intelligent design versus theistic evolution

OK, I’m going to refer back to an old discussion without diving in again so here are links to a few old posts.

I haven’t done enough research to post anything firm here, and to be honest I probably never will… but the answers I got from Christians about defining ID and theistic evolution and creationism were not the same as the answers that came from readers here. The Christians I surveyed mainly agree that:

  • ID just means some sort of intelligence or deity was behind the origins of the universe and life.
  • Theistic evolution means that God used evolution to create the diversity of life on earth.
  • Creationism is pretty much what we think it is, either of the young earth or old earth varieties. 

The last two include ID as defined above, and creationism of the old-earth variety may also include theistic evolution.

These were my working definitions before the discussions in the old posts linked above. I now see that there are two ways to define ID: The way the Discovery Institute does (which is how most Skepchick readers seem to define it) and the way the guy on the street (me), or in the pew (the Christians I interviewed), does.

My guess is that this means the ID people from the Discovery Institute have either been very successful (they have their own motives which they even hide from Christians because this gives them the ability to be more sleazy) or very unsuccessful (Christians have no idea how the DI defines ID and they don’t care about the “official” definition or about the Discovery Institute’s goals).

Anyway, I think the reason most conservative Christians don’t believe in evolution is because they’ve never really learned about it. The main reason I hear that people don’t believe is that they can’t imagine how X, Y or Z could have evolved, almost all of which are very, very easy to imagine if you understand the concepts of variation, genetics, and natural selection. That is, most people who don’t believe in evolution are just ignorant. I don’t mean that in the snide way as a synonym for stupid either. They just have never learned about the way evolution actually works. They think it is just random chance, like rolling dice. I know that when I was a Christian, once I read about evolution — and not the distortions of evolution taught by creationists — I immediately believed it because it is so darn obvious. (Isn’t everything obvious in retrospect?)

So, I wonder — partly in light of the discussion in the quickies the other day — how can we explain these things to conservative Christians without alienating them or being condescending? So far we’ve been doing a crappy job.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. Isn’t the whole point of the Discovery Institute to cloak Creationism in the trappings of science while obscuring its strictly theological origin? It’s part of the same strategy that prompted them to re-brand it as “Intelligent Design.” They’re trying like mad to make it sound scientific, so they can sneak it in to government-funded settings.

    It’s like Elyse’s husband calling butt-sex a “back therapy.” You think you’re getting something helpful, but you’re really just getting fucked in the ass.

    They’ve been successful up to a point; a lot of people seem to think that ID is a legitimate alternative to evolution. It’s good for our side that the court in Dover wasn’t fooled.

    And to address your actual question, I think it’s a matter of being nice and patient, and not framing it as “you’re stupid and here’s why you’re wrong.” No matter how hard you might think that.

  2. I’m a Christian, formerly supported ID, and now accept evolution.

    I was initially persuaded to reexamine ID and evolution by reading Phil Plait’s blog. He has a very calm and reasoned approach and calls out BS of all stripes. He appears to actually be an unbiased observer, and comes off as not believing in Christianity, but not being anti-Christianity either.

    I completely tuned out people like Dawkins, because they come off as so completely hostile, aggressive, and anti-religion that I didn’t want to agree with them in any way.

    My physical anthropology course is what finally fully convinced me of evolution. It’s tough to say that “there are no transitional forms!” while holding an Australopithecus skull.

  3. The problem IS that so many of the strict creationist types have seen only “distortions of evolution taught by creationists” by their pastors and parents before they even get to it in schools. So I fear that there is no way to teach evolution to such people in a way that is persuasive. If it is branded as evil before you even get to it, you are sunk. That may be only a small percentage of the population, however.

    Because evolution can have such a bad rap, I advocate teaching the scientific method as thoroughly and as early as possible. It gets a brief mention in elementary schools before going on to the memorization of everything else, but I’d like to see it become the focus of science education to children. It’s introducing it as a valid and exceptional world-view that is important, and will help future generations better make their own decisions when faced with the choices of evolution vs. creationism.

    Andrew, did you actually get to hold an Australopithecus skull?!?!?! (So cool…) But I do think the same thing every time I wander down the “Hall of Human Evolution” at the Natural History Museum in NY.

  4. Oh, one more point, and not JUST teaching the scientific method in schools. Scientists who do outreach (and too many don’t) could help by including the explanation and demonstration of that type if thinking when presenting scientific evidence to the public. Or, like they say on Astronomy Cast, “What we know and HOW we know it.”

  5. People have no intuitive sense of Very Large Numbers. You say that Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and that the first evidence of life dates from ~3 billion years ago, and that anatomically modern humans first appeared ~100,000 years ago, and people have no sense of scale or proportion.

    So, I would start with something nonthreatening like Things That Are Very Large, or Times That Are Very Long. I think you’d have a hard time finding an IDer who is threatened by the observed size of the universe, for example. Or the speed of light. But those two numbers give you age of the universe, and it turns out to be pretty old. So, even before I got into natural selection or — god forbid — genetic drift or abiogenisis, I’d want to make sure that students understood red shifts and the Mitchelson-Morley experiment. Because that’s the foundation you need to begin to understand Deep Time.

    Once you get people accustomed to Deep Time, evolution becomes much more obvious.

    In an odd way, I have far more respect for Young Earth Creationists or Flat-Earthers or relativity-deniers, because I think that they understand that accepting the size and the age of the universe is a necessary precondition for accepting evolution.

    The widespread disregard for evolution is as much about innumeracy as it is about irrationality.

  6. It was a cast of a skull. The latter portion of the semester was primarily about human evolution, so in lab we looked at several casts of skulls from human ancestors for comparison to other animals and primates.

  7. @Howard: In an odd way, I have far more respect for Young Earth Creationists or Flat-Earthers or relativity-deniers, because I think that they understand that accepting the size and the age of the universe is a necessary precondition for accepting evolution.

    I share a similar feeling. I feel like it’s somehow more admirable to stick entirely to an untenable worldview than to go for the middling, science-is-right-sometimes-but-not-others position.

    However, I wonder if you’re not ascribing too much logic to that decision. Is there really that much thinking it through, in terms of not buying an old universe just because it leads to evolution? I think it’s more of a case of “this is what I was taught, this is what I believe, this is the truth,” at least most of the time. I wonder how many Young-Earthers are thinking it through in that much detail before concluding that fossils must be test of faith?

  8. @ LBB: I wonder if you’re not ascribing too much logic to that decision.

    Ahh, well now we’re in the realm of Very Small Numbers. ;-) My respect for YECs is nonzero; the ratio of an electron orbit to the cosmic background radiation is also nonzero.

    I have actually seen YEC materials attacking Old Earth Creationism on the grounds that Old Earth belief is a gateway to evolution. I certainly think that someone like Ken Ham is smart enough to see the relationship, even if he counts on his followers not to think that far.

  9. I feel that all of you have ignored some fundamental issues. First, those of us who are comfortable with scientific truth and critical thinking tend to assume that facts obvious to us are obvious to others. Not so.

    Second, the audience for this debate is scientifically naive. You cannot help them out of the well if you simply “assume a ladder.”

    When I get into one of these discussions, I start with a few simple examples. I point out that “the one and only” church of its time burned people at the stake for believing that the earth revolved around the sun. This sets the table for the suggestion that there could be some fallibility in human’s understanding of Biblical absolutes.

    Next I point out that there is a vast difference between a poodle and a Great Dane. Yet we all recognize them as dogs and most of us recognize that they had a common ancestor.

    Lastly, I try to lead them toward a certain experiment by a certain religious guy having to do with peas. Evolution!

    I haven’t always convinced; but I have, more often than not, broken down the barrier.

  10. IMO, the only thing your survey shows is an ignorance of what Intelligent Design is.
    If you took a survey on the meaning of “niggardly”, I venture that a large portion of the population will interpret it in a racial way. But that misinterpretation doesn’t change the real meaning of the word, or its origins.
    Intelligent Design has a specific meaning, which was addressed in the Dover trial, and is being addressed in proposed legislation in several states. Theistic evolution does NOT include ID, despite the ignorance shown in your survey. ID specifically states that evolution is wrong – that the Earth “shows signs of an Intelligent Designer – live did not evolve from lower forms of life.”
    I stand by my original statement in your original post. Your “working definition” of ID is simply wrong.

  11. I have been successful in persuading a conservative Christian, but it was only because she was willing to listen and asked questions instead of actively arguing. The trick is getting creationists to listen to the evidence and science and making no claims about religion or politics. Easier said than done, right?

  12. What is the point of trying to? Doesn’t this begin the whole evangelical thread all over again? Just make sure your local Board of Ed knows the difference, and vote science issues.

    Conservative Christians by definition are closed to new ideas. If they are convertible then they were something other than conservative christians to begin with.

    Those who call themselves skeptics need to really concentrate on the not appearing condescending bit. I am skeptic friendly and still am put off by most SGU podcasts and a fair amount of postings here.

    I extend the benefit of the doubt generously around, and pre-assume that actual condescension is not present. It sure comes off that way though in some cases.

  13. We could argue about definitions here for quite a while, but there’s another strategy to help understand these things. Instead of worrying over whether something should be considered ID, Creationism or theistic evolution, we could just bypass the labels entirely. For example:

    If someone believes that God orchestrated the process of evolution, I would consider that view acceptable, but I would still be a bit critical of it. If they believe that God intervened to create the soul, I don’t believe that’s much worse of a belief. If they believe that God specially intervened to make the eyeball, I think that’s quite ridiculous. If they want to modify school curriculum to “question” evolution, I would consider that very misguided. As for the DI itself, they’re evil.

    See, look, I’ve described my opinion of the various views, without once referring to Theistic Evolution or Intelligent design.

  14. I have had several conversations with conservative christians about evolution wher they listened to what I had to say and weren’t rude or dismissive and seemed to be very interested in what I had to say. I thought I was a great communicator. Then I realized they all had somehting in commen. They were all single, they were all in their mid twenties to their early thirties. I thought I was smart. I was wrong. They were in to me and I didn’t get it.

  15. The rest of the time the conservative christians have come into the conversation with something along the lines of “Evolution is wrong and anti-christian. My preacher said so, my parents said so and you are going to hell. If evolution is right then why do we have monkey’s?” Kind of hard to have much of a conversation when they just keep repeating that over and over and over.

  16. I think “Theistic Evolution” is a term worth avoiding, as Ken Miller admirably did when Reggie Finland interviewed.
    When the christians say I believe in “Atheistic Evolution” I correct them. I advocate the theory of evolution period. Were I a theist I doubt it would change my opinion on the matter.

    Intelligent Design is a different matter because it’s a specific organized movement and they identify themselves as such.
    Further complicating the matter is that I don’t think even they know what they’re advocating. As demonstrated by Mike Medved’s recent remarks that “intelligent design is not a theory”.

  17. Drockwood,
    I don’t think I’m way to hot, but I was hot enough for these women. I’m just really really slow on the uptake. I get to talking about something that I like and I miss all of the clues of interest. Not that it matters now that I’m married but a few years ago.

  18. @drockwood: When I was a theist, I certainly did not view evolution as a theistic/atheistic thing. Besides such a distinction is pretty absurd, as I have heard it put before, science is science no matter where you are or what you believe, we don’t have different sciences for different cultural/religious worldviews.

  19. There’s a great story in The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner where he’s telling a story about finches in the Galapagos to this women on a plane who has a Bible in her lap, and she agrees and agrees and agrees with him. Then at the end he says, “That’s evolution.”

    I am not going to argue about definitions. Usage is more important and what a word “really” means makes no difference if no-one uses it that way.

  20. I was just about to post something along the lines of what Donna just wrote. Insisting, as Ssteppe does, that everyone use the “correct” definition of ID is fairly pointless at this moment in time. People will use the definition they want to use, wrong or not. Donna’s informal survey reflects pretty well what I see from my own friends in the church.

    That’s the evil beauty of the DI’s approach! By using a term that can so easily be “mistranslated” to be the same as theistic evolution, they have managed to get a lot of people to feel like they (the DI) are just defending the idea that God could be the driving force behind natural evolution. Most church-folk I know would support that idea, and so see people who fight against the DI as asserting that God played no part in why we are here. That’s a pretty tough sell for even liberal Christians! They may not actively support the DI’s efforts (and probably wouldn’t if they actually knew anything about them), but they are effectively neutralized when it comes to battles before the school board.

    I suspect the key to this particular battle is to get more people in the church who support evolution (presumably theistic) to stand up and be counted, and also to actively lobby against the DI’s efforts. People do need to understand that ID and theistic evolution are not equivalent terms. But they’ll learn that lesson much better from people inside the church. I’m not optimistic that this will actually happen, but I really don’t see a better solution.

    So, my fellow skeptical churchgoers (I know you’re out there!), are you doing your part to win this battle?

  21. @writerdd: said: I am not going to argue about definitions. Usage is more important and what a word “really” means makes no difference if no-one uses it that way.

    With all due respect, that is a profoundly flawed stance for several reason. Perhaps the most serious is that it leads to linguistic chaos and real anarchy of comprehension.

    Who’s usage is the preferred or accepted usage? Who’s usage is determined to be universal and why? How many people represent a large enough majority to earn the preferred usage honour? Why is your usage more correct or accurate than my usage? What is a majority in determining usage? How do you account for nuance, range, and cultural variety? What happens when politics and the culture of propaganda influence usage in a flase manner?

    I’m sorry but the only way to determine word definition and meaning is to follow dictionary definitions, and where necessary and possible agree on a modification. If a definition doesn’t fit, then you are facing a range of possible problems, such as:

    1. people are too ignorant and/or illiterate to know the proper defintion of a word
    2. cultural “underdgogism” has created a “counter” defintion that is almost exactly opposite to what a word actually means
    3. political self-interest creatively redefines common and accepted meaning through “popular usage” manipulation to satisfy an ideology or a political agenda

    Ah hell, the list is almost endless.

    I’m sorry writerdd, but your stance is untenable and would lead only to communication chaos.

  22. “Anyway, I think the reason most conservative Christians don’t believe in evolution is because they’ve never really learned about it.”

    The reason they have never learned about evolution is because they are afraid of it. They know science is a threat to their childish magical fantasy world, so they avoid learning anything that conflicts with it.

    Some Christian do study evolution and they accept the facts of evolution. Unfortunately, perhaps because they don’t want to throw out their magic sky fairy, they attach the disgusting adjective ‘theistic’ to evolution. ‘Theistic evolution’ is as idiotic as ‘theistic gravity’ or ‘the theistic orbit of the earth around the sun’.

    Christians need to grow up and accept modern science without sticking their imaginary Universe Boss in there. Science doesn’t need the breathtaking stupidity of theistic magic.

    “how can we explain these things to conservative Christians without alienating them or being condescending?”

    Why bother with them? Their lives are wasted and there’s nothing that can be done for them. It’s pointless to reason with idiots, and nobody is more idiotic than the Christian creationists. The only thing rational people can do is tell the creationist retards they will never get away with dumbing down America’s science education.

  23. @SicPreFix: Actually, I understand her reasoning here. It’s like when a word gets redefined by cultural change. There was a time before the glbt movement when gay simply meant a type of happy, there was a time long ago when silly did not mean absurd or goofy but was synonymous with holy. Should we give equal weight to the original definitions of these words if they are no longer in common usage today? If most people view ID as synonymous with theistic evolution (by which I mean a significant enough proportion to where the DI’s definition is practically an obsolete one) then there may be enough of a reason to accept that version of the definition. Granted, most people are unaware of the alternate definition and maybe we as skeptics and defenders of science need to spend some time educating them on this alternate definition and point out that this is what the DI is trying to get into schools, not the version of ID that most people assume exists.

  24. Also proper definition is an odd concept considering the history of language and the fact that it for the most part is in a constant state of evolution. It has yet to lead to linguistic chaos, what makes you so sure it will now?

  25. @killyosaur42: EXACTLY the idea I was trying to get across! Thank you.

    @SicPreFix: You don’t have an argument in the real world (as opposed to the blogosphere) by starting out with everyone sitting down with their dictionaries to agree on what definitions are going to be used for every important word. It might be better if we did, but the fact remains that we don’t!

    I don’t think Donna was advocating linguistic chaos so much as acknowledging the world as it is. You know, the one we live in? That one. ;)

  26. @writerdd
    “I am not going to argue about definitions. Usage is more important and what a word “really” means makes no difference if no-one uses it that way.”

    So you create your own “working definition” of ID (which is wrong), find a bunch of others who also don’t know what ID is, then you state that you aren’t going to argue about it, rather than research the term to find out what it really means.

    Yes, language evolves (as do living things!) But the term Intelligent Design has only been around approximately 20 years, and refers specifically to “life being so complex, it must have been designed by an Intelligent Designer, and could NOT have evolved according to Darwin’s theory.”
    So writerdd’s assertions that theistic evolution includes ID is simply wrong. (And again, rather than research it and admit she was wrong, she searches instead for a bunch of other people who also don’t know what it means.)

  27. @Ssteppe: Yes, and Silly and Gay have been around for much longer than twenty years and we still don’t use the original definitions of the words. If a word or phrase is not used within popular culture to mean what it originally stood for before it was co-opted, it in essence no longer means that no matter how much we would rather that it did. If what writerdd says is completely accurate, and most christians assume that Intelligent Design means Theistic Evolution and not what the Discovery Institute claims, then in effect it means what the majority believes it means. This doesn’t necessarily means that we shouldn’t try to educate them on the DI’s definition as it is the DI version of ID that the DI and others are attempting to force into the schools (and I generally abhor the phrase myself, generally calling it Creationism 2.0), it just means that we need to find a way to differentiate the two versions of ID.

    I’ve been involved in a similar argument on definitions of words before, at that time I had little knowledge of the nature of linguistics, but since then I have now a better understanding, and one thing I have learned is that often it doesn’t matter what we want a word to mean, or what a word used to mean, but what the rest of society thinks a word means that ultimately matters. The only ways to deal with this is to either find a new word to fit your definition or educate the population on your particular definition of the word. There maybe a few other options as well, but I can’t think of any at this time.

  28. @Ssteppe:



    SteveT, I’ve rarely heard (or seen) a better or more perfectly stated example of contemporary intellectual laziness, to wit:

    ” … everyone sitting down with their dictionaries to agree on what definitions are going to be used for every important word. It might be better if we did, but the fact remains that we don’t!”

    In other words:

    “I don’t know or understand what you are trying to say, and that’s okay, because if I don’t understand your “definition” of physics, mathematics, culture, society, politics, religion, evolution, science, ideology, intelligence, law, traffic signs, sex signs, agriculture, medicine, sociology, psychology, et al, well shucks JimJammy, I’ll just make up my own. Okay? Ya.

    “Why? Because I’m just too god damned lazy, too comfortably lazy, too self concerned, too trendyfucknuts propagandized to bother doing something so nonsexcitable as reading a dictionary!”

    Ooh, gag me with a trendyitis spoon!

    Read a dictionasry?!? Whaddya thin’ I am?!? An intellectual!?! Ooh.”

    So, nobody needs a dictionary, ’cause it’s the Internet age, and why should anyone know, understand, agree, and/or find consensus on anything, um, meaningful. Right?

    Give me a fucking break.

  29. Words, and how and why they are defined and used as they are, are so much more than something just convenient.

    Phil Plait pointed out a perfect link to what happens when you avoid such “idealistic” things as dictionaries and real defintions, and invent your own “magical” wordness:

    Stop the madness.

  30. “— how can we explain these things to conservative Christians without alienating them or being condescending?”

    I am a lifelong science nerd and a lawyer, and based on my own experience, I say that we can’t explain “these things” — the real principles of and examples of evolutionary biology — to the average conservative Christian until he or she has attained some minimum level of scientific literacy. Before that condition is satisfied, the most that we can do is to patiently demolish, one at a time, the tired and trite creationist arguments by demonstrating that they are based on old, discredited concepts or on outright lies.

    I agree with writerdd’s contention that the real problem is general ignorance (by conservative Christians, by the general U. S. public) of basic biological science. “Evolution” has been such a hot-button issue in publication for so long that most Americans receive very little instruction on the subject in public school, and what they get is poor in quality. I’ve talked to graduate students who are nearing completion of their degrees in education and who are headed for the ir positions as science teachers in junior high school — their incompetence and cluelessness about basic science is scary.

    It wasn’t always this way. At least in the U.S. Northeast, instruction in the life sciences and physical sciences was pretty good in the 1959-1968 era –I think this was mostly the result of fallout from Sputnik and the influence of BSCS (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, I think) on science curricula and textbooks for grades 7 – 12. When I was a 7th grader in 1966-67, in (of all places) the heavily Amish and Mennonite Lancaster County, PA, my science class spent not just 2 or 3 days but 2 or 3 weeks on vertebrate and invertebrate phyla, taxonomy, evolutionary biology, the fossil record, basics of genetics, etc. I doubt that any U.S. public school does that now.

    Jeff D

  31. SicPreFix,

    You do realize, of course, that this is a skeptical website, and skeptics quite openly use a definition of “skepticism” that is at odds with the dictionary definition? Oh, I’m dying from the linguistic chaos!

    In a situation like this, where we have a large group of people who have all sorts of disagreements about definitions, I find it is useful to postpone arguments about definitions. No, we don’t need to postpone it forever! Specific definitions are important, after all, especially when it comes to legal situations. And no, we don’t need to leave all of English up in the air! We just need to omit words like “Creationism” or “Theistic Evolution”, instead opting for well-defined words that we can all agree on. For example, “special intervention” or “evolution” (see my comment #14 for more examples). This should be easy for everyone to do, unless they really don’t know what they’re talking about.

    On the other hand, we could just continue this meta-argument about semantics. Since I’m participating, I figure I must be enjoying it. :)

  32. @killyosaur42 (the reply link isn’t working for me for some reason)
    “Yes, and Silly and Gay have been around for much longer than twenty years and we still don’t use the original definitions of the words.”

    Exactly my point – “gay” has been around long enough to evolve; ID hasn’t. :)

    There are also words that pop or “gangsta” culture are constantly redefining – “bad” and “sick” actually meaning “good”, for example. But those are just slang terms for words that still retain their original meanings in proper context.

    Here, I’ll do the research for you – here’s a sample from Wikipedia (to represent a popular source, even though it’s not always right), the ID folks themelves (it’s how they define it), and from the National Center for Science Education:

  33. You know, this reminds me of Jay Leno’s “Street walking” segment (or whatever he calls it.)
    He asks questions of people on the street, and they air the silly responses that show ignorance and misconceptions (I always wonder how many people knew the real answers, but didn’t get air time, since correct answers aren’t funny…)

    Anyway, do we take the misconceptions and wrong answers and say, “OK, these are now alternate definitions, since a lot of people thought this was the answer”?

    No – they’re wrong.

  34. So my concern here comes down to education in the classrooms. There are still people trying to get Intelligent Design taught in schools.

    Now, I agree that the definition is skewed and that people define ID differently. I think this is partly intentional camouflage on the part of the Discovery Institute and partly a lack of knowledge. However, I strongly disagree that just because the definition is being used in a certain way by some people that we should accept it.

    Donna, to your point, the solution to this problem is to help define and explain evolution more clearly. Part of that education process must to explain what ID actually is.

    Language is important and yes, words will evolve to take on different meanings. But we have a situation here where the term “Intellegent Design” has a defined meaning (and is something that is being argued should be taught in schools as science) and not everyone uses it in the same way. It’s important to educate Christians about what it really means in terms of what is actually going to be TAUGHT because otherwise, they will think it’s something it is not and allow it to be taught to kids.

    That’s the core education issue and why it’s important to get the language right, in my opinion.

  35. The vast majority of people throughout history have not had access to dictionaries, and they evidently managed to communicate. The issue here is that ID seems to have both a specialized and a colloquial meaning, much like “beg the question”.

  36. (Long time reader, first time poster, Boston Pharyngufest/Skeptics in the Pub attendee checking in, greetings)

    What I find frustrating is that the most basic aspect of ID is often overlooked, i.e., that supernatural causation must be invoked to explain certain things in the natural world. “Supernatural” might be augmented with “or otherwise untestable” if you invoke super-powerful aliens (which by Shermer’s Last Law are effectively supernatural), but realistically, it means God working through supernatural means. Thus, ID falls under the umbrella of special creationism, it’s just that the supernatural causation is not explicitly the Genesis version.

    This is where the philosophy of theistic evolution parts ways with creationism in the YEC, OEC, or ID flavors. It posits a God working through natural processes, without invoking irreducible complexity or any of the God-of-the-gaps hallmarks of ID. It should also be noted that the ID proponents can’t stand theistic evolutionism, since it ruins their evolution=atheism canard.

  37. While I think it’s futile to try to attempt to get the general public to use special definitions of words — it’s just not going to happen no matter how much we complain that “theory” has a special scientific meaning, regular people don’t give a shit —

    I do think that it is necessary to educate the general public about what the Discovery Institute stands for. I actually think the reverse of what is being suggested here is called for. That is, tell people who think that ID=theistic evolution that the Discovery Institute has their own definition and that they are not promoting what people think they are promoting. In other words. the general public’s definition is the real definition, and the DI is distorting the meaning (even if they made up the term, the public now owns it).

    That is, you’ll never change the vernacular or colloquial definition of a word. But you can show the average Joe that the DI is not using that street meaning of the word.

    Those of you who are suggesting that we can make the public adopt the “real” meaning of a word are not being skeptical. Sorry, but you all accuse me of this all the time. You are engaging in an illusion based on what you want to happen and it is nothing more than a pipe dream. Wake up to reality.

  38. Meh, it’s six of one, a half dozen of the other. You say we need to educate people on what the DI calls Intelligent Design so that they understand that it’s not the same definition as what is used colloquially. I say we need to explain what the actual definition of Intelligent Design is based on what the DI originally defined. It boils down to the same thing and the same struggle – it’s not an easy thing to do and the answer is education. Either way, we have to explain to people what the DI means when it uses the term. So either:

    1. We show the discrepancy between what is thought of ID colloquially and how the DI defines it. The problem here is that how ID is used colloquially varies from person to person when you get into the details. OR

    2. You explain what the actual definition of ID is (because, as you sa, the DI did make up the term) and explain that it’s really not what most people think it is. I think that’s actually easier because you can at least try to show that this is the ‘original’ definition of the word and how it’s being used by people wanting to teach it. There’s a little less grey area there.

    Either way, it’s not an easy thing to accomplish and I think we need to focus on better ways to educate rather than getting caught up in the linguistics.

  39. @Ssteppe: Of course I completely agree with your assessment of the word/phrase (as well as the Jay walking analogy, which is why I’d advocate educating people on the proper definition). The problem I had with your argument largely revolved around your characterization of writerdd’s position. You may very well be right that ID has not been around long enough for it to have evolved a new definition, but here’s the issue, there are already 2 definitions in existence and have been because of one man: Michael Behe. He is an intelligent design advocate, he is a member of the discovery institute and he has written 2 books that basically state that the Earth is billions of years old, common descent is basically correct, evolution happened, BUT it can’t explain all the complexity out there, there are things that cannot be reduced in complexity and therefore must have been designed. If most christians-in-the-pews are getting this definition over the one that is touted by the majority opinion of the DI, then we have a serious issue, and we need to deal with explaining why we are opposed to ID, and why we say ID is not science, when the average christian may be assuming that ID is merely at odds with the purely naturalist view of Evolutionary theory and not evolution as a whole.

  40. @Ssteppe:

    Anyway, do we take the misconceptions and wrong answers and say, “OK, these are now alternate definitions, since a lot of people thought this was the answer”?

    No – they’re wrong.

    Absolutely correct, except when the definition that is considered wrong is the accepted majority definition. That has been basically the crux of my argument. And that means we need to educate the population on what the real (minority) definition is, so that they don’t support the people who promote the minority definition because they assume that those people are just agreeing with them and those who are against that particular group of people are just a bunch of, uh, “silly” naysayers.

  41. yup. It’s one of those things I just never saw science in terms of religion but as being an explanation of Nature (which is what it is). So even when I was a theist, I never thought that the pragmatically naturalistic worldview necessary for science to be done conflicted with my non-naturalistic worldview.

  42. @SicPreFix: No sir, you give ME a fucking break!

    If you would get off your intellectual snobby-horse for a moment and re-read my comments, you might become dimly aware of the fact that I was not agreeing with or promoting the misuse of the definition of ID. I was simply acknowledging the reality of what I see when I talk to people about this issue. Perhaps you don’t actually have conversations with people without requiring them to sign a legal contract specifying the precise version of the OED which will be used before you’ll deign to speak with them, but I don’t. The fact of the matter is that many people I know confuse ID with theistic evolution. Me recognizing this fact should not be taken to mean that I agree with them or their definition of the word. I do, in fact, know the difference, and agree that it is an important one. The question then becomes how to engage them in a conversation that has the possibility of educating them to the difference. Oddly, I have found that bludgeoning them over the head with a dictionary is not a fruitful approach. YMMV.

    So don’t you DARE accuse me of intellectual laziness! You want to throw down advanced degrees, curriculum vitae, issued patents and whatnot, then be my guest! I’ll stack my intellectual “stature” against yours any day of the week!

  43. In today’s alternate reality moment, I agree with Donna. We can’t alter people’s usage. All we can do is point out that what the Discovery Institute is promoting is not what people think of as “intelligent design”, but is instead the academic definition.

  44. Whenever someone says “So, we’re descended from chimps are we?” in a particularly sarcastic tone you have to resist beating them to death with a bat. That’s the first step and an important one. The second step is harder.

    You have to explain that we aren’t, in fact, descended from chimps. Instead we have a common ancestor. Somewhere in the past before our history was ever written one branch of ape like creatures split into two. One branch produced chimps and another produced humans. Take this simple idea to all species throughout time, indeed all living things and you have an inkling of the beauty of evolution.

    Thirdly, you should be prepared to answer the abundance of questions that come out of this idea.

    Evolution does not disprove religion or run contrary to belief in a creator. That is a false premise set up by people who don’t accept that the bible can be taken as metaphor, as ideas explained in story form.

    Above all I think it is important to show that evolution and other branches of scientific enquiry are nothing to be afraid of.

  45. So, I wonder — partly in light of the discussion in the quickies the other day — how can we explain these things to conservative Christians without alienating them or being condescending?

    I’m not sure how to do so when dealing with someone who is actively hostile to the notion of evolution; there may be no remedy there.

    However, when just introducing the basic mechanism of natural selection in evolution, I like to bring up dandelions. When you mow your yard, tall dandelions get cut down, over and over again. Occasionally, a dandelion happens to be somewhat shorter than the others and is not cut by the mower; a shorter dandelion thus lives longer, creating and spreading more seeds than its taller relatives. Therefore, over time, the lawn is less and less plagued by tall dandelions, but is increasingly plagued by short ones (at least until someone wises up and starts doing some serious weed control — but you might want to save that discussion for the more advanced class). This is an example of adaptation by mutation, reinforced by selection — and from the dandelion’s point of view, the selection of a lawnmower with an arbitrary cutting height is every bit as “natural” as the effects of grazing animals, weather, or other such phenomena.

    I’ve noticed that most people seem able to start dealing with the subject of evolution most easily when it is introduced far from their own species, such as the dandelions in this scenario, or microbes evolving resistance to antibiotics or ability to digest Nylon, or peppered moths adapting in response to pollution effects on tree bark. Once they get the basic idea of how adaptation and selection work, and how they apply to populations rather than individuals, you can then try to start getting them to apply the same ideas to other life forms.

    It’s useful also, at some point, to discuss why some adaptations can go suddenly from good or neutral to deleterious because of a sudden change in environmental factors, as well as why some characteristics that are merely neutral or even somewhat deleterious can become beneficial in the right environmental conditions. It helps to show that evolution, while it does follow certain rules, doesn’t really have a specific goal in mind, let alone a strategy. It just keeps trying everything, and whatever works — works.


  46. You have to explain that we aren’t, in fact, descended from chimps. Instead we have a common ancestor. Somewhere in the past before our history was ever written one branch of ape like creatures split into two.

    It might help to point out that the first person to put humans in the same lineage as apes was a creationist. You may have heard of him: Carl Linnaeus, who also came up with the term “homo sapiens”.

    (BTW, I must credit Ken Miller with this interesting discovery.)

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