Dissenters from Darwinism in context

While there is no real scientific support for intelligent design (ID) theory there is certainly a propaganda campaign to give that impression. The Wedge activists centered around the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle, USA, are continually promoting campaigns with this purpose. One of these is the list of scientists, “dissenters from Darwinism,” who they claim support ID.

We could discuss the political tactics behind this list and the motivation of those professionals who have given their support to the statement of dissent. However, the undeniable purpose of the list has been to create the impression that there is a controversy among scientists about evolutionary theory. So let’s look at the “statement of dissent” and the number of signatures and compare this with the numbers who have signed statements supporting evolutionary theory.

The Scientific Dissent From Darwinism statement reads:

“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

Most scientists would have little trouble with this – after all skepticism is inherent in the scientific process – although limiting skepticism to just these subjects would ring warning bells to many. The fact that only about 730 professionals world-wide have so far signed the statement (begun in 2001) suggest most people are aware of the anti-science motives of the Wedge activists behind the statement and the use that they are making of it.

Project Steve

One response to the Dissenters from Darwinism project has been Project Steve. This is a “tongue-in-cheek” parody listing genuine scientists who support evolutionary theory but have the given name Steve (which limits the list to about 1% of all who would support it). The statement reads:

“Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.”

Started in 2003 the statement currently has about 860 signatories (see the Steve-o-meter for updates) – about two thirds are biologists. The number of signatories on the Discovery Institute’s dissenters list with the name Steve is only 8! (one of these was qualified in Molecular and Cellular Medicine – the others’ qualifications were all non-biological).

The Four-day petition

The Four-day Petition A Scientific Support For Darwinism ran from Sept 28th , 2005 to October 1st , 2005. Four days was chosen to parallel the four years the Discovery Institute’s petition had been running. In contrast to the dissenter’s petition this one was limited to scientists trained in evolutionary theory and read:

We, as scientists trained in fields that utilize evolutionary theory, do not consider Intelligent Design to be a fact-based science appropriate for teaching in public schools because it is theistic in nature, not empirical, and therefore does not pass the rigors of scientific hypothesis testing and theory development. As such, we petition that Intelligent Design not be presented in public schools as a viable science within the scientific curriculum.

During the four days it obtained 7733 signatories.

But the numbers aren’t important

The US National Center for Science Education launched Project Steve to make a point about such lists. They said: “We did not wish to mislead the public into thinking that scientific issues are decided by who has the longer list of scientists!” This is an important point – scientific theory is developed by mapping ideas against reality, not by popularity. Similarly, this should determine what is taught in science classes, not polls of the general public or the political campaigns of highly motivated religious bodies like the Wedge activists of the Discovery Institute.

However, the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism list does influence people who are unfamiliar with modern evolutionary science or who have religious motives for rejecting evolutionary theory. These people should put this list into context, see that the number of signatories is really very small and recognise that it in no way supports the claim of a “scientific controversy” about evolution.

Related Articles:
Intelligent design and the threat to Christianity
Intelligent design and scientific method
Intelligent design – a war on science
New Zealand supports evolution
Intelligent design at the shopping mall
Intelligent design attacks on Christianity
Isaac Newton and intelligent design
Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge?
Intelligent design/creationism II: Is it scientific?
Intelligent design/creationism III: The religious agenda
Intelligent design/creationism IV: The religion – science conflict
Intelligent design/creationism: Postscript
Should we teach creationism?

8 responses to “Dissenters from Darwinism in context

  1. You do not need to consider the normal scepticism that is part and parcel of being a scientist to understand why scientists would be willing to make a statement dissenting with Darwinism or, at least, the first part of the statement given above. The reason is that a major part of the work being done in evolutionary biology concerns the various mechanisms through which evolution functions. Adaptation, THE mechanism in traditional Darwinian evolutionary theory is just one of these (though almost universally recognised as a very important one). Among others there are such mechanisms as sexual selection, genetic drift, cultural/genetic co-evolution and a variety of developmental factors. When biologists express scepticism about Darwinism it is because they are thinking of the evolutionary mechanisms that are to a certain degree excluded by Darwinian evolutionary biologists. Of course, it must be added that Darwin did actually discover a number of these mechanisms (Darwinism focusses on a subset of his ideas). The point is that Darwinism is taken by biologists to mean a particular approach to evolutionary theory, so dissenting from Darwinism does not entail dissenting from evolution. Creationists misrepresent a debate about the mechanisms as a debate about whether evolution occurs at all.

    As for the second part, calling for careful examination of the evidence, I expect most biologists would reply, “What the hell do you think we’ve been doing all these years, playing patty-cake?!” Given that evolutionary theory is assumed by the majority of experiments in biology (and numerous other sciences), every such experiment is a potential falsifier and every success is one more bit of evidence for evolution.


  2. Ken, I posted your comment on my website. it was held in moderation, and I explain why,



  3. Pingback: Darwin Is The 1000th Steve! « Open Parachute

  4. godfactauthor

    I’m an author from New Zealand who has written a book about the relationship of science, religion and the origin of life. Yesterday I posted a blog about my secular radio interview on the existence of God. From the stats I saw a link to your blog on ID. Your blog was an interesting summary of the ID debate. It is fascinating that even atheists are supporting ID. One of these atheists is Dr Bradley Monton who believes that “it is legitimate to view ID as science, that there are somewhat plausible arguments for the existence of a cosmic designer, and that ID should be taught in public school classes.” He is due to release a book soon entitled, “Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design”

    The other atheist, Dr Antony Flew now believes in an eternal creator but not a personal deity who reveals Himself. So we can safely say he is a deist. He has been convinced through DNA investigations that show “by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved…It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of evolution of that first reproducing organism.”

    I find it fascinating that people say Dr. Flew has lost his marbles or gone mad. But if he converted from Christianity to atheism instead, the same people would say that he has seen the light.

    Kindest regards

    Brendan Roberts
    http://www.godfact.com (website for my book)


  5. Heraclides

    You can’t be an atheist and “defend” ID, it’s a contradiction in terms. I would think the key here is the these people are being defined as atheist when they are not by creationists, it’s just yet another variation on the word game of redefining words to suit the argument they want to make.

    If find it fascinating that people say that that people say Dr. Flew has lost his marbles or gone mad as if they were not possible. Think about it.


  6. Well, unless we take ‘ID’ in it’s strictest sense which would be actively searching for alien intervention in the development of life here on earth. Which, at least is plausible and testable.

    But, strangely, cdesignproponentists don’t seem to be interested in this possibility. Why? Because their kind of ‘science’ is merely an attempt to whore out science’s credibility to bolster a non-testable faith-based starting assumption that a supernatural creator is the ‘intelligence’ behind life on earth.


  7. It is fascinating that even atheists are supporting ID.

    If you find it fascinating then you must lead a very dull lifestyle.

    ID is not about gods, right?
    It’s all purely about the science, right?
    So, why do you so breathlessly announce that “atheists” support ID too?

    Microbiologists don’t go around saying that atheists support germ theory.
    Geologists don’t count their lucky stars and say that atheists support plate tectonic theory.

    You seem to be under the impression that atheists belong to some sort of secret fraternity.
    If one atheist accepts something then…all atheists must accept it.
    No. Atheists don’t give a rat’s ass what some other atheist accepts, believes, thinks or says just because the person happens to be…an atheist.

    However, if somebody says something logical and rational then a rational and logical atheist would probably buy into it.

    Anthony Flew is a sick and frail man.
    If you had any sense of shame you would leave him alone rather than drag out his name to support your vapourware.

    Dr Bradley Monton’s opinions are wrong. He’s just another loser that’s bought into a dumb idea.

    If he wants to say something scientific and claim that ID is a bona finde scientific theory then…he’s welcome to demonstrate his findings.
    Nobody for over twenty years since ID’s been around has been able to do this.
    ID is not science.

    He is due to release a book soon entitled, “Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design”

    Let me tell you a little about this book.
    It will contain nothing but waffle.
    No experiments. No proposed experiments.
    No scientific definition of ID.
    No scientific predictions of ID.
    No evidence to support claims that ID is a valid scientific theory.
    No scientific papers that demonstrate ID.
    No scientists busy in the lab somewhere using ID.
    It’s the same ol’ same ol’.
    You have nothing.


  8. Pingback: Climate scientist’s’ register? « Open Parachute

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