Michael Behe, author of Darwin's Black Box and a leading Intelligent Design advocate, had an Op-Ed piece on ID in yesterday's New York Times countering the simplistic misrepresentation of ID as a mere stalking horse for creationism. Here's evidence of the intense public interest in this issue: this was the second most e-mailed Times story of the day. Behe gets off to a promising start:
First, what it isn't: the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments. For example, a critic recently caricatured intelligent design as the belief that if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at every stage by an omniscient creator. That's misleading. Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But they do not doubt that evolution occurred. And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator.
But when he starts talking about what ID is, I, as a member of the intensely interested public, found his argument disappointing and intellectually lazy. Behe compares the appearance of design in biology -- the cunning digital code of DNA, the widely recognized machine-like functionality of the cell -- to the appearance of Mount Rushmore in geology. He actually says:
The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck. Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious.
No, it shouldn't. But neither should its obviousness make us complacent, allow us to stop probing and questioning. This sort of argument may be logical, but it's not remotely scientific. I think ID advocates, in books like Uncommon Dissent and The Design Revolution, have made a very strong case against the assumed provenness of Darwinian evolution (another kind of intellectual laziness!) as an explanation for the origin of life's complexity. OK, so neo-Darwinism is a theory. So is Intelligent Design. Now go on doing science: find real evidence that supports your theory. Devise tests and experiments that can challenge and affirm or discredit it.