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Is Intelligent Design Dead?

Proof that Intelligent Design is far from dead.

 

 

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What Is Intelligent Design?

On December 20, 2005, Judge Jones handed down his decision in the lawsuit brought by several citizens from Dover, Pennsylvania, who objected to a new policy adopted by the Dover School Board. This policy mandated a statement be read before all biology classes indicating that evolution was a theory that needed critical evaluation and that Intelligent Design was a rival theory that students could seek information about from the library.

Judge Jones not only struck down the policy as unconstitutional; he went further to declare that ID is not science and was purely motivated by religion since it was just a repackaged creationism. His written opinion was scathing. This of course delighted proponents of evolution and many have declared that ID now is dead.

In what follows I will examine this "death certificate" and declare it null and void. ID is alive and well, and the coming months and years will demonstrate convincingly the health of ID. But first, let's make sure we know what ID really is.

The media often simply portray ID in a negative context. One student reporter from Southern Methodist University recently put it this way: "Essentially ID is a theory that proposes that there are parts to a cell that are simply too complex to have been evolved." He adds as an afterthought the idea "that rather they have been altered by some sort of ‘designer.'"{1} But ID is truly more than just a critique of evolution. The Discovery Institute's Web site describes ID this way: "The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."{2}

It's interesting to realize that many evolutionists recognize that living things in particular look as if they have been designed. British evolutionist Richard Dawkins said, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."{3} Many in the ID community simply reply, "If it looks designed, maybe it is!" So ID is simply an attempt to quantify scientifically what most people clearly recognize: the design of the universe and of living things.

The major contention with evolution is the claim that mutation and natural selection can account for everything we see in living things. ID accepts that evolutionary processes do account for some change in organisms over time. But ID says certain structures, like the bacterial flagellum that closely resembles a human designed rotary motor, are better explained through an intelligent cause.

In particular, the universal genetic code has all the distinguishing characteristics of coded information or language. Our experience tells us that language only comes from a mind. If so, then the genetic code also likely came from a mind.

Is ID Science?

Judge Jones made several errors in his reasoning. The recent book from the Discovery Institute, Traipsing Into Evolution, answers Judge Jones on several levels.{4} I will focus on three areas: first, how a federal judge can tell us what science is and is not when philosophers of science continue to struggle with this; second, Judge Jones' claim that ID has been refuted by scientists; and third, Judge Jones' claims that ID has not been accepted by the scientific community. For these and other reasons, Judge Jones claimed that ID simply is not science and is religiously motivated; therefore it should not even be mentioned in a high school science classroom.

The first question that should occur to you is, Why does a federal judge with no training in science use his courtroom as a means of determining what is and is not science? This problem has been referred to as the "demarcation problem." How do we demarcate science from non-science? Philosopher of science Larry Laudan writes, "If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like ‘pseudo-science' and ‘unscientific' from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us."{5}

In addition, philosopher Del Ratzch argues that there are very real possible payoffs for science in considering ID.{6} Judge Jones knew of these positions but chose to ignore them.

Judge Jones claims that ID has been refuted by mainstream scientists. He cites the work of Kenneth Miller in particular. This is rather strange indeed. For ID to be refuted means that it has been tested by science and found wanting. If it is testable scientifically to the degree that it can be refuted, then it is science after all. This logical contradiction does not seem to occur to Judge Jones.

The judge ruled further that ID cannot be science because it is not accepted by the scientific community. But science is not a popularity contest. New and controversial theories are never accepted by a majority of scientists at the beginning, but that doesn't make them unscientific. The Discovery Institute now lists over six hundred scientists from around the world who are willing to sign a list saying they are skeptical of Darwinism. Surely that counts for something.

ID uses empirical data to demonstrate the plausibility of a design inference. It's as scientific as Darwinism.

Is ID Just Reinvented Creationism?

Several parents challenged a directive by the Dover School Board allowing the mention of Intelligent Design in the science classrooms of this district. Judge Jones ruled the directive unconstitutional. One of his reasons was that ID is just reinvented creationism which the Supreme Court has already ruled is substantially a religious doctrine and not appropriate as science.

One of the texts that the Dover school board members made available was the supplemental text Of Pandas and People.{7} Having subpoenaed early drafts of the book from the late ‘80s, the ACLU tried to show that Pandas only began using the phrase "Intelligent Design" after the Supreme Court struck down the Louisiana creation law. Therefore Judge Jones ruled that ID is in fact just creationism with a new label.

While it is true that the Supreme Court decision did indeed affect editorial decisions in Pandas, it's not for the reasons Judge Jones assumed. The authors and editors of Pandas knew their ideas were not the same as creationism and were wrestling with what to call it. Once the Supreme Court ruled that "creationism" meant a literal six day creation, the authors of Pandas knew they needed to use a different term.{8}

In addition, the term Intelligent Design had been floating around for several years before Pandas was in print. Lane Lester and I used the term in our book The Natural Limits to Biological Change in 1984, three years before the Supreme Court decision in Edwards vs. Aguillard struck down the Louisiana creationism law. We said, "The simple point is that intelligent design is discernibly different from natural design. In natural design, the apparent order is internally derived from the properties of the components; in crea­tive design, the apparent order is externally imposed and confers new properties of organization not inherent in the components themselves."{9}

Furthermore, none of the leading scientists of the Intelligent Design movement were ever a part of the creationist movement. People like Phil Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Charles Thaxton, and Steve Meyer never considered themselves to be part of this group. Their ideas were always similar but definitely not the same.

Some creationist groups today even go to great lengths to distance themselves from the ID movement because ID essentially maintains that the Designer cannot be known from the science alone. Therefore, because of ID's attempts to stop short of naming the Designer, some creationist groups will sell some ID books but not endorse their program. This would be very strange indeed if ID is just relabeled creationism.

Once again, Judge Jones got it wrong.
Traipsing Into the Dover Court Decision

In their excellent discussion of the Dover decision, the authors of Traipsing into Evolution attack six accusations against Intelligent Design used by Judge Jones.{10}

On page sixty-two of the Dover decision Judge Jones said, "ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation."{11} The main problem for Judge Jones is that ID scientists said repeatedly prior to the trial and in direct testimony during the trial that the science of ID is not able to identify the Designer. It was expressly pointed out to Judge Jones during the trial that the type and identity of the intelligent agent supposed by ID is only identified by religious and philosophical argumentation. That does not mean that design itself cannot be detected scientifically. Indeed, if we ever receive an obviously intelligent message from outer space, we will most certainly be able to determine it has an intelligent cause even though we may have no idea who or what sent it.{12}

Judge Jones also states that "the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980s." What Judge Jones is referring to is his notion that ID is just a negative argument about Darwinism. If Darwinism can be shown to be false, then ID wins.

But this grossly misrepresents ID. Michael Behe's formulation of irreducible complexity asserts that Darwinian evolution does not predict irreducibly complex machines in the cell where Intelligent Design expressly does predict such machines. So there is definitely a negative component to irreducible complexity. But Darwin himself said that "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."{13} Darwin invited a negative critique.

But there is also a clear positive case for irreducible complexity. When we come across a machine, we intuitively understand it to be intelligently caused, whether we think it functions effectively or not. Intelligent agents can and do produce machines. The concept of irreducible complexity is one way to determine what a machine is.

Judge Jones' third complaint against Intelligent Design was that the attacks on evolution by ID advocates have all been refuted by the scientific community. Judge Jones ignored the fact that at the time of the decision, over five hundred scientists had signed a statement acknowledging their dissent from Darwinism. That list now stands at over six hundred.{14} Certainly some scientists have challenged Behe, Dembski, and others. But their criticisms have been answered effectively both online and in print.{15}

Judge Jones' fourth accusation was that Intelligent Design had failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community. But this is clearly a matter of opinion. As I mentioned previously, over six hundred scientists now express their dissent from Darwin, and most of those also support Intelligent Design, many of them at mainline universities.

No doubt there has been and continues to be strident opposition to Intelligent Design in the scientific community, especially among biologists. But there is always resistance in science to new ideas. And much of the opposition is for philosophical reasons, not scientific ones. Many Darwinists such as Will Provine from Cornell and Richard Dawkins from Oxford are very up front that their adherence to evolution and their disdain for Intelligent Design is over the issue of a Designer by any name. The science is just a backdrop.

Judge Jones' fifth complaint against Intelligent Design was that proponents of ID have not published in the scientific peer-reviewed literature. This is simply not true. De Wolf et al., in their book Traipsing Into Evolution, document in Appendix B a list of thirteen different peer-reviewed articles and books by ID scientists advocating different aspects of the theory. This is admittedly a small number, but that is because there is clear evidence, documented in the same book, of editors having to shy away from ID papers and responses for fear of intimidation by the scientific community. One editor who followed established procedure in getting an ID article reviewed and published was nearly run out of his institution for the offense.

Finally, Judge Jones declared that ID has not been the subject of testing and research. Indeed, any scientific theory needs to be testable in some form or it is not likely to be of some use. But ID microbiologist Scott Minnich testified right in Judge Jones' courtroom that in his laboratory at the University of Idaho he has demonstrated the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum. Minnich also testified to other research he was familiar with which also was testing principles from ID.{16}

As I have summarized, Judge Jones failed to make a reasonable and fair evaluation of the evidence. Intelligent Design is far from dead. Rather, such a poor decision in the Dover case may actually serve ID well as it self-destructs in the years to come.

Notes

1. Brian Wellman, April 26, 2006, Merits of intelligent design, evolution debated, www.smudailycampus.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2006/04/26/444ef833078bc
2. The Web site of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, www.discovery.org/csc/topQuestions.php.
3. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986), 1.
4. David De Wolf, John West, Casey Luskin, and Jonathan Witt, Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2006), 25-57.
5. Larry Laudan, "The demise of the demarcation problem," in Michael Ruse (ed.), But Is It Science?, (Amherst, MA: Prometheus, 1983), 337-350.
6. Del Ratzch, Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science (Albany, NY: State University Press of New York, 2001), 147.
7. Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins (Dallas, TX: Haughton Publishing Co., 1989), 166 pp.
8. DeWolf et al., 22.
9. Lane P. Lester and Raymond G. Bohlin, The Natural Limits to Biological Change (Richardson, TX: Probe Books, 1984), 153-154.
10. DeWolf et al., 29-45.
11. Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School Board, No. 04cv2688, 2005 WL 3465563, *26 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 20, 2005).
12. I don't expect we ever will hear from any extraterrestrials. Earth appears to be more and more unique with every passing day. See my article "Are We Alone in the Universe?" at www.probe.org/faith-and-science/origins/are-we-alone-in-the-universe.html.
13. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (New York: New American Library [A Mentor Book], 1958), 171 (this is a reprint of the 1872 sixth edition).
14. From the Web site of the Center for Science and Culture, www.dissentfromdarwin.org/ accessed October 11, 2006. The statement reads; "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."
15. William Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 334 pp.
16. De Wolf et al., 56.

© 2006 Probe Ministries

 

 


 

 

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