Defending Intellectualism?

The good news is that concern for society’s lack of intellectualism continues. The bad news is this concern continues to lack intellectualism. This unfortunate irony is so common it seems to have become a tradition, and the latest contribution is Susan Jacoby’s book The Age of American Unreason. Jacoby is a long-time critic of intelligent design who, like most critics, propagates more strawmen renditions and Inherit the Wind stereotypes, than thoughtful or fresh ideas.
In this tradition, one is either a Darwinist or a religious fanatic. Darwinism is the ideal of science while ID is creationism in disguise, hostile to reason and knowledge. Doubt evolution and you are a throwback to the days before the Enlightenment. This use of false dichotomies and strawmen renditions to ridicule and marginalize opponents must make for great sport, but it certainly does not help bolster intellectualism.

Those who do read Jacoby should be keen to her linguistic attacks and peculiar use of the term rationalism. Briefly, in science, empirical approaches lean on the data regardless of where it leads while rational approaches interpret the data according to a preset framework.
ID is an empirical approach since it does not make such assumptions. Design may be inferred, or not, depending on the data. Evolution, on the other hand, is a rational approach. It requires all causes and explanations to be purely naturalistic and the design inference is not allowed. This is not controversial. Evolutionists routinely argue that science must be limited to strictly naturalistic explanations. They readily admit that nature exhibits design, but this is a conclusion they may not consider.
Jacoby characterizes ID as anti-rationalist. While ID certainly does not constrain the answer to a preset framework, this casting of ID in an opposition role (anti-rationalist) rather than in a positive role (empiricist), serves to marginalize. Rather than pursuing a legitimate philosophy of science, ID is characterized as merely antagonistic.
Furthermore Jacoby confuses rationalism with empiricism, defining the former as driven by evidence rather than assumptions. So with this creative terminology Jacoby not only casts ID as the antagonist in her fictional world, but also assigns to it evolution’s role of foisting preset conclusions regardless of the data. One wonders if Jacoby’s concern is over a lack of Darwinism rather than a lack of intellectualism.

Cornelius G. Hunter

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Cornelius G. Hunter is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he earned a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Computational Biology. He is Adjunct Professor at Biola University and author of the award-winning Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Hunter’s other books include Darwin’s Proof, and his newest book Science’s Blind Spot (Baker/Brazos Press). Dr. Hunter's interest in the theory of evolution involves the historical and theological, as well as scientific, aspects of the theory. His blog is Darwin's God.