“Pantalaimon,” a commenter on Thinking Christian, supplied a number of quotes yesterday to show that (in his words)
ID is not a scientific research program in any sense, and never has been. Scientific understanding is of no intrinsic interest to ID. Any “research” they may undertake is strictly subservient to the philosophical goal of crushing naturalistic science for religious and philosophical purposes.
Strong generalities like that are risky; nobody is one-dimensional, and in fact Pantalaimon’s quotes were a great example of quote-mining out of context. When I pointed that out to him, he graciously offered me the opportunity to track down the source of the quotes myself and put them in correct context. I have declined his generous suggestion. Instead I’m going to try to put the issue in its proper full perspective, based on my entire experience with Intelligent Design.
Intelligent Design is entirely a ploy, manipulating science in order to win religious/political battles. That’s the charge. This statement touches, albeit lightly, on something like the truth of the matter. Many leaders of the Intelligent Design movement are Christian believers, and one (Jonathan Wells) represents the Unification Church. (Unification Church theology as I understand it has little in common with Christianity, other than a belief in some spiritual reality.) These ID leaders recognize strong opposition between a certain dominant form of evolutionary theory–naturalistic neo-Darwinism–and their religious beliefs. Not surprisingly, they consider their religious beliefs not only true but also important. Thus there is a conflict.
I don’t know anybody who has ever handled a major conflict perfectly. I do not need to be convinced that everything ID leaders have done was done just right. The infamous “Wedge Document” was a strategic mistake, in that opened a wide and inviting door for interpretations of evil scheming. The Discovery Institute has worked hard to correct misinterpretations related to the Wedge, not entirely successfully. I think it’s fair to acknowledge errors, to learn from them, and move on wiser than before.
Phillip Johnson is regarded to be the father of the ID movement. At the core of his message is a direct, unflinching, head-on assault against philosophical naturalism, a form of atheism. From his first foray into this field, Darwin on Trial, Johnson has highlighted the close association between Darwinism and philosophical naturalism. His disagreement with Darwinism has been based in part on its assumptions that nothing could have happened, and nothing ought to be explained, by any means other than strict natural cause and effect.
Johnson has been accused of falsely assuming all evolutionists are Richard Dawkins; that is, that evolution is equivalent to atheism. I don’t know that he has actually always made that error. Nevertheless there is a strong association between evolution and atheism in this sense: evolution may not entail atheism, but atheism certainly entails evolution. Without evolutionary theory, atheism has no explanation for nature whatsoever.
Confronting philosophical naturalism has been one aspect of Johnson’s approach to the issue from the beginning. Further, he took a very long and careful look at the scientific literature, and came to the conclusion that evolutionary theory is not well supported by the evidence. Though he is a lawyer, let that not blind you to the fact that he was approaching the question from the basis of science and the available evidence. He concluded that evolution’s explanatory strength depends critically on the assumption that all explanations must be in terms of natural causes and effects and nothing else. This, he rightly noted, is a philosophical assumption that is open to question, which puts evolution itself open to question.
So in Johnson, back at the start of it all, there were three intersecting streams: religious, scientific, and philosophical. He was not an expert in all three (with apologies to all of you out there who are). He proceeded to gather conferences and symposia of scientists and philosophers to explore the question further. Out of this the Intelligent Design movement was born.
The three intersecting streams still pervade the question, but not monolithically so. When David Berlinski’s new book, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions comes out, don’t expect a shrill screed for some kind of fundamentalist American Christianity. He is a secular Jew living in Paris. Whether or not Michael Denton wants to be associated with ID now, the fact is his Evolution: A Theory in Crisis critiqued evolution strictly on scientific grounds, and set a course that is still being traveled.
Anti-theists also follow the same three threads. Daniel Dennett employs philosophy and evolution in service of dissolving what he calls religion’s “spell” of misunderstanding. Richard Dawkins uses science, and something reminiscent of philosophy (I can’t call it better than that), to call God a delusion. They both have a strong interest in defeating religion, but that hardly means they are uninterested in science–though it would be easy to quote-mine them and make it appear that way.
By the same token, if ID leaders have an interest in philosophy and/or religion, as represented in the quotes Pantalaimon pulled, that hardly means they are uninterested in science. The relation between science and design is controversial; commenter Holopupenko is convinced design cannot be detected through the sciences and that ID scientists are philosophically naive; meanwhile ID-supportive philosophers like Stephen Meyer, Paul Nelson, J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, and my friend Rob Koons are confident it potentially can be. On that basis, the scientists in the ID movement proceed with their research.
Let’s grant the obvious, looming in the background, which is that ID’s record of published science is hardly stellar. That in itself does not show there is no interest in science, which was the charge Pantalaimon made. The activities of Minnich, Behe, Marks, Dembski, Seelke, Gonzalez, and many others put the lie to that. Their low published output could be attributed to the difficulty of defining relevant research problems, the fiery-hot hostility toward ID among other scientists and journal editors, the relative youth of the field, or many other explanations. Many observers think they know another reason, which is that ID cannot actually produce science. My somewhat educated word of caution is not to rush to judgment on this. Whatever science ID could produce, conditions are so set against it being published that it’s worth giving it considerably more time.
There is a fourth stream that has been sometimes bundled in with ID, the political, especially in regard to public education in America. Where schools have been pressured to teach a positive theory of Intelligent Design, that has been nothing but a mistake. On the other hand, schools’ resistance to bringing up evolution’s evidential difficulties seems puzzling to me, except as just another facet of academics’ ID-phobia. In hindsight, though, I believe it would have been preferable to leave even that question off the political table, innocuous though it should have been. ID miscalculated the opposition and ended up stirring up even more antipathy without much advancing its primary agenda, which is research. Now it has become difficult to pull out of the PR battles and get focused. Nobody gets everything right.
So to Pantalaimon, in summary, I see your own deep animosity toward ID seriously distorting your view of the matter. ID is not uni-dimensional. (Not even Richard Dawkins is uni-dimensional!) Intelligent Design cannot be defined by mined quotes. It has to bear responsibility for its missteps, but so do we all. It wasn’t very long ago that evolutionists confidently spoke of the useless, vestigial appendix and junk DNA as evidence for their theory, after all.