Debating Darwin and Design

A dialogue between two Christians

‘Is Intelligent Design science or ‘creationism in a cheap tuxedo?’

2nd November, 2011

Joshua Gidney-2nd response

In my opening remarks I attempted argue that intelligent design is in no way synonymous with biblical young earth creationism. I also make the stronger claim that scientifically it isn’t even a form of creationism in any theistic sense. In his first response Francis ceded the former point but argues against the latter. He writes that ‘equation of ID with biblical creationism…is illegitimate,…’1 and recognises that within the ID camp there is a wide range of views, pointing out that leading theorist Michael Behe emphatically rejects young earth creationism and is convinced by the evidence for common descent. Although both ID theorists, Francis compares Behe’s view with Paul Nelson’s view to illustrate the different positions within the ID tent. Nelson is quite a prominent ID theorist but is significantly more critical of Darwinian theory however, it is incorrect to say that Nelson’s view is base ‘history denial’ and doesn’t in fact hold explicitly to a young earth view. Responding to this accusation in a recent interview Nelson says ‘…I don’t believe in a six thousand year old or ten thousand year old earth; I actually don’t know how old the earth is. Professionally, in my work with my discovery colleagues, I take their date: 4.6 billion, but in my own thinking I don’t restrict myself to the assumptions being made by historical geology and cosmology.’2

Francis singles out Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Phillip Johnson as being the three fathers of ID. The temptation he feels to call them ‘stooges’ reveals his low opinion of them and their work and I feel that it is an unwarranted denigration. This discussion will hopefully tell us whether or not they are indeed stooges. The three academics mentioned are indeed among the most prominent ID defenders but this by no means exhausts the long and growing list of significant contributors to the ID argument. I would add that Philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer should be counted as being one of the ‘fathers’ of ID due to his ground breaking argument for design from the origin of biological information in various articles and his book Signature In The Cell: DNA and the Evidence For Intelligent Design.

In his response Francis points out that Behe, amongst the three mentioned is the only qualified biological scientist. This is true but so what?  Johnson is a retired UC Berkeley lawyer and is often credited as the founder of the ID movement which is in many ways true. He was instrumental in providing ID theorists with a public voice and creating ground for the movement to develop. Johnson put forward ‘The Wedge Strategy’ and described his aim thus ‘My colleges and I want to separate the real science from the materialist philosophy.’3 He greatly helped getting  the ID movement going but did not invent ID as a theory and has not been responsible for the detailed scientific arguments because that is not in his area of expertise. Dembski’s expertise are entirely appropriate for the ideas that he has been advancing in support of design. As a highly qualified mathematician and philosopher, he has developed a theoretic al framework for ID, formalising a design detection criteria to assess whether something is designed or not. As a Bio-chemist Michael Behe has provided much of the meat on an empirical level within his own field along with many other appropriately qualified scientists such as biologists Douglas Axe4, Jonathan Wells5, Scott Minich6, Dean Kenyon7, and Philosopher of Science Stephen C. Meyer8.

Francis asks the question ‘…how is it that ID just simply can’t seem to rid itself of creationist associations?’9 This is an easy question to address because ID’s creationist associations only exist in the mind of its critics and not in reality. It is interesting to note that the two major young earth creationist organisations in America, Answers in Genesis and The Institute for Creation Research, both openly frown upon ID. Philosopher Peter S. Williams urges that ‘perhaps reporters in the media who refuse to take ID theorists at their word when they assert that ID is not creationism will take creationists…at their word when they make the same point!’10 ID’s alleged creationist associations exist largely because the media often disseminate often absurd misunderstandings and misrepresentations of what ID theorists are saying and these myths are often perpetuated by critics within the scientific community who also misunderstand the theory and are too stuck in their Darwinian box.  I think the main reason it is so difficult for ID to jettison its creationist associations is that Neo-Darwinism for many is very much an ideology and criticism of it is often unwelcome within academia. Given this fact it is clear that the most effective rhetorical tactic to use is to associate ID with right-wing Christian fundamentalists in an attempt to superficially disarm ID theorist’s arguments and make it easy for everyone else to view them as ‘a well-organised and well-financed group of nutters’.11

Although I don’t see a legitimate connection between evolution and atheism it is tempting to turn the original question around and ask: How is it that evolution just simply can’t seem to get rid of its atheistic associations? It is true to say that more often than not evolution is viewed to be in direct opposition to belief in creator but just because it can’t seem to get rid of a certain philosophical view doesn’t discredit the theory or imply that it is a form of atheism.

Bringing up the infamous Dover Trial, Francis cites a brief exchange between Behe and Eric Rothschild. He points out that the most Rothschild got out of Behe in terms of an explanation was that an intelligence was involved in the process but this is not surprising because that is all the theory claims. Behe was right to hesitate because the word ‘cause’ is a very broad term as he mentions. William Dembski offers a clarification on this point: ‘intelligent design is…not the study of intelligent causes per se but of informational pathways induced by intelligent causes. As a result intelligent design presupposes neither a creator nor miracles. . . it detects intelligence without speculating about the nature of the intelligence. .. ’12 Along with Kenneth Miller, Francis may wish to put the word ‘creator’ into ID theorist’s mouths but to do so would be to immediately step outside of science. Many theorists unashamedly admit that they believe the most plausible metaphysical interpretation of ID to be a theistic one but the key point is that this interpretation is not part of the theory itself. The implications of ID, whatever they are, do not disqualify the theory as being unscientific just as the Big Bang model was not labelled as being unscientific because many scientists thought it had strong theistic implications.

It is claimed that ‘Proponents of ID are desperate to distance themselves from creationism-if they don’t they can’t get into the school science class…’13 but this is false. Proponents of ID may well be desperate to get as far away from creationism as possible but as I have already argued, it is because it has nothing to do with creationism. It is the Darwinists who seem desperate to keep creationism closer to ID to damage its credibility. The main proponents of the theory do not want it in the school science class. This is another myth often perpetuated by critics. In his review of the BBC’s Horizon: The War on Science programme on ID, Peter S. Williams points out that ‘the Discovery Institute (which is a secular think tank which opposes efforts to mandate teaching creationism or religion in American schools) does not want ID taught in schools, preferring instead that students should simply be given access to scientific evidence both for and against Darwin’s theory as it appears in the peer-reviewed scientific literature…’14

Francis attaches unwarranted significance to the Dover trial in deciding ID’s validity. It may have been a ‘roaring triumph for evolution in its grand battle with creationism’15, but not Neo-Darwinism’s grand battle with ID. The members of the school board were indeed creationists but they tried to use ID ‘as the next best thing to the outlawed advocacy of “creation science”…’16 Unfortunately Judge Jones ended up making highly mistaken decisions with regard to ID. In his review of the Court’s ruling on the scientific status of ID, Michael Behe concludes:

‘The Court’s reasoning…is premised on: a cramped view of science; the conflation of intelligent design with creationism; an incapacity to distinguish the implications of a theory from the theory itself; a failure to differentiate evolution from Darwinism; and strawman arguments against ID. The Court has accepted the most tendentious and shop-worn excuses for Darwinism with great charity and impatiently dismissed evidence-based arguments for design. All of that is regrettable, but in the end does not impact the realities of biology, with are not amenable to adjudication.’17

Space has not permitted me to address every point in Francis’ first response but will hope to examine any significant criticism Francis raised that I did not address, in my next response.

References

  1. Francis Smallwood. Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (1): Francis Smallwood-First response. http://musingsofscience.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/debating-darwin-and-design-science-or-creationism-1/
  2. Paul Nelson. David Berlinski, Claire Berlinski. Movie recording 28. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8kPOri3quQ&feature=related
  3. Phillip E. Johnson, The Firing Line Creation-Evolution Debate (1997).
  4. Douglas Axe. Biologic Institute. http://biologicinstitute.org/people/
  5. Jonathan Wells. http://www.jonathanwells.org/
  6. Scott Minnich. http://www.iscid.org/scott-minnich.php
  7. Dean Kenyon. http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/video/BIOLOGY/KENYON/Kenyon.html
  8. Stephen C. Meyer. http://www.stephencmeyer.org/biography.ph
  9. Francis Smallwood. Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (1): Francis Smallwood-First response. op cit.
  10. Peter S. Williams. ‘Evolution vs. Intelligent Design’ Radio Debate. http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_radiodebate.htm
  11. Mary Wakefield. The Mystery of the Missing Links. http://www.arn.org/docs2/news/missinglinkmystery102803.htm
  12. William A. Dembski. Mere Creation. (Downers Grove: IVP. 1996). p.17.
  13. Francis Smallwood. Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (1): Francis Smallwood-First response. op cit.
  14. Peter S. Williams. The War on Science: How Horizon Got Intelligent Design Wrong. http://www.arn.org/docs/williams/pw_horizonreview.htm
  15. Francis Smallwood. Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (1): Francis Smallwood-First response. op cit.
  16. Peter S. Williams. The War on Science: How Horizon Got Intelligent Design Wrong. op cit.
  17. Michael J. Behe. Whether Intelligent Design is Science: A Response to the Opinion of the Court in Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District. http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-download.php?command=download&id=697
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