Rob Crowther recently discussed the intolerance of ISU physicist John Hauptman’s Des Moines Register op-ed that supported ousting ID-proponents from the academy. Hauptman is a member of Guillermo Gonzalez’s department at ISU who voted against Dr. Gonzalez because Gonzalez believes ID is science. Hauptman justifies his intolerance by claiming that “Intelligent design is not even a theory. It has not made its first prediction, nor suffered its first test by measurement.” (In fact, Hauptman holds scientific theories to a very high standard, writing, “Any single wrong prediction, and you must junk the theory.” If that’s the case, how can Hauptman support Neo-Darwinism without adopting a double standard?) While Hauptman should be commended because he’s one of the few to honestly admit that his intolerance against ID weighed heavily in his vote to deny tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez, Hauptman’s op-ed fails to accurately represent or rebut Dr. Gonzalez’s arguments for intelligent design in The Privileged Planet.
First, Hauptman’s op-ed makes it clear that he thinks Dr. Gonzalez argues for design based upon mere coincidences that make our universe habitable. But in reality, Dr. Gonzalez’s entire thesis argues for design based upon a convergence of the requirements for both habitability and scientific discovery. Habitability is but one of two necessary components to the argument, and Hauptman either ignores, or fails to understand, the scientific discovery aspect of Dr. Gonzalez’s work.
Second, Dr. Gonzalez has long maintained that his arguments for design make predictions and are falsifiable. For example, in “An Open Letter to My Open-Minded Colleagues,” Dr. Gonzalez writes, “The universe is designed not only for life but also for scientific discovery. The argument is falsifiable, vulnerable to the river of data about extrasolar planets, our galaxy, and the larger universe flowing in over the next two decades thanks to missions like Gaia and Kepler.” In fact, in 2004 I personally gave a presentation entitled “Paleomagnetism and the Privileged Planet,” discussing some data that I felt falsified part of The Privileged Planet hypothesis. Gonzalez and Jay Richards responded to the evidence I raised which seemed to counter their hypothesis, illustrating the vitality of this young hypothesis.
Clearly the privileged planet hypothesis makes testable predictions. It may take much data to completely determine if the hypothesis stands the test of time, but Dr. Gonzalez’s viewpoint is testable and falsifiable. But since the first point above revealed that Hauptman doesn’t even accurately understand or represent what Dr. Gonzalez is arguing, how could we expect Hauptman to understand how to test those arguments?
Finally, Hauptman brings out the old canard that adopting intelligent design will return us to thinking like pre-scientific Greeks, pejoratively writing, “The Greeks thought in a similar way. … There was love and war and lightning, and a god for each: Aphrodite, Ares and Zeus. We are past this way of thinking about nature.” But in fact, in his Open Letter to My Open-Minded Colleagues, Gonzalez does not root his arguments in Greek myths, but rather explains that “Though controversial, the book [The Privileged Planet] has received positive endorsement or reviews from such leading scientists as Cambridge’s Simon Conway Morris, Harvard’s Owen Gingerich, and David Hughes, a Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society.” Clearly Dr. Gonzalez’s work cannot seriously simply be dismissed as a hypothesis that returns us to the Greek mythology. But perhaps Dr. Gonzalez’s Letter to My Open-Minded Colleagues wasn’t meant for John Hauptman.