News Media Icon News Media

Dover’s Darwinist Judge Rules Against Competing Theory of Intelligent Design

Judge John E. Jones III ruled today in the Dover vs. Kitzmiller intelligent trial. Deciding to move beyond the narrow issue of whether the Dover school board had a legitimate secular purpose in briefly alerting students to the theory of intelligent design, the judge also took it upon himself to tell scientists, science educators, and philosophers of science what is and isn’t science and, specifically, why intelligent design, in his opinion, isn’t science — though he conceded that ID arguments may be true.

Judge Jones offered three mains reasons for his conclusion that ID isn’t science, all of which fall apart on close inspection.

Jones asserted: “We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.”

No. Design theorists argue that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for certain features of the natural world. Jones countered this point by noting that most design theorists believe in the Christian God, untroubled by the fact that he is here committing the genetic fallacy, dismissing an argument based on its source (here Christian scientists and philosophers). Commented one legal scholar, “It is worse than horrible, if that is possible. Essentially, what the judge has concluded is that if one is a religious citizen who offers an argument for a point of view consistent with your religious worldview, you will be segregated from the public square. But not because your argument is bad, but because of your beliefs and the company you keep or may have kept. I can’t believe this could happen in America.”

But lest anyone accuse the judge of bowing before the hobgoblin of little minds (consistency), he also in his ruling noted that the Dover school board, in a newsletter, pointed out that even British philosopher and former atheist Antony Flew came to recognize the legitimacy of certain ID arguments. The obvious point of the newsletter passage was to provide evidence that even respected scholars who are not Christians (or even theists) have examined intelligent design arguments and found them both sound and persuasive. But Judge Jones, apparently inhabiting the self-enclosed little world of the dogmatic Darwinists, somehow took this as further evidence that the Dover policy was all about religion (otherwise, why would they mention that Flew was a former atheist!).

Judge Jones was also unfazed by the fact that design theorists rightly infer mere design from things like the sophisticated machines in living cells, realizing that such features do not come with a maker’s signature on the machinery (they would have to move to philosophy and theology to search out the identity of the designer).

Jones continues: “(2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s.”
The dualism he refers to goes something like this: “If one can punch enough holes in Neo-Darwinism, then creationism must be true.” Design theory does not proceed this way, his appeals to the ACLU’s expert witnesses, and his misrepresentations of Behe and Minnich, notwithstanding.

To see how design theory does proceed, consider Stephen Meyer’s peer-reviewed essay published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. There Meyer, the program director for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of the theory of intelligent design, examines Neo-Darwinian, punctuationalist, self-organizational, and structuralist models for the origin of the animal forms of the Cambrian explosion, and after arguing that each one is fatally flawed, goes on to offer a positive case for intelligent design as the best explanation.

More fundamentally, Meyer holds up to the light a set of exhaustive categories: (1) the Cambrian animal forms are eternal; (2) the Cambrian forms emerged by chance; (3) emerged by lawlike processes; (4) by a combination of chance and lawlike processes; or (5) by a process that involved an intelligent cause, one that could also have involved the other two sorts of causes. This really does cover all the bases.

Moreover, Meyer doesn’t argue that dismantling the current competing explanations proves intelligent design in the way a deductive syllogism proves its conclusions. Building on the work of mainstream philosophers of science, Meyer argued in his work at Cambridge University in the History and Philosophy of Science that scientific models are routinely advanced as arguments to the best explanation. Thus, Meyer argues that intelligent design is simply the best explanation for the Cambrian explosion, an explanation that has grown stronger and stronger as more and more evidence has been uncovered.

Jones continues: “and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.”

Instead, ID has merely been denounced by the governing bodies of various scientific organizations, while a small but growing minority of scientists have challenged the reigning paradigm. Scientists like Kenneth Miller have merely refuted straw men versions of intelligent design, such as the depiction of ID as merely a negative argument. The judge attempts to head off our positive case for design by stating that it’s merely the “Reverend Paley’s” watch analogy updated for the modern era.

The charge is two-fold. (1) Paley was a Reverend arguing for God, so all design arguments are just religious arguments. Never mind that the pagan philosophers Socrates and Plato made similar design arguments.

Perhaps sensing that this point is weak on the face of it, the judge attempts to dismantle design theory’s appeal to our uniform experience of things like information and intricate and functional machinery, things that always turn out to be designed when we know the history of their origin. With a childlike faith, Judge Jones quotes an ACLU expert witness who notes that the comparison between design in human artifacts and in natural structures is not a perfect identity (gasp!).

The logic is fallacious on the face of it. Imagine if someone unfamiliar with British culture said, “Basketball, football, and hockey are all sports, possessing such-and-such common features. It’s most likely that this strange activity called Cricket is also a sport, since it involves these same features.” If we extend the logic of Judge Jones and the ACLU’s expert witnesses to the Cricket argument, we would have to conclude that we couldn’t argue from the other examples that Cricket was probably a sport. Why? Because there are differences between Cricket and the other three sports. The reasoning is ludicrous.

Design theory holds that we have broad and detailed experience with intelligent causes. Here the identity in the comparison is intelligence or mind. Intelligent agents can look ahead to a future goal and arrange parts for the purpose of some future outcome. Material causes can’t do this, a point not even contested by Neo-Darwinists. Such purposeful activity often leaves behind telltale features in the designed systems, a point granted in scientific fields like forensics. [Added] As Meyer argues, in this way the theory of intelligent extends the widely accepted uniformitarian thinking of geologist Charles Lyell, who argued that presently acting causes are the key to intepreting the past. Here the type of presently acting cause is intelligence.

[Added] As Meyer explains in a recent essay, “Based upon our uniform and repeated experience, we know of only one type of cause that produces irreducibly complex systems, namely, intelligence. Indeed, whenever we encounter irreducibly complex systems — such as an integrated circuit or an internal combustion engine — and we know how they arose, invariably a designing engineer played a role.” Or as he notes elsewhere in the essay:

The scientists arguing for intelligent design do not do so merely because natural processes-chance, laws or the combination of the two-have failed to explain the origin of the information and information processing systems in cells. Instead, they also argue for design because we know from experience that systems possessing these features invariably arise from intelligent causes. The information on a computer screen can be traced back to a user or programmer. The information in a newspaper ultimately came from a writer-from a mental, rather than a strictly material, cause. As the pioneering information theorist Henry Quastler observed, “information habitually arises from conscious activity.”

The judge makes many other incorrect assertions, including the charge that ID arguments aren’t testable. I answer, or link to colleagues who answer, many of the most common objections against intelligent design here, many of those objections having been recycled by Judge Jones.

Jonathan Witt

Executive Editor, Discovery Institute Press and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, PhD, is Executive Editor of Discovery Institute Press and a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.