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Science and Its Consequences: Kevin Williamson Versus Intelligent Design, Again

David Klinghoffer | @d_klinghoffer

Kevin Williamson

I was happy recently to get the chance to have an exchange of sorts with National Review’s Kevin Williamson at NR’s group blog, The Corner. I say “of sorts” because while Williamson seemed to be replying to me, it didn’t appear that he had read what I had written. The question before us was whether anyone but journalists and other amateurs take the science of intelligent design, “daft rube-bait” according to Kevin, seriously. Now Williamson revisits the subject.

I’ve heard people say, “Gee, I have so much respect for Kevin Williamson. He’s such a great writer. I wonder why he has this blind spot when it comes to ID?” I’ve stopped saying things like that.

Science and Its Consequences

He writes:

The rhetorical stakes of science are high — higher than they need to be, in fact. Those Christians who have since the time of Charles Darwin treated the science of evolution as though it were a threat to the truth of their religion are fallen into an obvious and avoidable error (if God is the Author of all reality but not bound by the facts of the natural world, then accurate observations about that world and its processes can do no violence to religious truth, to the modest extent that they intersect with the issue at all) as indeed have the evangelical atheists who believe that their discomfiture of certain Christians is of anything more than purely rhetorical consequence. 

I’m not able to follow that second, long sentence. What are “rhetorical stakes”? What are “rhetorical consequences”? He seems to be saying that people overestimate the consequences of what science says, or what it’s understood to say.

“Not Bound by the Facts”

Williamson is right about one thing: many religious people could find tortured ways to make peace with the assertion that science gives overwhelming evidence the universe created itself, life created itself, and life evolved with no need for intelligent guidance. They would probably do so by saying, as Williamson does, that “God is the Author of all reality but not bound by the facts of the natural world.” Whether the rationalization is plausible is another question. I suppose you could say God, the creator of the world who is not the creator of the world, is not bound by logic either. Williamson goes on:

The end result of that has been an almost uniquely unenlightening discourse in which a selection of lawyers and dentists rallying under the banner of “intelligent design” have it out with retired children’s-television hosts and other equally impressive scientific figures — for the benefit of an audience of journalists, activists, and ax-grinders with no intellectual preparation for judging the issues in question.

Research Is for Slobs

Everything I’ve read from Williamson about intelligent design indicates that as a journalist who calls himself an “unapologetic elitist,” he just hasn’t bothered to look into it at all, beyond maybe a glance at the Wikipedia page. Research is for slobs. The “discourse” on the subject that I’ve been following most closely the past couple of months is between biochemist Michael Behe and National Academy of Sciences member Richard Lenski. They have been debating a thesis, the First Rule of Adaptive Evolution, that Behe first described in The Quarterly Review of Biology and that he elaborates for a general audience in Darwin Devolves. Neither is a dentist or a “retired children’s-television host.” In my second reply to Williamson at NR, I apologized for tacky credential-slinging and listed scientists, including a couple of Nobel laureates, not lawyers or activists, who have joined in the debate in favor of intelligent design.

In his response to me, Williamson ignored all that and pretended I had cited only “poets” and “political activists,” not scientists. In his current article, the “poets” reappear in the guise of “dentists.” That the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism list now stands at well over a thousand names of PhD scientists, not orthodontists, is a fact that someone could bring to Kevin’s attention. But from experience I doubt it would register with him.

Williamson wrote recently to complain about being misrepresented by journalist Michael Blatt, who “is of course wildly mischaracterizing my views, either through laziness or intellectual dishonesty. He should correct himself…” Correcting yourself is presumably for slobs, or daft rubes, too.

Photo: Kevin Williamson, via Upstream Ideas/YouTube (screen shot).