is no evidence for it, and because saying “God just did it” blocks all naturalistic explanations of how the Universe began. This would, for example, block research on the multiverse.

              2. No, Miller did not say he was a proponent of ID. Rather he said that in the broadest sense he believed in an intelligent designer. The problem with the ID-as-science crowd is that the majority of folks who believe in ID (in the broad sense like Miller or myself) as theology don’t believe ID is science.

            2. I am certain that Ken Miller admits, in the opening to a talk that is on Youtube, to being a “creationist, technically, in the broadest sense, but Mark D is equivocating at 11, here.

              1. Did he say “creationist, technically, in the broadest sense…” ? I recall him saying “believe in an intelligent designer, technically, in the broadest sense…”

                Regardless, that’s precisely my point.

                The vast majority of Christians and other practitioners of Abrahamic religion who believe in creationism and in an intelligent designer, do so theologically in the same broad sense as Miller does.

                That is we don’t believe it is Science or that it in any way negates or contradict the natural explantion through Big Bang Theory or Theory of Evolution.

              2. You’ve repeated this point several times, so that’s enough. And given the Gallup poll data saying that over 70% of Americans accept either God’s continual intervention in evolution (ID) or creation in the Biblical sense with a young earth, I’d question your assertion that “The vast majority of Christians and other practitioners of Abrahamic religion who believe in creationism and in an intelligent designer, do so theologically in the same broad sense as Miller does.” Don’t forgot all those creationist Muslims, too.

                Please don’t make such assertions unless you have data backing it up. See here: https://news.gallup.com/poll/261680/americans-believe-creationism.aspx

                Note that 33% think “God guided evolution” an another 40% are young-earth creationists. That makes 73% of Americans, and most of those are Christians.

              3. While I may be Christian, I neither an U.S. citizen nor a resident of the U.S.

                The statistic you cite refers to U.S. Christians.

                The vast majority of Christians live outside of the U.S.

              4. Your argument is irrelevant here. 73% of randomly sampled Americans see God’s hand in evolution. About 63% of Americans are Christians. Assuming independence because it was a random poll, that means that 46% of Christians are creationists of a sort, but it’s surely higher than that, because Christians are more likely than the average person to be creationists.

                You’ve commented enough on this post trying to defend your indefensible assertion that Ken Miller said he was a proponent of ID. You have said enough here, I think.

        2. I agree with you Jerry. Believing in God and Christian truth assertions doesn’t make one a metaphysical and theological proponent of ID. “Intelligent Design” is a particularized set of scientific claims advanced by a particularized movement.

  2. If you understand ID as a plan to grift conservative Christians, they haven’t actually done too badly.

    1. Deep down, it seems that it is all about grifting. The wider question is how to disturb the credulity of the griftees.

      1. The wider question is how to disturb the credulity of the griftees.

        How much effort at disturbing them is justified, if (as shown by the decline in religiosity in America) they are dieing off faster than they’re being indoctrinated?
        Next step : make this branch of fraud submit tax returns.

        1. Fraudulent tax free businesses centered around milking the gullible is a very special brand of criminality.

  3. Jerry, some mishap in the quoted points 1, 2, and 4 (repetition from “In 2010-2011 …” onwards). This isn’t in Lents’s original.

  4. The whole Institute, between one and four articles a year? Regardless of the quality of these articles (or the lack thereof), it appears they either are but very few (if committed to full time research a single person could produce that), or lazy arseholes parasitising on their gullible donors. I bet on the latter.
    I like raspberries though.

    1. By comparison, genuine evolutionary biologists are producing papers, published in reputable peer reviewed scientific journals, at a rate of something like 18,000 or more per year.

  5. There are a number of Facebook sites in which Christians can ‘debate’ with atheists, and some of the comments posted in them by the former are incredibly short sighted and therefore laughable for that reason. For example, one claimed that the Christian religion was based on ‘facts’ while Evolution was just a theory. Needless to say it’s not a real ‘debate’ as such because religionists can’t seem to understand what the term ‘evidence’ actually means.

      1. I got banned once, because I couldn’t avoid mocking a silly creationist comment. It’s very difficult to debate rationally with those who are wilfully ignorant of basic science. Why are there people who still believe that the earth is flat !?

        1. I’ve been dealing with, and experiencing first hand, both the stupidity and duplicity of mythology fanboys for 14 years. They never produce any original comment, but instead recycle the same tire and repeatedly destroyed canards that even an astute high school child would point and laugh at, particularly one benefiting from a proper science education.

          If I had been paid £10 for every time I had encounted drivel such as “if we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” or “evolution is only a theory”, I would now be able to retire to a 200 foot gin palace in Monte Carlo harbour on the proceeds.

          But there are still specimens that gatecrash rationalist forums and science blogs, who think that this dreck constitutes a serious argument against a valid scientific theory.

  6. ID has an entertaining mutant offshoot in the form of “The Simulation,” a theory that the universe and we who are part thereof are all elements in a vast computer game devised presumably by a Simulator (or Simulators) for its/their own amusement. Within this scheme there are a few Real Players, who understand the Simulation and can manipulate it to their advantage (presumably becoming rich in the process), and a majority called NPCs (Non-Playing Characters), i.e., all who do not believe in the Simulation, analogous to characters generated by computer games to entertain players.
    Within the Simulation, for example, fossils are created by the Simulators to deceive the NPCs into belief in evolution, while the true Players come to understand that such “evidence” is all deepfake trickery, part of the game. Similarly, newly-discovered planets and galaxies are added “as needed” by the Simulators to bamboozle NPCs into believing in a vast size and age of the simulated universe. Real Players identify to one another by liberal use of the NPC acronym in describing those with whom they disagree; real Players are winners, and NPCs are losers. .
    For detailed discussion of this ID variant, visit the works of Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic, who seems to believe that Simulation theory is well on the way to completely disproving evolution and much else in the scientific magisterium. Guard your sense of humor in so doing; you will likely be outed as an NPC!

  7. I’d like to give a shout-out again to Dave Farina, who has a YouTube channel called Professor Dave Explains. In addition to the great science videos on this channel, there are many videos wherein Farina blows the Discoveroids out of the water. Watch especially his demolitions of James Tour.

  8. Sadly, ID’s failure to percolate through “sciences and scientific research”, to have influence “in spheres other than natural science”, and to “see major new debates in education, life issues” etc. has certainly not been the case with gender identity ideology (and Wokism more generally), which really has made inroads into erstwhile respectable science journals and magazines and captured political institutions.

    1. But there you have it. ID failed to flourish in academia because its acolytes neglected call it Critical Intelligent Design Theory. In addition, they failed to say that the periodic table of elements is a social construct, such that hydrogen can be helium (or tungsten or neptunium) if it feels like it. BTW, the finest version of the periodic table, devised by Tom Weller, can be found at:
      https://www.besse.at/sms/matter.html .

      1. ID expects you to ignore almost all progress made in biology since Darwin, which effectively means to abandon the field. Other ideologies only expect you to dismiss inconvenient findings that involve humans (the only ones that ever generate much controversy).

        Of course contradictions like the current ascendancy of both genetics and the blank slate world view can be troubling for some. But biologists can find ways to ignore them, being social animals who instinctively care more about belonging to a group than truth-seeking.

        1. ID expects you to ignore almost all progress made

          You could have stopped there and been correct. The only quibble being that other parts of the religious gamut (I can’t sensibly describe it as a “spectrum”) also expect you to decry the possibility of progress outside their church. (Progress within the church requiring contributions in lucre or bodies.)

          the current ascendancy of […] the blank slate world view

          Has somebody resurrected the mouldering corpse of “homunculus theory”, suggesting that a fertilized gamete has in some sense got it’s future mapped out for it, beyond the influences of it’s genes (methylated or not). Or is there some other contender to displace the “blank slate” status of new organisms?

  9. Awww. What a shame that their endeavor has come to naught.

    Unfortunately, creationists are not going away anytime soon. They will just morph into a new guise as they have done so many times before. ID is just the latest. We should be on the lookout for a successor.

  10. … Intelligent design has been discredited, and in the 2005 Kitzmiller decision in Pennsylvania, Judge Jones declared ID “not science” so that teaching it in public schools was prohibited as an incursion of religion into government. ID pretty much died after that, and there have been no further judicial decisions, so banning ID from public schools is the law. (Fingers crossed that the new, religiously conservative Supreme Court doesn’t change that.)

    It wouldn’t surprise me that, were the issue to be put squarely before the Court, the theocrats on SCOTUS would be willing to reverse Edwards v. Aguillard (1987). But I haven’t seen any cases looking to challenge that decision percolating through the lower courts.

    To have so much as a chance to reverse Aguillard, the challengers would have to be willing to incur the time and expense of losing in the district (trial) and mid-level appellate courts, and there’s no guarantee that SCOTUS would exercise its discretion to grant a writ of certiorari to hear the case. Indeed, I rather doubt there’s much appetite to court the controversy such a case would engender, even among some of the right-wing justices, what with SCOTUS’s reputation already sinking like a detached lead keel.

    1. The theocrats on the SCOTUS belong to an aggrandizing religion. Their community at large are likely to eventually press at the edges of the establishment clause if they get another shot at populating lower courts with their kind of judges. Electoral politics is important, or we might end up with a scary theocracy that would be unlivable.

  11. That’s a nice raspberry, all abit late though ID’s seemingly are already in a jam, preserved in history with the lid quietly sealed shut, put to the on the shelf ready for eating…umm, toast it is then?

  12. These clowns from the Discovery Institute flew their jet to our school about a decade ago. We had a board comprised of religious fanatics that wanted to introduce ID into the school curriculum. The best part was watching the board’s reaction as these creationists told them that they would bankrupt the school with lawsuits and to wait until ‘we have this all figured out.’ LOL!

  13. ID still is alive and kicking. About ten years ago I talked to a life-sciences student at the University of Potsdam, near Berlin. He told me that there are a lot of Arabic students at this university in his department who reject evolution.. I asked him how they pass exams. Oh, they have no problems, they memorize Darwinian evolution to pass exams, but strictly believe in intelligent design.

  14. Proud to have been a part of their defeat. I was a lead teacher in the fight against the intrusion of ID, billed as ‘strengths and weaknesses’ in the Roseville High School District in 2004. Tremendous help from Genie Scott and the folks from NCSE. Gave this simple HS teacher a chance to meet, in person, famous scientists we usually only get to read about, including ‘Professor Ceiling Cat’. Biola Institute – the ‘Elephant Burying Ground’ for IDers – grrrreat. Probably a good spot for our parents’ group expert – Dr. Cornelius Hunter. Our battle was won, but the fight goes on.

  15. It may be cold comfort to the DI folks that the new head of the Institute for Creation Research, Randy Guliuzza, is emphasizing ID in its “research,” while continuing to adhere to young-earthism.

  16. A student booked a meeting with me to challenge some things I was saying in class about evolution. He showed me the Fibonacci equation and said it shows up all over the universe: ammonite, sunflower seed layouts, and the spiral of a galaxy. It obviously pointed to a consistent universal designer. I couldn’t argue and simply offered more evidence: I said, Yes, and also toilet water spins clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere… therefore God.

  17. I cannot be the only one to have framed the contest between blind evolution and design in Bayesian terms. A Bayesian analysis reveals that design of any kind is all but ruled out by the evidence (this includes theistic evolution). I would not expect ID advocates to admit this, but evolution advocates are curiously quiet about it, too. I think this is because we all suffer from likelihood neglect under some circumstances, and fail to frame the argument properly.

    Here’s how the argument works. Suppose I call you on the phone and tell you I have picked, at random, either a 6-sided die or a 20-sided die. Your challenge is to estimate the probability that I picked the 6-sided die. Of course, it is 50/50 until you get some more information. I roll the die I picked, and tell you I have rolled a 3. Now that you have more information, you can compute that there is a 77% probability that I picked the 6-sided die. You infer this because the outcomes of the 6-sided die are more restrictive. The 6-sided die must produce answers in the range 1-6, while the 20-sided die need not. For Bayesians, this is how all inference works.

    Let’s take this analogy and apply it to blind evolution versus design. Blind evolution is extremely restrictive. Evolution requires descent, common descent, common composition, consistency with physics, millions of years to develop, and evolutionary fitness as the only utility.

    Design requires none of these things. Imagine factories that produce complex life forms instead of using biological descent. No need for common descent either; if life were designed, cats need not have been related to dogs. How many ways are there of breaking the tree of life in just 10 places? Imagine swapping out life construction materials and power systems at will – steel deer, nuclear powered turtles. Imagine creating creatures that are invulnerable to physics – angels, vampires, werewolves, etc. Even the ancients imagined God building all life in a couple of days. Then there is the issue of utility. A designer could build a world just so that meerkats are great poets, snakes are mathematicians, and bizarre creatures perform intellectual tasks we have yet to imagine.

    If blind evolution is a 6-sided die, then we would be extremely conservative in ID’s favor if we said it was represented by a die with only a trillion sides. We have rolled the die and it has come up a 3. Design is effectively ruled out. Theistic evolution is precisely the rolling of a 3 on the trillion sided die, so it is ruled out just as effectively.

    I think our likelihood neglect bias is due to the fact that we cannot imagine all the alternatives a designer might have. Instead, we try to answer an easier question: “How easy is it for me to imagine this outcome in either theory?” And since it is very easy to imagine a god making a world that looks designed, most people walk away instead with the conclusion that evolutionary biology merely shows that a designer is not needed.

    Many like to point out that some features of life are poorly designed – the giraffe’s recurrent laryngeal nerve, for example. But this is like arguing that if design were true, the die should have rolled a 2 instead of a 3. This also falls prey to the likelihood bias and is a far weaker argument than the argument that considers the space of numbers between 7 and a trillion.

  18. Perhaps we should stop referring to the science of evolution as Evolutionists. It puts evolution on the same plane as ID proponents. I refer to myself as an Evolutionary Biologist.

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