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ID Literature and the Great Evolutionary Firewall

Peer-reviewed literature is supposed to be the gold standard in any given scientific field, though it both lets through junk science at times, and at others, excludes solid science, whether for ideological or other reasons. The gatekeepers are only human, prone to bias or wish fulfillment. The humans who police the gatekeepers are also prone to hallucinate. See a couple of posts on that subject from earlier this week, here and here. 

These provisos having been stated, there is of course value in this literature. That’s why Evolution News spends so much time analyzing it. We haven’t talked about this in a while, but the body of peer-reviewed articles supporting intelligent design is impressive. You can find an extensive discussion of it here. Remember, this is just the literature supportive of ID. Criticism is valuable and significant too. We’ve got a file of a hundred mainstream scientific papers that cite Michael Behe and his ID work. Yes, many are negative, but many are positive too.

Three Observations

In any case, as recent email inquiries have made clear, this body of published writing calls for some additional commentary.

First, do all of these articles use the term “intelligent design” explicitly? No. But don’t let anyone tell you that that somehow disqualifies the articles in our bibliography as directly supporting ID. All of these papers are by ID sympathizers (at least one author, in each case) and they all make ID arguments or explicitly support ID. Some of them do use the term “intelligent design” but some use terms like “teleological” or “goal-directed” rather than explicitly saying “intelligent design.” The intended meaning is the same. Also, many of the articles provide explicit support for core ID concepts like complex and specified information, irreducible complexity, prescriptive information, and the like, even if they don’t call it “intelligent design.”

Second, it’s true that not every journal is respected equally. But the fact that ID proponents are publishing legitimate ID-oriented ideas in journals at all is what counts. Journals like Cell, Nature, Science, and many other high-level publications are never going to publish an article — not in this corner of the multiverse — that is pro-ID or positively cites Michael Behe or Stephen Meyer or William Dembski, no matter how strong the evidence and no matter how good the article is. Those in the ID community are well aware that you can sometimes publish modest critiques of certain evolutionary ideas, but the moment that you suggest that “intelligent design” might be involved or that you speak favorably of an ID proponent’s work, the great evolutionary firewall goes up and it blocks the paper. Many ID-friendly scientists who have tried to publish have had such experiences. Biologist Jonathan Wells recalls an exchange with a journal editor:

In 2003 I submitted an article on an aspect of cell biology to a very prominent biology journal in the U.K. My article did not mention ID or cite ID authors, but it presented a hypothesis based on an ID perspective. The article successfully passed peer review after I responded to some questions by the reviewers, and the editor wrote to me that he was ready to publish it. But then he asked me whether I was the Jonathan Wells of intelligent design fame. When I answered in the affirmative he sent the article out for one last “review,” which was a contemptuous hatchet job from start to finish. With that in hand the editor rejected my article.

Even having been cited positively by ID advocates can harm a paper’s chances. That’s why Evolution News hesitates to discuss preprint articles like those at bioRxiv. An article there, that has not yet been peer-reviewed or published formally, can be rendered ritually impure if Darwinists see that ID proponents have praised it. The perversity and unfairness of this situation hardly needs underlining.

Third, remember the phenomenon in social media that is called “subtweeting.” This refers to criticizing people without naming them, often compared with talking about them covertly behind their back. From the Urban Diction: “Indirectly tweeting something about someone without mentioning their name. Even though their name is not mentioned, it is clear who the person tweeting is referring to.” It often happens that science journals “subtweet” about ID arguments, those of Meyer or Behe or Dembski, without having the courage, frankly, to name them. As an example, the many desperate attempts to offer theories explaining the Cambrian explosion, the geologically sudden eruption of animal phyla into the fossil record, evidently have Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt, on their mind.

Two False Assumptions

The point is this: If you’re going to engage people on the topic of ID publications, don’t let them force two false assumptions on you:

  1. That if a paper doesn’t contain the term “intelligent design,” then it can’t be pro-ID. The truth is: You can easily have a pro-ID paper that doesn’t use the term “intelligent design.”
  2. That the vast majority of academic journals are open to publishing a paper that contains the term “intelligent design,” if the evidence is strong. The truth is: The vast majority of journals are openly hostile to ID and would never publish an article containing the term “intelligent design” simply on principle (or lack thereof). So the number of ID articles in journals has less to do with the quality of ID work and more with the great evolutionary firewall.

Remembering the Dover Trial

And these observations apply not only to “intelligent design” but to other terms that tend to start arguments. Cast your mind back to the famous Dover trial. The ACLU and anti-ID plaintiffs cited a paper, Long et al., 2003, which they told Judge John Jones showed how “new genetic information” could evolve. The problem? The paper did not contain the phrase “new genetic information.” It didn’t even contain the term “genetic information”! Judge Jones cited the paper anyway to claim that the plaintiffs had demonstrated that evolution could produce “new genetic information.”

But that was OK. In fact, this is not a criticism of what they did because the paper certainly was relevant to discussing the origin of new genetic information, and the fact that the paper did not contain the term “genetic information” did not prevent it from bearing on the subject, which it did. 

That having been said, in reality, the paper by Long and his colleagues is not very successful in showing how new information arises, although it is certainly relevant from an evolutionary perspective. If you would like to see some critiques of the paper, please read Chapter 11 of Darwin’s Doubt. We see again that word searches often say very little about the implications of a paper for evolution or ID. What’s needed, always, is honest, critical analysis, as we try to provide here.

Photo credit: Andrew Martin via Pixabay.