October 2, 2005


Let 'intelligent design' and science rumble (Michael Balter, 10/02/05, LA Times)

Opinion polls consistently show that a majority of Americans don't believe that the theory of evolution is the best explanation for our own origins. A November 2004 Gallup poll, for example, found that only 13% of respondents said they believed that God had no part in the evolution or creation of human beings, and 38% said they thought humans evolved from less-advanced forms but that God guided the process. About 45% said they believed that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 or so years. These results echoed similar Gallup polls dating to 1982.

This suggests that scientists have won few converts during at least the last two decades — despite a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning the teaching of creationism in the classroom.

In large part, Americans' skepticism toward evolutionary theory reflects the continuing influence of religion. Yet it also implies that scientists have not been persuasive enough, even when buttressed by strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life's complexity.

Could it be that the theory of evolution's judicially sanctioned monopoly in the classroom has backfired?

For one thing, the monopoly strengthens claims by intelligent-design proponents that scientists don't want to be challenged. More important, it shields Darwinian theory from challenges that, when properly refuted, might win over adherents to evolutionary views.

Pro-evolution scientists have little to lose and everything to gain from a nationwide debate. Let's put the leading proponents of intelligent design and our sharpest evolutionary biologists on a national television panel and let them take their best shots. If biblical literalists want to join in, let them. Let's encourage teachers to stage debates in their classrooms or in assemblies. Students can be assigned to one or the other side, and guest speakers can be invited. Among other things, students would learn that science, when properly done, reaches conclusions via experimentation, evidence and argument, not through majority view.

Mr. Balter, though well-meaning, has put the cart before the ass here. The question is not whether Intelligent Design belongs in a science classroom but whether Darwinism belongs there. Ernst Mayr, at least the greatest Darwinist since Darwin, was quite forthright about the fact that Darwinism is not science "properly done" as Mr. Balter puts it, Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought (Ernst Mayr, September 23, 1999, based on a lecture delivered in Stockholm on receiving the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science)
Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology. Four of his contributions to evolutionary biology are especially important, as they held considerable sway beyond that discipline. The first is the non-constancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself. The second is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin. Up until 1859, all evolutionary proposals, such as that of naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, instead endorsed linear evolution, a teleological march toward greater perfection that had been in vogue since Aristotle's concept of Scala Naturae, the chain of being. Darwin further noted that evolution must be gradual, with no major breaks or discontinuities. Finally, he reasoned that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.

These four insights served as the foundation for Darwin's founding of a new branch of the philosophy of science, a philosophy of biology. Despite the passing of a century before this new branch of philosophy fully developed, its eventual form is based on Darwinian concepts. For example, Darwin introduced historicity into science. Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science - the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

Intelligent Design and Creationism likewise offer historical narratives that are not scientific. Indeed, where Darwinism claims that Natural Selection has occurred the IDer simply says an intelligence may have intervened in some instances and the Creationist says God intervened. None of the three explications are subject to natural laws nor subject to scientific techniques like observation, experimentation, etc. All we have here is a classic clash of faiths. As Mr, Balter notes, Darwinism is far the weakest of the three in the United States, yet is the one that has been established in public school classrooms, which is why the controversy remains so ripe.

In fact, the real reason that Darwinists should welcome ID into the classroom is because that may be the best deal they can get. If it seems unlikely that in a democracy such a marginal faith can maintain its monopoly in the classroom, especially when that monopoly has been wholly dependent on the secular Left's control of the courts, a situation that is rapidly changing. It's easy eough to imagine a court ruling that either replaces Darwinism with Intelligent Design or removes both from science class and once Darwinism loses its stranglehold on young minds its support ma really implode. Voluntarily sharing science class with I.D. may be the best Darwinists can hope for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 2, 2005 7:38 AM

Hmm. Darwinists must sleep late or something. I wonder what the evolutionary effect of their sleep patterns are?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 2, 2005 11:11 AM

Good article in Sunday's NYTimes Week In Review:

For the Anti-Evolutionists, Hope in High Places

"The critics of intelligent design see it as primarily a repackaging of creationism. But the notion that you can embrace science without necessarily buying into the philosophy of materialism is an idea one doesn't find only among graduates of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University."

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 3, 2005 1:40 AM

Here are some other "historical sciences:"

Continental Drift

They fit Dr. Meyr's description exactly. Why no jihad against them?

Posted by: Anon at October 3, 2005 9:49 AM

No they aren't. They're each ongoing and measurable today. People didn't believe continental drift until we measured it happening.

Posted by: oj at October 3, 2005 1:49 PM

Most of Geology is "historical science,"; nobody is out there trying to argue that we should be teaching ID created the Grand Canyon.

Posted by: Jethro at October 3, 2005 2:07 PM

We've measured evolution, as well, Judd. You should pay more attention. No, we haven't witnessed the creation of new species, as it happens (and we'd have to pay real close attention for about a million years), but have seen them start to diverge.

Posted by: Jethro at October 3, 2005 2:11 PM

The United States teaches Creationism at the Grand Canyon:


Posted by: oj at October 3, 2005 2:12 PM


No we haven't.

Posted by: oj at October 3, 2005 2:22 PM

"People didn't believe continental drift until we measured it happening."

The likes of you would argue that, even though we observe the continents moving a fraction of an inch every year and have geological evidence indicating that the continents were linked at some point, there is simply no way that over millions of years the continents could change from being one big continent to being the continents as we know them today, simply because we didn't get to observe first-hand the continents separating.

Posted by: creeper at October 3, 2005 7:56 PM


To the contrary, it's the fact that continental drift is observed and measurable today that demonstrates the truth of it. Just as the absence of Natural Selection demonstrates its falsity.

If geologists argued that continents hasd drifted to these precise spots over millions of years and then mysteriously achieved stasis, we'd laugh at them, just as we laugh at Darwinists for the same reason.

Careful--you've stumbled near the edge of an insight...

Posted by: oj at October 3, 2005 8:29 PM


The change in gene ratios over generations is observed and is measurable. Just because you can't see it with your eyes (just like we can't see continental drift with our own eye) it doesn't mean it isnt still going on. I know you're kind of old, but I doubt old enough to have lived long enough to have been either to physically see the movement of continents; or the change of genotypes in a species.
Basically, if want want to argue that we can't observe or measure the evolution of species, you're being a little too-short sighted, and ignorant of all the ways we can observe nature, past and present, and chart out the changes in specie.

Posted by: Phil at October 3, 2005 11:18 PM


Changes in gene ratios aren't evolution. More importantly, the faxct of differing ratios tells us nothing about how or why they occur. Most importantly, the fact that they may change naturally without producing evolution suggests that something else intervenes.

Posted by: oj at October 4, 2005 7:53 AM

"If geologists argued that continents hasd drifted to these precise spots over millions of years and then mysteriously achieved stasis, we'd laugh at them, just as we laugh at Darwinists for the same reason."

What "mysterious stasis"? The theory of evolution makes no claim of a constant rate of change, Orrin, and so the only thing you're laughing at here is your own misrepresentation (or misunderstanding...).

You're merely projecting your own belief that humans are the pinnacle of all creation and will not be succeeded by anything different. If human beings became geographically isolated and were subjected to varying survival pressures, do you think they would somehow not have the capacity to evolve over millions of years?

Posted by: creeper at October 4, 2005 12:50 PM

Tut-tut--post-Holocaust reticence on the part of Darwinists requires you to deny that the isolated human populations are different species. Though, by the definition y'all have adopted in the face of lack of speciation an Inuit and a Bantu are obviously different "species."

Posted by: oj at October 4, 2005 12:58 PM

Was that in response to me?

"Tut-tut--post-Holocaust reticence on the part of Darwinists requires you to deny that the isolated human populations are different species."

I didn't say they were different species. What I said was:

"If human beings became geographically isolated and were subjected to varying survival pressures, do you think they would somehow not have the capacity to evolve over millions of years?"

That could even be two populations of Caucasians splitting off from each other.

In any case, large populations with little survival pressure changing very little or not at all over a few hundred thousand years is hardly remarkable. There is no "mysterious stasis".

Posted by: creeper at October 4, 2005 1:10 PM

Of course you didn't say it.

Posted by: oj at October 4, 2005 2:19 PM

Glad to see this generated so much comment.

all best, MB


Posted by: Michael Balter at October 6, 2005 3:13 AM