Intelligent Design Again in the News

Last Sunday (3/12/06), the Rev. Nelson Price of Marietta, GA wrote in his Sunday column in the Marietta Daily Journal, “Intelligent design infers there was a designer.” He brought up old arguments related to the issue: scientists are stifling free speech by not allowing intelligent design into the classroom of science; our youth are being protected from such dangerous concepts at I.D.; some things in nature are just too complex to have evolved by means of natural selection—a designer needed to step in and form these complex systems whole; the watch and watchmaker analogy; the orbit of the earth is just right because of an intelligent designer (this is a new one).

In response to Price’s article was one (3/15/06)by Ed Buckner, Southern Director, Council for Secular Humanism. The article, entitled Price wrong again about Intelligent Design claimed that Price’s column was nothing but old wine in a new bottle, and the wine had soured.

I submitted an article to the MDJ after reading Price’s article. Here it is:

Scientific Explanations need to underscore science teaching

I look forward to reading Rev. Price’s Sunday editorial in the Marietta Daily Journal. I generally find the discussions in his pieces thoughtful. I was, therefore, surprised at his piece last Sunday, entitled “Intelligent design infers there was a designer. I am surprised that Rev. Price does not see the religious basis for intelligent design, when interestingly he was arguing that it was a scientific idea, and that our youth were being prevented from learning about this idea.

Centuries before Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace (co-discoverers of the theory of evolution by natural selection), were born, the idea that an intelligent designer was responsible for an organism’s complexity was well know. The leading proponent of the idea was the English theologian Richard Paley creator of the famous watchmaker analogy, written in 1802, that Rev. Price referred to in his piece. Paley’s idea of an intelligent designer was replaced by the theory of evolution by natural selection about 50 years later when Darwin published his famous book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. In 2005, two books were published on Darwin’s contribution. Each book was edited by two well known scientists, James D. Watson and Edward O. Wilson. Each book contained four of Charles Darwin’s books, including his “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

The idea of intelligent design was revived in 1991 by U.C. Berkeley law professor Philip Johnson after he had a religious conversion, in his book, “Darwin on Trial”. Later Johnson joined with the Discovery Institute in Seattle to promote the idea by affecting change in the curriculum of the nation’s schools. Not through research (as they claim) but through press releases and propaganda. Johnson’s idea, known as “wedge theory” is designed to drive a wedge (as to split a log) into evolutionary biology. There is no research agenda; but there is a very rigorous public relations program.

The science education community has not been involved trying to hold our youth hostage or protecting them from ideas such as intelligent design. Instead our youth have been pawns in a game led by real activists—the Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center whose goal is to wedge their way into science classrooms through intimidation and propaganda.

Rev. Price refers to a “ever-expanding cadre of academicians” that are associated with the intelligent design movement. An analysis of these academicians reveals that very few of them are in the field of science and most are lawyers, government employees, engineers, and theologians. There is no scientific basis for intelligent design, even though Rev. Price claims that there is. The Discovery Institute does not have a scientific research program, and the central concept of the intelligent design ideology, irreducible complexity (in lay terms, some things are so complex they came into being whole—e.g. requiring an intelligent designer). The example they use over and over again is that bacterial cells are propelled by rotary type engines called flagella motors. According to Michael Behe (I.D. proponent), the rotary motor is irreducibly complex, it couldn’t have come into being via natural selection; it must have come into being whole. The problem is that this is not true. Parts can be removed, and it still works. Flagella came into being through natural selection.

The flaw here is that I.D. proponents want to define intelligent design negatively, as anything that is not chance or necessity. Science requires positive evidence. And this is what Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace did independent of each other.

And finally, the orb of the Earth’s orbit that Rev. Price mentions was explained centuries ago for Sir Isaac Newton in his Universal Law of Gravity, or should we rename it the Theory of Gravity.

Darwin, like Newton, proposed a scientific rather than a religious explanation: the fit between organisms and environments is the result of natural selection. Like all scientific explanations, his relies on natural causation. And this is the kind of thinking that should be espoused in science classrooms.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.