Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Allen Macneill on Dembski

This is a guest post from Allen Macneill, an evolutionary biologist and writer. He currently teaches an introductory evolution course for non-majors at Cornell, and is writing an introductory evolution textbook, also for non-majors. HIs most recent article, “The capacity for religious experience is an evolutionary adaptation to warfare” has just been reprinted in an anthology on war and peace, published by Greenwood/Praeger.

In the post below, Macneill is replying to an article by William Dembski about the Dover ruling that appeared in Science and Theology News.

1) Dembski makes the following claim:

“Three years ago, there was one Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center [sic] at the University of California-San Diego. Now there are thirty such centers [sic] at American colleges and universities, including UC Berkeley and Cornell. These centers [sic] are fiercely pro-ID.” [emphasis added]

Sounds like there are lots of new buildings, bursting with newly minted PhDs in ID theory, busily tracking down the latest experimental verifications of supernatural intelligent design, doesn’t it? But what Dembski is really talking about is “IDEA clubs,” which one can discover if one clicks on the links in his article. Now, is a “club” that consists of a half dozen or so undergraduates, who meet a few times a semester in their spare time, a “center?” Kind of like the Michael Polanyi Center, which Dembski invented at Baylor, and was later ejected from? Or is this just another example of Dembski seriously distorting the truth?

2) Another Dembski quote:

“Ultimately, the significance of a court case like this depends not on a judge’s decision but on the cultural forces that serve as the backdrop against which the decision is made. Take the Scopes Trial. In the minds of most, it was a decisive victory for evolution. Yet, in the actual trial, the decision went against Scopes (he was convicted of violating a Tennessee statute against teaching evolution).”

Precisely: “… In the minds of most, it was a decisive victory for evolution.” Only a person who wants to play fast and loose with the truth could possibly spin the outcome of the Scopes trial into a victory for creationism. On the contrary, the Scopes trial marked the beginning of the end of the prohibition of evolutionary biology in public schools in America (see Ed Larson’s book, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion for more on the real cultural impact of the Scopes trial). Eighty years later, it’s creationism (in it’s most recent reformulation as “intelligent design theory”) that’s been prohibited in the public schools. Now how, exactly, is that “progress” or a “victory” for the creationist side?

3) One more quote from Dembski:

“In fact, it may continue more effectively than if the judge had ruled in favor of ID, which might have convinced people that ID had already won the day…”

What dream world does Dembski live in? “… ID had already won the day…?” Right, I can go to Mann Library here at Cornell and find dozens of journals containing thousands of peer-reviewed articles on “intelligent design,” while the journals on evolutionary biology (and ecology and population genetics, etc.) are no longer being published due to lack of results. In his dreams, maybe…

Already won the day where? Why, in the press, of course. That’s where Dembski and the other ID theorists are fighting their battles: not in the scientific journals or at the scientific conferences, but in the popular media. Why? Because they have no research and no results. Indeed, given that the focus of their soi disant “theory” is (by their own repeated admission) supernatural, it can’t possibly be studied, verified, or falsified by any conceivable scientific experiment or observation. They’ve repeatedly admitted this themselves, including Michael Behe under oath in Pennsylvania.

4) Which leads me to the last howler:

“…ID still has much to accomplish in developing its scientific and intellectual program.”

What “scientific and intellectual program?” This is getting tiresome: the ID folk at the Discovery Institute and elsewhere have no “scientific and intellectual program,” at least not one that involves doing actual experiments and making actual observations of nature. As I pointed out above, ID theorists by their own admission can’t verify their “theory” by doing experiments and making observations of nature because their “theory” is about a supernatural causative agent (the unnamed “Intelligent Designer”). This is why they are pushing their “theory” in the media and in un-refereed popular books, and not in scientific journals and conferences.

Even a cursory glance at the “peer-reviewed” articles that have appeared in actual scientific journals (that is, all four of them) could verify for anyone familiar with how science and scientific publication actually works that these four articles are not scientific research reports. Nope, they’re “critical reviews” and descriptions of hypothetical models. Mildly interesting to the average Aristotelian, but not the kind of “normal science” that scientists have been doing for generations. No data collected from observations of natural objects and processes, no statistical testing of predictions or hypotheses, none of the usual accoutrements of the kind of science that real scientists spend their lives cranking out. In other words, nothing in them that can be put into the time-honored “Introduction, Materials & Methods, Results, Discussion, References Cited” framework that has characterized nearly all scientific journals for most of a century.

That’s why Judge Jones correctly asserted that “intelligent design theory” isn’t science; because (wait for it) … it isn’t.

I will agree with one assertion of Dembski and his ilk: there is a “cultural war” being waged in the popular media. It’s a war on science and the objective understanding of nature, a war that was declared by the enemies of science, by people like Phillip Johnson and William Dembski. And, as the old saying goes, the first casualty of war is the truth. It’s time for everybody on both sides of the issue to face the fact that Dembski and his cohorts are either profoundly deluded, or deliberate, bald-faced liars. My money’s on the clean-shaven hypothesis…


  1. #1 Ed Brayton
    January 9, 2006

    This is a test of the typekey authentication system.