Continuing my policy of putting my published non-technical articles on this site, this article titled Philosophy Is Essential to the Intelligent Design Debate was published by Physics Today in June 2002 (p. 48-51).
The background to this article is that back in 2002, the advocates of Intelligent Design creationism seemed to be everywhere, seeking to have their ideas included in K-12 school science curricula at least as an alternative to Darwinian evolution. These battles were fought at the state and local levels and involved state and local school boards. Ohio and Kansas were particular hot spots because they were revising their respective science standards and ID advocates saw an opportunity to influence the new standards, especially since school boards consist of elected people who may not have deep understandings of science and could be swayed by dubious arguments about what science was.
I was deeply involved in this controversy, debating ID advocates in many forums, and publishing articles on the topic. I was also on the state of Ohio’s advisory board that was charged with overseeing the new science curriculum standards and lesson plans that, for the first time, was actually using the controversial word ‘evolution’. (The old standards used the anodyne term ‘change over time’.) There were ID advocates present on the advisory board who were seeking to have ID ideas included.
Physics Today published two back-to-back articles on this issue, one by physicist Adrian Melott from Kansas and the other by me, both of which can be read at the above link. The journal caught some flak for the articles. One set came from ID supporters, angered by the fact that although the magazine had given the heading Two Views of Intelligent Design, both articles were anti-ID though, as you will see, we took different approaches. They argued that the journal should have had articles that advocated for the two sides. I do not know the journal’s reasons but it should be noted that the journal had not commissioned my article. I had just submitted it. It may that they did not get any pro-ID submissions. In any event, journals are under no obligation to publish a point of view that they think is flat-out wrong simply because of feeling a need for balance.
The other criticism was aimed at my article particularly. There are physicists who are openly dismissive of philosophy and feel that it is in no way essential to understanding science and that I was giving it too much importance. They were even more annoyed by my stating that questions of ‘truth’ were irrelevant in adjudicating the merits of rival theories and that ‘falsifiability’ was not the way that scientific theories progressed. Both ideas have become articles of faith for many scientists and they were clearly irked that I was dismissing them. My recent book THE GREAT PARADOX OF SCIENCE: Why its conclusions can be relied upon even though they cannot be proven expanded and reinforced these arguments.
ID seems to have disappeared from view. One no longer hears from its most prominent advocates. There is not doubt that the 2005 Dover trial where the judge ruled that ID was essentially a religious belief structure and thus had no place in public school science curricula was a serious blow, exposing their entire stealth strategy of pretending that there was no underlying religious basis for their beliefs. In my 2009 book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom that was a historical review of the fights against evolution from the Scopes trial in 1925 up to the Dover trial, I said that it looked like ID had run out of steam and had nothing more to offer, something that one of their leading theories, the late Philip Johnson, agreed with.
During the period when I was engaged with ID, I was invited by them to many debates and panel discussions so I met many of the key players (Philip Johnson, Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, J. P Moreland) and we had friendly exchanges. I never encountered William Dembski or David Klinghoffer though. After the Dover trial, Dembski washed his hands of the whole ID movement, especially expressing bitterness towards two religious groups whom he accused of undermining ID. One was the ‘theistic evolutionists’ (people who believe that evolution and belief in a god can be reconciled) who he said attacked ID because they felt that it was bad science and bad religion. The other was Young-Earth Creationists whom he accused of turning against ID when they realized that ID was not going to serve as a stalking horse for their literal interpretation of the biblical Genesis story of creation.
The tension between the intellectual approach taken by the ID movement and the YEC group was always apparent to those following the issue. When I spoke at ID-sponsored debates, it was quite something to see the people on the panel talk in sophisticated terms about science and religion and then later mingle with the audience and discover that they were biblical literalists to the core, right down to Adam and Eve, the serpent, heaven and hell. With one or two exceptions, they were nice to me even though they knew that I was not at all sympathetic to their ideas. They seemed to feel sorry for me that I would eventually be stewing in hell.
It was clear that the relatively small number of ID intellectuals needed the large numbers of YEC evangelicals to serve as their foot soldiers, while the YEC people saw the ID movement as serving to establish a beachhead against evolution. This uneasy coalition was maintained as long as it looked like ID might succeed in its goal of getting god back into the science curriculum. When the Dover trial wrecked the ID movement’s strategy, the YEC people turned against their failed leaders.