Why I don't care about Intelligent Design

Thursday, September 29, 2005
Or why it doesn't matter which nail one hammers in

I am lazily using a comment I posted at Roger's Place to make a post here. If that is a violation of blog protocol or etiquette, please slap me.

I don't care the slightest hoot about Intelligent Design being taught in our schools, in science classes or otherwise. There a two basic reasons for that and I'll get to them, each in turn, momentarily.

But first I'd like to "draw" a couple lines. The first is a line representing the mean intelligence of all students in the US public education system. Use HS students if you'd like, that's probably better.

It is my opinion, but I believe it is a relatively safe opinion to hold, that nobody on the "lower" side of that mean is in any danger of becoming a scientist - they do not have the intellectual tools. In fact, some large portion of the population above the mean line does not have the requisite intellectual tools.

Which leads me to the second line I'd like to "draw". I don't pretend to know precisely where this line belongs. But let's draw it somewhere and I'll pick that somewhere to be the mean of the "upper" half of our population that I so neatly divided with the first line.

Which is to say that there is a percentile line above which lies our potential pool of future "scientists" and below which "science" will forever be, at best, some relatively harmless muddle of mediocrity, populism, theocracy, rejectionism, fiction, and whatever else. I place that line, probably too generously, at the 75th percentile.

If anyone has some serious disagreement with the placement of this line, please let me know. I'm not particularly interested, however, in whether it should be moved to the 80th, or 85th, or 90th percentile. I'd be surprised to learn there are many people who believe it should be lowered by any significant degree. But I digress.

Now, back to my two reasons for not caring the slightest about Intelligent Design. I'll even start by conceding the point that it is a terrible thing, junk science, the creationist pig with some lipstick slathered on it - pick how bad you believe it is and make it worse by whatever degree you choose.

My first reason for not caring about it I have previously tried to articulate using the tempest in a teapot tritism. It is that to some degree but that was a poor choice.

Let me try another tritism.

This time I'll use the ol' nails in the coffin lid analogy. It only requires a handful of nails to nail the coffin lid shut.

We've got a big ol' five gallon pail full to the brim with nails and legions of "educators" dilligently hammering home nails. There's already way too many nails in the lid. It doesn't matter if Intelligent Design is a brand new nail or a rusty old one. It doesn't matter who tossed it in the pail or whether anyone is trying to hammer it home. It doesn't matter if it is already hammered home or if someone is feverishly working to extract it or why they are doing so. It's just one nail in a big pail.

The lid is already long nailed down tighter than... well never mind.

Just for the heck of it, let me identify some of the other nails already hammered home: Whole Language, "fuzzy math" (I believe the good folks at Kitchen Table Math have identified this as "Constructivist Math"), various questionable "educational methodologies", tolerance for disruptiveness, gender politics, racial politics, environments hostile to academic excellence, and on and on and on.

We're teaching precious little "science" in our high schools now and far too much "junk" of all sorts. In case anyone hasn't noticed, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the teaching of Darwinism, didn't save our schools from continuing down the crapper. Nor is Intelligent Design going to hasten their sloshing, slurping demise. The handle has already been pushed, the water is spinning and gurgling. Pouring in another cup or gallon won't change anything.

Which brings me to the point of trying to state my case for the second reason I don't care about Intelligent Design.

Here is a small sample of "good" HS's.

Schools such as these compete for and receive national level awards. Awards such as Schools of Distinction, Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, Star Schools, and various other state and corporate awards.

And therein lies the problem. These are extraordinary schools. They deserve their awards for somehow managing to swim upstream against the torrents of junk that are continuing to ruin the vast majority of our standard level public schools. But they should not be the least bit extraordinary. That level of education, frequently science education, should be par for our students above the 75th percentile.

Which brings me, at long last, to actually stating what my second reason for not giving a flying F at a rolling donut about Intelligent Design.

If our "best and brightest", the youngsters actually capable of doing "science" at some point in their futures, were getting the educational foundation we should be giving them they would be, in their schools, talking about issues like Intelligent Design. They are fully capable of, and need to be exposed to, separating the wheat from the chaff. Quality science education should, and often does, expose students to the "philosophy", "ethics", and controversies of "science". The caliber of students who can do "science" is fully capable of dealing with Intelligent Design and a ton of other "junk" thrown at them.

I've been exposed to these students. They are bright and if they are encouraged to do so they look at the world with a sophistication generally commensurate with their intellectual capabilities. They will discuss and argue with one another. They will have more deeply formed opinions about the controversies of the day than most adults do. They know nonsense when they see it.

Unfortunately the current condition of our public educational establishment is peeling these kids off by the droves and refusing to give them a chance to learn or think at anything approaching their capabilities. We've created an educational quagmire and we're pitching kids into it like there's no tomorrow to worry about.

And the rest? They're never going to be scientists. They're never going to impact the "scientific" portion of the economy. They're going to do other things and have other impacts. The fact that we can't seem to teach many of them to make change for a ten dollar bill is a matter for future discussion.


David Thomson said...

“We've created an educational quagmire and we're pitching kids into it like there's no tomorrow to worry about.”

Our public educational philosophy is premised upon egalitarianism. Everybody is suppose to be equally smart. It is considered outrageous to suggest that many, if not most students, will end up driving buses or plumbing toilets. This idiocy inevitably results in a reluctance of devising a realistic curriculum for those lacking a high IQ.

flenser said...

There's a smorgasbord of points to address here, but I think you’re spot on in the main one. The whole ID/evolution controversy is a waste of time. It reminds me in a way of global warming – politics under the cover of science. Whether one or the other, or both, is taught in our schools will have no effect on anything of substance.

flenser said...

By the way, I see Buddy Larsen finally surfaced.

Rick Ballard said...


You may want to add simple incompetence on the part of a rather sizeable portion of the elementary/secondary teaching community as a causal element. While there are many fine people of intelligence who are career teachers there are also many (and sometimes I think most) for whom the word 'algebra' possesses the same mystery as 'abracadabra'.

I would tend to draw the line quite a bit higher than you do, perhaps at the 90th percentile, perhaps at the 95th.

I'm not sure that fixing this problem is a good idea - yet. The indoctrination methodology being used in public schools needs to turn out enough dullards so that the voting public is forced to pay a significantly higher price than they do currently. We need more Jonnie's living in the folks basement because "that dam skul didn't tech me nuthin' but speling and reding". The larger (and more costly) the disgrace, the more draconian the remedy. I don't want just federal vouchers - I want local vouchers. I've done budgets for a private school and I know without any doubt that a good education can be provided for $3,500 per year - and at that, the cost of the physical plant is a major component because of unreasonable amortization rules.

Knucklehead said...


Both issues may well be politics dressed up as science. ID is even less an issue, however, because at least it get's challenged. BTW, it also seems to get knocked down once the cases finally get to court.

I seem to remember this issue flaring up a while back at Roger's Place over some "warning labels" on school books in GA. IIRC the labels were eventually removed.

So, when nasties like ID rear their ugly little heads folks can be sure the ACLU will be ready to fight the battle to get it back in its cave.

Nobody is even fighting the other battles to save our schools from the idealogues who run them. Which is, BTW, what the ID catfight is really all about. The idealogues who run the schools and stuff the teaching days full of the tripe they want to push are not about to let some other idealogues muscle in on their turf.

Knucklehead said...

BTW, Flens,

There's a smorgasbord of points to address here

Nah, it was just a lot of words. There's really only three points:

1. The camel is mashed flat as road pizza. Claiming ID is the straw that will break it's back is not valid

2. Anybody smart enough to do science is smart enough to make their own decisions about stuff like ID

3. If we want more national economic advantage from our top students then we better get our butts in gear to give them a whole lot more rigor in their primary and secondary education than we do now. Right now we're all handling this on a case by case basis (our own brats) but that's a big load on the system and it's not getting any lighter.

truepeers said...

Knuck, I'm not sure I agree with how you are framing this. There are some very intelligent, well-educated, people who believe, or want to, in ID. The line is not between those capable of separating the wheat from the chaff, but between those who are religiously inclined, and those not. And there are many brilliant theists out there. Some of them are scientists.

What draws the theist towards ID is his intuitive, often not fully articulated grasp of the fact, or so I would argue, that humanity must have emerged in a founding event. I would characterize this as a non-evolutionary break in time, wherein a symbolic culture, unlike anything in the animal world, emerged in a shared, public scene that forged a new kind of scenic social order that is unlike the pecking orders of our animal cousins.

Because I believe humanity must have been founded in a transformative event (for which there is no evidence either way regarding the involvement of a supernatural being) - and that purely evolutionary explanations of human origins (the human being defined here by the possession of language) don't make sense - I think the creationist has the better intuition than the pure evolutionist when it comes to the nature of specifically human origins.

That's not to say that the creationist has the better argument when it comes to explaining the origin of life, or of the universe - either way, it seems to me purely a question of faith whether you want to believe in a Supreme Being at the origin of the universe, or not.

As I say, the creationist does have the better argument when it comes to grasping the nature of human origins than does the pure evolutionist. But in turning to ID, the creationist is perhaps only begging the questions he should better answer, and in turning to the non-explanations of ID he is driving out the possibility of a yet better explanation for the deeply-rooted human desire for creation stories. We desire such stories because there was in fact a moment of human/divine creation. Who created whom, however, remains a question of faith.

As I see it, we need to work towards an education in which an anthropological science that takes seriously the human dependence on the sacred and sacrificial is given a much greater role. Believe it or not, the leading (intellectually but not in terms of any widespread recognition) school of thought in these matters, Generative Anthropology, is the first leading school of thought in the last few hundred years in which believers and non-believers are together in a common intellectual cause. They are not at war because they have reduced the question of faith to its minimal terms, thus allowing themselves to narrow the gap between science and religion, leaving what is left of the gap to an unproblematic question of personal faith.

ID is like bad money driving out the real gold of GA. Anyway, ID would make a much better argument if it forgot about biology altogether and focussed on the mystery of how likely it was that the physical preconditions for human life emerged in the first place.

None of which is to deny that a lot of the ID debate probably is about getting back at the lefty ideologies of the teachers.

Knucklehead said...


You may want to add simple incompetence on the part of a rather sizeable portion of the elementary/secondary teaching community as a causal element.

How much competence does it take, especially if we remove the disruptions and use real teaching methods rather than the gibberish whole language and fuzzy math nonsense, to teach grammar school students? I mean, doncha just have to be smarter and more educated than the kids?

I would tend to draw the line quite a bit higher than you do, perhaps at the 90th percentile, perhaps at the 95th.

I'd go with that for the sciences and other techie fields. I just figure if we can't get identify top quartile or quintile as the generally brainy types who can do most the "hard" stuff, then we're hosed. If we need to limit "smart" to just the top 5 or 10% we're in big trouble.

We're never going to compete with China (or especially Asia as a whole) in turning out science and engineering degrees. They have more people and proportionally fewer females (sorry, couldn't resist!)

But we sure could do a whole lot better at properly preparing the bright yutes we do have for studying the hard stuff after they leave HS.

You're probably correct that this will have to get far worse before anyone is willing to fix it. Well, at least I got mine pretty well launched and cruising under their own power.

chuck said...

Just the other day my doctor was pointing out the *lack* of intelligent design in the way my body was put together. Guess I missed out somewhere.

Anyway, I don't agree that teaching ID as science matters not, but I take your point that it is not the most pressing problem in education today.

Knucklehead said...


I don't think the Intelligent Design folks make any claims that there's also Intelligent User, Intelligent Maintenance, Intelligent Update, and Intelligent Warranty.

Rick Ballard said...

"How much competence does it take, especially if we remove the disruptions and use real teaching methods rather than the gibberish whole language and fuzzy math nonsense, to teach grammar school students? I mean, doncha just have to be smarter and more educated than the kids?"

If you could spring a surprise test on multiplying and dividing fractions (fifth grade math, if I remember correctly) on every elementary teacher coming through the door of the teachers lounge and make continued employment conditional on passing, you would probably create a tremendous employment opportunity for new teachers.

Anonymous said...


Although I agree with you that we are beating a dead horse so to speak, and that there are plenty of other less then satisfactory things being taught in school today, I don't agree that this subject isn't worth fighting over. It is like saying "We will eventually die, so what is the point of living?" Being in high school myself, I feel the threat of Intelligent Design. It is not something that I would like to learn, and I feel that it is worth caring about.

Knucklehead said...


If you would not like to learn it, then don't. If you look about yourself in your high school (presuming you are in a typical school) you can surely see that there is precious little, if any, requirement that anyone learn any of what is presented. Remember it for a short time perhaps, but learning is not required.

It is completely obvious to me that I am failing to make my overall point.

In the current situation of grossly inadequate secondary education the presence or absence of Intelligent Design in the curriculum makes no difference whatsoever.

If, on the other hand, our public secondary education were anywhere near suitably rigorous the presence or absence of Intelligent Design anywhere in the curriculum would make no difference.

The reasons for the complete irrelevance of ID in the two cases are completely opposite but the ultimate result is the same.

BTW, it is quite possible that you will attend a fine college or university once you leave high school. It is also quite possible, almost certain, that you will be exposed to ideas with which you strongly disagree or have serious reservations. You may even be required to study the basic concepts underlying some selection of the world's religions. This represents no intellectual danger to you. Embrace it and run with it.

Exercise suitable levels of caution - the intellectual elite occupying the bastions of higher level education are sometimes unkind toward those inclined to fail to echo their own output. And they have the vast advantage of long practice and experience in the classroom and can, normally, verbally eviscerate most any student. They also have the power of the grade.

That is ultimately a minor issue. Learn what you chose to learn. Regurgitate what you must. School is school. Life beyond school is far more interesting and challenging.

BTW, thank you for dropping in and taking the time to read and comment. Please continue doing so. My failure to make my points on this is on my shoulders, not yours.