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.
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.
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?