[Edited] Bilbo of Telic Thoughts … [references] an early, notable use of the term “intelligent design,” this one by one of the 20th century’s leading scientists, agnostic Fred Hoyle:
On January 12th, 1982, Sir Fred Hoyle delivered the Omni Lecture at the Royal Institution, London, entitled “Evolution from Space,” which was later reprinted in a book by the same title … In it he discussed the overwhelming improbability of getting the enzymes needed for even the simplest form of life to function by chance.
… The difference between an intelligent ordering, whether of words, fruit boxes, amino acids, or the Rubik cube, and merely random shufflings can be fantastically large, even as large as a number that would fill the whole volume of Shakespeare’s plays with its zeros. So if one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure or order must be the outcome of intelligent design [my emphasis]. No other possibility I have been able to think of in pondering this issue over quite a long time seems to me to have anything like as high a possibility of being true. (27-28)
… [The Hoyle passage] renders all the more implausible the anti-ID claim that intelligent design is just creationism repackaged after a 1987 Supreme Court ruling against biblical creationism. First, like the seminal work of intelligent design, The Mystery of Life’s Origin (1984), Hoyle’s design argument predates the 1987 ruling by several years. Second, Hoyle wasn’t a Christian. He wasn’t a Jew. He wasn’t even a theist. He was an agnostic who thought the intelligence responsible for first life must have come from within the universe.
Third, and also like The Mystery of Life’s Origin, Hoyle based his design inference purely on physical evidence and neither appealed to, nor attempted to reconcile his argument with, a particular reading of the Genesis account of creation. Thus, even if it came to light that Hoyle secretly wore bad shoes, attended a Holy Roller congregation in the back woods of Alabama, and peppered all his private conversations with “Praise Gawd!” it wouldn’t matter: the substance of his design argument was based on physical evidence rather than Scriptural authority and therefore should be judged on the physical evidence rather than on any hidden motives he may or may not have had.
Hoyle also contributed to the revival of design thinking in the modern era through his work on, and discussion of, the fine tuning of the physical constants of nature. I discuss his contribution, and the history of intelligent design, here. Bilbo’s Telic Thoughts piece is here.
The irony, of course, is that “Bilbo” … [called attention to the Hoyle passage]–a Telic Thoughts contributor forced to adopt a pseudonym so that he can proceed, to borrow Hoyle’s words, “directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion.” Scientists of good will, on every side of the origins controversy, need to fight to restore both academic and intellectual freedom to origins science.
In particular, evolutionists who prize academic freedom–those occupying secure industry positions, tenured positions, or full professorships–need at last to put those positions to use, even if it means an uncomfortable moment or two at the next cocktail party. Will a true liberal from the ranks of prominent evolutionists please stand up and defend the rights of academic scientists who see a role for intelligent causation in the history of life and the universe?
Note: The original mistakenly described Bilbo as having “discovered” the passage.