Intelligent Design proponents are not stupid

In talking with some of my colleagues about intelligent design (ID) it has become clear to me that there are some misconceptions about ID.  These misconceptions are not limited to science professionals as these ideas can also be seen when viewing message boards, reading comment sections, or anywhere else the subject arises.

The general consensus seems to be that ID proponents are just not very smart.  Although I do think this is true for some “IDers,” it is not a prerequisite for belief in the pseudoscience.  Just look at the Discovery Institute.  Many of the “fellows” there have PhDs or have achieved other higher levels of education.  Perhaps the most telling is how cogent their arguments appear to be.  I honestly think it takes some kind of weird intelligence to be able to defend a evidence-less theory against the onslaught  of ever increasing evidence for evolution.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying ID proponents are geniuses.  I am just saying stupidity is not the source of their belief in ID.  So, what are the sources?  Well, Christian fundamentalism is an obvious one.  These people are going to twist the world around them to their preconceived notion of the universe no matter what evidence is available.

Another source could be a strong reliance on the logical fallacy of personal incongruity (personal disbelief).  This logical fallacy basically says that just because someone has a hard time believing something does not mean it is not true.  People can not accept that we are evolutionarily related to monkeys.  Some people can’t believe that the diversity of life happened on its own.  They say “look how complicated life is. It had to be designed.” The feeling is so strong that they abandon reason and acceptable evidence for pseudoscience.

Willful ignorance is undoubtedly another reason that otherwise intelligent people believe in intelligent design.  Some people just don’t really care about the subject, so they will just go along with what there preacher or friend believes.  Other people are not willing to find out the truth for the fear that it will shatter their world view.

Whatever the reason, simply insulting their intelligence is not going to be an effective way to convince them of reality.  I didn’t write this post to defend ID proponents, I am just hoping that understanding where they are coming from will help during debates.

Signature in the Cell pre-review

Stephen Meyer has a new book out on Intelligent Design (ID) called Signature in the Cell. Although I have not read the book, I am going to offer a “pre-review” of the book based on what I know of it and Stephen Meyer. You can download an excerpt of the book here.

To sum up the argument of the book, at least in this excerpt, it is an argument from personal disbelief.  He looks at organisms and thinks “there is no way this happened on its own.  There must have been a designer!”  Meyer will surely make the same tired and evidence-less arguments of ID proponents:  Look how perfectly put together the cell is.  Evil Darwinists have been wrong before!

The title, Signature in the Cell, says a lot more than Meyer wants.  He uses the word “signature”  Doesn’t signature imply that there is some unmistakable sign we can observe?  However, none has been found yet.  Maybe this could lead to an ID hypothesis:

The designer would have left an unmistakable mark in cells that has no other function than to provide information about the designer

If such a hypothesis gets evidence to support it, then I think you have a lot of evolutionists onboard.  I will patiently await this evidence.  Currently unexplained phenomena are not evidence.

In the excerpt of the book, I take issue with some of the ideas that Meyer is conveying, but he does get one thing right:

the appearance of design in living things has been understood by most biologists to be an illusion—a powerfully suggestive illusion, but an illusion nonetheless. As Crick himself put it thirty-five years after he and Watson discerned the structure of DNA, biologists must “constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”

This sort of putting biases and preconceptions aside is part of biology and all of science.  One typical example is the personification (anthropomorphizing) of microbes or even chemical reactions.  Or what about relativity or even quantum mechanics?  Scientists have to constantly guard against human biases and heuristics in order to find out what is really going on .

This is exactly why science depends on testable hypotheses.  This is why experiments have to be reproduced.  This is exactly why there are statistics.  This is why scientists carry out “blind” experiments whenever possible.  When these things are ignored, science turns into pseudoscience.  Meyer using this weakness of human thinking as an argument for intelligent design is ridiculous.

Perhaps I will read the book and offer a real review in the future, but don’t hold your breath.   Until real evidence appears in high caliber peer-reviewed journals, ID should be thought of and treated like pseudoscience.