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Dec 12 2005

Some other IDC supporters backpedal

Suppose you were given a petition that said: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” Would you sign it?

Actually, there is nothing wrong with this petition. It is well known that no theory ever explains all the phenomena that falls within its domain, and Darwinian evolutionary theory is no exception. One could say similar things for quantum mechanics and subatomic phenomena, Newtonian physics and planetary motion, relativity theory and the nature of the universe. All scientists appreciate that scientific knowledge is fallible and that it is very likely that the theories we hold dear now may one day be superceded by newer theories. So all scientists are skeptical of the theories they currently work with, and rightly so.

But the above petition was one that was circulated by the IDC-sponsoring Discovery Institute and it garnered about 400 signatures, Eighty of them were biologists but the rest consisted of mostly philosophers, mathematicians, chemists, computer scientists, historians and lawyers.

The Discovery Institute used this result to argue that there was widespread skepticism about Darwinian natural selection and thus implied that this can be interpreted as support for IDC ideas. This is one of the fallaciousness lines of reasoning put forth by IDC advocates that science consists of just two competing theories, so that the weakness of one can be construed as a strength of its competitor. But some of the signatories are now recanting, realizing that their support for the above petition was being used as support for IDC ideas, something they had not intended.

Some who signed the statement of dissent said that doesn’t mean they support intelligent design.

One signer, Stanley Salthe, a zoologist at the State University of New York in Binghamton, replied “absolutely not” when he was asked if he agrees that there must have been a supernatural designer.

David Berlinski, a mathematician and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and a sharp critic of neo-Darwinism, also signed the statement of dissent. But in an e-mail message, Berlinski declared, “I have never endorsed intelligent design.

Berlinski’s is a particularly interesting case, because of his extreme closeness to the IDC people.

Other scientists, who had explicitly supported IDC are also now backing off, realizing that there is really nothing there.

And just this week on December 4, the New York Times, in an article headed Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker says that despite (or maybe because of) the huge amount of attention IDC has garnered recently with the developments in Kansas and Dover, PA enthusiasm for IDC may be waning.

Behind the headlines, however, intelligent design as a field of inquiry is failing to gain the traction its supporters had hoped for. It has gained little support among the academics who should have been its natural allies. And if the intelligent design proponents lose the case in Dover, there could be serious consequences for the movement’s credibility.

On college campuses, the movement’s theorists are academic pariahs, publicly denounced by their own colleagues. Design proponents have published few papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.

“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.

“From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

While intelligent design has hit obstacles among scientists, it has also failed to find a warm embrace at many evangelical Christian colleges. Even at conservative schools, scholars and theologians who were initially excited about intelligent design say they have come to find its arguments unconvincing. They, too, have been greatly swayed by the scientists at their own institutions and elsewhere who have examined intelligent design and found it insufficiently substantiated in comparison to evolution.

Of course, many of us realized long ago that when it came to IDC, there was nothing behind the curtain. I had written back in August (see here) of my feeling that the zeitgeist had shifted and that IDC had run its course. When late night comics and newspaper cartoonists can get an easy laugh by invoking intelligent design, when ‘finger to the wind’ politicians like Rick Santorum turn against you, when influential sectors of the Catholic Church start keeping their distance, when ideological soul mates like George Will and Charles Krauthammer excoriate you, then the writing is on the wall. If the Dover trial result goes against them, that will be another serious blow.

However, it is still too early to tell if IDC is out for the count. The people behind it are determined and have a lot of financial support as well as the support of well known wackos like Pat Robertson (though the latter may not be entirely to their benefit). IDC has had many incarnations in the past. Let’s see what form it will take in the future.

POST SCRIPT: Katrina activist Malik Rahim meeting cancelled

Due to a car accident involving several aid workers in New Orleans, including one death and several people being hospitalized, Malik Rahim, Katrina activist, will have to cancel his speaking engagement for this Monday, Dec. 12th at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland.

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