Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The "Of Pandas and People" fallacy

An anonymous commenter on a previous post seems singularly impressed with the argument that Intelligent Design is the same thing as creationism because references in a pro-Intelligent Design book called Of Pandas and People to "creationism" were changed in later editions to "Intelligent Design". What the editors did, claim ID critics, is to simply use a search and replace function to change the words.

I don't know that this is true. I'm sure I could find out by doing a little research, but I'm still trying to figure out why I should care.

I have asked the anonymous poster to tell me logically how this proves that Intelligent Design is the same thing as creationism, but all I seem to be getting in response is a repetition that it happened. This poster is not alone in his enthusiasm for this argument--or rather, this assertion. There are apparently a lot of ID critics who think this constitutes some kind of impressive case against Intelligent Design. They too are mum on exactly why we are supposed to be impressed.

If there were a book that discussed "materialism" and someone went through and replaced the term with "Darwinism" would that mean the two were the same thing? And why should anyone be surprised that some of the same arguments that can be made for creationism can be made for Intelligent Design? Obviously all creationists believe in Intelligent Design. But it does not follow that all those who believe in Intelligent Design believe in creationism. Need we point out that just because all materialists believe in common descent it does not therefore follow that all those who believe in common descent are materialists?

But I have thought a little more about it, and I'm beginning to think this idea--that simply replacing terms in a book can actually establish the identity of two different things--has some interesting possibilities. I mean if you could actually change reality by changing terms in a book, just imagine what you could do! In fact, if simply using the search and replace function can actually change things, then we don't need arguments anymore at all. Why bother making arguments when, with a few keystrokes, you can simply change your opponent's positions?

If I can change Intelligent Design into creationism by simply using my keyboard, then why can't I change Darwinists into believers in Intelligent Design by the same mechanism? But that would be boring. If I'm going to change Darwinists into something, why should it be human? We could revive endangered and extinct species this way. All we would have to do is a little hunting and pecking and, presto, we could have the Caribbean monk seal back!

This all sounds fairly preposterous, of course, but that's what happens when you follow the logic of this kind of argument to its conclusion.

Well, I've got to go now. I'm traveling, just got to the hotel and about to dig into a burrito. Oh, wait, maybe I can write up a little account of it and just change all occurrences of "burrito" to "prime rib."


Anonymous said...

Oh come on! You know this played a part in the Dover Trial. The "evolution" of Pandas and People showed that term "intelligent design" only was used after teaching creationism was declared illegal by the US Supreme Court in 1987. How common was the term "Intelligent Design" before 1987? If anything "ID" is a subset of creationism that avoids mentioning anything specific about the age of the earth or Noah's Flood to provide a big tent for Old Earth Creationists and other varieties such as the "Gap Theory."

The entire transcript of the Dover Trial can be found here:


Of course "Intelligent Design" received such a beating at the Dover Trial that we can look forward to new incarnations such as "sudden appearance" or "abrupt change."

Anonymous said...

This is fun. The banners of the Discovery Institute’s website (the major ID organization Martin sometimes writes for) has changed (evolved?) over the last few years.

See: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/8325_evolving_banners_at_the_discov_8_29_2002.asp

Until 1999 the banners featured the Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel. From 1999 to 2001 the banner featured God from the Sistine Chapel creating not Adam, but a DNA molecule (they must not of thought about this much as it would imply God being very tiny or DNA molecules very large). This was finally replaced by a Hubble Space Telescope image of a planetary nebula (the Hourglass Nebula) that looks a bit like a human eye (the web page above does not mention that this nebula photo is also nicknamed “The Eye of God” Nebula).

There are also a change in the name of the Division of the Discovery Institute that deals specifically with ID. It started out as the Discovery Institute’s “Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture”. It is now worded “Center for Science and Culture”. Someone at the DI must have realized “renewal” had a rather “inspirational” meaning.

Claiming ID is not a subset of creationism is just a ruse to get around Supreme Court rulings. The evidence is abundant and the Discovery Institute likes to obfuscate it by misdirections and cutsey attempts at humor such as Mr. Cothran's efforts here.

Martin Cothran said...

I never said it didn't play a part in the Dover trial. But the fact that it played a part in the Dover trial does not prove Intelligent Design is creationism.

You have yet to state how someone replacing terms in a book makes Intelligent Design the same thing as creationism.

And your assertion that Intelligent Design "is a subset of creationism" is quite frankly ludicrous. In fact, it is exactly the reverse: Creationism is a subset of Intelligent Design. All creationists are believers in Intelligent Design, but not all believers in Intelligent Design are creationists.

I just don't understand how anyone can make this argument given that there are plenty of people like Michael Behe who is very clearly a believer in Intelligent Design, and just as clearly NOT a creationist.

Does he just not exist? How can he not exist? After all, he's in the Dover trial, and something being in the Dover trial is apparently the only thing that matters.

Oh, and when you visit the link for the Dover decision, be sure to check out the section on ID not being science, in which Judge Jones logically trips all over himself, saying that ID is not falsifiable, but yet, somehow, is false.

Martin Cothran said...

So now that you can't give an actual argument for why switching terms in a book magically turns Intelligent Design proponents into creationists, you're asserting that changing a logo brings about this amazing transformation?

Still waiting for an actual argument...

Mark Browning said...

Hmmm... "How common was the term 'Intelligent Design' before 1987?" And the Supreme Court ruled against teaching creationism in 1987. Therefore, I must conclude... that's where you lost me.
I find it humorous when the advocates of science use such blatantly bad scientific reasoning. Aren't you supposed to control all the variables except one? Is there any other plausible/possible explanation for the term's emergence after 1987? Isn't it possible that nobody thought of the term until 1987 or after? And did you demonstrate when PRECISELY the term came into currency?
That seems to be a post hoc ergo prompter hoc fallacy if I'm not mistaken.
Creationism, it would seem to me, by being more constrained (accepting the Genesis account, for example) would be the subset of the superset "ID."
So let's do some inventory. You've now failed science, logic, and math. Shall I get into your B- English usage?

Anonymous said...


Mark (and Martin), I highly recommend Nick Matzke's article on The Panda's Thumb - http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/10/i_guess_id_real.html. Pay attention to the graphs - they show pretty explicitly a very compelling correlation between switches in terminology in the book in issue.

Staying with the food theme - creationism has always been about evolution NO!, and the arguments we see even today (in AiG and DI fora) date back decades. This has been explored at length by Nick (perhaps not at the site I point to - I'll try to track down some more stuff). So, basically, creationists have for decades been making burritos. The current crop of ID proponents are also making burritos. That they wish to call them T-bones doesn't change the fact that they are making burritos. Present day ID proponents haven't formulated a single, solitary argument or hypothesis that is not based entirely in good old-fashioned anti-evolution YECism. The wrap is the same, the insides are the same, even the toppings are the same.

What of the odd agnostic or alleged evolution sympathizer? Well, just because a vegetarian will taste a beef burrito doesn't make it anything other than a beef burrito.

Here's the thing, Mark (and Martin) - it's a very safe bet that you cannot come up with a single scientific statement or position from the DI that cannot be traced to its YEC roots. Nary a single, solitary one.

Burritos are burritos. No matter the bold claims that these tasty treats are really T-bones, ID and creationism are really one and the same. And they are better known by the rallying cry that is heard at ID revivals everywhere - EVOLUTION NO!.

Martin Cothran said...


Maybe you could explain how a statement like "it's a very safe bet that you cannot come up with a single scientific statement or position from the DI that cannot be traced to its YEC roots. Nary a single, solitary one" is not an example of the genetic fallacy.

Have you ever investigated the relationship between the development of astronomy and astrology? Or for that matter the relationship between early science and magic (I recommend a good biography of Paracelsus). Oh and check out the alchemical origin of chemistry.

But wait. Maybe you're onto something here. I see little different between philosophical materialism and evolution. They both believe the same things about science. In fact, they both have been about "Evolution--YES!". They must therefore be the same thing.

Benjamin Franklin said...

1986 version of "Of Pandas and People"

-"Creation means that the various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent creator with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc."

1987 version
-"Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, etc"

Looks to me like Intelligent Design is defined exactly like creation. Is it any wonder people conflate the two?

Martin Cothran said...


The link to the Panda's Thumb site you posted got cut off. Can you separate it into two lines so the whole thing shows up? I'd like to take a look at it.


Anonymous said...

Hi MArtin,

Sorry for missing this - I was in Cinci over the weekend, taking in a Red Sox game (yup, I'm one of them...)

Here is the link I botched before, split into lines that fit into the comment box:


Some other ones:




Jeffrey Helix said...

Just to clarify for anyone who happens to come across this post, the early drafts from "Of Pandas and People" do not have any religious content because they lack all of the following:

1. Claiming that a supernatural god...

2. Created everything out of nothing in less than a week

3. The Earth is less than 10,000 years old

4. Fossils are there to "test our faith," or a global catastrophic flood created an appearance of age

5. We should rely on the bible or other sacred texts to draw conclusions

Given that none of those are in the early drafts, it can't be argued they "prove" that ID is the same thing as creationism.

The logic of ID critics is as follows:

P1 - Dogs have tails.

P2 - Cats have tails.

Conclusion - Therefore dogs and cats are one in the same.

Hope that clears some confusion up.