ID About Public Education? Movement "Yes", But Theory "No"

A2: Is ID About Public School Science Curriculums? Yes and No.

You say “per se”, which means “itself” or the “essensee of,” but this is a hard way to put it. ID is complex a movement, that ID “per se” is different for different people. Notice the distinction you draw yourself between the ID political movement (IDM) and ID theory (IDT):

  1. Many ID proponents are heavily involved in public school science debates, and Discovery as an organization has been involved in such disputes.

  2. ID as such is a theoretical position on the causes of biological (and cosmic) order, not a political movement.

I would insist that both sides of ID, both IDM and IDT, are legitimate topics of discussion.

Fixing the Dialogue

I would also observe that two types of interference, and one silly argument, can really anger people…

  1. When someone is positively discussing ideas from IDT, someone might throw the bomb of the political IDM into the ring to distract from real exchange. This frustrates ID proponents, including you.

I imagine you would usually be on the side of the frustrated here. I agree that this is not fair. and it is not helpful. It is off topic and should be flagged accordingly.

  1. When someone is discussing their negative feelings about IDM, someone might feel that important points of IDT are being too quickly dismissed, and interject that the IDM is not the real ID, but IDT is the real ID. This is very frustrating to people, because makes them feel unheard, and distracts from legitimate points about IDM. I think

I imagine you would usually be on the side of the interjector here. I would suggest that basic courtesy is to give people the same respect you want from them when discussing IDT. When discussing IDM, it is not okay to derail the conversation by arguing to take IDT seriously. This should just be kept separate, so interjections like this should be marked off topic and deleted.

  1. Arguing about what the “true” or “per se” or “essence” of ID is? That is an unhelpful argument, and subjective. This is a pointless argument. You think ID is essentially IDT, while others think ID is essentially the IDM.

I suggest we just avoid this argument entirely, and I suggest no one take issue with others explaining their view. Usually it is 100% clear from context what ID people are discussing, but I imagine a lot of conflict could be avoided by just asking people: Do you mean ID the movement or the theory?

Do you agree with this management plan? If so, I think it could go a long way to avoiding many annoying circular conversations for everyone, including you. Notice also that this means adjusting your language a small amount. What do you think?

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I understand. “Per se” means “in itself” (literally “through itself”, but no one translates it that way into idiomatic English). And you are right that by “in itself” I mean “ID theory”. When Discovery defines ID, they refer to ID theory, and I was following their usage. So if you want, render my “ID in itself” as “ID understood as a theory about design in nature,” in distinction from “ID as a social or intellectual movement involved in public activities such as education.”

I’ll try to say simply “ID theory” in the future, but if I occasionally revert unconsciously back to “ID in itself”, you and anyone reading this will know what I mean.

They’re both legitimate topics of discussion, but I have this recurring problem (not from everyone, but from some people) that when I’m discussing a theoretical point about Behe, miracles, and design, someone will sometimes switch to grumbling about something Discovery said about some school board in Missouri, to prove that ID is all just YEC creationism. But I see from your comments that you understand this.

I don’t mind if someone wants to hold a separate discussion on, e.g., “Did the Discovery Institute behave responsibly in the Missouri case?” That’s fine with me. But in that case, I wish they would blame whatever sins they see not on “ID” but on Discovery – which is an organization, not a theory. I will not dismiss the importance of any abuses that Discovery or other groups of ID proponents may have been responsible for. I will listen with an open mind. But I won’t address it if the topic at the moment is whether Behe endorses front-loading or intervention. I shouldn’t have to address it, in that context.

You suggest that “IDM” is a possible term, and sometimes it is fine, but since it could apply to people and things outside of Discovery, I think that it’s better to pinpoint “Discovery” where Discovery is directly involved, than to refer to an amorphous “ID movement”. I won’t quibble, however, if someone says “IDM” and it’s obvious in context what they mean. And if I’m in doubt what someone means, I’ll ask. I hope people will do the same with me.

Yes, and I’m always willing to do that when I sense I’m talking to someone who is relatively new to the debates, and just learning about ID, Discovery, etc. It gets harder to do that when I can tell I’m dealing with old hands who have been attacking ID for years, yet try to pull a fast one by lumping the individual position of Behe in with creationism.

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Great, keep in mind these three dynamics, and avoid them like the plague. Going forward, @moderators and forum participants should flag these as off-topic interjections:

Sounds like we have a plan!

Who? Please define what you mean by public school science debates. And ID movement.

What is the ID movement? That seems pretty amorphous. A political movement aimed at getting religion back into public schools? Or even just getting ID into public school? Then you would have to call it a grassroots movement, because there is no direction from DI for either of those policies. DI actively urges _not to_try to get ID into public schools. ID movement sounds like it might have the possibility of being directed. Huh!

I know Patrick, and you, Swamidass, and others here will not believe me, but there is no push of that kind coming from DI. We would greatly prefer that such things not happen. Trying to push for ID, or even against evolution, makes things much more difficult for scientists and scholars trying to work on IDT, because of the opposition it generates.

I may not know much about the history of such things, but I have been around since 2005, and everything I have heard is in the last sentence of the paragraph above.

Let’s draw some distinctions here. What qualifies someone to be an ID proponent? It’s a cacaphony out there. Good and bad behavior, poor and solid understanding. So a collection of such individuals does not constitute a movement. That’s much too organized. A grassroots movement yes. But the civil rights movement? No.

Let’s try it the other way. Who’s an evolution proponent? Surely you have seen some bad arguments out there, and some behavior that doesn’t exactly help. Do such evolution proponents constitute a political movement? And do they respond to some central authority? There might actually be more organization on the anti-ID side than the pro-ID side.

My point? The so-called ID movement is a collection of individuals, some much better versed than others, who support the idea of ID as they understand it. They are enthusiastic and sometimes do things that are both unwise and unhelpful. Do you call them ID proponents? Do they constitute a movement?

I see exactly the same thing on the evolution side. There are a collection of individuals, some much better versed than others, who support the idea of evolution as they understand it. They are enthusiastic and sometimes do things that are both unwise and unhelpful.

We need to distinguish that phenomenon of aggravating proponents who harass us. On both sides. And not dignify it with the name movement.


In that language, I was quoting @eddie verbatim. So he should answer precisely what he means.

I would point to the many places that DI regularly touts their involvement, and the Wedge Document. This would include, for example, the Kansas evolution hearings (Kansas evolution hearings - Wikipedia). Have you read much up on this @Agauger? John West presents this as the positive alternative to Dover.

@Agauger, is it possible they just aren’t discussing this with you, because you are genuinely only interested in the science? John West at DI is very passionate about public schools, as is Casey Luskin (no longer there), and many of the people I’ve met at DI. It was through John West that I learned that DI disapproved of Dover, but endorsed Kansas. Didn’t you know this?

Very good point. I suppose there are several levels. In this case, what I am saying applies to the Discovery Institute and several IDEA Centers. I can agree that DI is not responsible for the behavior of the Thomas Moore organization that pushed the Dover case, even though they would label themselves as ID proponents.

Absolutely. I have also been consistent in arguing against bad arguments for evolution. I see no reason for bad arguments of any kind, and I am unwilling to give people affirming evolution (or design) a pass just because I agree with their purpose.

I’m for this. I agree we need to make this distinction well? How then do you propose labeling the sides? I’m open to a different term than “movement.”

I also agree that you, @Agauger, are not in this at all for the purpose of changing public school curriculums. The same is (nearly) true of @eddie. It is also clear that many other people are in it for this purpose, such as @CaseyLuskin, Philip Johnson, John West, and many more. These are not merely disconnected random people, but leaders at the heart of the movement.

Of course, DI could change in the future to move beyond this. It does not look likely, nonetheless, without some major changes on the non-scientific side of ID. Maybe you could help bring that about, which we would all be greatful for if you were successful.

Returning to your point, what would you like to call the distinction here other than “movement”? Perhaps “sides” or “factions”?

I would say that the goal of DI is to promote the understanding of ID and acceptance of it as a valid scientific theory some day. We have a ways to go, not least in the development of IDT. That might allow ID to be taught in public schools, but probably not unless the laws change.

What word to use instead of movement? How about throng?

That throng includes Philip Johnson, the author of the Wedge Document, John West, Casey Luskins, and the massive organization effort required to pull off the Kansas hearings, and several ongoing lobbying efforts. It is not really a throng.

I agree, @Agauger, and fully grant you that you are not part of it. The fact you aren’t part of it does not some how erase its existence, right? Is “faction” a better word? Historically, most people have referred to this as the “movement” side. Or would we say the “political” side?

Since I have been quoted by Joshua, and don’t want Ann Gauger to misunderstand my position, I will make a clarification.

I think it is pretty clear that over the past 50 years or so a number of people who can be called “creationists” (and who usually call themselves creationists) have tried in various ways to influence the high school science curriculum, especially ninth-grade biology. Sometimes they have pushed to have creationism (by which I mean the doctrine of origins as taken from a literal reading of Genesis 1-3) given “equal time” along with Darwinian theory. Other times they have framed their protest differently. But I think that everyone acknowledges that there has been, and continues to be, agitation from creationist quarters re the science curriculum.

Now, ID is not creationism (for reasons spelled out on the Discovery site), but many ID proponents are, in addition to being ID proponents, also creationists. And I think that most people would agree that some of the people agitating for change in the high school science curriculum fall under the label “ID plus creationist” in their views. Thus, one could accurately say that some people in the ID movement have been actively pushing for change in the high school science curriculum.

However, ID theory does not in itself concern itself with high school curriculum, but with elaborating a theory of intelligent design. ID theory is a theory about nature, not a political movement to change the schools.

As for Discovery, its formal position for many years has been that ID should not be mandated in the high school classroom. However, it is my understanding – and Ann (whom I deeply respect, and who knows more about what goes on inside than I do) can correct me if I am wrong – that Discovery has been “involved” in public debates about evolution in the high school science curriculum. By that I don’t mean that Discovery has pushed for mandatory ID (it hasn’t), but that it has sometimes offered sympathy or support to groups in some states or local districts who (a) are critical of the current science curriculum, and (b) are evidently motivated to a considerable extent by religious considerations. I’m not saying that this sympathy and support has been without justification (that would have to be debated on a case-by-case basis), but I think it is fair to say that Discovery has “involved” itself in some of the controversies.

Since Discovery is a central part of the “ID movement” (by which I mean that body of people who are, broadly speaking sympathetic with ID and would like to see its public influence increase), then I think it is fair to say that Discovery’s involvement in school debates counts as involvement of “the ID movement” in school debates.

Again, whether and to what extent the involvement of Discovery has been good or bad, is not something I want to discuss at the moment. I’m merely clarifying what I meant by saying that Discovery has been “involved” in criticism of high school science curriculum and in various agitations to change that curriculum.

And again, this has nothing to do with ID theory, which is an attempt to understand nature through the concept of design. ID theory, as such, has nothing to say about schools or curriculum, any more than Newtonian or Einsteinian or Mendelian theory, as such, have anything to say about schools or curriculum. ID theorists are busy trying to quantify probabilities, measure information, understand the origin of animal body plans, etc.; what is done with ID theory in the schools is not part of ID theory, though it may have much to do with the ID movement.


Correct, but it is also their official position that the “weakness” of Darwinian theory should be permitted to be optionally taught by high school teachers. The weaknesses they seem to be pointing to are ID arguments. This seems to be their official position, that ID should be allowed to be optionally taught in high school curriculums, unlike in Dover where it was required to be taught.

If I am interpreting this incorrectly, please show me the “the weakness of Darwinian theory” that are not ID arguments, and show me the places where they officially state that these should not be taught in public high schools.

@Agauger, I understand your point too. This is not your personal reason for being in ID. I believe you. NOne of this is directed at you or meant to apply to everyone at DI or ID. We are however talking about:

  1. The documented strategy for the Discovery Institute (Wedge Document),
  2. The stated reasons for creating ID by a key architect of ID (Philip Johnson),
  3. One reason large numbers of ID supporters are engaged with ID,
  4. The current official policy goals of the DI.

I can and do accept that many people attracted to IDT are not aware of of this. It appears that you also are not aware of this. It is, nonetheless, a reality that many of us see, with a well documented factual basis. Sometimes we want to discuss it, and I agree that it should not be used as a way to dismiss your ideas and work.

None of this is an ad hominem. It is just appears to be a fact that both draws people to ID and pushes people away from it.

Joshua, I don’t want to get into another long wrangle with people here about whether the term “Darwinian” should still be used today, but I need to use the term to answer your question, because it’s the term Discovery uses. We can set aside the question of whether they are right to use it for another day. I hope you will allow this for my temporary purpose.

My understanding of the DI position is that even within the secular biological community, there are varying views of evolutionary mechanism, and that the Darwinian mechanism (RM + NS, according to Discovery) is not deserving of monopoly position in classroom presentations of evolution. Thus, students should be informed that people like James Shapiro, Stuart Newman and others offer alternate schemes of evolution.

So, for example, instead of having to wait for a favorable mutation to happen (as in the old neo-Darwinism), organisms might be able to speed up their evolution by reshuffling their own genomes, in response to environmental triggers. Evolution might be guided in part by organismal effort, and not merely by chance. Presenting this notion would teach students how biologists differ.

Now, Newman and Shapiro don’t count themselves as ID proponents, and don’t regard their critiques of neo-Darwinian theory as arguments for ID. So if high school students were apprised of their differences with neo-Darwinism, I don’t think that would count as slyly sliding ID into the science curriculum.

You shift here from “weaknesses of Darwinism” to “ID”; I would like to treat them separately, as follows:

In my understanding, Discovery is calling for something less timid than letting “weaknesses of Darwinian theory” be optional. I think Discovery is calling for the critique of Darwinism – as found in secular peer-reviewed science – to be made part of the official curriculum that all teachers would be expected to cover. I think they see it as part of good science education that students should see that scientists have disagreements (not just over evolution, but over all kinds of things – string theory, multiverse, etc.), and that sorting out these disagreements is part of the scientific process.

Regarding the discretion of science teachers to make voluntary statements about ID (statements about what ID affirms), this is an area where I am not sure I understand Discovery’s policy. I think they have said that it should not be unconstitutional for a teacher to mention the existence of ID, without endorsement – say, in response to a direct student question. So if a bright student who reads outside of class asks a question like “Doesn’t ID disprove evolution?” the teacher could acknowledge the existence of ID, and deal briefly with the question, while avoiding endorsement of ID. For the teacher to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m legally not allowed to answer your question,” would be extremely bad pedagogy.

Are you suggesting that Discovery would grant authority to individual science teachers to actually delete parts of the state curriculum and substitute instruction regarding ID, according to the teacher’s taste? To have the students spend three days reading Behe and Wells instead of learning about population genetics or natural selection? I don’t read that as Discovery’s intention.

@swamidass I had to laugh at this one.
There’s nothing massive about Discovery Institute. I can’t say how many people were involved with the Kansas hearings since I wasn’t involved, but judging based on other similarly scaled events it might have been maybe five people. People have a strangely skewed view of the size of Discovery.

Fair enough. It seems the overall budget of DI is about $4M per year, which is twice as much as BioLogos, and on par with Reasons to Believe. Peaceful Science? We have total budget of about negative $2,000 per year. So, to me, everything is gigantic. :smile:


I took a look at the answers to questions about educational policy, and in particular what is meant by weakness in Darwinian theory. I’ll grant that as written it sounds like ID critiques. They are very strongly worded. I think it should be rewritten using language from the primary literature, to make it clear that there is controversy over some parts of evolutionary theory.

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Here is one of the 5 year goals listed in the “Wedge Document” which was first circulated in 1998 within the Discovery Institute:

@Agauger have you ever looked at the history of what happened? It was far more than five people. As I understand it, this was all planned and orchestrated by ID, and must have cost quite a bit if we include the support staff and legal work. What is your count of the number of people who we be involved, beyond those who officially testified?

April 19, 2005 (Prehearings Statements)

  1. Pedro L. Irigonegaray (for mainstream science)

May 5, 2005

  1. William S. Harris - Biochemist, Professor of Medicine, University of Missouri at Kansas City, Director of the Lipoprotein Research Laboratory, St. Luke’s Hospital, Kansas City, Missouri, signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism ,[34] and co-author, with John Calvert, of Intelligent Design: The Scientific Alternative to Evolution .[35][36][37]
  2. Charles Thaxton - Editor of the book Of Pandas and People , Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture,[38] signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. [34]
  3. Jonathan Wells - author of Icons of Evolution and Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture,[38] signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. [34]
  4. Bruce Simat - Associate Professor of Biology at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota,[39] signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. [34][40]
  5. Giuseppe Sermonti - Chief Editor of Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum and author of Why Is a Fly Not a Horse? which is published by the Discovery Institute.[41]
  6. Ralph Seelke - PhD Professor of Microbiology, University of Wisconsin - Superior, self-described Christian apologetist,[39] signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. [34]

May 6, 2005

  1. Edward Peltzer - Oceanographer, Associate Editor, Marine Chemistry, Senior Research Specialist Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. [34][42]
  2. Russell Carlson - Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology University of Georgia, signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. [34] Member of DI research fellow William Dembski’s The International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID)[43][44]
  3. John C. Sanford - Cornell University Associate Professor of Horticultural Sciences, inventor of the “gene gun,” intelligent design advocate.[45][46][47]
  4. Robert DiSilvestro - Biochemist, Professor of Nutrition, Ohio State University,[48] signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. [34][49][50]
  5. Bryan Leonard - High school biology teacher, involved in a doctoral thesis controversy in which he was supported by the Discovery Institute.[48][51][52][53]
  6. Dan Ely - Professor of Biology, University of Akron in Ohio,[39] self-described intelligent design teacher[54] who assisted in drafting the adopted lesson plan.[55]
  7. Roger DeHart - High school biology teacher, Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, California, who claims teaching intelligent design cost him two jobs. Author of a companion study guide Icons of Evolution- A Study Guide to Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution .[39][55][56]
  8. Jill Gonzalez-Bravo - eighth grade Kansas science teacher, who endorsed the Discovery Institute-promulgated science standards in her testimony and in an interview conducted by the Discovery Institute.[57] Additionally, Gonzalez-Bravo appeared in a commercial favoring the teaching of intelligent design.[58]
  9. John Millam - Software developer, signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism , denier of common dissent, advocate of intelligent design.[34][59]

May 7, 2005

  1. Nancy Bryson - Former Division Head of the Dept of Science and Mathematics at Mississippi University for Women who claims to have lost her position over a presentation Critical Thinking on Evolution that presented alternatives to Darwinian evolution. A senior professor of biology derided the speech as “religion masquerading as science.”[60][61] Bryson is often cited by the Discovery Institute as one who was “demonized and blacklisted” by “Darwinian fundamentalists.”[62]
  2. James Barham - Scholar, author, intelligent design advocate specializing in evolutionary epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and the foundations of biology, known for “Why I am not a Darwinist” in Debating Darwin, From Darwin to DNA [63] and quoted in Dembski’s Uncommon Dissent … Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing .[64][65]
  3. Stephen C. Meyer - Program Director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, Discovery Institute co-founder, signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism. [34]
  4. Angus Menuge - philosopher of science, Dept. of Philosophy Concordia University, Mequon, Wisconsin, who participated in Discovery Institute sponsored symposia leading up to the 2006 election for seats opening in the state Board of Education.[66][67] Menuge also describes himself as someone whose interests “now are in promoting Christian teaching and scholarship …”.[68][69]
  5. Warren Nord - Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Education, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,[39] and Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District defense witness who withdrew before testifying along with other Discovery Institute associates William Dembski, John Campbell, and Stephen C. Meyer.[70]
  6. Mustafa Akyol - Columnist in the Turkish daily newspaper Referans , and freelance writer in the U.S., vocal advocate of intelligent design.[71][72]
  7. Michael Behe - Biochemist at Lehigh University and prominent intelligent design proponent, Center for Science and Culture Fellow,[38] and signer of the Discovery Institute’s A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism ,[34] presented irreducible complexity with the claim that it was supported by a paper he had co-authored with David Snoke.[73]
  8. John Calvert - Lawyer who has worked closely with the Discovery Institute in finding constitutionally allowable ways to bring intelligent design and failing there, Teach the Controversy, into public schools. Managing Director of Intelligent Design network, inc., an organization that seeks intelligent design taught in public education.

May 12, 2005 (Closing Statements)

  1. Pedro L. Irigonegaray (for mainstream science)
  2. John Calvert (for intelligent design)

@swamidass I was thinking of DI staff, not the scientists who testified.