Evolutionary science lies at the heart of a modern understanding of the natural world. Darwin's theory has withstood 150 years of scientific scrutiny, and today it not only explains the origin and design of living things, but highlights the importance of a scientific understanding in our culture and in our lives.
Recently the movement known as "Intelligent Design" has attracted the attention of journalists, educators, and legislators. The scientific community is puzzled and saddened by this trend-not only because it distorts modern biology, but also because it diverts people from the truly fascinating ideas emerging from the real science of evolution. Here, join fifteen of our preeminent thinkers whose clear, accessible, and passionate essays reveal the fact and power of Darwin's theory, and the beauty of the scientific quest to understand our world.
Writer and editor Brockman (What We Believe but Cannot Prove), who publishes the online magazine Edge, has assembled sixteen short essays by prominent scientists on current thinking about evolution. A few of the contributors, such as Jerry A. Coyne and Daniel C. Dennett, use close readings of Intelligent Design (ID) advocates' claims to argue that ID is a political or ideological movement without scientific legitimacy. These arguments are concise and persuasive, if sometimes familiar; strong evidence and wide acceptance in the scientific community have made evolution central to biology and related branches. The most fresh and interesting essays essentially ignore ID to explore aspects of evolutionary biology, including paleontologist Tim D. White considering evidence for Homo sapiens' evolution, psychologist Steven Pinker on the compatibility of evolution and ethics, and geologist Scott D. Sampson proposing primary science education that links evolution and ecology. As a whole, this sampler makes a powerful cross-discipline case for teaching evolution as an accepted biological consensus-as opposed to "teaching the debate"-and offers glimpses into how the science behind the theory continues to evolve in a range of fields.
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May 08, 2006
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Excerpt from Intelligent Thought by John Brockman
Intelligent Design: The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name
Intelligent design is not an evangelic Christian thing, or a generally Christian thing or even a generically theistic thing. . . . Intelligent design is an emerging scientific research program. Design theorists attempt to demonstrate its merits fair and square in the scientific world-without appealing to religious authority.
-William A. Dembski, The Design Revolution (2004)
[A]ny view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient. . . . [T]he conceptual soundness of a scientific theory cannot be maintained apart from Christ.
-William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology (1999)
Well, which is it? Is intelligent design (ID) merely a sophisticated form of biblical creationism, as most biologists claim, or is it science-an alternative to Darwinism that deserves discussion in the science classroom? As the two quotations above imply, you won't find the answers in the writings of the leading advocates of ID.
The ambiguity is deliberate, for ID is a theory that must appeal to two distinct constituencies. To the secular public, ID proponents present their theory as pure science. This, after all, is their justification for a slick public-relations campaign promoting the teaching of ID in the public schools. But as is clear from the infamous "Wedge Document" of the Discovery Institute, a right-wing think tank in Seattle and the center for ID propaganda, intelligent design is part of a cunning effort to dethrone materialism from society and science and replace it with theism.1 ID is simply biblical creationism updated and disguised to sneak evangelical Christianity past the First Amendment and open the classroom door to Jesus. The advocates of ID will admit this, but only to their second constituency, the sympathetic audience of evangelical Christians on whose support they rely.
Nevertheless, let us give the ID movement the benefit of the doubt. Let us suppose that ID might indeed be an alternative and superior scientific theory-one that explains the natural world better than Darwinian evolution does. Can such an argument stand up to scrutiny? Is it time for Darwinian evolution to go the way of Newtonian mechanics, as a theory good for its time but ripe for replacement by a new paradigm? No. Not only is ID markedly inferior to Darwinism at explaining and understanding nature but in many ways it does not even fulfill the requirements of a scientific theory.
What are those requirements? A scientific theory isn't just a guess or speculation, it is a convincing explanatory framework for a body of evidence about the real world. A good scientific theory makes sense of wide-ranging data that were previously unexplained. In addition, a scientific theory must make testable predictions and be vulnerable to falsification. Einstein's theory of relativity, for example, received a definitive test (and confirmation) by measurements of the bending of starlight by the sun during a solar eclipse. If a theory can't be tested or falsified, it is not a scientific theory. The theory that God caused the Big Bang, for example, isn't a scientific theory, because (while it may be true) there are no observations we can make to disprove it. When a theory has withstood many tests and made many correct predictions, it becomes a scientific fact, which we can understand as a theory having such strong support that all rational people would accept it. The theories of atoms and of chemical bonds, for example, have graduated from theory to fact. Both could conceivably be shown to be wrong-all the data supporting the existence of atoms might have been deceptive-but it's highly unlikely.
So, how do Darwinism and ID compare when judged against these criteria? Let's start by looking at Darwinism. The modern theory of evolution, called neo-Darwinism in light of 150 years of post-Darwin research, has four parts. Put simply, these are as follows:
First, evolution occurs; that is, living species are descendants of other species that lived in the past.
Second, evolutionary change occurs through the gradual genetic transformation of populations of individuals over thousands or millions of years.
Third, new forms of life arise from the splitting of a single lineage into two, a process known as speciation. This continual splitting leads to a nested genealogy of species-a "tree of life" whose root was the first species to arise and whose twigs are the millions of species living today. Trace back any pair of twigs from modern species through the branches and you will find that they share a common ancestor, represented by the node at which the branches meet.