What are the Scientists Really Afraid of?

Original Article

Opponents of “intelligent design” are naturally quite cock-a-hoop about their victory in the Dover, Pa., school board case. The board had proposed to have a short statement read in classes on evolution, saying that evolution was a theory rather than an established fact, and that students should be aware that there was an alternative theory, which asserted that certain steps in the development of species were too complex to have occurred purely by accident, but implied instead the existence of an intelligent design.

Just who or what the “intelligent designer” was, the theory leaves open. But one obvious possibility is God, and that has roused the defenders of purely random evolution to protest that religion is being smuggled into a class that ought to be confined strictly to “science” — that is to say, to exclusively materialistic, non-religious explanations of reality.

They therefore hauled the school board into court, and the judge turned out to be entirely on the side of the evolutionists. He not only agreed that the offending statement and all other references to intelligent design must be banned from classes on evolution, but threw in a series of gratuitous slaps at the school board, which was defeated in a subsequent election and replaced by one favored by the evolutionists.

So all’s quiet in Dover, Pa. But one can’t help being a little surprised at the sheer savagery of the evolutionists’ attack on intelligent design — which has been duplicated in every other forum where the subject has been discussed. What’s all the shooting about? One thinks of scientists as calm, intelligent people, perhaps wearing white smocks, who take on questions to which we don’t know the answers, think about them carefully, and test various explanations experimentally until they come up with one that solves the problem. One would suppose they might actually welcome such an intriguing new theory as intelligent design, and get a kick out of assessing its merits. If it proved true, that would (presumably) represent progress. If it didn’t — well, in due course it would die of disregard.

But that hasn’t been the reaction of the evolutionists to intelligent design at all. They have all but bitten themselves in two trying to drive it straight out of the realm of serious discussion. If anybody wants to talk about it, let them do so in classes on religion. But not even a short statement about it can be permitted in a “scientific” class! It is phony, it is false, it “isn’t scientific” — meaning it violates the rule (laid down by whom, by the way?) that only purely materialistic explanations are permitted in science classes. They complain that the proponents of intelligent design never publish articles in “peer-reviewed” scientific journals — and then excoriate any journal that dares publish such an article. They will, if necessary, as in Dover, haul their rivals into court and try to drive them out of the classroom by force of law.

One can’t help feeling that there is something more than a scientific dispute going on here. The evolutionists are not acting like scientists confronting an interesting new theory. They are acting, to be frank about it, as if they are scared out of their wits — as if this particular theory threatens to do fatal damage to their whole concept of the cosmos.

And, in fact, it does. As long as “science” is by definition confined strictly to materialistic interpretations of reality, intelligent design, or any other theory that leaves open the slightest possibility that the universe may contain something more, represents a danger that many scientists (not all) are simply unwilling to confront. They have spent their lives constructing a concept of reality that satisfies them, and is simplicity itself. There is no God; the universe had no beginning, but has existed forever; it is not, and never was, “designed” — it is merely the result of an infinite series of accidents, of which human beings are just the latest.

I encourage the proponents of intelligent design to be of good cheer. Any explanation of the universe as silly as the one above will collapse, sooner or later, like the Soviet Union, and for the same reason: It is too far out of accord with observable reality. And its defenders are already on the run.

William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.