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Michael Shermer Concedes! Wallace Was an ID Advocate!

I thought I would add a concluding reflection on my debate with Michael Shermer (“Resolved: If He Were Alive Today, Alfred Russel Wallace Would Be an Intelligent Design Advocate“). Shermer’s reply to my opener seems a stunning concession of the main proposition that launched this debate. Nowhere does he attempt to refute any of my illustrations showing Wallace as an ID advocate, and for two good reasons: 1) they were drawn from Wallace; and 2) Shermer admits as much in his own biography, In Darwin’s Shadow. Referring to Wallace’s book The World of Life, Shermer confesses, “It was an argument that would be echoed throughout the twentieth century” from “creationists’ arguments” to “modern design arguments for directed evolution” (p. 232).
This is precisely my point: Wallace, co-discoverer of natural selection, came to argue for intelligent evolution, anticipating modern ID proponents like Michael Behe, Michael Denton, Ralph Seelke, and others.
Yet, having conceded, Shermer goes on to move the goalpost. He claims that Wallace deserves to be in Darwin’s “shadow” precisely because of the naturalist’s adherence to ideas strongly suggestive of intelligent design! That’s because supposedly Darwin and his intellectual progeny definitively answered all of Wallace’s objections. Shermer further suggests that Darwin offered a scientific gold standard of “testable hypotheses.” The problem is, practically none of them have been verified when actually tested. Most are just-so stories and best guesses for hypotheses that are themselves highly speculative.
Gertrude Himmelfarb’s appraisal in her biography, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, is telling: “What Darwin was doing, in effect, was creating a ‘logic of possibility.’ Unlike conventional logic, where the compound of possibilities results not in a greater possibility, or probability, but in a lesser one, the logic of the Origin was one in which possibilities were assumed to add up to probability” (p. 334). Essentially, Himmelfarb accuses Darwin of making an argument from ignorance.
Things haven’t changed much since then. In fact, this persistent explanatory failure has prompted William Dembski to write: “Limitations on evolvability by material mechanisms constitute evidence for design.” This is Wallace’s thesis succinctly stated.
As for the accusation that ID offers “no testable hypotheses” because it is a “God did it” argument, Casey Luskin convincingly answers this in “A Positive, Testable Case for Intelligent Design.” So even moving the goalpost hasn’t helped Michael Shermer. In the end, his na�ve embrace of naturalistic explanations on the basis of their naturalism is tautological, disappointing especially from such a “skeptic” extraordinaire.

Michael Flannery

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael A. Flannery is professor emeritus of UAB Libraries, University of Alabama at Birmingham. He holds degrees in library science from the University of Kentucky and history from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written and taught extensively on the history of medicine and science. His most recent research interest has been on the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). He has edited Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press, 2008) and authored Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press, 2011). His research and work on Wallace continues.



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