Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Intelligent Design Creationists are actively working in several states and at the federal level to get their ideas into public school science classrooms. In their famous Wedge Document, the Discovery Institute’s strategic blueprint for overthrowing materialistic science, Phase 1 was supposed to be “Scientific Research, Writing and Publication.” Indeed, they say that without this, everything that follows will be hollow:

Phase I is the essential component of everything that comes afterward. Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.

Despite this promise, there has been no original research published in the science journals about intelligent design, and the result has been that ID has made nary a dent in the consciousness of the scientific community. They have yet to offer a single testable hypothesis that flows from their model. In fact, they haven’t given a model at all of when and how the “intelligent designer” did what he/she/it allegedly did. Nearly all of their efforts have been negative in focus – trying to poke holes in evolutionary theory. That is an exercise in polemics and public relations, not science. But despite skipping over that first phase that they initially said was so vital to their strategy, they feel no reason to wait until their ideas are tested and established before demanding that they be given equal time in public school science classrooms. But now one of their own has come forward to say that the cart has been put before the horse.

Bruce Gordon is one of the leading intellectual lights of the ID movement. Along with William Dembski, he organized the Nature of Nature Conference at Baylor University, where he teaches. He was also a fellow of the Discovery Institute and Dembski’s assistant director of the now-defunct Polanyi Center. In January 2001, Dr. Gordon published an article entitled “Intelligent Design Movement Struggles with Identity Crisis”. In this article, Gordon takes his fellow ID advocates to task for overstating the case for ID, for skipping over the hard work of establishing ID as a valid scientific theory, and for paying more attention to the culture wars than to the scientific work required to do so. Gordon writes,

Design theory has had considerable difficulty gaining a hearing in academic contexts, as evidenced most recently by the the Polanyi Center affair at Baylor University. One of the principle reasons for this resistance and controversy is not far to seek: design-theoretic research has been hijacked as part of a larger cultural and political movement. In particular, the theory has been prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world.

He also sends a strong message to his colleagues that merely ranting against evolution will not establish ID as a valid and compelling alternative and that their actions only serve to undermine the standing of ID in the scientific community:

But inclusion of design theory as part of the standard discourse of the scientific community, if it ever happens, will be the result of a long and difficult process of quality research and publication. It also will be the result of overcoming the stigma that has become attached to design research because of the anti-evolutionary diatribes of some of its proponents on the one hand and its appropriation for the purpose of Christian apologetics on the other…If design theory is to make a contribution to science, it must be worth pursuing on the basis of its own merits, not as an exercise in Christian ‘cultural renewal,’ the weight of which it cannot bear.

He also points out that even if ID does turn out to be a successful scientific theory someday, it will not negate evolution:

In conclusion, it is crucial to note that design theory is at best a supplementary consideration introduced along- side (or perhaps into, by way of modification) neo-Darwinian biology and self- organizational complexity theory. It does not mandate the replacement of these highly fruitful research paradigms, and to suggest that it does is just so much overblown, unwarranted, and ideologically driven rhetoric.

Gordon’s article, it seems to me, is a plea to his compatriots like Dembski and Wells, and to the larger ID community, to stop the overheated anti-evolution rhetoric and the attempts to sneak ID into science classrooms, and to knuckle down and do the painstaking and difficult work of putting a real scientific theory together and convincing scientists that it is likely true.

Unfortunately, Dr. Gordon’s plea fell on deaf ears. Since it was published in 2001, the Discovery Institute has led the fight for getting ID into science classrooms in Ohio, Michigan, Texas, New Mexico and other states. They have continued to churn out polemics against evolution in the popular press, but have published not a single genuinely peer-reviewed journal article about ID, or offered up a single way to test their model in the real world. Until they do so, ID will continue to be an exercise in public relations and propaganda rather than an attempt to do real science.