What is pseudoscience and why is Intelligent Design considered pseudoscience?

On a previous thread, I responded to a peremptory demand from @colewd:

I stand by that opinion, as a discussion of “What is pseudoscience and why is Intelligent Design Pseudoscience?” would have derailed that topic. It seemed to me to be sufficient for the topic of “Is the Wikipedia page on Intelligent Design biased?” to point out that there appears to be widespread consensus in the scientific community that ID is pseudoscience, for the application of that label to ID in its Wikipedia article to not be considered biased, without the need for that thread to digress into why they consider ID to be pseudoscience.

That does not however mean that this isn’t a good topic for its own thread. In skimming the issue, I cam across this list of questions, in Michael Shermer’s chapter, ‘Science and Pseudoscience, The Difference in Practice and the Difference It Makes’, in Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem:

Creation science (and its most recent hybrid, Intelligent Design theory) is just one of many beliefs that most mainstream scientists reject as pseudoscience. But what about those claims to scientific knowledge that are not so obviously classified as pseudoscience? When encountering a claim, how can one determine whether it constitutes a legitimate assertion as scientific? What follows is a list of ten questions that get to the heart of delimiting the boundaries be- tween science and pseudoscience.

  1. How reliable is the source of the claim? All scientists make mistakes, but are the mistakes random, as one might expect from a normally reliable source, or are they directed toward supporting the claimant’s preferred belief? Ideally, scientists’ mistakes are random; pseudoscientists’ mistakes tend to be directional and systematic, and this is, in fact, how scientific fraud has been uncovered by searching for intentional bias

  2. Does this source often make similar claims? Pseudoscientists have a habit of going well beyond the facts, and so when individuals make many extraordinary claims, they may be more than iconoclasts; for example, those who believe in one form of paranormal belief tend to believe most other para- normal claims as well. What one is looking for here is a pattern of fringe thinking that consistently ignores or distorts data

  3. Have the claims been verified by another source? Typically, pseudoscientists make statements that are unverified or are verified by a source within their own belief circle. One must ask who is checking the claims and even who is checking the checkers.

  4. How does the claim fit with what is known about how the world works? An extraordinary claim must be placed in a larger context to see how it fits. When people claim that the pyramids and the Sphinx were built over 10,000 years ago by an advanced race of humans, they are not presenting any context for that earlier civilization. Where are its works of art, weapons, clothing, tools, and trash

  5. Has anyone made an effort to disprove the claim, or has only confirmatory evidence been sought? This is the confirmation bias or the tendency to seek confirmatory evidence and reject or ignore disconfirmatory evidence. The confirmation bias is powerful and pervasive. This is why the scientific method—which emphasizes checking and rechecking, verification and replication, and especially attempts to falsify a claim—is critical

  6. Does the preponderance of evidence converge on the claimant’s conclusion or a different one? The theory of evolution, for example, is proved through a convergence of evidence from a number of independent lines of inquiry. No single fossil or piece of biological or paleontological evidence has the word “evolution” written on it; instead, there is a convergence from tens of thousands of evidentiary bits that adds up to a story of the evolution of life. Creationists conveniently ignore this convergence, focusing instead on trivial anomalies or currently unexplained phenomena in the history of life

  7. Is the claimant employing the accepted rules of science and tools of research, or have those rules and tools been abandoned in favor of others that lead to the desired conclusion? Ufologists, for example, exhibit this fallacy in their continued focus on a handful of unexplained atmospheric anomalies and visual misperceptions by eyewitnesses while ignoring that the vast majority of UFO sightings are fully explicable. This is an example of data mining or cherry-picking examples to fit one’s belief

  8. Has the claimant provided a different explanation for the observed phenomena, or is it strictly a matter of denying the existing explanation? This is a classic debate strategy to avoid criticism: criticize your opponent and never ai rm what you believe. h is strategy is unacceptable in science

  9. If the claimant has proffered a new explanation, does it account for as many phenomena as does the old explanation? For a new theory to displace an old theory, it must explain what the old theory did and then some

  10. Do the claimants’ personal beliefs and biases drive the conclusions or vice versa? All scientists have social, political, and ideological beliefs that potentially could slant their interpretations of the data, but at some point, usually during the peer-review process, those biases and beliefs are rooted out or the paper or book is rejected for publication.

It’s clear from his prefatory remarks that Shermer considers Intelligent Design to be “obviously classified as pseudoscience”, but it may be interesting to consider the degree to which ID fits these criteria.


Oh blimey, an un-premoderated thread! Wonders will never cease.

I’m not convinced ID thinking rises to the level of pseudoscience. There is certainly no concept of an explanation for anything: just an assertion that evolution fails as an explanation, so the only alternative is an “ID” alternative which is not specified.


All one has to do is pick the “Conversation – Side Conversation” option in “category . . .” when you’re setting up the new topic. If you’re the thread creator, you can even change the category after the thread has started. :slight_smile:

This does however mean that the thread won’t appear on PS’s front page.

I think that matches Shermer’s #8.

  1. Attempts to imitate surface features of science in order to gain prestige. Think of Ann Gauger in a white lab coat in front of a green screen, or all the fancy math in Bill Dembski’s books, or the baraminologist method ANOPA, a name clearly modeled on ANOVA.

Add AiG and DI’s ‘peer-review’ processes, and Bio-Complexity’s page-numbering scheme.


Since this isn’t on the front page …

Somehow I had never heard of ANOPA, so I did a little reading.


Why not just use PCA or MANOVA? Then they could have real results instead of nonsense.

OK, so I guess I answered my own question.

As far as I can ascertain, “Analysis of Pattern”/ANOPA itself is a fairly conventional part of Systematics, and it is rather the ends that it is being put to by baraminologists that are pseudoscientific, rather than the method itself.

What is most amazing is the number of traditional systematic methods and terminology that are employed by baraminologists. While they use many of the same methods as most systematists, from cladistics to the Analysis of Pattern (ANOPA) method, they use these tools to identify the “gaps”, rather than the connections in life as most systematists do. This is why baraminologists principally employ phenetic methods of Sokal and Sneath (1963) — which are based on overall similarities in appearance or general features — computing distance matrices for a group of taxa and producing character mismatch statistics based on the matching coefficient of Sokal and Michener (1958). They see phenetics as useful in determining the biological gaps.

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It is not. Nobody uses ANOPA except baraminologists, who invented it. And let’s face it, it’s a silly method, it has no attempted justification, and it produces no useful analysis. Cargo cult science. And NCSE is wrong on this point.

The name is, I’m sure, intended to ape ANOVA, and the method is intended to ape PCA.


I cannot help but note that, despite his repeated insistence that he wanted a deeper discussion on the subject of whether ID is pseudoscience: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], @colewd has been strangely silent on this thread.

If one was being cynical, one might almost think that Bill was simply bringing the issue up as an attempt to distract from the fact that the original thread was finding no evidence of substantive bias in Wikipedia’s ID article, rather than any interest in discussing this topic, with people who had taken the chance to put thought into, and read up on, the mountain of reasoned opinion for regarding ID as pseudoscience.

Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are not as they ought to be.

– Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary


Hi Tim
I don’t know how to have a conversation that has any chance to reach common ground without a clear objective definition of the words science and pseudoscience.

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I think that statement has a number of problems:

Firstly, I do not think that either “science” or “pseuodscience” can be defined in binary, black an white, terms. There will always be shades of grey. The Wikipedia ArbComm decision on Pseudoscience that I quoted in the ‘Is the Wikipedia page on Intelligent Design biased?’ thread acknowledges this by offering categories ranging from “Obvious pseudoscience” through “Generally considered pseudoscience”, then "Questionable science"and “Alternative theoretical formulations”. But the fact that not everything is black and white does not mean that some things aren’t dark enough for it to be reasonable to call them “black”. In this case, the more answers to Shermer’s ten questions that land on the ‘Pseudoscience’ side, and the more blatantly that they do so, the more obviously pseudoscientific the claim under consideration.

Secondly, whether “a clear objective definition of the words science and pseudoscience” is irrelevant to the question of whether Wikipedia is biased in labeling ID pseudoscientific. It is well outside Wikipedia’s (or any other Encyclopedia’s, excepting perhaps an Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Science) area of competency to determine whether such a definition exists, and has been correctly applied. The best it can reasonably be expected to do is to report the consensus expert opinion – which is that ID is pseudoscience.

Thirdly, unless and until you yourself can provide a credible definition of “pseudoscience” that you can credibly claim that ID doesn’t meet, you will have a very hard time credibly claiming that Wikipedia is wrong for stating that ID is pseudoscience. If you wish to indict Wikipedia, you must provide evidence for this indictment – otherwise the indictment can simply be dismissed.

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I suggest that you start by giving us clear and objective definitions of the words “clear” and “objective”.


From Wikipedia.

Pseudoscience consists of statements, beliefs, or practices that claim to be both scientific and factual but are incompatible with the scientific method.[1][Note 1] Pseudoscience is often characterized by contradictory, exaggerated or unfalsifiable claims; reliance on confirmation bias rather than rigorous attempts at refutation; lack of openness to evaluation by other experts; absence of systematic practices when developing hypotheses; and continued adherence long after the pseudoscientific hypotheses have been experimentally discredited

The only way to get ID to fit this definition is to misrepresent it as Wikipedia does in the body of its article.The bottom line is the posters are not looking at both sides of the discussion.

What part of

… did you fail to understand?

Simply baldy asserting that “the only way to get ID to fit this definition is to misrepresent it” is, as it lacks any evidence supporting the assertion, not a credible claim.

Just off the top of my head, it seems that ID is likely to check all those boxes – many of which seem in accord with Shermer’s questions.

. .and continued adherence long after the pseudoscientific hypotheses have been experimentally discredited.



Shermer and most the evolutionists here mis represent ID. You do not understand ID if you think it can check the boxes. Your orientation is based on listening only to one side of the argument that continues to misrepresent it. I have spent hours correcting people here but if they do not want to objectively understand the alternative hypothesis there is nothing I can do about it.

No one has made any serious challenge to Behe’s arguments. They only challenge straw man versions. Evolution as it is currently proposed does not have an answer for the origin of complexity. Without a testable explanation for the origin of complexity there is no real theory for macro evolution. As it stands macro evolution checks the boxes for pseudoscience as articulated by Wikipedia.

-The origin of specific vertebrates with unique features is untestable
-Common descent as it stands is unfalsifiable as contradictions get treated as features
-There is a lack of engagement with the alternative theory as ID is constantly mis represented by the “experts”

Which parts of that are misrepresentations? It appears to be perfectly accurate to me.


QED, again…
No one has made any serious challenge to Behe’s arguments.

One wonders why Behe created three versions of IC.

Colewd might demonstrate that the pseudoscientific characterization does not apply to himself by describing a couple, ‘serious’ ID theories he believes have been well rebutted.


Your hours spent correcting only show that you don’t understand ID at all. In that very post you confuse ID with separate creation, while most of the other IDers here claim it is not. That is in fact your central misconception that you repeat in every single post.

Also, whatever does this mean?: