You are here
Review: Intelligent Design vs Evolution
The latest entry in the "Intelligent Design" is Creationism file, the board game Intelligent Design vs Evolution, is a Ken Ham-endorsed, William Dembski-approved cornucopia of bad science and fundamentalist propaganda (see http://www.uncommondescent.com/evolution/id-the-board-game/). The game is the creation of Ray Comfort and television's Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains), who beam beatifically out from five of the box's six sides. It combines young-earth biblical literalism with generic anti-evolutionism with a touch of proselytizing, all wrapped up in a package that is aesthetically pleasing but scientifically bankrupt.
The gameplay is simple. Two players or two teams move their plastic brains around a timeline from "In the Beginning" to "End of Time" (alarmingly, only three spaces after the present). As they go, players collect "brain cards" and can be penalized for sins (doubt, ingratitude, compromise) or rewarded for virtues (understanding, humility, God's grace).
To advance along the board, players must answer questions, which can mostly be divided into four categories:
Biblical questions: "True or False? The Bible teaches that intelligence is the reason most people don't seek after God." "False. Pride is the reason most people don't seek after God." Besides providing an opportunity for digs at those smart-aleck scientists, these questions sometimes have penalties if players get them wrong — including double penalties for the ones deemed most important. Of course, since these questions usually have the most obvious answers, the penalties might be for stupidity.
Absurdly long quotations: (often with true/false or multiple choice answers). These tend to be creationists' usual misquotations from scientists: out of context and outdated, with generous use of ellipses. An excellent example is a 1929 quote from DMS Watson: "Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists not because it has been observed to occur or is supported by logically coherent arguments, but because … no alternative explanation is credible … the theory of evolution itself is a theory universally accepted not because it can be proved by logical coherent evidence to be true but because the only alternative is special creation, which is clearly incredible." The question, by the way, is to identify the speaker, the educational value of which eludes me.
Sneaky trick questions: "True or False? Prehistoric man may have sometimes lived in caves." "False. […] Since the first man is mentioned in the Bible's historical record, there has never been a prehistoric man" (emphasis in original).
Inane riddles: "There are two of us. We look the same, but we are not. […] If we faced upwards we would cause big problems in a rainstorm. Who are we?" "Your nostrils." These are frequently used to show the brilliant design of human beings; players never read: "Even though my width can cause knee problems, I am often not wide enough to fit a baby's head through without complications" for the female pelvis.
I enlisted my roommates to help me test the game. Roommate One, with a background in copyediting, was appalled by the number of typos that can be found on the board and cards. Our favorite was a space on the board that reads, "He that belives [sic] not God has made Him a liar" (1 John 5:10). The generally poor grasp of punctuation was distracting but forgivable, but that no one noticed a typo in a Bible quote struck us (perhaps inappropriately) as hilarious. Roommate Two discovered that the secret trick to answering the less obvious questions is to determine which answer could best support design; the hallux probably is not the tip of the nose, because the tip of the nose has no special function, but if it is the big toe, the answer can tell players how awesomely toes help us balance, run, and walk.
It took us about an hour to get through the game. Other than admiration for the physical design of the game ("It's a lot higher quality than I was expecting," said Roommate One), the three of us were unimpressed. Questions were either blindingly obvious or nearly impossible ... and occasionally nonsensical. This made the game more a matter of luck more than of skill or knowledge. Roommate Two made a small noise of relief every time I began reading a question with "True or False?" As a result, most of our enjoyment came from reading questions like, "True or False? The people who waged war in the 'Crusades' were Christians." "False. The Crusaders were misguided Roman Catholic zealots."
The amusement value of the questions is inversely proportional to their scholarship value. Some questions cite Wikipedia as a source ("So that might not even be true!" exclaimed an exasperated Roommate One after getting such a question wrong). One source uses an article in NCSE's Creation/Evolution for a question about "[t]he famed 'Nebraska Man'" — an article that concludes: "The creationists who belittle mistakes by scientists cannot admit that science advances, in part, by correcting error" (Wolf and Mellett 1985: 31).
Questionable sources and questionable quoting of legitimate sources is hardly the only example of deliberate misrepresentation of science. One question refers to an "embarrassing situation" Time magazine ended up in when it reported that Mononykus was a flightless bird instead of a theropodan dinosaur. The implication, of course, is that the evidence for dinosaur-to-bird evolution is faulty and that the media cannot be trusted on the subject. There are several problems with this argument. For one, even a cursory glance at the literature on Mononykus shows that scientists have not reached a consensus about whether or not it is a bird. For another, even if they had, neither classification would negate the fact that it has characteristics of both birds and dinosaurs. Third, and most important, if the classification had changed, as with the "case of Nebraska Man", it would simply be an example of scientists' refining a conclusion based on new evidence. Creationists' continued confusion over this basic aspect of the nature of science is baffling — when not intentional.
Other questions are simply wrong:
Since there are no transitional forms ("missing links"), German geneticist Richard Goldschmidt, speculated that there must have been quantum leaps from one species to another. He wrote, "The major evolutionary advances must have taken place in single large steps. … The many missing links in the Paleontological record are sought for in vain because they have never existed: 'the first bird hatched from a reptilian egg.'" His ridiculous theory is called: (A) cataclysmic escalation; (B) precipitous equanimity; (C) punctuated equilibrium.There is no (D): None of the above — a choice necessary for an accurate answer to most of these questions. The answer they are looking for is (C): punctuated equilibrium. What's more, the same choices with the same answer are on a different question, this time for a "theory" advanced by a 1958 children's book about dinosaurs. Another pair of questions use the same Stephen Jay Gould quote with different words left out — but one cites the original Paleobiology article and the other from a book by creationist Jonathan Sarfati.
There are only 250 questions in this game, and some of them are repeats. Trivial Pursuit comes with 6000 questions and people complain that there are not enough. In our game, we went through 29 cards, which would give us eight or nine games before we knew all the answers. At $30, this makes each game worth around $3.50 — about the same as renting a movie. So if your goal is to gather a group of your scientist buddies and have a good laugh at Kirk Cameron's blinding ignorance, this is a pretty good value for your money. But that it would be used for any other purpose, particularly an educational one, is terrifying.
Wolf J, Mellett SJ. 1985. The role of "Nebraska Man" in the creation–evolution debate. Creation/Evolution 16: 31–43.