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Religion

More Than a Technical Debate

Regarding intelligent design as “daft rube-bait,” Kevin D. Williamson in his reply to me has confused the issue. This is not about an “argument from authority.” To clarify, we can separate out three questions.

One is whether laymen may venture a judgment in what Williamson calls a “technical debate.” The debate is much more than “technical.” It goes to the most important question we can ask: Are we here by chance or design? As I indicated, I cited Buckley et al. not to settle the scientific question but to demonstrate that there is an estimable tradition of not passively allowing our views to be determined by others.

Buckley, Chambers, Kristol, Wolfe, Neuhaus, etc. may be mistaken but Williamson should withdraw the implication that they are “rubes.” NR listed Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box as among “The 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the Century,” with panelist George Gilder commenting that it “Overthrows Darwin at the end of the 20th century in the same way that quantum theory overthrew Newton at the beginning.” Gilder — another “rube”?

The other two questions are scientific. Has Darwinism faltered? And does evidence point to design? Many affirm the former — as the scientists who gathered at the Royal Society meeting did in 2016, as I mentioned — without affirming the latter. If you follow the technical journals, you know that the field is in ferment. True, proponents of ID, an interdisciplinary endeavor joining biology, chemistry, cosmology, computer science, and mathematics, are a minority. If that weren’t the case we wouldn’t be having this argument.

Williamson seems to think Behe is a lone figure. Hardly. Here is a bibliography of peer-reviewed literature supporting intelligent design. Two Nobel Laureate scientists, Charles Townes (UC-Berkeley) and Brian Josephson (Cambridge University), have endorsed ID.

With apologies for tacky credential-slinging, I recommended works by philosopher of science Stephen Meyer (Ph.D., Cambridge University), whose last book, Darwin’s Doubt, came trailing endorsements from geneticist George Church (at Harvard Medical School), biologist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig (Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne), biologist Russel Carlson (University of Georgia), biologist Scott Turner (State University of New York), and paleontologist Mark McMenamin (whose bookThe Emergence of Animals was published by Columbia University Press).

Scientists advocating ID have come to Discovery Institute and the affiliated Biologic Institute from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (biologist Richard Sternberg, with two Ph.D.s, no less), the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart (paleontologist Günter Bechly), and Cambridge University (molecular biologist Douglas Axe). For their heresies, they were chased out of those places.

Some other books to read, by these scientists, not theologians or journalists, include Evolution: A Theory in Crisis and Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis by biologist Michael Denton (Ph.D., King’s College, London), and Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed, by the aforementioned Doug Axe (Ph.D., Caltech). My biologist colleague Ann Gauger (Ph.D., University of Washington, Harvard postdoc) co-wrote Science and Human Origins with Axe. Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez (Ph.D., University of Washington) co-wrote the book Privileged Planet, as well as the textbook Observational Astronomy (Cambridge University Press).

Here’s what is missing: serious public debate. Telling scientists to “slug it out” in professional journals and not try to persuade others is like asking a free-market advocate to persuade his Marxist colleagues before he dares offer his case to the public. What makes Kevin think entrenched Darwinists are willing even to listen to scientific challenges? Kevin is saying that critics of Darwin should allow themselves to be abused — by non-scientists like Kevin D. Williamson — and just take it. Why is Williamson such an (entertaining) scourge of experts in other fields, yet eager to accept and amplify the prejudices of Darwinists?

There’s no “conspiracy” here. Scientists are as subject to careerism, groupthink, and status anxiety as anyone else. The hypothesis of purpose in nature is too important to leave to the “experts” alone. We needn’t be impressed by pseudo-Menckenesque put-downs.

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