Intelligent Design vs Science

Starring Penn & Teller, Ali G, Spencer Tracy,
Ken Miller, Jon Stewart, Ed Helms, Bill Hicks,
Stephen Colbert, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher,
Duane Gish, Raël, Homer Simpson, Jerry Coyne,
Tony (Gandolfini) Soprano, & a cast of thousands


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Intelligent Design (ID): The glib, younger sibling of "developmentally delayed" Creationism

The problem with the argument for teaching Intelligent Design (aka ID) is that it seems reasonable. The reasons why it is not reasonable are often not readily apparent to the lay person, who can be led to believe that the complex design of living things does, indeed, require the existence of an intelligent designer, or God. However, as we will see below, such a belief is just not science. One is free to posit a supernatural creator with any features one may wish one's God to possess. But that is religion and belongs in churches, not in the science curriculum of our schools.

Penn & Teller and Dawkins & Coyne to the rescue

If the distinction between the existence of complex functional designs and a need for an intelligent designer to explain how they came to be is not readily apparent to you, you are not alone. The majority of Americans have been bamboozled by ID obfuscation of the meaning of science. Once again, we turn to Penn & Teller for a brilliant and incisive video analysis of the absurd, oxymoronic Science of Intelligent Design. Then, we turn to Richard Dawkins (this time with Jerry Coyne) for a clear presentation of the difference between the well-established scientific theory of evolution and the nonsensical claim—that it has reasonably valid scientific status—made by ID.

America has been running in place for eighty years.

If you take a look at this video, excerpted from the movie "Inherit the Wind," you will see two things. First, you will see that America has made no progress in coming to terms with the reality of evolution. In fact, the rest of the modern world has raced by, leaving the US in the pre-enlightenment dust. Second, you will witness some of the most inspirational moments in the history of cinema.

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On the lighter side . . .

For another illustration of what could pass for science—if we were to accept the standards proposed by ID—consider the religious movement based on the pseudo-scientific (incorrect and heretical ;-) notion that the universe and the life it contains is the creation of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the valid, scientific (True and Sacred ;-) explanation that the Creator was a multi-faceted being, Spaghetti & Pulsar Activating Meatballs, otherwise known as SPAM. You might want to take a look at Bill Maher, Pat Robertson, and Ali G's exchange with creationist Kent Hovind, as well as Jon Stewart, Ed Helms, and Lewis Black, all of which can be found on a page we named after The Daily Show's series called "Evolution Schmevolution." You may also be interested in "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense," featuring Bill Maher, The Family Guy, and The Simpsons. And then there's Supernatural Design: The Movie.

Humans wrote the Bible
God Yo "wrote" the rocks.

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The Word of God Yo

From desert cliff and mountaintop we trace the wide design,
Strike-slip fault and overthrust and syn and anticline. . .
We gaze upon creation where erosion makes it known,
And count the countless eons in the banding of the stone.
Odd, long-vanished creatures and their tracks & shells are found;
Where truth has left its sketches on the slate below the ground.
The patient stone can speak, if we but listen when it talks.
Humans wrote the Bible; God Yo "wrote" the rocks.

Lyrics and melody ©1994 by Catherine Faber

Penn & Teller on Evolution vs. Creationism
Penn & Teller Disclaimer

If this page offends you, please click here to read about ''The Problem of Yoism & Criticism.''

The Full Text of the Penn & Teller Disclaimer

(In those states where applicable,
this disclaimer also applies to Bill Maher.
Void where prohibited by law ;-)

In the video below, some of Penn Jillette's gratuitous nastiness has been edited out. However, his acerbic wit remains quite biting and, at times, seems cruel. Please note that his harsh, hostile sarcasm is not a reflection of Yoan attitudes. Indeed, if you come across debunkers who can analyze false beliefs as incisively as Penn & Teller, please let us know. We would be glad to replace the hostile mocking tone in this video with an equally effective piece that does the job as well without the unnecessary disdain.

However, in the meantime, Penn & Teller's brilliant analyses of false beliefs are simply some of the best we have seen. This is an important exploration of the nature of beliefs that are based primarily on wishful thinking. Though the specific beliefs examined seem harmless enough, we believe that the wish-fulfilling abandonment of intersubjective verifiability (of what could called "empirical responsibility") presented in this video, often, lies at the root of some of the most intractable and horrendous human problems. When our deepest beliefs and values become disconnected from a profound commitment to and respect for reality humanity faces grave danger.

Penn & Teller are true Yoan Saints.

Penn & Teller On Creationism: Part 1 (of 3)
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Penn & Teller On Creationism: Part 2 (of 3)
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Ken Miller & Stephen Colbert on Intelligent Design

Stephen struggles with the notion that
God "intelligently designed" everything, including fossils.

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Tish, tish, Dr. Gish

The Scientific Method vs. The Truly Astonishing
Creation Science "Method" of Duane T. Gish

Excerpts from an article, by Joyce Arthur entitled
"Creationism: Bad Science or Immoral Pseudoscience?"
[This box contains some brief excerpts taken from a slightly expanded version of an article published in the Skeptic: Magazine of the Skeptic Society, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1996, pp. 88-93. References have been removed to make reading easier. The full expanded version along with the references, a rebuttal by Dr. Gish, and a response by Ms. Arthur can be found at]

[Gish] cites scientist Lord Solly Zuckerman, who Gish claims did a thorough and careful 15-year study of the Australopithecines with the conclusion that these creatures did not walk upright. [Thus,] Gish clearly implies that Zuckerman examined the Lucy skeleton itself. However, Gish has repeatedly been told in many debates over the years that this is false. Zuckerman never saw Lucy, and his conclusion on Australopithecines was made at least three years before Lucy was even discovered. Furthermore, Zuckerman didn't work with any of the original Australopithecine fossils. His conclusions were based on a cast of one half of the pelvis of a single specimen.

In 1982, at a high school debate in Ontario ... a member of the audience heard Gish's Lucy story, which clearly implied that Zuckerman had studied Lucy herself and concluded that she, along with other Australopithecines, did not walk upright. Knowing this was not true, [the audience member] asked Gish in the question and answer period why he had misled the audience. A show of hands indicated that about 90% of the audience had assumed from what Gish had said that Zuckerman had studied Lucy. Gish became very upset, lost his temper, and railed that he wasn't responsible for people misinterpreting his remarks.

Gish has never bothered to change his misleading story; in fact, he went on to increase its inaccuracy. In a 1991 debate, Gish stated outright that Zuckerman had examined the Lucy skeleton itself: "For 15 years . . . [Zuckerman] studied fossils of Lucy and fossils of 1-2 million years younger than Lucy [sic]."

In Gish's book, Dinosaurs: Those Terrible Lizards (1991 and earlier editions), he claims that Triceratops, a late Cretaceous horned dinosaur, appeared in the fossil record without a trace of any ancestor. Frederick Edwords, in a 1982 debate confronted Gish with contrary evidence to his assertion. Gish replied that Triceratops' supposed ancestors are found in the same strata as Triceratops, so they couldn't be part of an evolutionary sequence. This is incorrect, since the ancestors Edwords mentioned are actually found in geologic strata spanning 10-45 million years before Triceratops. On March 20, two months later, Kenneth Miller had a chance to reprove Gish during a Tampa, Florida debate at Jefferson High School. Miller described and showed several transitional forms of dinosaurs leading up to Triceratops, including Monoclonius with its two incipient horns. When Gish objected that the animals occurred too close together in time for one to be ancestral to another, Miller countered by pointing out that they had at least 15 million years to evolve. He then handed Gish some textbook material on Monoclonius that confirmed this, advising him to study it before his next debate. Nevertheless, only 11 days later, [in another debate with a different evolutionist], Gish repeated his assertion that Triceratops appears "suddenly in the fossil record, with no transitional forms."

Stephen Colbert Demonstrates the Proper Use
of "The Gish Method" of Critical Analysis: Part I

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To this day, in spite of additional oral and written rebuttals by scientists over the years, Gish continues to claim during debates and lectures that Triceratops has no transitional ancestors and that proposed ancestors do not occur early enough in the fossil record. This falsehood is also repeated in several subsequent books . . .

[I]t is not surprising that some people who have met or debated Gish have come to the conclusion that he is not knowingly dishonest. For example, freelance science writer, Robert Schadewald, who has followed the antics of Gish, states:

I used to be convinced that Gish was a conscious liar, because so many of the things he says are demonstrably false, and he is neither stupid nor uneducated. In the last few years, I have changed my mind. I now think that Gish is so severely deluded that he can no longer distinguish what he wants to believe from reality, at least on a conscious level.

[Professors Emeritus of Biology at San Diego State University,] William Thwaites and Frank Awbrey, wrote:

We . . . were convinced at first that he must be a deliberate liar, but now we have concluded that he is not . . . Gish says only what supports his belief. In his mind, that cannot possibly be a lie . . . We also think that sometimes he says what he wishes were true. If he wishes he hadn't said something, then he didn't say it.

David Milne [yet another Professor Emeritus of Biology] stated:

[Gish] says things that are false, now, but I suspect that he no longer even realizes it, or cares . . . He may have known, at one time, that there was something shaky or even devious about his claims, but he's made them so long now, that they have taken on a truth of their own for him.

A lack of integrity, whether deliberate or not, usually damages one's reputation, but instead, Gish's tactics have helped enhance the credibility of the Institute for Creation Research, and probably that of the entire creationist movement. Teachers and scientists struggling with the threat of creationism need to be fully aware of the exact methods used by one of the most popular advocates of creationism. A campaign based on errors and distortions does not require respect, or the time and effort spent in fighting it. If tactics such as Gish's become common knowledge, we can perhaps begin to close the creationist chapter and get back to the work of real science.

The Gish Method Demonstrated: Part II
Bill Hicks Restates & then Stephen Colbert
Finally Solves the Problem of Dinosaurs & Fossils

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Baconeater: "God did it." Colbert: "It was Adam."
Now the truth from Lewis Black, "It was the devil!"

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Or maybe it was the Mafia!
A Creationist Proselytizes to Tony Soprano

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Here's Scientific American's
15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

But does logic and evidence really matter, since

A Creationist Goes to the Doctor, or

"Why there are no Creationists in the terrifying foxholes of disease."

Creationist Medical Practice, or, ''Why there are no Creationists in the terrifying foxholes of disease.''

How about a Little Faith-Based Medicine?

(For the good of the kids & the family!)

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No way WE came from apes!

Click down here for some actual evidence.  

Or consider the ubiquity of genocide:

Penn & Teller On Creationism: Part 3 (of 3)
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Naileontology versus Paleontology

Stephen Colbert Interviews 2 Paleontologists & Demonstrates
the Difference between "Creation Science" and Real Science

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Now a word from Bill Maher
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And now . . . Dawkins & Coyne

The creationists’ fondness for “gaps” in the fossil record is a metaphor for their love of gaps in knowledge generally. Gaps, by default, are filled by God. You don’t know how the nerve impulse works? Good! You don’t understand how memories are laid down in the brain? Excellent! Is photosynthesis a bafflingly complex process? Wonderful! Please don’t go to work on the problem, just give up, and appeal to God. Dear scientist, don’t work on your mysteries. Bring us your mysteries for we can use them. Don’t squander precious ignorance by researching it away. Ignorance is God’s gift to Kansas. (Richard Dawkins, Creationism: God's Gift to the Ignorant, May 2005)

One side can be wrong

Accepting 'intelligent design' in science classrooms would have disastrous consequences, warn Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne

Thursday September 1, 2005


It sounds so reasonable, doesn't it? Such a modest proposal. Why not teach "both sides" and let the children decide for themselves? As President Bush said, "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes." At first hearing, everything about the phrase "both sides" warms the hearts of educators like ourselves.

One of us spent years as an Oxford tutor and it was his habit to choose controversial topics for the students' weekly essays. They were required to go to the library, read about both sides of an argument, give a fair account of both, and then come to a balanced judgment in their essay. The call for balance, by the way, was always tempered by the maxim, "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong."

As teachers, both of us have found that asking our students to analyse controversies is of enormous value to their education. What is wrong, then, with teaching both sides of the alleged controversy between evolution and creationism or "intelligent design" (ID)? And, by the way, don't be fooled by the disingenuous euphemism. There is nothing new about ID. It is simply creationism camouflaged with a new name to slip (with some success, thanks to loads of tax-free money and slick public-relations professionals) under the radar of the US Constitution's mandate for separation between church and state.

Why, then, would two lifelong educators and passionate advocates of the "both sides" style of teaching join with essentially all biologists in making an exception of the alleged controversy between creation and evolution? What is wrong with the apparently sweet reasonableness of "it is only fair to teach both sides"? The answer is simple. This is not a scientific controversy at all. And it is a time-wasting distraction because evolutionary science, perhaps more than any other major science, is bountifully endowed with genuine controversy.

Among the controversies that students of evolution commonly face, these are genuinely challenging and of great educational value: neutralism versus selectionism in molecular evolution; adaptationism; group selection; punctuated equilibrium; cladism; "evo-devo"; the "Cambrian Explosion"; mass extinctions; interspecies competition; sympatric speciation; sexual selection; the evolution of sex itself; evolutionary psychology; Darwinian medicine and so on. [Note: These legitimate evolutionary controversies are described in more detail at the end of this essay. See "Arguments worth having."] The point is that all these controversies, and many more, provide fodder for fascinating and lively argument, not just in essays but for student discussions late at night.

Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies, or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world. But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy belongs in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In those cases, the demand for equal time for "both theories" would be ludicrous. Similarly, in a class on 20th-century European history, who would demand equal time for the theory that the Holocaust never happened?

So, why are we so sure that intelligent design is not a real scientific theory, worthy of "both sides" treatment? Isn't that just our personal opinion? It is an opinion shared by the vast majority of professional biologists, but of course science does not proceed by majority vote among scientists. Why isn't creationism (or its incarnation as intelligent design) just another scientific controversy, as worthy of scientific debate as the dozen essay topics we listed above? Here's why.

If ID really were a scientific theory, positive evidence for it, gathered through research, would fill peer-reviewed scientific journals. This doesn't happen. It isn't that editors refuse to publish ID research. There simply isn't any ID research to publish. Its advocates bypass normal scientific due process by appealing directly to the non-scientific public and - with great shrewdness - to the government officials they elect.

The argument the ID advocates put, such as it is, is always of the same character. Never do they offer positive evidence in favour of intelligent design. All we ever get is a list of alleged deficiencies in evolution. We are told of "gaps" in the fossil record. Or organs are stated, by fiat and without supporting evidence, to be "irreducibly complex": too complex to have evolved by natural selection.

In all cases there is a hidden (actually they scarcely even bother to hide it) "default" assumption that if Theory A has some difficulty in explaining Phenomenon X, we must automatically prefer Theory B without even asking whether Theory B (creationism in this case) is any better at explaining it. Note how unbalanced this is, and how it gives the lie to the apparent reasonableness of "let's teach both sides". One side is required to produce evidence, every step of the way. The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but is deemed to have won automatically, the moment the first side encounters a difficulty - the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day, and go to work to solve, with relish.

What, after all, is a gap in the fossil record? It is simply the absence of a fossil which would otherwise have documented a particular evolutionary transition. The gap means that we lack a complete cinematic record of every step in the evolutionary process. But how incredibly presumptuous to demand a complete record, given that only a minuscule proportion of deaths result in a fossil anyway.

The equivalent evidential demand of creationism would be a complete cinematic record of God's behaviour on the day that he went to work on, say, the mammalian ear bones or the bacterial flagellum - the small, hair-like organ that propels mobile bacteria. Not even the most ardent advocate of intelligent design claims that any such divine videotape will ever become available.

Biologists, on the other hand, can confidently claim the equivalent "cinematic" sequence of fossils for a very large number of evolutionary transitions. Not all, but very many, including our own descent from the bipedal ape Australopithecus. And - far more telling - not a single authentic fossil has ever been found in the "wrong" place in the evolutionary sequence. Such an anachronistic fossil, if one were ever unearthed, would blow evolution out of the water.

As the great biologist J B S Haldane growled, when asked what might disprove evolution: "Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian." Evolution, like all good theories, makes itself vulnerable to disproof. Needless to say, it has always come through with flying colours.

Similarly, the claim that something - say the bacterial flagellum - is too complex to have evolved by natural selection is alleged, by a lamentably common but false syllogism, to support the "rival" intelligent design theory by default. This kind of default reasoning leaves completely open the possibility that, if the bacterial flagellum is too complex to have evolved, it might also be too complex to have been created. And indeed, a moment's thought shows that any God capable of creating a bacterial flagellum (to say nothing of a universe) would have to be a far more complex, and therefore statistically improbable, entity than the bacterial flagellum (or universe) itself - even more in need of an explanation than the object he is alleged to have created.

If complex organisms demand an explanation, so does a complex designer. And it's no solution to raise the theologian's plea that God (or the Intelligent Designer) is simply immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation. To do so would be to shoot yourself in the foot. You cannot have it both ways. Either ID belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis. Or it does not, in which case get it out of the science classroom and send it back into the church, where it belongs.

In fact, the bacterial flagellum is certainly not too complex to have evolved, nor is any other living structure that has ever been carefully studied. Biologists have located plausible series of intermediates, using ingredients to be found elsewhere in living systems. But even if some particular case were found for which biologists could offer no ready explanation, the important point is that the "default" logic of the creationists remains thoroughly rotten.

There is no evidence in favour of intelligent design: only alleged gaps in the completeness of the evolutionary account, coupled with the "default" fallacy we have identified. And, while it is inevitably true that there are incompletenesses in evolutionary science, the positive evidence for the fact of evolution is truly massive, made up of hundreds of thousands of mutually corroborating observations. These come from areas such as geology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, ethology, biogeography, embryology and - increasingly nowadays - molecular genetics.

The weight of the evidence has become so heavy that opposition to the fact of evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data. Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.

Why, finally, does it matter whether these issues are discussed in science classes? There is a case for saying that it doesn't - that biologists shouldn't get so hot under the collar. Perhaps we should just accept the popular demand that we teach ID as well as evolution in science classes. It would, after all, take only about 10 minutes to exhaust the case for ID, then we could get back to teaching real science and genuine controversy.

Tempting as this is, a serious worry remains. The seductive "let's teach the controversy" language still conveys the false, and highly pernicious, idea that there really are two sides. This would distract students from the genuinely important and interesting controversies that enliven evolutionary discourse. Worse, it would hand creationism the only victory it realistically aspires to. Without needing to make a single good point in any argument, it would have won the right for a form of supernaturalism to be recognised as an authentic part of science. And that would be the end of science education in America.

Teaching Fairy Tale Delusions to Children

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Intelligent Design should be taught in schools because evoultionary biology is taught in churches; it's only fair.

Here's Carl Sagan's evolutionary vision of
the miracle of life on The Pale Blue Dot.

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Arguments worth having ...

The "Cambrian Explosion"

Although the fossil record shows that the first multicellular animals lived about 640m years ago, the diversity of species was low until about 530m years ago. At that time there was a sudden explosion of many diverse marine species, including the first appearance of molluscs, arthropods, echinoderms and vertebrates. "Sudden" here is used in the geological sense; the "explosion" occurred over a period of 10m to 30m years, which is, after all, comparable to the time taken to evolve most of the great radiations of mammals. This rapid diversification raises fascinating questions; explanations include the evolution of organisms with hard parts (which aid fossilisation), the evolutionary "discovery" of eyes, and the development of new genes that allowed parts of organisms to evolve independently.

The evolutionary basis of human behaviour

The field of evolutionary psychology (once called "sociobiology") maintains that many universal traits of human behaviour (especially sexual behaviour), as well as differences between individuals and between ethnic groups, have a genetic basis. These traits and differences are said to have evolved in our ancestors via natural selection. There is much controversy about these claims, largely because it is hard to reconstruct the evolutionary forces that acted on our ancestors, and it is unethical to do genetic experiments on modern humans.

Sexual versus natural selection

Although evolutionists agree that adaptations invariably result from natural selection, there are many traits, such as the elaborate plumage of male birds and size differences between the sexes in many species, that are better explained by "sexual selection": selection based on members of one sex (usually females) preferring to mate with members of the other sex that show certain desirable traits. Evolutionists debate how many features of animals have resulted from sexual as opposed to natural selection; some, like Darwin himself, feel that many physical features differentiating human "races" resulted from sexual selection.

The target of natural selection

Evolutionists agree that natural selection usually acts on genes in organisms - individuals carrying genes that give them a reproductive or survival advantage over others will leave more descendants, gradually changing the genetic composition of a species. This is called "individual selection". But some evolutionists have proposed that selection can act at higher levels as well: on populations (group selection), or even on species themselves (species selection). The relative importance of individual versus these higher order forms of selection is a topic of lively debate.

Natural selection versus genetic drift

Natural selection is a process that leads to the replacement of one gene by another in a predictable way. But there is also a "random" evolutionary process called genetic drift, which is the genetic equivalent of coin-tossing. Genetic drift leads to unpredictable changes in the frequencies of genes that don't make much difference to the adaptation of their carriers, and can cause evolution by changing the genetic composition of populations. Many features of DNA are said to have evolved by genetic drift. Evolutionary geneticists disagree about the importance of selection versus drift in explaining features of organisms and their DNA. All evolutionists agree that genetic drift can't explain adaptive evolution. But not all evolution is adaptive.

· Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University
· Jerry Coyne is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago

Here's an actual video of The Big Bang
(along with a creation story similar to
the one believed by most Americans).

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Creation vs Evolution, Simpson Style (along
with a very brief version of the creation
story believed by most Americans).

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The Wisdom of Intelligent Design: Further Explorations of an Oxymoron