evolution

Becoming a Disciplined Science

Keynote address delivered at RAPID Conference (Research and Progress in Intelligent Design), Biola University, La Mirada, California, 25 October 2002. The aim of this conference was to examine the current state of intelligent design research.

Recently I asked a well-known ID sympathizer what shape he thought the ID movement was in. I raised the question because, after some initial enthusiasm on his part three years ago, his interest seemed to have flagged. Here is what he wrote:

An enormous amount of energy has been expended on “proving” that ID is bogus, “stealth creationism,” “not science,” and so on. Much of this, ironically, violates the spirit of science. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. But on the other side, too much stuff from the ID camp is repetitive, imprecise and immodest in its claims, and otherwise very unsatisfactory. The “debate” is mostly going around in circles. The real work needs to go forward. There is a tremendous ferment right now in the “evo/devo” field, for instance. Some bright postdocs sympathetic to ID (and yes, I know how hard a time they would have institutionally at many places) should plunge right into the thick of that. Maybe they are at this very moment: I hope so!

Every now and again we need to take a good, hard look in the mirror. The aim of this talk is to help us do just that. Intelligent design has made tremendous inroads into the culture at large. Front page stories featuring our work have appeared in the New York Times, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and so on. Television, radio, and weeklies like Time Magazine are focusing the spotlight on us as well. This publicity is at once useful and seductive. It useful because it helps get the word out and attract talent to the movement. It is seductive because it can deceive us into thinking that we have accomplished more than we actually have.

Two animating principles drive intelligent design. The more popular by far takes intelligent design as a tool for liberation from ideologies that suffocate the human spirit, such as reductionism and materialism. The other animating principle, less popular but intellectually more compelling, takes intelligent design as the key to opening up fresh insights into nature. The first of these animating principles is purely instrumental — it treats intelligent design as a tool for attaining some other end (like defeating materialism). Presumably if other tools could more effectively accomplish that end, intelligent design would be abandoned. The second of these animating principles, by contrast, is intrinsic — it treats intelligent design as an essential good, an end in itself worthy to be pursued because of the insights it provides into nature.

These animating principles can work side by side, and there is no inherent conflict between them. Nonetheless, there is a clear order of priority. Unless intelligent design is an intrinsic good — unless it can be developed as a scientific research program and provide sound insights into the natural world — then its use as an instrumental good for defeating ideologies that suffocate the human spirit becomes insupportable. Intelligent design must not become a “noble lie” for vanquishing views we find unacceptable (history is full of noble lies that ended in disgrace). Rather, intelligent design needs to convince us of its truth on its scientific merits. Then, because it is true and known to be true, it can become an instrument for liberation from suffocating ideologies — ideologies that suffocate not because they tell us the grim truth about ourselves but because they are at once grim and false (Freud’s psychic determinism is a case in point)….

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THE SCOPES INDICTMENT-Reah County Courthouse, Dayton, Tennessee,
THE SCOPES INDICTMENT-Reah County Courthouse, Dayton, Tennessee, the courtroom where the Scopes evolution case is being tried. (1925) - CPL Archives/Everett Collection
The Scopes Indictment, Reah County Courthouse (1925)

Evolution Coverage Missed Real Story

More than 40 years ago, the film “Inherit the Wind” presented the controversy over the teaching of evolution as a battle between stick-figure fundamentalists who defend a literal reading of Genesis and saintly scientists who simply want to teach the facts of biology. Ever since, journalists have tended to depict almost any battle over evolution in the schools as if Read More ›

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Speaker lecturing in lecture hall at university. Students listening to lecture and making notes.
Licensed from Adobe Stock

Standard Evolutionary Theory Has Shortcomings

As a theorist who uses quantum mechanics to solve problems ranging from biochemistry to astrophysics, the subject of this essay is of great interest to me. It is a question that is discussed in depth in my University of Georgia freshman seminar entitled “Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?” This autumn 18 gifted UGA students and I are spending six Read More ›

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Classroom interior. 3D illustration.
Licensed from Adobe Stock

Georgia School Board OKs Alternatives to Evolution

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — A suburban Atlanta school board Thursday night voted unanimously to allow teachers to introduce students to different views about the origins of life. The Cobb County Board of Education, the state’s second-largest school board, approved the policy change after limited discussion, calling it a “necessary element of providing a balanced education.” The board’s vote drew cheers Read More ›

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Vinings Neighborhood with downtown skyline in the back, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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Cobb County (Georgia) School Board Promotes Academic Freedom, Not Religion

Praising the adoption Thursday night of a policy encouraging the “discussion of disputed views” about evolution in Cobb County, Georgia schools, Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman called the decision “a victory for academic freedom and good science education” and faulted critics of the policy for “trying to mischaracterize the controversy as a battle over religion.” “The policy adopted by the Read More ›

Blinded by Science

Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, & What Makes Us Human, by Matt Ridley (HarperCollins, 336 pp., $25.95) This is a very strange book, and I am not quite sure what the author is attempting to achieve. At the very least it appears that he wants to shore up genetic determinism as the key factor in understanding human nature and individual Read More ›

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Eco friendly bamboo kitchenware with paper mug and plate on green background. Zero waste, plastic free concept. Sustainable lifestyle. Flat lay, top view.

Naturalism’s Argument from Invincible Ignorance

Howard Van Till’s review of my book No Free Lunch exemplifies perfectly why theistic evolution remains intelligent design’s most implacable foe. Not only does theistic evolution sign off on the naturalism that pervades so much of contemporary science, but it justifies that naturalism theologically — as though it were unworthy of God to create by any means other than an evolutionary process that carefully conceals God’s tracks. Read More ›
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Apocalypse after war abstract skull and birds
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“A Nuclear Bomb” for Evolution?

The discovery of a nearly 7-million-year-old skull has been hailed as “a small nuclear bomb” for evolution, “the most important fossil discovery in living memory,” and a “challenge to human origins.” Time said that the fossil might be “your very first relative.” An international team of scientists uncovered the mostly intact cranium–nicknamed Toumai (meaning “hope of life”)–along with two jawbone Read More ›

Darwinism’s Predictable Defenders

The National School Boards Association enlisted Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch to criticize intelligent design bullet point fashion. Here I want to respond to these bullet-point assertions. I would repeat the entire article, but copyright restrictions prevent me. The article is available at http://nsba.org/sbn/02-jul/070202-8.htm. The article begins by asking whether intelligent design (or ID) has a legitimate place in the Read More ›

Skepticism’’s Prospects for Unseating Intelligent Design

Talk delivered at CSICOP’s Fourth World Skeptics Conference in Burbank, California, 21 June 2002, at a discussion titled “Evolution and Intelligent Design.” The participants included ID proponents William Dembski and Paul Nelson as well as evolutionists Wesley Elsberry and Kenneth Miller. Massimo Pigliucci moderated the discussion. This conference focuses on skepticism’s prospects over the next 25 years. I want in Read More ›