'Intelligent design' stupidity

Language Log parodies the evolution fight in Kansas with a story about the “intelligent design” of English.

The state board of education in Kansas plans to hold hearings in May on the “intelligent design” theory of the origin of English, which claims that the language was constructed in the early 16th century by a committee of unknown experts guided by a Supreme Grammarian.

The “theory of linguistic creationism” holds that “English was created directly by God five hundred years ago at the start of the Great Vowel Shift so that the King James Bible could be translated into it.”

And one Language Log staff writer who declined to give his name, speaking briefly with a reporter while waiting in line at Language Log Plaza’s café, the Latté Linguistica, snapped: “Intelligent design my ass. Have you looked at the lie / lay situation? It’s a total disorganized mess. One thing I’m sure of: we’re not looking at the product of a perfect mental organ created with the guidance of a higher grammatical power.”

It’s not perfect, but it’s pluperfect.

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  1. I love the jab at Chomskyanism at the end.

    I quote another linguist’s Chomskyanism/creationism comparison here:


    Jacques Guy calls a Chomsky book “Linguistics a la Uri Geller, cooked in Creationist sauce.”

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Yep, almost as silly as Kyoto and the Ozone Hole over Kennebunkport. Where do them haykickers get their science?

  3. Just tell me who designed the designer.

  4. …or should that be Designer?

  5. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    I’m somewhere to the right of Ann Coulter, but clearly, conservatives are not well served by the notion of mixing evolution/biology curriculum with ‘creationism’. They are two completely different types of logic systems. Keep ‘creationism’ in a Bible study or religion class. Keep biology purely within the realm of the scientific method. The ‘how’ and the ‘why’ are the great questions of life; they are complimentary, in my view, but wholly DIFFERENT TYPES of questions and should be presented independently. It may be that a Creator created the universe through the natural world, but that is not something that science is concerned with. That’s a matter of faith.

  6. Amritas says:


    “It may be that a Creator created the universe through the natural world, but that is not something that science is concerned with. That’s a matter of faith.”


    I’ve never seen divine creation (not creationism) and evolution as necessarily at odds. Somebody once said, why couldn’t God create a universe that can develop on its own (the implication being that a less powerful God would create a universe that would need constant intervention to prop it up)? So divine creation-evolution is a false dichotomy in my mind, insofar as God’s role goes. Lots of religious people are evolutionists. (The real dichotomy lies in creationist vs. evolutionist views of natural history. The Earth cannot be “young” and “old” at the same time, for instance.)

    Another reason that creationism-evolution is a false dichotomy is that those are but two of many other views. There are other religions already in existence besides Christianity and yet more to come, each with their stories of creation. Just wait until the PC people get on board the C vs. E train and argue for “equal time” for their favorite “indigenous” religions. And maybe aliens on planet X had the “real” story revelaed to them by their prophet. It is also possible (though I doubt it) that there is a scientific, faith-free alternative to evolution that is yet to be formulated.

    Obviously there isn’t remotely enough time to cover all of this, so I say, keep science and religion apart, teach the consensus view in science, and let kids learn whatever their religion has to say about this. Church and science should be as separate as church and state.

  7. Amritas wrote:

    so I say, keep science and religion apart

    Trouble is, one of religion’s functions is to explain the natural world. Since that’s science’s entire function, there’s bound to be some intersections. Heliocentrism and evolution are the two biggies I think.

    Since religion depends for its authority on truths revealed by the Almighty, any fault in the explanations provided by religion undermines that authority and that just isn’t acceptable.

  8. allen,

    “Trouble is, one of religion’s functions is to explain the natural world.”

    True. And one of religion’s functions is to regulate the social world. Needless to say, church-state separation is not uncontroversial.

  9. My Christian grade school taught evolution because there was no young earth science then and they were required to teach the subject anyway. But the teacher’s approach to the subject made it okay for everybody. The test was an essay test which benefitted both sides of the arguement. Those that wanted to spit back just facts could, while those that wanted to bring up disagreements could also write them down.

  10. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Kyoto picks my pocket every day. Debating evolution/Intelligent Design is like arguing about who won the 1937 World Series. When you are all through, nothing has been added. Pick your fights.

  11. Amritas wrote:

    And one of religion’s functions is to regulate the social world.

    Yup, but while religion is obviously a useful mechanism for ordering society the utility of religion for explaining the natural world is contingent upon the absence of a better mechanism for explaining the natural world. That’s science, of course.

    When the expansion of science undercuts some bit of religious dogma it undercuts the credibility and claim to authority of the entire religion. That’s the fly in the ID/creationism ointment; it really isn’t an attempt to understand the natural world, rather it’s a means of supporting the credibility and authority of the religion. But for people who value the immediate social benefits of religion the more distant and theoretical benefits of science are pretty thin stuff.

    Do you swap what you’ve been raised with and find comfort in for some bit of arcane and not particularly useful knowledge like the sun being the center of the solar system, or that your great, grandpa was a monkey? For most people the answer is “no”.

    Walter E. Wallis wrote:

    Debating evolution/Intelligent Design is like arguing…

    Sorry Walter, you’re wrong. If you’ve got a public education hierarchy in which policy filters down from above, there’s a great deal of importance in arguing ID/evolution. That’s why the Intelligent Design proponents are in there swinging for their point of view. They want to access the public education system to promulgate their beliefs. Their religious beliefs. That’s unacceptable.

    If you want to teach the kids that the earth sits on the back of elephants who stand on the back of a turtle who swims through an endless ocean, do it on your own nickle, not mine.

  12. Walter E. Wallis says:

    What if you want to access the public education system to teach Gaia nonsense? As I say, Kyoto picks my pocket. Face it, there is NO extant philosophy that does NOT require at least some contradictory holdings. Just pick those that cost the least. Ehrlich and Carson are still influencing policy long after they were demonstrably in error. Where is the academian outrage?

  13. Richard Brandshaft says:

    It seems that what several conservatives a talking about is exactly the same as liberal/feminist “other ways of knowing.” When conservatives do it, it’s OK. (I am not saying conservatives have a monopoly on double standards.)

  14. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Allen, what if I want to teach that crows bring the weather?

  15. Walter E. Wallis wrote:

    What if you want to access the public education system to teach Gaia nonsense?

    What if I do? Are there some points of view that should prevent a citizen from engaging in the political process?

    Walter, public education is controlled by the political process. That means it’s always going to be a juicy target for the Wiccans, the liberals, the religious right, communists and every damned body else who’d love to have the power to shape the minds of kids to their particular point of view.

    That means there are only two ways to deal with the special interest groups: fight them every step of the way or get rid of the public education system.

  16. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The third way is to remember it is a public system, paid for by the public. No like, open your private school.

  17. Jacques Treatment says:

    I think that the biggest problem about the “intelligent design” ruckus is that people are mistaking “intelligent design” as being a religious issue. It isn’t. The problem with “intelligent design” is that, unlike *scientific* theory, there are no practical tests by which evidence of a designer can be verified. It’s a theory, it’s just not *scientific* theory, and thus can only be covered accurately in a philosophy course, where other subjects beyond a scientific test (like determinism/free will) are discussed. Science courses are for teaching the scientific method and subjects related to the scientific method. Intelligent design does not follow the scientific method, and therefore does not belong in a science class.

    If people would use an argument based on reason rather than attack, “intelligent design” would be taught in philosophy classes rather than science classes, and everyone would likely be happier about the situation. Please consider passing this on to others who are trying to keep “intelligent design” out of science curriculums.