An IDEA Whose Time Has Passed

It was 13 years ago we got to know the skinny on the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) clubs. In March 2004 Greg Aicklen and I attended a presentation by Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. The presentation was given at the University of Texas at Dallas under the auspices of the UTD IDEA chapter, headed by Wilston Nkangoh a senior at the University. We came at Wilston’s invitation, and it was worth the view.

What we got to see at this, and also at a separate chapter meeting, was this idea was not ready for prime time. For one, the chapter meeting was sparsely attended. There was maybe one other person in addition to Wilston. The talk by Professor Koons, held in an auditorium, we found to be devoid of scientific merit. Keeping in mind that Koons is a philosopher, not a scientist, what we observed was an absence of basic understanding of how science is done. For example:

For starters, Koons noted that the burden of proof in the creation/evolution controversy, particularly as it relates to ID, lies with the Darwinists. We thought this curious, because we tend to think “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” This is all the slack we cut for the psychics, the faith healers, and the astrologers. However, Professor Koons explained it for us, and he illustrated his point with quotes from ancient scholars, such as the author of the Book of Job, Socrates, and Aristotle. In particular, he quoted Thomas Reid:


In his Essays on The Intellectual Powers of Man, 18th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid counts among the basic equipment of the human mind the capacity to recognize the signs of intelligent agency.

Without such a basic capacity, it would be mysterious how we recognized one another as intelligent and purposeful – in fact, it would be mysterious how we recognize intelligence even in our own behavior.

When this basic faculty of intelligence-recognition is turned to the machinery of living things, the clear answer it delivers is Yes.

The title of Koons’ talk was The Future of Darwinism and Design: Philosophical and Historical Perspectives, and his goal was apparently a defense of Intelligent Design. Where he obtains the idea that the burden of proof lies with “Darwinist” (scientists) is anybody’s guess.

Anyhow, that got me rolling with the story of the IDEA clubs, and I did some research, just to see what this was all about. The concept is a brainchild of Casey Luskin, a lawyer at the time associated with the Discovery Institute, this country’s greatest mover behind Intelligent Design. Even the barest look gave me the idea these clubs had a bracket of purposes:

  • Reinforce any contention the Discovery Institute might have that Intelligent Design is a grass roots concept finding comfort within American academics.
  • Generate some otherwise unwarranted Intelligent Design presence within academic circles.
  • Serve as a recruiting base to coax the legitimacy of Intelligent Design on future scientists and intellectuals.

Wondering how this was working out, I later did some research. My finding was that it was an idea whose time had passed:

Certainly the outlook for IDEA on campus can’t be all that bleak. A recent check on the IDEA Club Web site showed the following for the United States:

24 university chapters
6 high school chapters
2 community chapters

As of today that page is still up with a map showing locations of chapters and with links to them. The results I obtained were dismal. For example, continuing from the above:

The page also lists a chapter in Canada, one on the Philippines, one in Kenya and one in Ukraine.

Maybe there really is something to all this. Another chapter in Texas is at Midwestern State. Clicking on the link brings up this:

IDEA Club formed at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas – April 13, 2004

As of April 12, 2004, an IDEA Club was founded at Midwestern State University in Wichita Fall, Texas. Founded by undergraduate Vincent (“Vinny”) McMullen, this IDEA Club marks the 15th founded to date, and the second IDEA Club at a public university in Texas.

There doesn’t seem to be any more about this chapter on the Web. Maybe it’s time to check out the remaining sites.

A search of the remaining links shows little or no activity. Generally these links point back to the main IDEA Center Web site-to varying pages.

Often these are archival pages carrying a press release from the time of the club’s creation. Several of the links are broken, indicating the club’s site has moved or has been taken down.

That was eight years ago,  and little thought was given to the fate of the IDEA concept until a few weeks ago. Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of the National Center for Science Education, the polar opposite to the Discovery Institute in  all ways imaginable. He came out to Texas and gave a talk at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He talked about what has happened to the creationist movement in this country since the Kitzmiller trial of 2005. There was some discussion following Glenn’s talk, and I asked him if he had any additional information on the fate of the IDEA clubs. He followed up recently with an update. It’s a link to The Evolution List  blog. It’s a post by Allen MacNeill from  2008, and it illustrates that I was beating a dead horse in 2009 researching the fate of IDEA. Allen had the idea back then this was an IDEA whose time was past. He likened the movement to the extinct Dodo, as in dead as…

Dr. Dembski strongly implied in his press release that these IDEA Centers were essentially research centers, such as those commonly found at college and university campuses.

Well, they aren’t…or, rather, weren’t. They weren’t “research centers” or anything like it. They were clubs, similar to the kinds of student-centered special interest clubs that abound on most college and university campuses. Such clubs have several characteristics in common:

So nine years ago the IDEA concept was already milked of any legitimacy, being in reality what it appeared on the surface to be—a clumsy piece of Intelligent Design propaganda.

The Discovery Institute continues to hack away at its quest for legitimacy, its principal vehicle being a blog site titled Evolution News. I have recently slacked off on my coverage of this site, and it’s probably time for re-entry. Watch for more in the coming days.