National Geographic Gives Fairer Review of Intelligent Design

A couple of months ago, National Geographic Magazine ran an article on Darwinian Evolution entitled "Was Darwin Wrong?" (available on-line only in abstract) that basically took the position that Darwinian Evolution was a proven fact. In fact the first word of the article was answering the title with a large "No." At that time, I commented in a short essay entitled "Some Scientists Support Textbook Disclaimers" that the Natinoal Geographic article:

. . . proceeds to give the usual Darwinian evidence supporting evolution by natural selection, including conversations by the author, David Quammen, with a couple of scientists who are devotees of the present scientific paradigm.

Of course, there is no counter to this article. There is no article by scientists who disagree with the Darwinian paradigm. There is no discussion in the article itself of the views of these scientists or discussions with these scientists allowing them to state the contrary point of view. It seems that National Geographic beleives that Darwinian evolution is so well established that there is no need to present an alternative point of view. After all, such a view is held only by nutcases who don't have a scientific education, right?

Well, I guess I spoke too soon. It appears that Intelligent Design is given at least a fair introduction in this month's issue of National Geographic. A new article entitled "Does 'Intelligent Design' Threaten the Definition of Science?" by John Roach actually tries to look at the issue with some objectivity.

Most career evolutionary biologists delight in the unexplained (for one thing, it means they'll have jobs for at least a while longer as they search for answers). More and more people, though, are gravitating towards an alternative explanation: intelligent design.

Intelligent-design theory states that certain features of the natural world are of such complexity that the most plausible explanation is that they are products of an intelligent cause rather than random mutation and natural selection. Supporters of the theory say the nature of the intelligent cause is outside the scope of the theory.

Yes! The article is a much fairer, more balanced approach to the question of Intelligent Design. John West, author of the blog Evolution News and Views from the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, who is quoted in the article, calls the article fair and balanced, and notes that Mr. Roach, the author, actually quotes him "correctly and accurately" (which is all too often not the case). I encourage everyone to read it quickly before it goes into "available only in abstract" mode.

One thought on a quote in the article:

The movement's success comes from the way it "appeals to peoples' sense of unease about science and technology," said Kenneth Miller, a biologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Miller is a defender of evolution who has taken a seat against advocates of intelligent design in the struggle over how evolution should be taught in U.S. public schools.

I find this to be insulting. Personally, I am a Christian who has no "unease about science and technology." Science is the study of what God has created and technology is the use of what we learn about God's creation which mostly works out for good. I would expect that on occasion technology creates more problems than it solves, but that appears to me to be very rare. Do you know any Christian (outside of the Amish) who have "unease about science and technology" and therefore turn to Intelligent Design in response? I know I don't.

Dr. Miller is basically saying that the reason that people like me support Intelligent Design is because we are afraid of the truth that science teaches. Dr. Miller is trying to come up with a psychological motivation for people to disbelieve Darwinian Evolution. But as I have noted previously, it is improper to seek for psychological, sociological or economic reasons for people to believe erroneous information until it is first shown that their beliefs are erroneous (or, as I said earlier, "until it has been shown that I am believing something that is untrue or extremely unlikely, then it is inappropriate to dream up psychological reasons for my continuing to believe in something untrue"). Dr. Miller is trying to make a case for Darwinian Evolution, but the jury is still out on this issue. Dr. Miller needs to understand that the reason that people are turning to Intelligent Design as a basis for understanding our universe (despite a rather unfair and relentless attack from popularizers of naturalistic science and Internet skeptics which improperly label Intelligent Design as "creationism in disguise" and call ID advocates "IDiots") is because it makes more sense to them than Darwinian Evolution in light of the evidence.

Darwinists: please make your case based upon the evidence. If Darwinian Evolution is true, then it will become clear over time. But until you do make your case more airtight, it is hardly the time to start psychoanalyzing me or other people who think that ID makes more sense in light of the evidence.


Anonymous said…
I think the main concern that scientists have with "Intelligent Design" proponents is that some of these people consider "Intelligent Design" a scientific theory. Most people would have no problems debating "Intelligent Design" vs evolution in a public relations, religion, or philosophy class but there's no reason to debate it in a science class.

Essentially the most rigorous defenses of "Intelligent Design" (I've only read Michael Behe, Philip Johnson, and a few websites, please suggest more if I'm missing something) exhibit a poor understand of thermodynamics, information theory, and complexity theory. Behe cannot rigorously justify why certain configurations are "irreducibly complex" (if he could, his proof would change the decidability of Kolmogorov Complexity and rewrite large parts of the Church-Turing thesis). In response to these criticisms, proponents of "Intelligent Design" are forced to admit that they have no evidence and justify their belief instead as a reaction to "scientific materialism".

The theories of evolution, thermodynamics, etc are all rooted in repeated observations (fossil record, calorimetry, etc), model building, and model testing. This is not to say that these theories are flawless. As the parent post quotes, "it means [scientists and mathematicians will] have jobs for at least a while longer as they search for answers." Science is not, in the forseeable future, the business of finding "truth" ("Truth" is a bit of a longshot as there's quite a bit that we don't understand). Rather, science is in the business of reducing ignorance of nature. Rigorously following scientific methods has been fantastically successful in reducing ignorance in the past. By turning this "mechanical" crank, faith becomes unnecessary for a scientist to do science. Some religious people may feel threatened by this "blasphemous secularization" but religious scientists are generally comfortable with "compartmentalization" (solve scientific problems with scientific method, solve religious problems with religious methods).

Just because evolution is taught in school doesn't mean students have to believe in it. I learned about communism in school and I'm still generally a laissez-fair free market kind of guy. In the USA, at least, people are free to believe what they like, whether it be "Intelligent Design" or "Flat Earth Geography". Teaching evolution in a science class demonstrates the use of the scientific method (observation, inferences, experiementation, etc) to arrive at a certain model. Scientists are free (and frequently seize the opportunity) to find flaws in data, inferences, and models as they construct an alternative model. My concern about those who elect to believe in nonscientific ideas like "Intelligent Design" is how they maintain their economic competitiveness at a time when an understanding of science and technology is ever important. Math and science education in the USA is already seriously inferior to foreign curriculums. Teaching of a nonscience like "Intelligent Design" in a science class is not helping.

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