The Nature Editorial: Either Intelligent Design is Science, or Senator Brownback Got it RIght

Michael Egnor

cover_nature.jpg In a remarkable editorial, the editors of Nature recently responded to Senator Sam Brownback’s essay What I Think about Evolution in the New York Times. Senator Brownback wrote:

The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it….

Referring to materialistic evolutionary theories for the emergence of the human mind, Senator Brownback notes:

…Aspects of these theories that undermine [the] truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

Natures’ editors took Brownback to task for ‘crossing lines’:

…there are lines that should not be crossed, and in a recent defence of his beliefs and disbeliefs in the matter of evolution, US Senator Sam Brownback (Republican, Kansas) crosses at least one.

They asserted, with confidence in their science:

Humans evolved, body and mind, from earlier primates. The ways in which humans think reflect this heritage…the idea that human minds are the product of evolution is not atheistic theology. It is unassailable fact.

The editors assert that the emergence of the human mind without intelligent design is an ‘unassailable fact’. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this claim, aside from the problems with their interpretation of the scientific evidence itself, is the admission by the editors that the question of intelligent design in biology can be adjudicated by the scientific method. If the evidence for or against intelligent design can be evaluated scientifically– as the editors at Nature firmly assert that it can– then intelligent design is a real scientific inference, albeit, according to the Nature editors, a mistaken one. And if they are asserting that intelligent design is mistaken from a non-scientific standpoint, then the editors are advancing an atheistic theology, as Brownback pointed out.
The mainstay of the materialists’ argument against intelligent design has been that it isn’t science. Yet, as the Nature editors inadvertently demonstrate so clearly, the materialists’ argument against intelligent design is self-refuting; they argue that intelligent design isn’t science, and that it’s scientifically wrong. Yet if intelligent design is scientifically wrong– if it is an ‘unassailable fact’ that the human mind is the product of evolution, not intelligent design– then the design inference can be investigated (and, they claim, refuted) using the scientific method. Then intelligent design is science.
Either the conclusion that the editors reached is the result of a scientific analysis of the design inference, or the conclusion that the editors reached is the result of a non-scientific analysis of the design inference, which would be, as Senator Brownback observed, atheistic theology posing as science.
Either intelligent design is science, or Senator Brownback got it right.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.