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Would Charles Darwin and Darth Vader Approve of Modern Evolutionists?

Review of Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design by Tom Woodward (Baker Books, 2006)

The latest book in the debate over intelligent design (ID) and evolution borrows its name from the Star Wars saga: Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design. The author, Thomas Woodward, a rhetorician and historian of ID, wrote his prior book, the award-winning Doubts About Darwin, on the origins of the ID movement. In Darwin Strikes Back, Woodward takes on the response to ID from critics. His book will shake whatever confidence readers may have in the overall objectivity of the Darwinian establishment.

Intelligent design is a relatively new scientific idea, developed by scientists who share skepticism over Neo-Darwinian evolution. Driving these scholars is a view that some aspects of nature’s complexity—such as the genetic code, cellular machinery, and cosmic architecture—are best explained by an intelligent, information-producing cause, rather than undirected causes like natural selection. According to Woodward, one would expect that such a modest and empirically based claim, coming from scientists with impeccable credentials, would garnish serious consideration (or serious rebuttal) from the Darwinian community. But that is rarely what Woodward uncovered.

Since Darwin Strikes Back contains allusions to Star Wars, I hope I can indulge a few myself. Woodward would probably agree that Darth Vader did a better job fighting his foes than do many Darwinists. Vader directly confronted his foes, but Woodward found that many Darwinists employ the ostrich approach—sticking their head in the sand and ignoring ID in hopes that it will disappear. Others carefully keep themselves in the ‘dark’: one college president whom Woodward debated admitted to never having read a single book by an ID-proponent.

Other ID-critics employ the chicken-little approach, basing entire careers and even publishing academic texts upon the fallacious claim that accepting ID will create a “theocracy.” Similarly, many writers invoke what Woodward calls “fantasy-themes” by proclaiming that if ID is accepted it will “become the death of science.” Still other Darwinists avoid rebutting ID by arguing that not only is ID “not testable” but also asserting “ID has been tested, and it utterly fails.”

Occasionally Darwinists do try to engage the science. One volume rebutting ID science, edited by Darwinist philosopher Robert Pennock, allows ID-proponents some print-space but is overwhelmingly weighted against ID. An Oxford University Press book by Niall Shanks made misdirected scientific arguments against design, and compared a leading ID proponents to those who “hang around schoolyards peddling soft drugs so that a taste of the harder stuff will follow.”

Woodward thinks these kinds of responses from the Darwinian establishment are a healthy sign. The mudslinging and other “seriously flawed rhetorical practices of Darwinists have started back-firing,” writes Woodward, who argues that Darwinists who actively promote or passively tolerate such tactics “are just accelerating the collapse of their own paradigm.”

Darwin Strikes Back does imply one similarity between modern Darwinists and Darth Vader: both persecute dissenters. In Star Wars, Vader’s persecution fueled a rebellion that overthrew him. Darwin Strikes Back discusses both the growing student interest inspired by ID, and scientists and teachers who experienced retribution for expressing skepticism of Darwinian orthodoxy.

While Vader might have mixed views about modern-day Darwinists, a better question is what would Darwin do? According to Woodward:

“[T]he importance is not what Darwin would conclude, but what he would say to Darwinists today who viciously distort ID, who create flamboyant and fearful nightmares about scientists leading the way to theocracy, and who announce ID’s threat to “ruin” the future of science. I think Darwin would pull aside his latter-day defenders and administer a grave rebuke. He would admonish them to stop distorting, to end the zero-concession policy, and to stop censoring teachers who show problems with his icons from peer-reviewed literature.”

Woodward’s study in anti-ID rhetoric gives reason to ask why must so many Darwinists resort to such tactics? But the techies will also be pleased, for Woodward provides scientific rebuttals to some of the more-sincere technical arguments levied against ID. Darwin Strikes Back will satisfy any reader seeking a fast-paced, informative, and concise update on the state of the intelligent design debate.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.