Posted by Nick Matzke on August 14, 2007 10:19 PM

Well, my time at NCSE is almost up. Next week I will be moving up to Berkeley to start a PhD in for-real, honest to goodness evolutionary biology. It’s quite exciting. Unfortunately, before I go I have to clean all my files out of my cubicle at NCSE to make way for Josh Rosenau (yes, the Thoughts from Kansas guy), who will be occupying my desk. Amongst the stacks of books that I have checked out from libraries, borrowed from various people at NCSE without giving them back, etc., I came across one I hadn’t seen since The Great Hunt for the Origins of Intelligent Design back in early 2005, during the research period of the Kitzmiller case. As everyone now knows, even though the ID guys will never admit it, “intelligent design” as such originated in the 1989 ID textbook Of Pandas and People, with “intelligent design” being the new label chosen after the 1987 Edwards decision made creationist terminology difficult to use in textbooks. Pandas was the first place the term “intelligent design” was used systematically, defined in a glossary, claimed to be something other than creationism, etc. In a desperate attempt to obfuscate this basic historical point, ID guys have dug up various random instances of the words “intelligent” and “design” placed together (although they missed the 1861 Darwin letter, and the 1847 Scientific American article), most of them with absolutely no evidence of having influenced the actual actors in the 1980s who created the ID movement (there are some legitimate precursors, but they are in explicitly creationist works, e.g. Lester and Bohlin’s (1984) The Natural Limits to Biological Change, so the ID guys won’t cite them post-Kitzmiller).

A.E. Wilder-Smith (1915-1995) was a European “creation scientist,” now deceased, sometimes described (pre-Kitzmiller) as inspiring pieces of ID. He was active from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. It is true that Wilder-Smith discusses “information”, “design”, “Design”, Paley, etc., a lot (as well as human tracks next to dinosaur tracks, Noah’s Flood, and other extremely embarassing creationist nonsense). But I have never found the actual phrase “intelligent design” in his work. However, in early 2005, I did come across this, in a 1968 work by Wilder-Smith, discussing a certain oh-so-amazingly-complex organ. For some reason the IDers don’t cite this example as a precursor:

To deny planning when studying such a system is to strain credulity more than to ask one to believe in an intelligent nipple designer, who incidentally must have understood hydraulics rather well.

(pp. 144-145 of: Wilder-Smith, A. E. (1968). Man’s origin, man’s destiny: a critical survey of the principles of evolution and Christianity. Wheaton, Ill., H. Shaw. Italics original, bold added.)

There you have it. The origin of “intelligent…design.”

(In fairness, the full quote is posted below the fold.)

There are also grave difficulties in the more general application of the idea of intermediate forms. It is often impossible to account for a complex organ and its derivation. It is only understandable in its fully developed form. The halfway stages in its evolution would serve no purpose, being completely useless. As an example take the complex structure possessed by the female whale for suckling its young under the water without drowning the suckling. No halfway stage of development from an ordinary nipple to that of the fully developed whale nipple, adapted for underwater feeding, is conceivable. Either it was completely developed and functional, or it was not. To expect such a system to arise gradually by chance mutations upward is to condemn all suckling whales during the development period of thousands of years to a watery grave by certain drowning. To deny planning when studying such a system is to strain credulity more than to ask one to believe in an intelligent nipple designer, who incidentally must have understood hydraulics rather well (see pp. 207-208).

The same applies, of course, to many other intermediate organs and states. But lack of space forbids us to go into further details here. The principle remains the same: in a highly developed complex organ intermediate stages must of necessity have often been less than functional and therefore probably a hindrance rather than a help in natural selection.

(pp. 144-145 of: Wilder-Smith, A. E. (1968). Man’s origin, man’s destiny: a critical survey of the principles of evolution and Christianity. Wheaton, Ill., H. Shaw. Emphasis original.)

Come to think of it, this sounds an awful lot like Behe’s “irreducible complexity” also…

PS: I know I kind of opened the door, but please let’s try to keep the comments in safe-for-kids mode, shall we?