Foreword to Darwin Strikes Back

William Dembski
Darwin Strikes Back: Baker Books
December 1, 2006
Print Article

Darwin Strikes Back
by Thomas E. Woodward

by William A. Dembski

Like a spy in a John Le Carré novel who has attended every crucial event in the Cold War, Tom Woodward has been ubiquitous in the unfolding culture war over intelligent design. He is the insiders' insider. With Doubts about Darwin, he established himself as the historian of the Intelligent Design Movement. Now, with Darwin Strikes Back, he also assumes the role of a gifted war correspondent, moving up and down the lines of engagement, tracing streams of intense and often ferocious rhetoric as they are poured out upon design theorists by panic-stricken Darwinists.

I first met Tom in 1990 while I was a postdoctoral fellow in computer science at Princeton University. As an alumnus of Princeton, he began working closely with a group of Princeton faculty members in 1988, with the goal of developing an annual lecture series at the university on a variety of academic topics. Together with these professors, he organized lectures by Alvin Plantinga at Princeton in the fall of 1990. I met Tom at one of these lectures, and in the coming years, we experienced such a "university campus rendezvous" in many other places, especially as he played a key role in bringing Darwinian scholars and design theorists together in frank exchange and mutual critique.

It is fitting that we met at a lecture by Alvin Plantinga, since Plantinga is not just one of the most highly regarded philosophers of our era; he is also one who has written sympathetically about the intellectual project of intelligent design. In this context, he can be viewed as a symbol of the spiraling rhetorical nightmare faced by neo-Darwinism in the high university world. The nightmare is not simply the result of political pressure that Darwinists are experiencing. Rather, it is that the Darwinian account of evolution on which they are pinning their hopes is imploding.

Arguments for design are based on empirically identifiable patterns in the universe and demonstrate that intelligence is an essential aspect of the known causal structure of the universe (see the "can do premise" in the chapters that follow). In consequence, design inferences cannot be easily dismissed with furious bluster, or an ad hominem "wave of the hand," or even theological invocations of "poor design." In fact, as Woodward points out in this volume, the counter-rhetoric of Darwin's defenders is lurching into a mode so strident and vitriolic as to provoke more curiosity about the psychological causes of Darwinists' emotional states than about the "evil motives" of ID advocates. Historians of science regularly help us to understand this sort of personal subtext of scientific argument, but as a rhetorical historian, Woodward has done even more: he has explored this side of the debate with special care, cataloguing with vivid and unforgettable detail the labyrinth where logic and empirical evidence meet emotion and personal narrative.

Woodward's previous work—Doubts about Darwin—received the high regard of numerous scholars not at all associated with the ID Movement (see the "unexpected allies" in chapter 11 of this book). Likewise, in Darwin Strikes Back, his narratives and insights as a rhetorician of science should prove just as indispensable for the defenders of Darwinian orthodoxy as they are for the challengers. I predict this will especially be the case in his analysis of the debate swirling around Michael Behe and the flagellum (chapter 5), as well as his coverage of the origin of life stalemate (chapters 8 and 9) and the self-maiming explosives of the atheologians (chapter 11).

It's been said that cultural and intellectual movements go through three stages: first, they are ridiculed; second, they are violently opposed; and third, they are accepted as second nature so that people can't even imagine what the fuss was all about. In this book, Woodward shows how the ID movement has now entered the second stage, and then he assesses how we are doing. Stage two is the critical stage. It's at this stage that the future of a movement is decided—whether it has what it takes to weather the withering criticisms that are brought against it or whether it will bite the dust.

Woodward, as am I, is optimistic about the ultimate outcome of the controversy over ID, and he concludes his careful analysis with some pretty daring predictions. If he is right, we may look forward to a third volume from his hand, one to complete a trilogy on the ID movement that started with Doubts about Darwin and now has issued in Darwin Strikes Back. If he is right, this third volume could appropriately be called The Triumph of Design. But since "Darwin" figures in the titles of previous volumes in the trilogy, he may want to go with something like Darwin's Doddering Idea or Darwinism—The Senescent Years.