Wednesday, March 08, 2006


ID and the DI

I'm a lurker on the mailing list of the American Scientific Affiliation. I usually quite enjoy about half of the material I receive from that list (which I think is a pretty decent percentage). Ted Davis, a member of the faculty at Messiah College, recently posted a link to an article he wrote called "Intelligent Design on Trial." The article can be found here (the file is in PDF format).

It's one of the better articles on intelligent design I've read. I think that Davis is wrong on a few things. He argues that ID isn't the same thing as creationism (he's made this point on the ASA mailing list too), and I don't see how ID can be separated from classic creationism given how tightly the two are currently entwined. I think that with a lot of effort (and frankly with a lot more integrity than the Discovery Institute has currently displayed), ID could take on a life of its own.

I've read through Davis' essay a couple of times now, and I think it warrants a couple more. Here are a couple of passages that really caught my attention:

"Currently, the ID movement is, to use its own language, a "big tent" under whose sprawling canvas there is plenty of room for differences about theological and biblical issues related to the age of the earth. A full public discussion of these issues would not disturb most of the intellectual leaders of the movement. But it would alienate the many grassroots creationists who support ID—and who provide it with much of its political support. So while ID is not creationism, creationism remains the elephant in the room. Judge Jones evidently smelled the elephant quite distinctly.

At this point, there simply is no ID "theory" to teach—or even to practice in the laboratory, let alone to place at the center of a new scientific paradigm. ID currently consists only of an interesting philosophical critique of the explanatory efficacy of Darwinian evolution, combined with an appeal for scientists to add "design" to the set of explanatory principles they employ in biology and other sciences."

I really agree with this. If ID proponents really want to be taken seriously they need to present a coherent theory of ID. Currently the fellows of the Discovery Institute hold conflicting views – some are young earth creationists (e.g., Paul Nelson), while some accept almost all of conventional biological evolution (e.g., Michael Behe). I interpret this as an indication that ID is just a political movement – ID proponents can't agree on the science of ID, all they share is a nebulous conviction that there has to be something more than evolution. Moreover, rather than try to find evidence to support their convictions, they try to avoid expert scrutiny and spend their time trying to persuade politicians.

Davis also writes:

"Ironically, some of the biggest insults have been directed by Christians against those Christian scientists and other thinkers who do not find ID sufficiently persuasive. Years ago, for example, Johnson referred to them as "mushy accommodationists."

I doubt that the rhetoric will cool anytime soon, despite the fact that the Dover case is now over. Certainly, in the wake of the judge's decision, ID advocates promised to continue the fight across the land.

But the decision itself is hard, for me at least, to dispute. Given the evidence, the judge really had no choice but to rule that the school board tried to inject a reference to ID for religious reasons, and that it had no clear secular purpose for doing so. "The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism," the Judge wrote, and in this particular instance I can't blame him. As a result "it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."

The appalling behavior of some Utah state senators and ID advocates in Dover reinforces Davis' point.

Davis ends his essay with a quote from Judge Jones' Kitzmiller opinion:

""Those who disagree with our holding" Jones wrote near the end of his opinion, "will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge." I make no such accusation, but the Discovery Institute did not hesitate. Hardly had the decision been issued than John West, a politics professor at Seattle Pacific University who is also a long-time fellow of the institute, offered the following response on the institute's webpage

"Judge Jones found that the Dover board violated the Establishment Clause because it acted from religious motives. That should have been the end of the case. Instead, Judge Jones got on his soapbox to offer his own views of science, religion, and evolution. He makes it clear that he wants his place in history as the judge who issued a definitive decision about intelligent design. This is an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur."

Someone may be deluded here, but I doubt it is the judge."

I am so heartened by his comments about the Discovery Institute. Davis seems to be a fan of some form of ID, which is a position that I don't share. However, in my mind ID and the Discovery Institute are one and the same. If a new ID movement arises, I'll reevaluate my position.

I think I agree with you. I think that ID could be different than creationism, but in practice it usually is not.

If the DI folks were more humble about their ideas, accepted criticism and made good-faith efforts to address those criticisms, I might view them a little more favorably. Instead you have Behe from the beginning ranking his ideas with the greatest achievments of science! They're motto of following the evidence where it leads is hypocrisy because their goal from the beginning has been to make a political/philosophical war on science as we know it.

If you strip all of that garbage away and stick with the few modest formal claims of ID, you have something comparable to panspermia--an interesting idea, but there's not much you can do with it--at least not yet.
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