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But tides do turn. Recently, a flood of scientific support for the idea that life might have been designed after all has made a different “Dover” emblematic of the dispute over life’s origins. In Dover, Pennsylvania, the school board directed last year that a four-paragraph statement be read to students, which refers to the concept of “intelligent design,” or “ID.” The Dover statement observes that Darwin’s theory is only a theory, not fact; notes that intelligent design is an explanation that differs from Darwin’s view; mentions an alternative reference book for students who might be interested in understanding what intelligent design involves; and encourages students to keep an open mind.
The Dover school board, by the way, did not cut back the teaching of Darwinian evolution in its schools. Nor did it mandate that intelligent design be taught alongside Darwinism. But because the board suggested that the Darwinian theory might not be an unchallengeable fact exempt from all discussion, a lawsuit underwritten by the ACLU was filed against the school district. The trial, which has gained national attention, is underway as this is written. Apparently, there are some people who are very much against students hearing all the evidence with an open mind, and who will resort to the coercive power of the state to prevent that.
What’s the big deal about intelligent design? Why the need to file lawsuits to prevent students from even hearing that it exists?
Whatever the courts may decide, the intelligent design cat is already out of the bag. President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist have endorsed acquainting students with ID. The New York Times and Washington Post inveigh against it. Faculty disputes have broken out on university campuses over intelligent design, and student clubs are springing up to support it. Major journals of opinion are running long articles on ID, and op-ed columnists are weighing in. Books, conferences, and public debates proliferate. A Google search for web pages that include both the phrase “intelligent design” and the word “evolution” turns up 2,450,000 hits. In perhaps the ultimate sign of a breakout, on a recent episode of The West Wing presidential candidate Matt Santos answers a question about intelligent design by replying: “I believe in God, and I’d like to think He’s intelligent.”
SO WHAT, EXACTLY, IS CAUSING ALL THE RUCKUS? In the past decade or two, a group of scientists, biologists, mathematicians, philosophers, and other thinkers have marshaled powerful critiques of Darwinian theory on scientific and mathematical grounds. Although they generally don’t dispute that evolution of some sort has occurred, they vigorously contest the neo-Darwinian claim that life could arise by an undirected, purely material process of chance variation and natural selection.
Instead, examining the evidence and applying mathematical and other techniques to detect design, they argue that the best scientific inference is that the complexity of life results from design by an intelligence. Despite the efforts of ID opponents to label them as “creationists,” their arguments are not based on religious premises or Scriptural authority, and ID does not attempt to determine the identity of the designer. The inference that life is the product of an intelligent cause rather than unintelligent material forces may certainly have religious implications. But the arguments advanced by intelligent design theorists rely on neutral principles and facts drawn from mathematics, information theory, biochemistry, physics, astrophysics, and other disciplines. (For a summary of some of ID’s principal scientific arguments, see my article in the June 2005 issue of The American Spectator.)
Why should this upset anyone? If you ask ID’s critics the reason for their opposition, they will tell you. Says the Dover teachers’ union president, Sandy Bowser, “Intelligent design is not science.” According to a caption in a Washington Post front page article, intelligent design is “not science.” ID opponent and professor of physics and astronomy Lawrence Krauss goes on to explain that ID shouldn’t be part of a curriculum because it’s “not science.” In a Wired magazine article that disparages ID, microbiologist Carl Woese contributes the point that intelligent design “is not science.” Robert Pennock, a professor of philosophy who has been an active critic of intelligent design, elaborates that ID doesn’t “fall within the purview of science.” The lawyer suing the Dover school board contends that ID is “not science at all.” The American Federation of Teachers adds helpfully that “intelligent design does not belong in the science classroom because it is not science.” The National Science Teachers Association sheds a further bit of light, offering the view that “intelligent design is not science.”
OK, I think we’re seeing a pattern now. It may be safe to venture that, according to its detractors, intelligent design is “not science.” So why bring in the federal courts? Why not simply expose the logical and scientific fallacies of ID — which must be glaring indeed — and let it collapse of its own weaknesses?
For one thing, that is exactly what the Darwinists have been unable to do. The arguments put forth by the ID theorists — hammering home the fundamental, longstanding, unresolved flaws in Darwinism, and demonstrating affirmatively that life exhibits evidence of design — have not been refuted. Counterarguments fly as fast in this debate as the arguments, and neither side can claim victory. It is precisely because intelligent design relies exclusively on scientific methods, evidence, and reasoning that the Darwinist establishment is going bonkers.
But there is another reason that goes even deeper. Let us suppose for a moment that the scientific evidence, evaluated in a truly impartial manner, would strongly point to design by a creator rather than to undirected natural forces as the source of life. Let us suppose, just for the sake of argument, that this evidence was really quite manifest and clear. What then? Would all the scientists, philosophers, political advocacy groups, teachers’ unions, journalists, and others who were previously committed to Darwinism follow that evidence exactly where it leads? Would they shrug and say, “Oh, OK. We were wrong,” and admit that the design thesis is the best explanation?
Or would a large body of opinion, scientific and otherwise, insist that anything that points to a creator, regardless of the evidence, is automatically “not science”? A designer who actually works in the world is a concept that some cannot admit even to be a possibility. It is ruled out in advance on philosophical grounds. Although there are nuances and intermediate positions, ID has stirred up a conflict between two competing worldviews: materialism and theism.
But doesn’t science admit only materialistic or naturalistic explanations? In the ordinary course, yes, science seeks to explain observed phenomena by reference to natural physical laws. But the creation of the universe (where did the laws come from?) and the origin of life (how did complexity that is vanishingly improbable come about?) are rather special questions, and the answers may be special as well. Materialism and theism answer them in very different ways.
Many of the most outspoken defenders of Darwinism are quite candid about their commitment to materialism as a worldview. Materialism (or naturalism) is, of course, the view that only matter and material processes exist. The physical universe is all there is. There is no mind behind it, no creator, no purpose, and no possibility of a personal God who intervenes in the world. The universe is apparently governed by physical laws, but materialism does not offer a reason why the behavior of matter and energy should be lawful. Life on Earth is just a product of the necessary unfolding of undirected material processes; of “purposeless, meaningless matter in motion,” in the words of philosopher and ID opponent Daniel Dennett.
RICHARD DAWKINS, ZOOLOGIST and holder of an endowed chair at Oxford, has been the leading popular exponent of the atheistic, materialistic, reductionist version of Darwinism (Dawkins, by the way, does not object to any of those labels). Dawkins originated, or at least popularized, the “selfish gene” theory. This theory conceives of life as a purely chemical process driven by the replicating properties of DNA. Dawkins states: “It is easy to think of DNA as the information by which a body makes another body like itself. It would be more correct to see a body as the vehicle used by DNA to make more DNA like itself.”
Natural selection, the mechanism by which some DNA continues to replicate itself and other DNA does not, is “the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life,” Dawkins contends. It is purely a “blind, unconscious, automatic process.” It “has no purpose in mind…. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all.”
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