Monday, January 22, 2007

Why can’t we discuss Intelligent Design?

In an interesting article by J. Scott Turner, he wonders why ID is a topic that is so off limits.

Take note that Turner is not an ID advocate and even mentions that he believes ID is a “wrongheaded idea”, but in his article he points out that scientists should not be so up in arms over the subject.

Evidently, what instigated this article was a heckler at one of his lectures:

...what I'd learned from termites had got me thinking about broader issues, among them the question of design in biology: Why are living things built so well for the functions they perform? So I wrote a book called The Tinkerer's Accomplice, which was my topic that day.

The trouble started almost as soon as I stepped up to the podium: intrusive "questions" and demands for "clarifications," really intended not to illuminate but to disrupt and distract. In exasperation, I finally had to ask the heckler to give me a chance to make my argument and my audience a chance to hear it, after which he could ask all the questions he wished.

He was not interested in that approach, of course, and left as soon as question time began. I found out later that he'd complained at his next faculty meeting that the departmental speaker's program should never be used as a forum for advancing — what precisely? That was never quite clear, either to me or to my embarrassed host.

I think what stirred up the heckler had something to do with the word "design." Unless clearly linked to the process of natural selection, "design" can be a bit of a red flag for modern biologists. The reason is not hard to fathom. Most people, when they contemplate the living world, get an overwhelming sense that it is a designed place, replete with marvelous and ingenious contrivances: the beak of a hummingbird curved like the nectaries it feeds from, bones shaped to the loads they must bear, feathers that could teach new tricks to an aeronautical engineer, the nearly unfathomable complexity of a brain that can see — all built as if someone had designed them.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem. Say "design," and you imply that a designer has been at work, with all the attributes implied by that word: forward-looking, purposeful, intelligent, and intentional. For many centuries, most people drew precisely that conclusion from the designs they thought they saw everywhere in nature.

Charles Darwin was supposed to have put paid to that idea, of course, and ever since his day biologists have considered it gauche to speak of design, or even to hint at purposefulness in nature. Doing so in polite company usually earns you what I call The Pause, the awkward silence that typically follows a faux pas.

If just one freighted word like "design" can evoke The Pause, combining two — as in the phrase "intelligent design" — seems to make otherwise sane people slip their moorings. If you enjoy irony, as I do, the spectacle can provide hours of entertainment. I wonder, for example, what demon had gripped a past president of Cornell University when he singled out intelligent design as a unique threat to academic and civil discourse. Aren't universities supposed to be a place for dangerous ideas?

This guy has it going on. He sees right through the Darwinist fear frenzy, and realizes that this fear goes beyond science and on to their own philosophical beliefs, and that is what has Darwin's staunch supporters fighting so hard.

Here’s a thought...
The strain's very persistence invites the obvious question: If Darwin settled the issue once and for all, why does it keep coming back? Perhaps the fault lies with Darwin's supporters. Rather than debate the strain on its merits, we scramble to the courts or the political ramparts to expel it from our classrooms and our students' minds.[my emphasis]

That is a pity because at the core of intelligent design is a question worth pondering: Is evolution shaped in any way by purposefulness or intentionality? Darwinism is clear in its answer — no way, no how — and that is not mere obstinacy, as some might charge. The banishment of purpose from evolution is Darwinism's sine qua non, which Darwin himself fought hard to establish, and which his descendants have defended stoutly ever since.

Read the article...quite interesting.

Hat tip to Larry Caldwell, Evolution News & Views.