The first part of this series (Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge?) stressed that the scientific credibility of any theory can be assessed by consulting the peer-reviewed scientific literature. If there isn’t any that is an immediate reason to be suspicious.
Let’s be clear about this. Many scientists will present their personal opinions in newspaper articles and books. But not being peer-reviewed these don’t constitute scientific proof for an argument. Books like The God Delusion (Richard Hawkins), God Is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens), The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (Sam Harris), Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution and The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (Michael Behe), and Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology (William A. Dembski) are not scientific evidence. They present the beliefs of their authors (and may refer to published peer-reviewed papers) but, in themselves, they are nothing more than personal opinion or belief. The scientific evidence is in the peer-reviewed publications.
So, with this understanding, how should we judge the claims being made by intelligent design/creationism and its supporters.
Are there previewed publications – is intelligent design a science?
We can reliably access this from the evidence presented at the 2005 Kitzmiller v Dover case in the US. This resulted from a complaint by parents against the Dover (Pennsylvania) School Board which had required the teaching of intelligent design (ID) and denigration of the scientific theory of evolution . The court ruled the requirement unconstitutional and Judge Jones concluded (Kitzmiller_decision): “ID is not science” and “it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.” (p 64).
Professor Behe, the main witness supporting ID admitted: “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.” (p 88). The inability to submit testable ID hypotheses arises from its supernatural assumptions and will be discussed in a future post.
Is there a scientific controversy about evolution?
ID proponents advance the claim that there are problems with evolution, that there is a scientific controversy. This appears to be the next step in their political campaign. We have slogans like “Teach the Controversy,” “Let the Students Decide,” Present the Evidence,” “Critical Analysis/Critical Thinking,” “Present Both Sides,” “Evolution – a Theory in Crisis.” Even President George W. Bush has promoted this. It is the old equity or fairness argument which wins a lot of sympathy.
However, the controversy is not scientific, it is political. It is not taking place in the scientific community, in the peer-reviewed publications where scientific debates are normally carried out. And there are disagreements and debates about aspects of evolution in these publications. This particular debate is taking place in the law courts, on school boards and in the wider political arena.
Framing the issue as one of critical thinking, presenting evidence and letting students decide is particularly dishonest. School science classes should be (and I hope usually are) open and encourage discussion – that is the nature of science. Records of the Dover trial showed that the school board specifically instructed that there be no discussion of the statement supporting ID and denigrating scientific evolution (Kitzmiller_decision p 47).
The third post in this series (Intelligent design/creationism III: The religious agenda) will discuss the attempt by proponents of ID to make a fundamental change in modern science and society.
Evolution vs. Creationism: Listen to the Scientists
The following video provides more information about the evolution – intelligent design/creationism debate. Presented by scientists who have been intimately involved in defending evolution. (9 min 30 sec)