Sorry, I've Stopped Listening

I saw an article on Intelligent Design (ID) in the New York Sun that caught my attention. Entitled "Scientists Take on Intelligent Design", the article reviews a book entitled Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movementby John Brockman (editor). According to the publisher's notes,

Writer and editor Brockman (What We Believe but Cannot Prove), who publishes the online magazine Edge, has assembled sixteen short essays by prominent scientists on current thinking about evolution.

Okay, it sounds interesting. I thought about buying the book and giving it a read since I certainly don't want these scientists to conclude that people who don't accept their theories haven't listened to them. I was seriously considering spending my own money to afford them their best shot at trying to convince me that ID was wrong. (After all, whenever I read the arguments against Intelligent Design, one of the first arguments is almost always that the scientific community is not communicating what it knows well.)

But then I read further down the page in the New York Sun review. Here's what I saw:

The war (it must be so named) between science and the fundamentalist faith-driven IDM is of a deeply troubling import for science education, and for science itself - thus inevitably for contemporary culture. * * *

In the opening essay, "Intelligent Design: The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name," Mr. Coyne sets forth the argument that the IDM is motivated by religion and is, rather than serious scholarship, a faith-based attack on the architecture and trustworthiness of natural science.

Can we just stop it with the name calling? Just once? Can we have a discussion about the merits of the ID movement without calling it "fundamentalist"? These types of attacks are not only wrong, they are decidedly ad hominem in nature. They are designed to not address the merits of the arguments put forward by the advocates of ID, but to smear them as "religious fanatics" or some such thing who are wanting to take us back to the dark ages. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I think ID makes sense, but I am not wedded to the idea. I am willing to have my mind changed, but I have talked to scientists -- good scientists -- who believe ID is both sane and scientific. Thus, to try at the ourset of a book to make it a case of "crazy right-wing fanatics" (which the use of the word "fundamentalist" implies) against the "sane, lab-coated professionals" is simply wrong. There are "sane, lab-coated professionals" who think ID makes sense -- especially in the areas of biochemistry and astronomy.

Moreover, let's assume for the moment that the ID advocates are motivated, in part, by their beliefs in God. Okay, what of it? Simply because a scientific theory has a religious foundation does not make it wrong. Many of the greatest discoveries in the history of science were made by Christian scientists who were seeking to understand the mind of God by studying his handiwork. We aren't going to go back and say that Newton and Mendel and other great scientists were wrong simply because they held a religious viewpoint behind their work. If they were wrong, it needs to be shown by strong argumentation of the facts -- science supposedly thrives on that type of challenge (at least according to the scientific method).

Sorry, but I have come to the place in this ID v. evolution debate where I no longer care to read anything by anyone who first attacks the messenger. If you have a complaint against the theory of ID that does not revolve around the fact that the people advocating it may or may not have a Christian or theistic worldview, I'll listen. But if you are going to start out misrepresenting and slandering as the way of trying to make your point, forget it -- I'm not listening anymore.


Janell Price said…
Very well said.
Agnosis00 said…
You make a good point. You are right to point out that ad hominem attacks are a poor foundation for dialogue or to convince people who haven't made up their minds yet. I was wondering whether or not you would have bought the book if the phrase 'the fundamentalist faith-driven IDM' wasn't included in the article. While I wouldn't be surprised if this same rhetoric was included in the book, I wonder whether this language was a function of the person who wrote the article.

Also, I think the purported religious aspect of IDM may be relevant for discussion, but I tend to agree with you that this cannot be the sole or main reason that people reject it--it must be rejected on the scientific merits or lack thereof.

The reason I think the religious aspect of IDM may be relevant is that some (for example William Dembski, I think) have said that it was religious belief that preceded belief in ID. But I know others, notably Michael Behe, who as a Catholic did not have any theological reasons to oppose evolution. But Behe started to change his mind after he read something attacking the scientific basis of the theory. In addition, some members of IDM (but I'm guessing not the majority) are of various relgious persuasions (and reportedly even a few agnostics).

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