Developing College-Level ID/Creation Courses

In 2005, I conducted an informal poll of interest in College-Level ID and Creation Courses if offered in Philosophy and Religion Departments. As unscientific as the polling was, it nevertheless was reported in a Nature Cover story, April 28, 2005!

I commissioned the Atheist/Agnostic James Madison University Freethinkers group to circulate a questionaire and we simply tallied the responses. The full results are reported here:

The NCSE’s Eugenie Scott kindly expressed her views on my idea in an e-mail exchange which she approved for public release:

For the last 14 years I considered what it would take to make courses like that happen. The topics are so deep one could fill out 12 semester hours easily! But I quickly realized it would be impossible to offer such courses in traditional universities for logistical and political reasons. But I still felt the material had to be assembled and disseminated if only to give it a platform in cyberspace. I don’t mean to sound too demeaning of certain disciplines in university, but if some of what I view as total junk is taught for tens of thousands of dollars in university, then college level ID and creation courses can be offered (even if un accredited) in cyberspace for much cheaper.

In 2005 I had no biology training, but since that time I got the equivalent of an MS in biology from an unaccredited school plus an official MS in Applied Physics from an accredited school. My academic qualifications are modest, but enough to at least meet and talk to professors and researchers who were qualified to contribute material to such courses. And since 2005, just from my personal experience, there seem to be more and more ID and Creation sympathetic faculty in the sciences – witness Marcos Eberlin, James Tour, and the late Richard Smalley.

I once worked in the Aerospace and Defense industry and for about 6 years was involved in creating computer-based training (CBT) for naval aviators. Some of my flight simulators and CBT devices were deployed on aircraft carriers, and CBT studies showed that in certain contexts we could train the pilots 30 times faster than compared to traditional classroom methods. That said, the development of CBT is not trivial. We had a staff of 40 people building the software and teaching materials! The Department of Defense spared no cost to make the best CBT possible. Of course it was expensive since there were built-in flight simulators inside the CBT! But the bottom line, is that in some contexts, CBT can be an effective teaching tool or at least supplemental tool to classroom education.

The ID/Creation courses I envision, which is targeted to the college level, will be offered online, in most cases not for credit, but at least available for professors to use. I know of some Deans and Faculty that have already shown interest in some of the content. For example, I gave a presentation recently on my study of Zinc Finger Proteins and its relation to the NIH 4D nucleome project and to my surprise a former biology faculty member and current Dean wanted to share some of my slides with the students!

But also, I teach creationism in a 13,000 member mega church. It’s only 1 of only 2 megachurches that I know of that will touch the topic of ID and Creation. Creation was promoted in this mega church partly because one of the founding pastors was a Chemistry Student before going to seminary, and his study of enzymes convinced him God must have worked a miracle of creation. So I do have a “classroom” of sorts to teach this stuff.

The problem in teaching a course on ID and Creation has been the background of the students involved and what they want to learn. There may be creationists that want to learn more evolution, and evolutionists that want to hear the creation side.

Also there are freshmen drama majors and senior biology and physics and engineering students that might take interest in such a course. This could create a problem in a traditional classroom setting because of the differing backgrounds!

Therefore, it would be helpful where students could take a CBT course in a sort of a buffet style appropriate to their learning and interests. Thus a drama student wouldn’t be competing with a biochemistry student on issues related to abiogenesis. But she could still learn something more about the issues than what she knew before taking the courses.

It would be best to have a professor administer the course because it’s good if the student will write essays and express their thoughts, but for starters the course will have to be online.

Also, some biochemistry can be taught without some of the more difficult underlying general and organic chemistry bases, but which will be relevant to the origins debate. Some of the most interesting arguments involve abiogenesis and cell theory, and some biochemistry and cellular biology are critical to understanding. Same for the issue of the evolution of eukaryotes. Advanced modules might talk about emergence of life-critical proteins such as helicases, topoisomerases, polymerase complexes, transmembrane proteins, localization signals and processing, etc.

For the Engineering and computer types, there is material like Quines and Self-replicating automata and network theory. There might be stuff on physics and geology too. I’m not planning to write original material in these areas but I know professors who can…

I’ve taught extra-curricular ID courses at James Madison University through Campus Crusade for Christ and learned a lot about the art of teaching in the process. I hope to be discussing some of the learning modules here at peaceful science over time. In the interest of giving balanced presentation, I invite opposing viewpoints which I will gladly share with students if articulated in a scholarly fashion.

My original vision for the course was that completion of the modules didn’t mean the student agreed with the viewpoints expressed, but could demonstrate knowledge of what is said and claimed. What they believe at the end of the course is not what they are graded on.

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So, we’ve tried ID for a while now, over 25 years. We know where it leads. I think it’s time to try something new.

Richard Smalley died in 2005. How did you manage to have personal experience of him since then?


Hmm… I work on zinc finger proteins. Is there a link to this presentation somewhere?


These are my slides from a 2-part presentation. They have some redactions of names of individuals removed. Also, you don’t get any of what I said in the discussion. I’ll re-record some of the content for the college-level buffet-style course.

Thanks for your interest.

Sal, I couldn’t help but notice that every time you use the word phylogeny in your presentation, you put it in quotes. What is the pedagogical purpose of this?



Yes, the phylogenies are imaginary, they aren’t real.

It seems that it would be a rather short course.

Professor: Does that look designed to you? Yes? This means God made it. The final will be tomorrow.


Actually no, there’s lots of material as to why universal common ancestry would require statistical miracles to make it work. The presentation slides I gave for Art Hunt are a small sample.

Here’s something I said in my slide, “there is no universal common ancestor for all genes/proteins.” What is the opinion of the biologists here? That’s a starting point.

I’m not talking about erasure of phylogenetic signals, but whether the biologists here believe ALL genes/proteins descended from a single ancestral gene/protein.

If the reasons are statistical and mechanistic, then that’s a tacit admission, some of the arguments aren’t rooted in dishonest manipulation of numbers.

That’s a fair discussion for college level examination of evolutionary theory. Why has that discussion been avoided?

Sal, according to Behe/Snokes or Sanford et al., how long would it take to evolve 220 or so coordinated amino acid changes?

Round numbers would be fine (we don’t need 15 places after the decimal point :grinning:).


I would bet that most all biologists would shrug their shoulders and agree with this. It’s a pretty straightforward and unremarkable statement.


For the same reason we don’t waste time on college level statistical evidence for a flat Earth.

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Since orphan genes that arose via mutations to non-gene DNA are a regular discussion topic for IDers and biologists, you shouldn’t need to ask.

That you not only need to ask but also think this is somehow evidence against common ancestry of organisms, suggests that your course isn’t going to be very effective.

I’ve no idea. Why did you avoid it?


Thanks Art. But I think it’s actually a remarkable statement. One of the problems I see with PUCA is are the quaternary structures of protein complexes. For example the Helicases are often HomoHexamers, Eukaryotic Topoisomerase Type II are HomoDimers, Prokaryotic are Topo Type II are HeteroTetramers. It doesn’t seem reasonable that all these families have a universal common ancestor. “There is no PUCA.” That means an orchard, not universal tree model. But then that implies the major families appeared independently, and for life critical proteins, this would seem a statistical and mechanical miracle.

Thanks anyway for your response.

Regarding the Orchard model of Protein families, there is a subtlety here. There is Sequence (primary structure) homology vs. fold/complex (tertiery and qauternary) homology.

I had a discussion with Dr. Change Tan recently and she cited a 2018 study by Nevers that there are few if any universally shared sequence homologs in prokaryotes. I found that astonishing since there surely have to be life critical genes/proteins shared.

So I asked about Helicases. She said she thinks the fold/quaternary structure is shared, but not the sequences. The problem of evolving sequences and maintaining a functioning quaternary structure seems pretty remote to me when one considers what a helicase has to do. Breaking the interface connections that make the Hexamer possible will result in death (or at least death of the lineage). That pattern of conserved tertiery/quaternary structure but variability in sequence suggests an orchard model rather than a universal tree.

Here is a good video on Helicases:

One thing that stands out to me in these slides is the emphasis on the modular nature of proteins. While I am sure this is not what is intended, the modular nature of proteins reflects the inherently low information (in ID terms) nature of proteins and enzymes - basically, modularity is a feature of a zero-CSI reality. (The same is true for motifs in DNA and RNA that are recognized by various and sundry proteins.) This is because functional modules (zinc fingers are excellent examples) depend on small numbers of crucial amino acid side chains, oriented in ways that can be accomplished by a very large number of possible sequence. These features are eminently evolvable, as it were, quite within the grasp of normal means by which heritable variation is generated.

What is perplexing, Sal, is why you are so accepting of this zero-CSI model. It doesn’t seem to fit with your other pronouncements about statistics and mechanics.


This claim needs support. Just because they are modular does not follow they are evolvable. Their proximity to each other is an issue me thinks.


Thanks for your reply. I’ve pretty much dumped CSI as an argument for anything. You’re right to object to the problems my diagrams pose for CSI. I’m tempted to hold up CSI as an example of how not to make a Design argument.


ZF3 (counting the motifs using the plant proteins as examples - it would be ZF4 in mammalian and yeast counterparts) in the CPSF30 family is an excellent example that supports my assertion.