I haven't written much here about the whole "Intelligent Design" movement, in part because the thing itself is a bit too fuzzy to get a handle on.

Part of the problem I have with it is that it is a movement — and much more of a political movement than a scientific one. That political movement got a big boost last week when President Bush responded to a question by saying that Intelligent Design should be taught "alongside" evolution in public classrooms. (I'm too late to this party to make the obvious jokes about seeing the words "President Bush" and "Intelligent Design" in the same sentence.)

I'll have more to say on "ID" down the line, but for now let me just refer you to Roger Ebert's review of the movie "Skeleton Key," which opens today.

The scary stuff in this horror/thriller comes from "Hoodoo" which, Ebert explains, is:

… not to be confused with voodoo. Hoodoo, we learn is American folk magic incorporating incantations, conjurations, herbal remedies and suchlike; voodoo is a religion, Caroline is told, but "God don't have much to do with Hoodoo."

The movie's Hoodoo doesn't cast much of a spell on Ebert, and his response sums up my reaction to "Intelligent Design":

What's the deal with Hoodoo? It doesn't work unless you really believe in it, we're told, but if you really do, it really does. Considering what happens when you do, I think it's better if you don't. Besides, I believe things either work or don't work whether or not you think they can. Especially things that God don't have much to do with.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • pansauce

    (I’m too late to this party to make the obvious jokes about seeing the words “President Bush” and “Intelligent Design” in the same sentence.)
    Oh come on, it’s never too late to make some jokes.

  • yohan

    “It doesn’t work unless you really believe in it, we’re told, but if you really do, it really does. Considering what happens when you do, I think it’s better if you don’t.”
    Oh, I admire that. Ebert doesn’t get enough credit for being a fine writer.

  • pansauce

    Oh, and before I forget:
    The scary stuff in this horror/thriller comes from “Hoodoo”
    Cary Grant: You remind me of a man.
    Shirley Temple: What man?
    Grant:The man with the power.
    Temple:What power?
    Grant:The power of hoodoo.
    Grant:You do.
    Temple:Do what?
    Grant:Remind me of a man.
    Temple:What man?
    From The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

  • pansauce

    Ebert doesn’t get enough credit for being a fine writer.
    Spend a little time looking over his Glossary of Movie Terms, Ebert’s a genius. It’s Siskel 2.0 who sucks.

  • VKW

    Fred, you say Intelligent Design (ID) is “a movement — and much more of a political movement than a scientific one.” I would say it is also much more political than religious in nature.

  • Stephen Sample

    The biggest problem I have with Intelligent Design is that it assumes a Designer that’s either incompetent, lazy, or overworked to the point of doing a lot of really slipshod corner-cutting. There’s a huge range of animal features (the enlarged radial sesamoid bone in giant pandas, for example, which stands in as a “thumb”) that make absolutely no sense unless you assume that they were jury-rigged from whatever parts were available. That sort of constraint makes sense for natural selection, but it seems sort of insulting to attribute it to God.
    Actually, if I were a teacher, I’d be tempted to present Intelligent Design along with examples of really bizarre hacks in the physical forms of organisms, and argue that they demonstrate either a lack of Design, or a lack of Intelligence–but that they make a lot of sense if you assume that they arise from simple random variations, some of which increased the odds of survival or reproduction (for example, by making it easier to pick leaves for feeding). You’d need to go into a fair bit of embryology and some simple genetics, including the actions of rate and control genes, but it could be a cool class. And it would treat Intelligent Design as a science, which it claims to be.

  • Beth

    I believe things either work or don’t work whether or not you think they can.
    Apparently, Mr. Ebert’s never heard of placebos.
    Especially things that God don’t have much to do with.
    … such as complete sentences and subject-verb agreement.
    I’m sorry, but I’ll never understand the attraction of Ebert’s writing. He does ‘clever’ pretty well, and that’s fine, but it’s no substitute for actual thought and insight.

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Pansauce: Thank you very much. I now have David Bowie and a bunch of muppets singing in my head. (Why, yes, I am a child of the 80s!)
    Stephen: What, you go to all the trouble of describing the Panda’s thumb, and you don’t even link it? Well, heck!

  • pharoute

    I’ve found in my admittingly few encounters with believers of Intelligent Design (aka Creationism) that it’s very hard to teach someone if they don’t want to learn. I’ve tried explaining the process of the the scientific method and “Whoa you lost me with that…” was a common response. “What? the part about 1 + 1 = 2?” There’s a lack of faith going on with ID and it’s not a lack of faith in God; it’s a lack of faith in their own human intelligence to understand, to learn, to know.

  • pharoute

    Fred I hope you that when you say “it’s too fuzzy to get a handle on” you mean the ID theory itself and not the “debate” between TOE and ID as to which explains what’s going on best? Creating doubt about TOE plays into their (ID pushers) hands. That’s exactly what they want; to propagate the idea that “we got 99.8% of the scientists in the world saying that the theory of evolution is sound and .2% saying ID is where it’s at… clearly the Truth is in the middle.”
    No! the Theory of Evolution has stood up to every test, global warming is happening and the photon really does go through both slits at once.

  • Andy

    I was taught just plain old regular boring evolution in school, and no one ever mentioned “God” as far as I can recall, but I remember thinking how marvelously complex nature was and how astounding and vast the interconnectedness is throughout the entire universe; life is almost like a house of cards, remove just one element of the incredibly fragile balance that keeps us alive, and it all falls apart.
    I don’t accept these silly things like panda thumbs or the human appendix prove that if God were some kind of engineer he must not be a very good one. Pretty sketchy theology, if you ask me, to say, “God wouldn’t have done this because I wouldn’t have done it.” God’s logic is not human logic, and we have to trust that He sees all ends when we do not.

  • evagrius

    The problem with creationism and ID and God is quite simple; it anthropomorphizes God, reducing God to some grandiose human intelligence who tinkers like some mechanic.
    Christian theology has always been aware of the limits of human language and thought regarding God. The fifth century saw the development in theology of “apophatic” or “negative” theology. This theology pointed out that all language about God is inadequate and ultimately misleading. Theologians kept that awareness even as they developed complex systems of thought. Unfortunately, evangelicals, a fifteen hundred years later, decided that there was an adequate language, that of the Bible and that was that. Biblical scholarship has shown that the Bible is itself prey to ambiguity and unclearness, obvious to anyone living in the 21st century reading about people living 3 thousand years later.
    Creationis and ID is a political movement, based on the anthropomorphic notion of God as Ruler, micro-managing every detail of the universe. From that notion, it’s obvious that society must mirror the rule of God, therefore a strict hierarchy of power and wealth etc;
    Amazingly, these people never look at Christian theology. After, God, in basic Christianity, is Trinitarian, a Community of Love, as it were. If this is true, then the relationship of God and the universe is one of communitarian love, which allows nature the freedom to evolve under its own power, so to speak, and not to be manipulated by some Deity.
    It’s too bad that the debate does not explore these areas but I’m not surprised. Few people really study religions and societies, especially evangelicals.

  • Reverend Ref

    “God’s logic is not human logic, and we have to trust that He sees all ends when we do not.”
    Andy got it right with this one. The fundagelicals are so sure of their rightness that their thoughts must be God’s thoughts. They seem to forget that God is way beyond our understanding.
    It’s that assuredness that “God MUST do things my way” that drives me nuts.

  • Mnemosyne

    The problem with creationism and ID and God is quite simple; it anthropomorphizes God, reducing God to some grandiose human intelligence who tinkers like some mechanic.
    I keep asking fundies why their God is so tiny that they can understand everything He’s ever done. I never get an answer.

  • Devin Hurd

    Creationism (or I.D. as all the “cool” kids call it now) is religion. Evolution is science. If we really need to pump more religion into the classroom then it’s only fair to push some science into the churches. That’s pretty much my riff at: http://hurdaudio.blogspot.com/2005/08/is-our-children-evolving.html

  • Edward Liu

    Gotta recommend Jay Hosler’s The Sandwalk Adventures for those interested in understanding the actual science behind evolution and some good counter-arguments to “intelligent design” advocates. It’s a comic book where Charles Darwin has an extended conversation with a follicle mite living in his left eyebrow. It’s charming, funny, and Hosler is a science teacher.
    Meanwhile, the Air Force is funding programs to teach screenwriters to do better science in movie scripts, in the theory that science has become “uncool” and that we need a space-program-style push to get more kids to become scientists, while the President is pushing “Intelligent Design” and gleefully ignoring all the serious science about global warming or stem cell research because “they’re all just theories.” AND he is taken seriously by the sorely science-deficient public. If this didn’t piss me off me as much as it does, I’m sure I’d find it hilarious.

  • Lila

    Actually, it looks like the point is more to teach scientists to be scriptwriters, which is way more of an uphill battle. I wish what they’d do instead is set up a collaboration between scientists and scriptwriters.
    Often a script could actually be made MORE interesting if the science were correct. I think collaboration would be a faster and more effective way of achieving this goal.
    Of course, neither one is going to overcome the antiscientific worldview of those currently in power.

  • Devon

    My main problem with ID is that it in effect is saying, “I can’t imagine how this thing could have become so complex without some intelligent designer making it that way.” That’s just bad reasoning. Just because you can’t imagine another way, doesn’t mean there isn’t another way. As far as teaching it in a science class goes, it’s not falsifiable, so it’s not science, so it shouldn’t be taught in a science class. You don’t teach physics in sunday school, and you shouldn’t teach ID in a science class.
    Further, the whole push behind ID is backwards. Some people have conclusions about God. They’ve created some “science” that supports those conclusions. I have no problem with anyone believing what they believe, but you can’t subvert science to manipulate other people. (Or you shouldn’t.) It undermines science itself and degrades our (general) trust in it.
    Science in film/TV: They should get the writers from Futurama to do the training. Quite a few Math and Physics PhDs.

  • Maximus

    Evagrius: Amen on the negative theology. That’s my bag.
    Here’s something on the mindset that underlies “Intelligent Design” that I wrote recently:
    Matt Yglesias of TAPPED just posted on the same subject today. Specifically, he addresses the IDers’ spurious claim that the fossil record is missing “transitional forms”.
    The fossil record will always be incomplete, since good fossils are only formed under exceptional circumstances. But in fact, it consists of nothing BUT “transitional forms”. Every life form represents a transition between its ancestors and its descendants. This points to an underlying error in creationist/ID thought — and in conservative thought generally.
    The error, very simply, is the tendency to view everything in terms of fixed categories. Biologists now believe that “species” are provisional groupings, and that the boundaries between them are porous. The process of speciation is not fully understood, but we know that organisms that we classify as different species are in some cases capable of producing offspring… and that the traits of isolated populations can drift quite a bit over time.
    Similarly, anthropologists understand that there are no absolutely defined “races” within the human species — only large population clusters that tend to share certain traits, but that are not separated by any rigid divisions. And while sex differentiation is much more biologically real (save for a tiny number of “intersex” individuals), the cultural gender roles assigned to men and women are now understood to bear only a tenuous link to biology.
    Yet conservatives are threatened by all of these truths. Their worldviews are based on absolute, unchanging categories: men vs. women, whites vs. blacks, straights vs. gays, sinners vs. saints, Americans vs. foreigners, rich vs. poor, and humans vs. animals. The notion that humans evolved gradually from other life forms doesn’t just challenge a literalist reading of Genesis — it challenges the entire conservative mindset of fixed categories, inherited from Plato and Aristotle.
    As I said to Thomas [my co-blogger] the other day, I’m something of a deist and something of a Taoist — so I’m comfortable with the notion of a “cosmic mind” behind the marvelous forms of the physical world. But I leave it entirely to science to describe how an infinitesimal kernel of energy bloomed into the physically, chemically, and biologically complex universe we now inhabit. As Lao Tzu put it,
    What we look for beyond seeing
    And call the unseen […]
    forever sends forth a succession of living things as mysterious
    As the unbegotten existence to which they return.
    Change is good! And it’s always happening, whether we like it or not, and whatever its ultimate cause. We might as well get used to it.

  • Maximus

    P.S. The Lao Tzu quote is from the Witter Bynner translation of the Tao Teh Ching — my favorite.

  • evagrius

    Maximus? That’s interesting since Maximus the Confessor “saved” Evagrius’ mystical theology from oblivion in the sixth century.
    Good observation on the fixed categories of “conservative” thinking.

  • animus

    Intelligent Design is the idea that for life as we know it to have evolved by chance, the world would have to be, like, billions of years old.

  • Lila

    Re fixed categories–I have noticed that in almost all debates/discussions of homosexuality, the existence of bisexuals is ignored. Another example of the preference for clear either/or categories.

  • R. Mildred

    Re fixed categories–I have noticed that in almost all debates/discussions of homosexuality, the existence of bisexuals is ignored. Another example of the preference for clear either/or categories.
    that’s more because both sides of the arguement find their argument simultaneously porven and disporven by the existance of bisexuals, homosexuals dislike bisexuals because of the high number of self procliamed “bisexual” heterosexual men and women and because they can be used to bolster the idea that sexuality is a choice a person makes, while bisexuality doesn’t fit into the hard and fast world of sexuality that the homophobes are convinced exists, and make the ex-gays feel inadequate and weak too.

  • Lila

    (apologies if this comes across twice–just had some kind of weird keyboard glitch)
    R. Mildred, what’s the source of your claim that large numbers of people who say they are bisexual are “really” heterosexual? An individual’s self-report may not necessarily be truthful or accurate, but a priori, that individual is in a position to know something about his/her own sexuality.
    Do you also posit large numbers of self-proclaimed heterosexuals who are really bisexual or homosexual? Or large numbers of self-proclaimed homosexuals who are really bisexual or heterosexual? If not, why not? (And what do you mean by “ex-gay”? Someone who used to be homosexual and is now heterosexual? Or someone who thought he/she was gay and now realizes he/she is straight?)
    I am not just being contrarian here. Since my family and friends include straight, bi, and gay individuals, I don’t consider this a theoretical or trivial issue.

  • Sand

    The platypus has a pouch, fur, and secretes milk for its young. It lays leathery eggs like a reptile. It has a rubbery snout like a bill. It has webbed feet. The babies have teeth (including molars), the adults are toothless.
    Though the female has two ovaries, only the left one is functional. The right ovary remains undeveloped.
    Though the platypus makes milk for its young, it forgoes the bother of nipples. The milk is secreted directly through pores in the skin to pool in grooves in the female’s abdomen to be lapped up by the babies.
    The Platypus is a carnivore, eating worms and crayfish, and it locates its prey in part by detecting their body electricity using its sensitive bill.
    The platypus has ten sex chromosomes, compared to two (XY) found in most other mammals.
    The male has poison elbow spurs. That’s right. Poisoned elbows.
    Nature is strange and wonderful… and often weird, too.

  • Maximus

    Evagrius: Yes, Maximus the Confessor is my patron saint. I was raised Eastern Orthodox… am no longer practicing, but theologically speaking, it’s still my favorite Christian tradition.

  • R. Mildred

    R. Mildred, what’s the source of your claim that large numbers of people who say they are bisexual are “really” heterosexual?
    you misunderstand me some what (my bad), what I’m talking of is the people who talk of being bisexual, but are in no other way bisexual, generally they’re straight (and aren’t attracted to members of the same sex and ahve oftne never had a sexual encountre with someone of the same gender), mainly women who use it to make men think they have a shot at a threesome. It’s kind of like doing black face to a member of the black panthers, lesbians really hate it, really really hate it, and the existance of these patriarchally blinded idiots means that real Bisexuals get a bad reputation in the gay community.
    Ex-gays are a very specific sort of person, almost always homosexual, these people have, due usually to social or peer pressure, decided to fight against their “unnatural” urges and become straight, fundamentalist christian churches have set up organisations such as Exodus international and Love In Action to essentially spread the gospel of ex-gayism.
    Much of it basically involves instilling a combination of self hate and over the top heterosexual gender roles onto the poor fools who end up in them.
    There are also camps where gay teenagers have been sent against their will in the hopes that they’ll be turned straight, these camps, unsurprisingly, attractcharges of child abuse and criminal mistreatement because the people who run them consider gays and mildly effeminate behaviour to be evil.
    an example of Ex-Gay philosophy can be found here: http://www.positiveliberty.com/2005/07/how-not-to-make-me-ex-gay.html (the letter not the pictures)

  • Lila

    Thanks for the clarification (and the link). –Lila

  • J Mann

    Good post, Fred. The American Scene has a nice post on intelligent design on a similar theme here:

  • Greg

    It’s interesting that people use “science” and references to the laws of science to disprove Intelligent Design. How about the law of thermodynamics – that matter can neither be created or destroyed? So… where did all of the matter come from? How about the “big bang”? Since an outside source was required to produce the effect, where did the source emit from?
    How about an evolving species? We don’t see dogs growing fins to swim better, even though they like the water. How about amphibious creatures turning into land-dwellers? How many fish flopped out on land and died before they grew lungs? Did the first have both lungs and gills, or just one? Where are any of these examples? Here’s a good question… When the first creatures emerged from the primordial ooze, were they male or female? How about emerging from the sea? If both male and female evolved at the same time, what are the ASTRONOMICAL odds of that occuring? Perhaps they were asexual? If so, why did they de-evolve into less efficient male and female versions IN EVERY CASE?
    I love science.

  • A Nerd

    Greg wrote a bunch of stuff and ended with:
    I love science.
    Ah. Irony.
    May I suggest that if you really, honestly want to understand evolution that you start here:

  • none

    Ebert is simply wrong about hoodoo: the idea that “you must believe in it for it to work” was a thesis of the movie Skeleton Key.” It is not a thesis of actual African American folk magic or hoodoo. Ebert got it wrong. (Intelligent Design still makes no m istake, but your analogy sucks.)†8

  • rickydoc trickmaster: hoodooman

    intelligent design is a trick
    and a not very intelligent one
    read somewhere that we might as well
    teach the kids the earth is flat
    while we at it
    and as far as hoodoo goes
    the skeleton key is strictly hollywood
    slaverytime hoodoo and about a 100 years
    out of date
    the cutting edge of
    contemporary hoodoo is concerned with destinical
    obligations and responsibilities
    guide and guardian of humanitys destiny
    and all god creature great and small
    “cast your vision young hoodoo
    as far as you can see
    determine the challenges the tribe will face
    prepare the tribal soul to meet them”
    rickydoc trickmaster