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The Year in Review: Intelligent Design in the UK

Jonathan McLatchie

An often-heard criticism of intelligent design claims that it is exclusively an American phenomenon, since presumably the rest of the world is too smart to fall for the stuff. Of course this is nonsense. ID is making impressive strides in Europe and Asia. As I can report from personal experience, the future looks particularly bright in the United Kingdom.

Following the launch of the UK Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) in September 2010, and Michael Behe’s inaugural lecture and debate tour in November, the British intelligent design community has seen a busy 2011, with a variety of high-profile events marking the first year.

The leadership staff of the C4ID include president Dr. Norman Nevin (Emeritus Professor of Medical Genetics, Queens University, Belfast); vice president Dr. David Galloway (Vice President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow, Scotland); and director Dr. Alastair Noble (education consultant and former HM inspector of schools for science). Though the C4ID is friendly with the Discovery Institute, it exists as an operationally independent organization.

The first major event in 2011 was the five-day summer school in July, hosted at the Malvern Conference Centre in the beautiful town of Malvern, Worcestershire (where, incidentally, Charles Darwin’s daughter Annie is buried). Presenters at the conference included, as keynote speakers, sociologist Professor Steve Fuller, astronomer Professor Guillermo Gonzalez, and biologist Dr. Jonathan Wells. The event also featured several homegrown scholars, including senior surgeon Dr. David Galloway, Barrister John Langlois, C4ID director Dr. Alastair Noble, biochemist Professor Chris Shaw, and Professor of thermodynamics and combustion theory Andy McIntosh. In addition, a British lawyer reviewed the Dover Trial and the flawed ruling of Judge Jones III.

The conference served to bring together, in many cases for the first time, ID-friendly scientists and thinkers from all over the UK. We attended a total of three lectures each day, between which we exchanged and explored numerous thoughts and ideas about ID and evolution, as well as strategies and plans for the future.

The second major event was the two-day ID conference at the same venue in September. Joining us for this event was Discovery Institute philosopher Dr. Jay Richards. Also featured at the conference was Dr. Geoff Barnard, a clinical biochemist and formerly a Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge. Barnard currently lives in Israel. In ID circles, he is best known for his work on the evolution of sex (a topic I have also written about here). Research professor Chris Shaw (who works on protein engineering) also featured as a speaker at this event.

At both conferences I was struck by the interest ID was attracting in the UK from scientists, students and lay people alike.

The third significant event in 2011 was Stephen Meyer’s visit to London. Before an audience of some 90 invited guests in the Banqueting Hall of the Royal Horseguards Hotel in Whitehall, Meyer presented and defended his thesis proposed in Signature in the Cell. His audience included people of diverse backgrounds, including scientists, philosophers, politicians, and media representatives. You can listen to Stephen Meyer reflect on his visit to the UK by going to this ID the Future podcast. You can also read my takedown of attempted critiques of Meyer’s lecture here and here. Meyer’s visit included a radio debate with theistic evolutionist Keith Fox, a biochemist at the University of Southampton who chairs the “Christians in Science” network (essentially the British equivalent of the American Scientific Affiliation). You can listen to the full radio debate here.

The C4ID’s website features articles from several people involved in the UK ID movement. Articles are filed under “general,” “genetics,” “Non-life aspects of ID,” “Philosophical Implications,” and “Reviews.” There is also a store which is making available a professionally-produced DVD of the ID conference in Oxford in November 2010. Presenters include Michael Behe, Steve Fuller and Geoff Barnard.

As one might expect, the C4ID has not gone unopposed. The British equivalent of the American pro-Darwin lobby NCSE, called the BCSE, has marshaled a band of ID critics and established a set of poorly designed websites. You can visit their main page here, and their blog here. For the epitome of bad web design, don’t miss their aptly named “Centre for Unintelligent Design” page. Sadly, however, unlike the NCSE, to see science discussed — or to see scientific criticisms made of ID — on their blog is a rare occurrence.

A couple of petitions were launched in 2011 in an attempt to ban the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in schools. One petition, headed up by Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough (reported on by the Guardian and the Telegraph) stated,

Creationism and “intelligent design” are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools. At the same time, an understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. Currently, the study of evolution does not feature explicitly in the National Curriculum until year 10 (ages 14-15). Free Schools and Academies are not obliged to teach the National Curriculum and so are under no obligation to teach about evolution at all. We petition the Government to make clear that creationism and “intelligent design” are not scientific theories and to prevent them from being taught as such in publicly funded schools, including in “faith” schools, religious Academies and religious Free Schools. At the same time, we want the Government to make the teaching of evolution in mandatory in all publicly funded schools, at both primary and secondary level.

Among the supporters of this campaign are the British Humanist Association (BHA), as well as Ekklesia which, as the C4ID’s media release puts it, is “a liberal theological pressure group that has a long history of opposing criticism of evolution.”

Another initiative launched by the British pro-evolution lobby is the CrISIS (“Creationism in Schools isn’t Science”) campaign. Their website states,

Creationism is known, and officially acknowledged, to be contrary to scientific fact. We therefore demand that creationism should not be presented as a valid scientific position, nor creationist websites and resources be promoted, in publicly funded schools or in any youth activities run on publicly funded school premises.

The problem emerges, of course, because the term “creationism” is usually not well defined, and the pro-evolution lobbyist groups wish to lump all criticism of scientific materialism together under the banner of “creationism,” whether religiously inspired or otherwise.

Two anti-ID events were hosted by the “Glasgow Skeptics” in 2011, both of which I attended. The first of those talks was by PZ Myers of the University of Minnesota Morris. For more on that, I refer readers to this blog series (with contributions by myself, Casey Luskin and David Klinghoffer) and this ID the Future podcast. The NCSE’s director, Dr. Eugenie Scott, also made a trip to Scotland and gave a lecture titled “Evolution and Global Warming Denial: How the Public are Misled” (see my comments here; or Alastair Noble’s comments here for a thorough review of the lecture).

When the C4ID first launched, the Centre faced significant media opposition and misrepresentation. In October 2010, the Herald Scotland carried an article titled “Would you Adam and Eve it? Top scientists tell Scottish pupils: the Bible is true.” This piece contained nearly as many factual errors as it did sentences. It stated that “They are among Scotland’s most eminent scientists, they believe the world was created in six days and women were made from Adam’s rib …and they’re coming to a school near you.”

Apart from the obvious flaw with the article (ID has no religious content and has little to do with the age of the earth), the C4ID has made it very clear that they are not seeking to change school curricula. The Herald‘s attempt to slander ID as a form of Biblical literalism was also seemingly contradicted by the writer’s own (similarly incorrect) statement that ID proposes “that a universal engineer, or god, created the initial spark of life then used physical laws and natural selection to develop it.” Alastair Noble and David Galloway responded,

It was with some frustration that we read Chris Watt’s article, “Would you Adam and Eve it?” in the Sunday Herald (published in Glasgow, UK) of October 10th 2010. Its treatment of Intelligent Design (ID) bore very little resemblance to the content of an interview with Alastair Noble. Indeed the thrust of the feature was completely misplaced. It is absolutely not the case that the Centre is intent on advancing the teaching of biblical creationism in schools as suggested by the article.

We also received press coverage in October 2010 from the Guardian, which published a somewhat more balanced article. The C4ID’s launch was also noted by the Nature News Blog. The theological pressure group ‘Ekklesia’ (to which I previously alluded briefly) also featured an article on their website in December of 2010, claiming that “Intelligent Design is a flawed apologetic.” As one has come to expect, the article was permeated with strawmen and misrepresentations, as Alastair Noble pointed out in his response.

With interest expressed in ID from an ever-increasing number of scientists, scholars, and students, it should not be too long before a research presence is established in Britain, somewhat akin to that launched in the US by Doug Axe’s team at the Biologic Institute. As Stephen Meyer stated in his recent interview on ID the Future, intelligent design has now gone international. This is only the beginning.

Jonathan McLatchie

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Dr. Jonathan McLatchie holds a Bachelor's degree in Forensic Biology from the University of Strathclyde, a Masters (M.Res) degree in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Glasgow, a second Master's degree in Medical and Molecular Bioscience from Newcastle University, and a PhD in Evolutionary Biology from Newcastle University. Currently, Jonathan is an assistant professor of biology at Sattler College in Boston, Massachusetts. Jonathan has been interviewed on podcasts and radio shows including "Unbelievable?" on Premier Christian Radio, and many others. Jonathan has spoken internationally in Europe, North America, South Africa and Asia promoting the evidence of design in nature.



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