Christopher Caldwell, senior editor at The Weekly Standard and columnist for the Financial Times (subscription only), wrote a January 22 column on Intelligent Design in the FT the title of which suggests its tone and point of view: "Creationism's Sly Evolution." Caldwell suggests that "Intelligent Design" is more a legal than a scientific strategy, designed (as it were) to circumvent the precedents of 1968 and 1987 Supreme Court rulings banning the teaching of outright Biblical creationism in public schools on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state:
Today's anti-Darwinians try to sidestep the issues raised in these cases. Many are fundamentalist Christians, but the alternative they propose ("intelligent design") has no explicitly Christian content in the way that its cruder antecedent ("creationism") did. It does not mention theology or the Bible or man's place in the universe. As such, the new arguments against Darwin are less vulnerable to a court challenge. And that is their point. . . .
[T]he controversy is less and less about science. Intelligent design has little scientific content beyond a scepticism about scientific methodology. A typical expression of it is the amendment that Rick Santorum, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, attached to a federal education bill in 2001. "Good science education", the amendment ran, "should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science". . . . Mr Santorum [and] the bolder opponents of Darwinism . . . believe that court rulings have set the law against any supernatural account of life, and established atheism as a de facto state religion.
The secular education establishment that is now trying to defend itself against an onslaught of thinly veiled biblical dogma has itself to blame for its vulnerability. Since the 1960s, teachers and administrators have pushed unpopular progressive measures into schools - from sex education to multicultural studies - under the guise of "openness", "multiple perspectives" and the idea that course content matters less than "teaching students how to think". Mr Santorum is turning these tactics against the progressives, casting himself as a defender of free inquiry.
The new, sophisticated anti-Darwinism asks only that its viewpoints be considered alongside the norm. This puts evolution's defenders in the unenviable position of being the side arguing for the exclusion of other viewpoints. Trickier still, the grounds for that exclusion are not clear to common sense. . . . [D]efending evolution against some of the specific objections raised by its opponents takes an expertise that is beyond the reach of 99 per cent of people in a democracy. The issue of whether the mammalian eye is of such "irreducible complexity" that it could not possibly have evolved is not one that laymen can judge. Those who vote and agitate on both sides of the evolution issue do so not on a scientific but on a social or ideological basis. They take their sides based on whether they have trust in those experts on whom society has conferred its prestige. The fight over Darwin is more than a religious conflict; it is a class conflict being waged with religious terms.
Two of ID's leading light(bulb)s responded in the following letter, published here for the first time:
Christopher Caldwell (January 22) characterizes Intelligent Design as a sophisticated successor to creationism. He suggests that it threatens the status quo and stands a real chance of entering the science classroom. At the same time, he claims that Intelligent Design lacks scientific content. According to him, its strength is political, and it has gained that strength not on its scientific merit but by avoiding religious entanglements and by astute legal maneuvering.
In fact, Intelligent Design is a scientific research program. Intelligent Design is the science that studies signs of intelligence. Many special sciences fall under Intelligent Design, including archeology, forensics, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Where Intelligent Design becomes controversial is where its methods of design detection are applied to biological systems. That is because if the deep structure of biological systems exhibit clear signs of intrinsic intelligence, then those systems could not reasonably be thought to have arisen solely through the random material processes posited by the dominant theory of biological evolution, namely, neo-Darwinism.
To see that Caldwell's article misrepresents the case for Intelligent Design, consider the following references:
(1) William Dembski, The Design Inference (Cambridge, 1998) -- research monograph laying out the logical underpinnings of design detection.
(2) Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley, The Mind and the Brain (Harper, 2002) -- literature review detailing the bankruptcy of materialist psychology as an adequate account of the relation between mind and brain.
(3) The 2004 publication of Stephen Meyer's peer-reviewed article on the Cambrian information explosion in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. This article created an international firestorm (do a Google search).
(4) The online publications of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (www.iscid.org), the professional society for the Intelligent Design community.
Antony Flew, for many years the doyen of atheists in the Anglo-American world, recently became a theist, citing the strength of Intelligent Design in elucidating the origin of life (this made international news). That someone of Flew's caliber should turn from atheism to theism because of Intelligent Design indicates that there is considerably more at stake here than merely religion or politics.
William A. Dembski
Jeffrey M. Schwartz
Well, if Flew became a theist, then religion is certainly one of the things that's at stake. Let's see: here he is on ABC News: "One of World's Leading Atheists Now Believes in God, More Or Less, Based on Scientific Evidence." More or less?! Here's what Flew says -- he has definitely not sacrificed irreverence for reverence:
A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. . . . and says so on a video released [in December 2004]. . . .
Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.
"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose." . . .
There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife. . . .
Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?" . . .
The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote. . . .
[I]f his belief upsets people, well "that's too bad," Flew said. "My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads." . . .
Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American "intelligent design" theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life.
Finally, for those who dismissively equate Intelligent Design with Biblical creationism, here's Dembski's explanation of their differences:
In inferring design from aspects of the world, we are always looking at finite arrangements of material objects and events involving them. There is no way, logically speaking, to infer from such objects to an infinite, personal creator God. Thomas Aquinas understood this. Kant understood this. That's why intelligent design is not a biblical or religious doctrine. [Henry] Morris [a leading "young earth," Biblical creationist] is right that anyone except pure materialists can take refuge with intelligent design. This, however, should not be regarded as a bad thing. Creationism is a package deal, with a particular interpretation of Bible being part of the total package. Intelligent design, by contrast, is a partial truth, not the whole truth.
Dembski is a scientist who is also a religious Christian. Does that make him more biased than "pure materialists"? Read this article, which is addressed to Christian, not scientific, critics, and decide for yourself. He does assert that Intelligent Design, insofar as it is good science, "gives [us] the tools to dismantle materialism,"and that "[d]ismantling materialism is a good thing," because it is an "ideology . . . which suffocates the human spirit."
That's what's at stake here.
UPDATE: Here's Antony Flew debunking Internet rumors that he's become any kind of believer (hat tip to my commenter Michael). [BUT hang on to your hat and keep reading, because this gets de-debunked immediately following!]
Those rumours speak false. I remain still what I have been now for over fifty years, a negative atheist. By this I mean that I construe the initial letter in the word 'atheist' in the way in which everyone construes the same initial letter in such words as 'atypical' and 'amoral'. For I still believe that it is impossible either to verify or to falsify - to show to be false - what David Hume in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion happily described as "the religious hypothesis." The more I contemplate the eschatological teachings of Christianity and Islam the more I wish I could demonstrate their falsity. . . .
I recognize that developments in physics coming on the last twenty or thirty years can reasonably be seen as in some degree confirmatory of a previously faith-based belief in god, even though they still provide no sufficient reason for unbelievers to change their minds. They certainly have not persuaded me.
To further clarify, Flew wrote in a letter:
[A]ny assertion which I am prepared to make about God would not be about a God in that sense ... I think we need here a fundamental distinction between the God of Aristotle or Spinoza and the Gods of the Christian and the Islamic Revelations" [whom he calls, above, "cosmic Saddam Husseins"].
UPDATE II: In an e-mail, Jonathan Witt blows that out of the water:
On that claim that Flew is still an atheist, that's a bogus report based on an old interview. See this earlier post of mine with links and description clearly showing Flew's movement from an atheist who wouldn't give design theory the time of day to an atheist who at least thought the ID arguments are interesting, to a deist who thinks the ID arguments are quite powerful.
Some time after that post, I had a letter published in the London Times mentioning Flew's conversion to intelligent design. Flew saw it and sent me . . . the new introduction to the upcoming reprint of his
bestseller "God and the Philosophers." . . . His introduction . . . makes it clear that he has in fact become a deist (albeit one with no commitments to the identity of that deity).
I'm going to write to Antony Flew and ask him straight out. Stay tuned!