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Intelligent design, about which I have learned far more than I would have liked, isn’t a theory at all. It’s the idea that when faced with the current frontier of detailed understanding of biological systems, we should stop researching, throw up our hands and accept it’s magic.

- Peter Risdon commenting here.

Yes, that’s right. ID isn’t science. It’s like an old medieval map that says we know the way from London to Bristol but much west, into the Atlantic, of Bristol “There be Dragons”. ID is a dismal attempt at codifying the limits of biological science on faux-theological grounds. I shall ignore the fact that it is merely the Sylvester Sneekley for Creationism’s Hooded Claw for the moment because let’s stick to the science for a bit before we get on to that. OK?

The Twentieth Century has seen many advances in physics and mathematics that are, or seem to be, about fundamental limits on human knowledge. Aspects of quantum mechanics, relativity and of course Gödel’s incompleteness theorems spring to mind. Now strain these ideas through the mind of a cracker barrel philosopher with a certain religious axe to grind and then apply the resultant filtrate to biology and you get ID. Of course we all know Einstein showed everything was relative (he didn’t) and that QM shows nothing can be known (it doesn’t) and that Gödel proved nothing can be proved (he didn’t) but let’s not let the technicalities of differential geometry or quantum commutators or even diagonal lemmas get in the way of what we just know to be true already. Oh, Lordy no! And then for an encore apply these utterly misconstrued precepts to biology by a half-assed argument by analogy. Biology doesn’t push the boundaries the same way math or physics does. It pushes different boundaries. It’s boundaries are not so much those of spacetime or logic but those of truly deep complexity. If you think about it that is obvious and the reason these things are different disciplines is much the same way that the greatest spin-bowler of all time isn’t the greatest centre-forward of all time and vice-versa or that Mozart and Maxwell despite both being geniuses were hardly interchangeable.

Anyway this is my tuppence on ID. It’s the pub bore’s (stands to reason, read it in The Express, must be true?) misapplication to biology of a misunderstanding of the physical and mathematical sciences where it’s neither wanted nor useful nor true in any meaningful sense of that word and the harnessing of an invented Zeitgeist to drag the thoroughly discredited concept of creationism into this century without it being laughed at out loud that much. It is deeply disingenuous in the same way Old Skool patent remedies are. I have much more time – much more – for people who simply say they believe the world was created in six days, “Because the Bible tells me so” than for these pseudo-scientists who dress the rotting corpse of their faith in The Creation in a frayed lab coat for yet another go at an argument they lost on scientific grounds a century ago**.

Creationists (and as Peter points out IDers are creationists) frequently claim “Darwinism” (like no other scientist ever worked in the field! – we have classical physics not “newtonism”*) leads to all manner of social ills and almost to a form of nihilism. I have never understood this. Science is morally neutral and it is the creationists who attempt to make it something other than that – essentially they “socialize” science and want it to aim for what is “good” rather than what is true. The truth sometimes hurts – get over it!

Certainly, to me, there is a greater grandeur to the Universe than anything in Genesis though I can understand why someone brought up on six days might be upset by the truth. There has to be more otherwise we have all been wasting our smiting time*** since the Bronze Age when, obviously, all was set aright by a bunch of bearded lunatics wandering around a desert. Why is it that religions have a tendency to arise in deserts and similarly inhospitable terrain? Might I suggest it’s because there is fuck all else to do other than to make shit up?

I feel sorry for the IDers. They are denying themselves the knowledge of truly exquisite beauty in favour of what my brother would call “best bollocks”. The user guide to this Universe was stolen by Prometheus and the fire is not in deliberately cryptic nostrums from burning bushes (I once set fire to a bush by mistake and she almost killed me****) but in The Calculus***** and in Darwin and all the rest of those cats.

The metaphor of bringing light into darkness is over used but science does bring light into the dark and ID is deliberate obscurantism and that is not and never can be science. Science is plus ultra or it is nothing. We can end up going back to shivering in the cave or sending spacecraft to Europa. The choice is that simple.

*”newtonian” is usually given the lower case. Well, you figure that out…
**The final nail in the coffin of creationism was hammered home by Hans Bethe. He demonstrated that the stars shone by nuclear fusion. Hitherto Kelvin’s theory had the stars shining by gravitational collapse. Kelvin was wrong. Bethe was right (or I really did waste a lot of time) and it shifted the time-scale dramatically. Sad story in a way. The day he got his theory down he had a date and his potential inamorata, as he was walking her home, said something about how beautiful the stars were that night. Bethe replied, “Yes, and only I know how they shine”. She wasn’t impressed. So Bethe didn’t even get tops and fingers that night but I guess the Nobel sort of made up for it.
***Kinda like Hammer Time but with less voluminous trousers.
**** In the garden. Does that make it better?
*****See *, there are many calculi but only one is capitalised. I never claimed science was consistent in it’s nomenclature.


  1. CountingCats says:

    I liked the name Freeborn John.

    I guess we should update the blogroll.

  2. Angry Exile says:

    “… essentially they “socialize” science and want it to aim for what is “good” rather than what is true.”

    Applicable both to Creationists and Greenies (capitalisation optional). Now I’ve just got to work out which I should worry about more.

  3. Kevin B says:

    Angry, Greens win hands down. Creationists, IDers and the like really are having unwinnable pub arguments. Greens want to send us back to the stone age.

    And the greens have a load of Cnuts in governments around the world.

  4. NickM says:

    “I guess we should update the blogroll.”

    Am I gonna do that or are you? That’s a hell of a job. It’s the greatest work in fiction since Twerp’s Peerage.

  5. CountingCats says:

    We’ve never cared who’s done it before, why should we start now?

    I’ve had, and lost, a list of sites to add so I guess it’s about time I did something about it. But I don’t see that precluding you from doing your own thing. Or not.

  6. Peter Risdon says:

    It turned out there were a few Freeborn Johns around, including a real sPeKeYorbRains type at the Telegraph. So I decided to be me.

    I do, though, own the domain (which was the name of a newspaper of sorts published by the Levellers), and I keep thinking I ought to use it for something.

  7. CountingCats says:

    Believe it or not, but I own I have never really known what to do with that one either. I’ve thought of using it as an aggregation site for other postings.

  8. Peter Risdon says:

    Sell it to the British Council?

  9. CountingCats says:

    Aren’t they being scrapped?

  10. El Draque says:

    Talking of religions originating in deserts: if you’ve never slept outside in a desert miles from artificial light, you won’t know how brilliant and awe-inspiring stars are. They do make almost anyone think.
    I also saw satellites passing over – at least, I think they were. Another awe-inspiring achievement.

    I’m not an ID-er, and agree that evolution happened. The problem with creationists is that they experience the vertiginous feeling that mankind has existed for about a million years, depending how you count it, and Christian fundamentalism only for 100 years.
    For the first 99% of the human race’s existence people spent a few hours day looking for food and the rest of their time chatting, eating, bonking, or tinkering with their weapons.
    They find it an unedifying image so they reject it as impossible.
    I don’t – and I see grandeur in that triumph of humanity too. We survived the Ice Ages – we are ingenious and adaptable.

  11. Roue le Jour says:

    US creationists wanted creationism taught in school science class as a counterpoint to evolution, the schools pointed out that that wouldn’t be reasonable as it wasn’t science, so the creationists went away and rewrote it to look like science, and thus was ID born.

    Creation week is one of the youngest passages in the bible, you could tell that even if you didn’t do biblical scholarship by the lack of embellishment. It was made up specifically to provide a culturally consistent explanation for the by then established seven day week, which derives from Babylonian astronomy and assigns a day to each non fixed celestial body visible to the naked eye.

    El Draque is quite right, I’ve slept out in the desert and it is awe inspiring. It isn’t so much as there is nothing else to do, but that striped of distractions, the desert shows you creation in all its naked glory.

  12. Angry Exile says:

    “…if you’ve never slept outside in a desert miles from artificial light, you won’t know how brilliant and awe-inspiring stars are.”

    Couldn’t agree more, and I’d say a bit more so in the southern hemisphere. I don’t know if it’s because it’s easier to get away from artificial light or if maybe you just get to look at sky with more stars in it, but whatever the reason it blew me away the first time I saw the Aussie night sky away from the cities. I don’t recall ever seeing the glow of the Milky Way itself quite so clearly anywhere in the northern hemisphere, and even here in suburban Melbourne I’ve been gaping at how clearly and brightly Venus has been shining lately. But probably like you, as much as it makes me stop and look up and go ‘wow’ quite a lot it doesn’t make me believe that someone had to have put it all there.

  13. Kinuachdrach says:

    This topic really touched a nerve with some people. Why are they so defensive? Usually not a good sign.

    From a straight rhetorical standpoint, one of the cheapest tricks in the books is to substitute a straw man and then condemn the straw man. Sort of like, Intelligent Design = Creationism. Which is silly.

    Yes, there undoubtedly are some people who misuse Intelligent Design as a cover for Creationism. Just as there are some people who misuse Darwinism as an explanation for Life, the Universe, and Everything. But it would be intellectually lazy to use the existence of such people as an excuse to reject Darwinism.

    Mr. Risdon was totally wrong on the quoted thread about carbon dioxide and Anthropogenic Global Warming. He ignores that the radiatively active qualities of carbon dioxide are only one of many interacting processes occurring simultaneously on the planet — processes which in total provide negative feedback loops. Could it be any other way? If there were positive feedback loops, then the planet would long since have been driven off a condition of unstable equilibrium.

    These discussions began with Cats ignoring the similarity between warm-mongers seizing on the one small fact of CO2′s radiative characteristics and extreme Darwinists seizing on the fact of selective breeding providing inheritable traits. After all these words, we are right back where we started.

  14. CountingCats says:


    Nice to see you back. More assertions for which you lack any trace of a supporting fact? My, how things don’t change.

    Mr. Risdon was totally wrong

    Given that you have demonstrated you don’t know even the entry level fundamentals of introductory Darwinism I would have thought that you could think of adopting one of the core Christian virtues, humility, and cease spouting opinions on topics where you are, at best, completely ignorant.

    As a by the way, I would have thought that you, as a Christian, would be anxious to apologise for the insult you spread earlier. Or is that what they teach you at ID school? Accept an invitation onto private property – this blog, insult your hosts, us, and then treat with disdain all requests to explain yourself.

    I doubt your mother taught you such dreadful behaviour.

    For your reference, please refrain from accusing me of ignoring facts when such “facts” are mere figments of your imagination. I didn’t ignore anything. Given that you have demonstrated that you know as much about Darwinism as I know about Formula 1 racing, ie nothing whatsoever, I would have thought you would recognise any claims you might make about what is, and isn’t, any part of Darwinism should be put on hold until you read something a little more sophisticated than “Darwin Bad, ID Good, anyone who say not Nasty, Godless Liberal”.

    If you wish to learn something of Darwinism, still disagree with it, but are willing to have an informed discussion, fine. I will be happy to do that. So long as ignorance, fantasy, insult and assertion are your sole tools then you can be guaranteed that the contempt you have so consistently demonstrated is all you will get in return.

  15. Roue le Jour says:


    “From a straight rhetorical standpoint, one of the cheapest tricks in the books is to substitute a straw man and then condemn the straw man. Sort of like, Intelligent Design = Creationism. Which is silly.”

    That a creationist textbook, “Of Pandas And People”, written by creationists, Davis and Kenyon, was edited to substitute “Intelligent Design” for “Creation” is a matter of public record.

    Not cheap. Not a trick.

  16. Peter Risdon says:

    K might read my earlier comment properly. I refer to other processes, saying that there is where the disagreements lie.

    K might also benefit from watching Kenneth Miller’s talk on this subject.

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