Robert T. Pennock is professor of philosophy, computer science, and EEBB at Michigan State University and author of the books Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological and Scientific Perspectives.
When creationists need to update their "science," they reach for a thesaurus.
Creationism in the 1970s and early 1980s rode into town under the name of "Creation-science," a term coined by Henry Morris. It claimed to be free of religious commitments and to be based entirely upon science. Arkansas and Louisiana passed legislation to have students compare creation-science and evolution, but both laws were struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. Disguising a religious view as science doesn't make it one. Following the Supreme Court decision in 1987, creationists regrouped and rebranded their views as "Intelligent Design (ID) Theory."
ID claimed to be free of religious commitments and to be based entirely upon science and to have nothing to do with creationism. Its advocates promoted their new textbook, Of Pandas and People, that would let students compare "Design Theory" and "Darwinism." They eagerly awaited a chance to try again in court. I critiqued Pandas in my book Tower of Babel back in 1999, and noted how it appeared to simply substitute the term "designer" or "master intellect" for "Creator," but that the basic ideas were essentially the same. Little did I realize at the time just how literally true this was.
When ID got its own day in court in 2005 in the historic Kitzmiller case, the plaintiffs subpoenaed drafts of the book and discovered how the key terms had been switched after the 1987 Supreme Court decision against Creation-science. In draft, Pandas had been titled Creation Biology, and the concepts were familiar as well. For instance, in the published book ID was explained in this way:
Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact—fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. [Pandas 99-100]
But in the pre-1987 drafts, the prior creationist terminology had been used:
Creation means that various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent Creator with their distinctive features already intact—fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. (Pandas draft pp 2-14, 2-15)
This kind of search-and-replace substitution was found throughout the book. Expert witness Barbara Forrest even unearthed a linguistic transitional form showing how the ID authors had slipped when doing a hasty cut-and-paste in the manuscripts. In trying to replace the term "creationists" at one point, they failed to select the whole word before pasting in the new term "design proponent," resulting in the hybrid "cdesign proponentists."
One finds this kind of terminological disguise at all levels in the history of creationist writings. The purportedly big new idea in ID—what one ID leader, Michael Behe, called "irreducible complexity" and what another called "specified complexity"—was previously made under the name of "functional complexity" by Henry Morris. And in both cases the substance of the argument—that no natural process like evolution could explain such a feature and so it must have been created ... er ... designed—was the same. Scientists have shown these arguments to be unsound—as Texans put it, "that dog don't hunt"—but creationists just resurrect them with a new name. (The TalkOrigins.org archive is a handy place to find rebuttals to these endlessly repeated arguments.) With massive amounts of evidence, it was easy in the Kitzmiller case for Judge Jones to conclude in his ruling that ID is just "creationism relabeled."
Since their humiliating defeat in Dover, creationists studiously avoid using the term Intelligent Design in their lobbying. Now the word from the Discovery Institute (the lead ID advocacy organization) to their political supporters in legislatures and boards of education is to call their proposals "academic freedom" bills. One now hears the revised Discovery Institute slogans and talking points: Teachers should have the right to "teach the controversy" so that students can "analyze and evaluate" the evidence themselves about the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution.
We saw one such bill introduced in Michigan last year by the same legislators who had previously introduced bills that explicitly used ID terminology. Discovery Institute Fellow Ralph Seelke was brought in to testify in favor of the bill. I listened in disbelief as he told the education committee that this had nothing to do with intelligent design but moments later said how it would allow students to learn about important criticisms of evolution such as those of Michael Behe. This sort of shell game is getting harder for them to pull off, however, as the public is becoming more knowledgeable about such deceptions. (Of seven "academic freedom" bills that creationists introduced last year, only the one in Louisiana passed, likely because of the support from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who seems to have been willing to sacrifice science to political ambition.)
The "academic freedom" argument isn't new either; it has been a creationist staple for decades. The courts have rejected this tactic as well in a series of cases. More recently, in 2001, in the LeVake v. Independent School District #656, the court ruled against a teacher who claimed a right to teach the "difficulties and inconsistencies" of evolution. Everyone agrees that academic freedom is an important value in education, but creationists sully its true meaning and neglect the academic responsibility that must go along with it.
The latest attempt to smuggle in bogus creationist arguments was seen last month in Texas, where ID advocates on the State Board of Education tried to make sure that the "strengths and weaknesses" language (which ID advocates had gotten into the science standards previously) was reinserted. The measure lost in a close vote as moderates declined to go along with the extremists. Consulting their thesaurus, the ID advocates on the board next proposed an amendment that would require students to learn evidence "supportive and not supportive" of a theory. That too was defeated. Late in the meeting, they tried one more time. Students should learn to analyze and evaluate the "sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." ("Sudden appearance," by the way, is a relabeling of what creationists had previously called "abrupt appearance theory.") By this time the board members must have just been tired, as this amendment passed. Fortunately this was just a preliminary vote. We may hope that everyone will have their dictionaries in hand when the final vote occurs in March.
Creationism, in whatever guise it has taken to get into the schools, has proven itself to be fundamentally deceptive. When I testified before the Texas Board of Education in 2003 when it last had to deal with ID lobbying efforts, I used another wonderful Texan expression to sum this up: "When it comes to science, the intelligent design movement is all hat and no cattle."
And you don't get cattle by changing what you call your hat.