Is the debate on Intelligent Design over and did the evolutionists win?
PARTICIPATING AUTHORS: MICHAEL RUSE and J. SCOTT TURNER
Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University. He is the founder and editor of the journal Biology and Philosophy, and has appeared on "Quirks and Quarks" and the Discovery Channel. He is also the author of Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose?, Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?, and most recently The Evolution-Creation Struggle.
The answer to this question is both “yes” and “no.” if you are asking about actual successes in the debate, then the big clash was eighteen months ago in the town of Dover, Pennsylvania, where the insistence of the school board in introducing intelligent design into school classrooms was very firmly denounced by the federal court as unconstitutional. You cannot get a much bigger “yes” than that. Evolution won. However, it would be very naïve to think that intelligent design (and other sorts of creationism) are now simply going to go away. They haven’t in the past--for instance after a similar court case in Arkansas in 1981--why should they vanish now? In this sense, I very much doubt that the debate has been won.
The interesting question now therefore is why intelligent design will not vanish. It is hardly because it is true or because it is sound religion. It is neither. Rather, I would argue--as I did argue in The Evolution-Creation Struggle--that intelligent design (and creationism generally) is more a litmus test for deeper divisions in American society, rather than something in its own right. Nobody lies awake worrying about gaps in the fossil record. Many people lie awake worrying about abortion and drugs and the decline of the family and gay marriage and all of the other things that are opposed to so-called “moral values.” America is split between the modernists, who would go with science and technology and who think that these things lead progressively to a better future, and the traditionalists who think that thoughts of progress are delusional and who want to put their futures in the hands of Providence. Two very different visions of what the right course of American history should be and very different prescriptions for action by us today.
Unless and when these opposing viewpoints are softened and brought together, I believe that the intelligent design debate will simply go on and on, in this guise or some other. It is not a matter of facts and science but of metaphysics and religion, and without being unduly pessimistic I suspect that in America the divisions will be with us for much time to come.
J. Scott Turner is Associate Professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse. He is also the author of two Harvard books: The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures and most recently (January 2007) The Tinkerer's Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself
It is tempting to answer this question with yes, and yes, the debate was won about 150 years ago. Intelligent design theory, at least if one takes its core texts at face value, is essentially modernized Natural Theology: William Paley equipped with a computer and electron microscope. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace decisively put paid to that idea, and thankfully so: by the mid-19th century, Natural Theology and the centuries of Platonic obscurantism it engendered had nearly choked natural history to death. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to bring it back.
And yet, here we are, a century-and-a-half later, and some want to do precisely that. So it seems the debate is not as over as we might wish. The signs are everywhere: the Discovery Institute is alive and well; Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness clubs are springing up on campuses worldwide; ID conferences are being organized; its advocates buzz away in a busy corner of the blogosphere; Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box has an amazon.com sales rank that’s better than mine!
So, the really interesting question is not so much is the debate over, but why isn’t it over? This new question evokes another dangerously tempting answer: what else could it be but recalcitrant stupidity or political cynicism, mere “stealth creationism?” It’s imperative that we not yield to that tempting answer, though. Not only is it demonstrably wrong, but relying on it as our only answer to the ID challenge will make it very likely that we evolutionists will lose the debate.
We are in danger of losing because the well-founded confidence in Darwinism’s truth has led us to imagine that we scientists are the sole owners of the issue. We are not: Darwinism is more than just a well-established scientific principle; it is also a radical philosophy of nature. To many, this philosophy’s most troubling aspect is its seeming denial of the living world’ most obvious trait--its apparent design and purposefulness. Natural theology, despite its many problems, was attractive because it seemed to provide a reasonable explanation for these attributes. It seems to still, as attested by the persistence of ideas such as Intelligent Design. Arguably, we have not made the case as well as we think we have, and until we do, the issue will not go away.