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Signs of Intelligence?

What the neo-Darwinists don't understand about theories of Intelligent Design.

12:00 AM, Jul 13, 2005 • By ISAAC CONSTANTINE
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IF YOU'VE BEEN CASTING A SIDELONG GLANCE at the world through the liberal press of late you've likely been alarmed by the latest faith-based assault on science and rationality. You might have been moved, despite your better instincts--born of the sad knowledge of hope's futility in the new Dark Age of George W. Bush's Evangelical Crusade at home and abroad--but perhaps you couldn't suppress the tepid delight at having your biases affirmed in the gallant counterassault on Darwin's religious assailants by Evolution's latter day devotees. The last defenders of Reason fight on in bold, quixotic determination, allied with the chattering presses, preaching to the choir in the name of their ancestral hero.

A recent editorial in the New York Times bemoans the legislative progress of the "dangerous" brood of creationists, barely disguised in the pseudo-scientific trappings of "intelligent design." The editors charge the movement, and anyone who questions Darwin on the basis of "supernatural explanations," with breaking the presumably unspoken code of positing forces beyond "the usual domain of science." The editor's at the Times don't seem concerned that many physicists, in light of the curious ability of subatomic particles to occupy infinite locations at once (one of those quirks in nature resistant to "natural" explanation), propose a "Many Worlds hypothesis" where people live infinite lives in infinite parallel universes--each hidden from each other--to account for every possible quantum outcome.

Maybe ideas like this are "scientific" as long as they're labeled "hypotheses." Once you've called your idea a theory, only then does metaphysical speculation seem to breach the purview of physics. But another impassioned stab at the "junk science" of intelligent design in the New Yorker by H. Allen Orr, a biologist at the University of Rochester, belies any claim to scientific rigor by the liberal media or, when ideology compensates for intellectual laziness, science itself.

THE PURPOSE of this argument is not to defend the science of intelligent design. With legions of biblical activists and conservative lawmakers among self-appointed experts coming out of the woodwork to testify to the "problems with Darwin's theory," ID hardly seems to need my help. And to be fair, the counterassault on evolution's detractors has been convincing in casting reasonable doubt against ID's methods. On the evidence presented intelligent design does come off as less than sufficiently coherent or validated as a "theory"--especially if Darwin's ingenious, broadly encompassing, experimentally bolstered body of work sets the bar. Based on Orr's sometimes cogent parsing out of the so-called intelligent design theory's lapses in logic and consistency, even theists are left suspicious of the fledgling movement's present fitness for the classroom.

But while the would-be Darwins might have succeeded in dismissing ID on scientific grounds, their argument has been less convincing in a secondary aim. Much of the controversy surrounding their hero derives from an aspect of Darwinism (as currently construed) that is itself unscientific; one might even say, if not "religious," distinctly political--Darwinism's vaguely defined but apparent relationship to atheism. As a caveat to its attack on ID the press denies any such relationship. The Times op-ed invokes "many empirical scientists" who are implied to dismiss ID in spite of their faith. These theistic scientists, the editorial claims, understand that "theories about how God interacts with the world" are "beyond the scope of their discipline," and by implication are disinclined to entertain challenges to Darwin based on questions of divine agency. So the Times's preference among scientists of a religious turn of mind are those who keep God in church or the closet where He belongs. It's okay to believe in God as long as God doesn't step on Darwin's toes--as long as you've reconciled your faith with Darwin's ostensibly infallible insights.

In the New Yorker, Orr takes a similar tack. In careful language he denies the notion that Darwinism is "yoked to atheism" listing the "five founding fathers of twentieth-century evolutionary biology," three of whom were religious (a fourth dabbled in Eastern mysticism). He goes on to mention the late Pope John Paul II's oft-touted recognition of evolution as "more than a hypothesis" and then appears to give a sly wink-nod to his fellow atheists in concluding "Whatever larger conclusions one thinks should follow from Darwinism . . . evolution and religion have often coexisted."