Why do so many people have such difficulty accepting the theory of Darwinian (or more precisely, neo-Darwinian) evolution? Is it due to a resurgence of religious-based creationism? Or is it that the Discovery Institute and other advocates of Intelligent Design are more persuasive? I believe the credit belongs not to the advocates of ID but to the theory’s critics.
Just look around at the reaction to Ben Stein’s new film Expelled. The film was trashed by numerous critics, dismissed by the blosphere’s intelligentsia, and yet still managed to pull in the second largest gross box office receipts on opening weekend of any political documentary (second only to Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11).
Had the critics remained silent over the past decade, ID might possibly have moldered in obscurity. If they had given the theory the respect accorded to supernatural explanations like the “multiverse theory” it might even have faded from lack of support.
But instead the theory’s critics launched a irrational counter-offensive, forcing people into choosing sides. The problem with this approach is that the more the public learn about modern evolutionary theory, the more skeptical they become about it being an adequately robust explanation for the diversity of life on earth. For instance in Expelled, Michael Ruse and Richard Dawkins provide two explanations for how life probably began. Ruse says that we moved from the inorganic world to the world of the cell on the backs of crystals while Dawkins says that life on earth was most likely seeded by aliens from outer space.
When even Dawkins admits that intelligent agency is involved in creation of life on earth it isn’t difficult to see why other people think it is plausible.
I won’t argue that critics of ID are always wrong or that ID is always–or even mostly–right in its claims. But I do think a compelling case can be made that the anti-IDers are losing the rhetorical battle–their frothing at the mouth reaction to Expelled is a symptom–and that they have only themselves to blame.
Here is the first five in a list of ten reasons ways in which the critics of Expelled (as well as other neo-Darwinist apologists) are helping to promote the theory of intelligent design.
#1 By remaining completely ignorant about ID while knocking down strawman versions of the theory. — Whether due to intellectual snobbery or mental laziness, too many critics of ID never bother to understand what the term means, much less learn the general tenets of the theory. Instead, they knock down a strawman version of ID that they have gleaned from other, equally ill-informed, critics. The belligerent or paranoid advocates of ID will assume that the misrepresentation is due to dishonesty or a conspiracy by the neo-Darwinists. But even those who are more charitable will agree that when a critic misrepresents the theory, it undermines their own credibility.
#2 By claiming that ID is stealth creationism. — Resorting to this red herring is one of the most common arguments made against ID. While it’s true that ID could be used to promote a particular religious agenda, this is not a sufficient argument against it being a legitimate scientific research program. There is no a priori reason why a research program could not be completely in adherence to accepted scientific methods and yet be completely compatible with a particular religious viewpoint.
But it also refuses to acknowledge the vast majority of people throughout history have believed in at least a basic form of creationism. Most people believe that some form of intelligent being (i.e., God) created the universe and everything in it. For most of these people, creationism is not a derogatory term. The phrase “stealth creationism” might appeal to the pseudo-intellectuals (those who know almost nothing about science but do know that they despise “fundamentalist Christians”) yet for most ordinary people it sounds like bigoted nonsense.
#3 By resorting to “science of the gaps” arguments. — Critics of ID often claim that the theory relies on a “God of the Gaps” argument. (Don’t understand how something occurred? Claim God did it. Case closed.) As scientific reasoning, this method is obviously flawed. Yet the critics of ID often resort to the same tactic, only instead of saying “God did it” they claim “Science will find it.”
The problem is that this almost never happens. Closing a “science gap” almost always leads to the discovery of other, even more difficult to explain gaps in knowledge. For example, when evolution was first proposed by Darwin, there was no explanation for the mechanism of transmission of traits from one generation to the next. With the discovery of DNA, Watson and Crick closed that particular gap.
But as physicist David Snoke notes, no one today has an adequate explanation for how this highly complicated molecule arose out of nowhere. Also, we do not have an adequate explanation within chemical evolutionary theory for the appearance of the mechanism that gives us a readout of the information, or for the appearance of methods that replicate information with out error, or for the appearance of the delicate balance of repair and maintenance of the molecular systems that use the information stored in DNA.
Scientific discoveries tend to find that nature is even more complex than we imagined which makes it even more unlikely that process like undirected natural selection, sexual selection, and genetic drift are sufficient explanations.
#4 By claiming that ID isn’t science since it’s not published peer-reviewed literature…and then refusing to allow publications of ID papers in peer-reviewed journals. — The hypocrisy of snubbing ID because it lacks peer-review was exposed throughout Expelled. One example was the treatment of Richard Sternberg, a journal editor who made the career-killing mistake of actually publishing an article that was sympathetic to ID.
The resulting controversy exposed just how close-minded some scientists were to criticisms of neo-Darwinism. As Sternberg–who is not himself an advocate of ID–said after the incident, “It’s fascinating how the ‘creationist’ label is falsely applied to anyone who raises any questions about neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. The reaction to the paper by some [anti-creationist] extremists suggests that the thought police are alive and well in the scientific community.”
#5 By making claims that natural selection/sexual selection is responsible for all behaviors and biological features. — Instead of saying that “God created X”, Darwinists tend to claim that “Sex selection created X.” Take, for instance, this statement made by zoologist Richard Dawkins:
“Why did humans lose their body hair? Why did they start walking on their hind legs? Why did they develop big brains? I think that the answer to all three questions is sexual selection,” Dawkins said. Hairlessness advertises your health to potential mates, he explained. The less hair you have on your body, the less real estate you make available to lice and other ectoparasites. Of course, it was worth keeping the hair on our heads to protect against sunstroke, which can be very dangerous in Africa, where we evolved. As for the hair in our armpits and pubic regions, that was probably retained because it helps disseminate “pheromones,” airborne scent signals that still play a bigger role in our sex lives than most of us realize.
Why did we lose our body hair? Sex selection. Why do we retain some body hair? Yep, sex selection. Why do humans walk on two legs? Again, the same answer, sex selection. Why do dogs walk on all four? You guessed it, sex selection.
The same goes for human behavior. Hardly a week goes by that some newspaper or magazine article does not include a story claiming how “evolution” is the reason humans do X, avoid Y, or prefer Z.
Even scientists grow weary of hearing such faith claims presented as if was “science.” As Philip S. Skell, emeritus professor at Pennsylvania State University, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, noted in The Scientist:
Darwinian explanations for [human behavior] are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self- centered and aggressive – except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed – except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.
Even those who flunked high school biology can see that when a theory can be used to prove any behavior that it ceases to be science and enters the realm of faith. Yet when evolutionists make such claims they are often flummoxed by the public’s skeptical reaction. They can’t understand how we could be so stupid as to not accept their claims. And we wonder how they could be so stupid as to think we are really that gullible.
Continued in Part II