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These Eminent Type II Darwinist Critics Didn’t Get the Memo

In my “The Darwinist Misinformation Train,” post from last week, I explain that there are 2 types of Darwinist critics of ID out there who misrepresent ID:

Type I Darwinists critics: It starts with these Darwinist critics who correctly understand ID and realize that it respects the limits of science and doesn’t try to identify the designer. Yet, Type I Critics then purposefully misrepresent ID to the public (and particularly to scientists) as an untestable and unscientific appeal to the supernatural. This is despite the fact that ID proponents understand the nature of scientific inquiry and have formulated their theory to respect its boundaries. The dubious tactics of Type I critics are effective because it results in many people thinking that ID cannot be science because it makes claims about the supernatural — beyond the scope of what can be studied using the scientific method.

Type II Darwinist critics: These are the people created by the activities of Type I critics. Type II critics misunderstand ID because they have been told by Type I critics that ID is an untestable appeal to the supernatural. This causes them to think it is makes exclusively religious claims, is not scientific, not empirically based, and not appropriate for the laboratory or the classroom. Type II Critics aren’t necessarily to blame for their misapprehensions because they have been misled. Nonetheless, it would behoove them to pick up some of the scholarship of ID proponents they are criticizing before they speak about it publicly. If they did so, they would realize their misunderstandings.

(The Darwinist Misinformation Train)

A classic example of Type II Darwinist Critics comes from a recent announcement by a group of 38 Nobel Laureates who wrote a letter to the Kansas State Board of Education denouncing intelligent design, based upon a completely false understanding of ID theory. According to their letter, ID is not science because:

“intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent.” (Letter by 38 Nobel Laureates to the Kansas State Board of Education, denouncing the teaching of ID, emphasis added)

So there you have it. According to these critics, ID isn’t science because it investigates the unobservable supernatural. But as those who actually read the writings of ID proponents already know, ID theory does not identify the designer because to do so would go beyond the realm of testable science. ID theory thus limits its claims to those which can be established via the scientific method: it limits its claims to detecting the action of intelligence–something which we have observed, and the effects of which we understand quite well. It does not get into metaphysical speculation about the nature or identity of the designer, because to do so would go beyond science. So the reality is that ID theory purposefully avoids the very mistake these Nobel Laureates attribute to it.

Note also how the Nobel Laureates’ letter describes evolution:

“evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection”
(emphasis added)

Hmmm…so evolution is “unguided” and “unplanned?” What was that about not making untestable metaphysical assertions? Either that, or the scientific theory of evolution has some pretty strong anti-religious implications for these leading scholars.

Didn’t these Nobel Laureates get Eugenie Scott’s memo? (“don’t let your metaphysics slip into your science!”–or is it the other way around?) I can imagine her e-mail tomorrow: “Um, Yeah. If you could just fix that letter, that would be great. Oh yeah–but then don’t forget to tell the public, ‘No-design is science while actual design is an untestable religious appeal to the supernatural. You can have your Neo-Darwinian cake and eat it too!’ And I will go ahead and make sure you get another copy of that memo.”

Returning to seriousness, these 38 Nobel Laureates are undoubtedly brilliant individuals. But they have become Type II Darwinists after having been misled by Type I Darwinists who told them that ID theory postulates a supernatural agent. So, once again I’ll give a few good quotes demonstrating how ID theory doesn’t identify the designer:

“We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science.” (Of Pandas and People, a pro-ID textbook, pg. 126-127, emphasis added)

“The most important difference [between modern intelligent design theory and Paley’s arguments] is that [intelligent design] is limited to design itself; I strongly emphasize that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent God, as Paley’s was. I hasten to add that I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. This while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel–fallen or not; Plato’s demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being. Of course, some of these possibilities may seem more plausible than others based on information from fields other than science. Nonetheless, as regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton’s phrase hypothesis non fingo.” (Michael Behe, “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis,” Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2001), pg. 165, emphasis added.)

These Nobel Laureates have not just been misled about ID theory. They’ve apparently also been misled into thinking the Kansas State Board of Education is considering putting ID into their curriculum, which makes the whole point of their letter moot. (That’s why they denounced ID in the first place.)

Kansas is not considering teaching ID. John West explained back in June that Kansas specifically was not considering teaching ID. West noted how the journal Science misreported the events of Kansas, as the journal wrongly claimed that “Evolution is under attack again, as school boards in Kansas and other states consider whether to mandate teaching of ‘intelligent design.'” (Standing up for Darwin, Science, Vol 308, Issue 5730, 1847, June 24, 2005) But that statement was never true.

It is false facts like this which probably led to these 38 Nobel Laureates wasting their time and ink.

Incredibly, the Nobel Laureates wrote this letter despite the fact that the latest version of the Kansas science standards (adopted a full month before the Laureates wrote their letter) says the following which goes completely out of its way to dispell the notion that they were considering teaching ID:

“We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design, the scientific disagreement with the claim of many evolutionary biologists that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion. While the testimony presented at the science hearings included many advocates of Intelligent Design, these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement.” (Kansas Science Education Standards, Draft 2(d), Adopted August 9, 2005)

With such clear disclaimers from the Kansas Board, these Laureates would have better used their valuable time to write a letter to Jacque Chirac to convince him not to invade Iraq.

But this issue is serious. If the Nobel Laureates aren’t informed enough to know that the whole message of their letter to the Kansas State Board of Education is moot, then how informed are they about the actual nature of intelligent design theory? I place the blame not at the feet of these undoubtedly brilliant scientists who are Type II Critics, but at the feet of the Type I Darwinists who mislead people about the actual nature of ID theory.

But in the end, it’s the public who loses:

The Darwinist Misinformation Train
(Panda graphic courtesy of Panda-monium)

(Thanks also to Xourque.net’s excellent collection of sounds from the all-time-great movie Office Space.)

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.