Biblical creationism originates in religious fundamentalism, but that doesn’t mean it’s unchanging and eternal. Indeed, it’s been widely noted that creationist ideas go through something very like evolution by natural selection. Creationist ideas have changed in response to selection pressure from science, society and the law, from late 1800s simple fundamentalist assertion, through the scientific creationism of Henry M. Morris, to intelligent design.
The parallels are not perfect — ideas can merge together again, there is an actual direction and somewhat-intelligent design to the process — but creationism has even thrown up a transitional form: the Cdesign proponentsists.
During the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial over the legitimacy of teaching intelligent design as science rather than as religion, a crucial piece of the defense (pro-intelligent design) was a book called Of Pandas and People, which was marketed as a science textbook for middle- and high-school children.
The plaintiff (pro-science) obtained previous editions of the book for review, and proceeded to show that, wherever early editions had the terms “creationist”, “creationism” or some similar form, it had been replaced in almost all cases with the terms “design proponents” and “intelligent design” in later editions. For instance, where one earlier creationist edition had (colours added for emphasis):
Creation means that the various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent creator with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.
— the new, improved intelligent design edition had:
Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, etc.
The titles of earlier versions didn’t help, either: whereas the second 1987 edition (just after the US Supreme Court had ruled against creationism in the classroom in Edwards v. Aguillard) and onward were called Of Pandas and People, the first 1987 edition was called Biology and Origins, the 1986 edition was called Biology and Creation and the 1983 edition was called Creation Biology. But the book was, of course, totally science and not just religion.
This and other evidence, such as the Wedge Document, helped Judge John E. Jones III reach the verdict that intelligent design was merely a rebranding of creationism, and that the intelligent design movement was a subversive attempt to inject religion into the classroom.
Subsequent to the case, it came out that, in one place — page 3-41 of the 1987 “intelligent design” edition — an editor had made a particularly telling error: having apparently attempted to copy-and-paste “design proponents” in place of the word “creationists”, they had only replaced part of the latter, resulting in a weird neologism, “cdesign proponentsists“. This typographical error appears to be the missing link between creationism and intelligent design.
If only they’d learnt to use “Find and Replace” properly …
The “cdesign proponentsists” error was noticed before the trial, but not brought up in the course of it. According to Gordy Slack’s 2007 book The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and a School Board in Dover, PA (p. 215, note 11), the lawyers for the plaintiffs were told of the “cdesign proponentsists” error, but decided not to use it:
The plaintiff’s attorneys, after much discussion, decided not to use that page as evidence. “It would have rubbed salt into the wound, when the wound was a decapitation”, says Matzke.