NY Times on ID's Lack of Acceptance

To hear most ID advocates tell it, ID is only rejected by "Darwinian fundamentalists" who hold fast to "atheistic materialism." Laurie Goodstein has an article in Sunday's New York Times that puts the lie to that claim. She shows that many organizations and academics who would be seen as likely supporters of ID have been put off by the lack of actual substance being offered:

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.

And it's not only with such foundations that ID has failed to find much favor. Many scholars even at conservative Christian universities, who certainly don't share the bias in favor of metaphysical naturalism that so many ID advocates accuse their detractors of having, have found little to praise in the meager scientific output of the ID movement. Perhaps the most prominent and obvious of these is my colleague Howard Van Till, a theologically conservative Christian who taught physics at Calvin College for decades, also previously on the Templeton Foundation board. But Howard is far from alone:

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.

"It can function as one of those ambiguous signs in the world that point to an intelligent creator and help support the faith of the faithful, but it just doesn't have the compelling or explanatory power to have much of an impact on the academy," said Frank D. Macchia, a professor of Christian theology at Vanguard University, in Costa Mesa, Calif., which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God, the nation's largest Pentecostal denomination.

At Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical university in Illinois, intelligent design surfaces in the curriculum only as part of an interdisciplinary elective on the origins of life, in which students study evolution and competing theories from theological, scientific and historical perspectives, according to a college spokesperson.

There is also one very interesting quote from this source:

Derek Davis, director of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor, said: "I teach at the largest Baptist university in the world. I'm a religious person. And my basic perspective is intelligent design doesn't belong in science class."

Mr. Davis noted that the advocates of intelligent design claim they are not talking about God or religion. "But they are, and everybody knows they are," Mr. Davis said. "I just think we ought to quit playing games. It's a religious worldview that's being advanced."

That quote is interesting for several reasons. First, because Mr. Davis' associate director of the Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies, Frank Beckwith, is a DI fellow and has written widely in support of the constitutionality of teaching ID in public school science classrooms. Second, because Davis himself also argues for the constitutionality of teaching not only ID, but of teaching straight creationism of the young earth variety as well (he says the schools can teach about it as an alternative to evolution, but can't endorse it, a difficult line to draw). Despite that position, however, he blows the whistle on the central deceit of the ID movement, that the designer could be anything but God (see here for what I not so humbly believe is the final nail in the coffin of that false claim). The response from the Discovery Institute is also quite telling, I think:

"This is natural anytime you have a new controversial idea," Mr. West said. "The first stage is people ignore you. Then, when they can't ignore you, comes the hysteria. Then the idea that was so radical becomes accepted. I'd say we're in the hysteria phase."

This sounds a lot like wishful thinking to me. Tell me, Mr. West, does Charles Harper really sound "hysterical" when he points out that ID has spurred no actual research that might confirm its arguments? Does Frank Macchia really sound "hysterical" when he points out that ID has no positive explanatory power and therefore isn't very meaningful? Is Howard Van Till being "hysterical" when he argues that ID is not only bad science but bad theology as well? They sound quite calm and reasonable to me. As much as I know you want to portray your detractors as rabid atheists hellbent on protecting "materialism" at all costs, reality just doesn't support you.

Lastly, Mr. West sums it up this way:

"The future of intelligent design, as far as I'm concerned, has very little to do with the outcome of the Dover case," Mr. West said. "The future of intelligent design is tied up with academic endeavors. It rises or falls on the science."

As I recall, scientific research and publication was supposed to be the first phase of the Wedge strategy. Indeed, the Wedge document forthrighly admits that research and publication 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." Yet here we are almost a decade later and not a single piece of original research has been published that supports intelligent design. Not one. Lots of popular books full of arguments against evolution, ranging from the entirely theoretical (Dembski's Design Inference and follow up work) to the illogical and unsupported (Behe's irreducible complexity argument in Darwin's Black Box, which is wrong both in premise and conclusion) to the downright dishonest (Wells' Icons of Evolution). But not one piece of original research, nor even yet a coherent theory from which one might derive the testable hypotheses that might spur such research. The future is now, Mr. West. I think it's time to put up or shut up.


More like this

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had an article about various college professors around the country teaching about ID in freshmen seminars. In the process, they attributed much of the growth in the ID movement to the Templeton Foundation and did so wrongly. Long quote begins below the fold: Still,…
Michael Heller, this year's Templeton Prize winner, may be more willing to merge science and religion than many scientists are, but he's no pal of ID. In a statement at the press conference announcing the award, he explained: Adherents of the so-called intelligent design ideology commit a grave…
William Dembski has a post about Derek Davis, director of the Dawson Institute for Church-State Studies at Baylor, and the comment he made in the NY Times the other day. I highlighted the same comment in a post on Sunday and pointed out the same thing, that Davis had taken a stand in favor of the…
I'm not really a fan of the Templeton Foundation. In the past they've contributed quite a bit of money to the intelligent design crowd and folks who want to foster a teleological view of evolution, and the work resulting from the funded projects appears to be generally unimpressive. When John…

Nice to see some conservative Christians being honest about the prospects of ID becoming acceptable science.

The future of ID is bleak indeed if they can't even get their own supporters to invest the time and money into the research that any respectable scientific endeavour requires.

It's not as though they lack the resources. Even forgetting the millions of dollars the Discovery Institute throws away on publicity and politics, the religious community is awash with the sort of cash needed to start up an ID research program.

If you add up the annual incomes of the top dozen or so fundamentalist organizations that have supported the cause of ID in words (run by people like D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson) you'll find the total comes to something north of $500 million dollars. That's half-a-billion dollars... PER YEAR!

And yet, there has not been one single attempt to seed an Intelligent Design research program in any of the many sympathetic religious colleges around the country.

Pat Robertson himself has managed to create a post-graduate law school which has been apparantly been (all too) effective in churning out conservative religious lawyers who now fight for his causes all the way up to the Supreme Court. It can be done.

So what about intelligent design? How much would it cost to start an intelligent design research program? A couple of million per year? A fraction of one percent of their resources to "change the face of science as we know it, and to crush the evils of materialism, for ever?" Why not? Sounds like a bargain to me.

But there's not a peep, not a red cent being thrown that way... from anyone. And that's all I need to know that ID is thoroughly bankrupt.

West is quoted as saying

"This is natural anytime you have a new controversial idea," Mr. West said. "The first stage is people ignore you. Then, when they can't ignore you, comes the hysteria. Then the idea that was so radical becomes accepted. I'd say we're in the hysteria phase."

West is whistling past the graveyard. He should be reminded of Carl Sagan's analysis: ""But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."

Bozo, meet John West.


Dembski has a response

What has disillusioned Templeton about ID is not that it failed to prove its mettle as science but that it didn't fit with Templeton's accommodation of religion to the science of the day and Templeton's incessant need to curry favor with an academic establishment that by and large thinks religion is passé.

... as does John G. West.

Among other things, Ms. Goodstein mangles the definition of intelligent design, misrepresents the content of the Kansas science standards, and displays her ignorance of evangelical Christian higher education and the academic supporters of ID.

West's response is rather amusing. In essence he argued, "She quoted evangelical Christians who have long disagreed with ID; therefore, it is irrelevant that they disagree with ID." As though unless someone has recently come to that conclusion, the conclusion must be wrong. I do think he has a point about Goodstein's statement that the only place ID has gained a foothold is at the seminary Dembski teaches at. He correctly points out that it certainly has gained a foothold at Biola University. But then he goes and makes himself look silly by arguing, simultaneously, that Baylor has always been hostile to ID and giving a list of pro-ID professors at Baylor.

It's probably also caught on at Liberty University. But it doesn't help West to point out other bible colleges which also like ID.

By fake ed brayton (not verified) on 04 Dec 2005 #permalink

"It rises or falls on the science." says West.

This was clearly a remark intended for the People Who Have No Clue. Unless, of course, Mr. West is admitting that ID is going nowhere because there is no science in it.

So there I was, reading along in the Times article, when just a few grafs in I hit one of those "Oh god, don't let me appear to be taking sides" sentences that drive me absolutely bats**t crazy about the So-Called Liberal Media. [SCLM]

Design proponents have published few papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

As far as I have been able to determine, "few" = none. Why can't Ms. Goodstein just say it?

No, technically they have published a few papers in journals, but the papers have not proposed any ID theory. Because there is no ID theory. The papers obliquely mentioned Intelligent Design. Just a scam to act like ID is peer reviewed.

By fake ed brayton (not verified) on 04 Dec 2005 #permalink

Time for another Dembski fact-check.

Three people have asked for specific citations in comments on his blog. Now it remains to be seen if the comments are ignored, deleted, mocked, or he amazes us all and actually provides an answer!

If there are no PNAS papers, he'll delete and ban them.

By fake ed brayton (not verified) on 04 Dec 2005 #permalink

Well, apparently Muslims think ID is just terrific, since it combats "atheistic materialism." It boggles my mind that National Review would publish a piece by a Muslim strongly suggesting that Islamic antipathy to the West is justified, but they just did:


I guess ID is a potent weapon against Islamo-fascism. Who knew?


Mustafa Aytol, if that is indeed a real name, is a shill for creationism-promoting groups in Turkey. In the effort to take Christianity to Moslem nations, the Institute for Creation Research and other evangelical Christian organizations have sought for 20 years to establish a foothold in Islamic nations. In Turkey they have succeeded in getting a foothold. The work of the Turkish groups is, it appears from all they publish, to support creationism and soften up Moslems for such evangelical Christian ideas.

Some fundy Moslems trail along, but not most. If anything, the Moslem creationists are less careful about research and accuracy than their sloppy Christian counterparts.

Anyone who testified at the Kansas Kangaroo Kourt can be dismissed as having no academic cajones, IMHO. Aykol is no exception -- he has no research to speak of, and what he says should be taken with a large bag of salt.

It is pathetic that National Review has sunk so low from the origins under William F. Buckley. It's clear that the organization is quite desperate for copy, and that the copy desk quality has sunk to new lows. I wonder whether there are any fact checkers left at NR.

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 04 Dec 2005 #permalink

Dembski has now identified the work supposedly performed without Templeton funding, supposedly published in PNAS and JMB, as having been done by Douglas Axe. More precisely, Dembski says "See the work of Douglas Axe. -WmAD." Nothing like a nice professional citation.

Axe's only publication that shows up in a search of PNAS was in 1996 (http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/93/11/5590), and showed that considerable variation in the structure of the hydrophobic core of enzymes can occur whilst still maintaining the enzyme's function. That's precisely the opposite of what an (imaginary) ID hypothesis might predict. Dembski's clearly blowing smoke again.


Ed -- Do check out John Derbyshire's scathing exchanges at NRO's The Corner from 12/04: http://corner.nationalreview.com/

He comes right out and says that if this ID crap -- and the neocon belief that it must be peddled as a noble lie for the benefit of the masses -- is conservatism, then he wants out.

"It is pathetic that National Review has sunk so low from the origins under William F. Buckley. "

How exactly do you sink lower than endorsing segregation on the grounds of the superiority of the white race?

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 05 Dec 2005 #permalink

I had already started writing a post that makes many of the same points Jim Anderson makes on his blog, so I posted it. Dembski's dishonesty here is pretty obvious.

The Biola point is diluted by the fact that the ID "studies" are part of a Master of Arts "religion and science" curriculum, not part of a real science program