John G. West Political Scientist and Cultural Critic

Contra ISSR, Darwinism, Not Intelligent Design, Is the Real “Science Stopper”

Published at Evolution News

The International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR), a group founded in 2002, recently issued an ill-informed statement attacking intelligent design as a “science stopper.” But as today’s guest columnist, Dr. Angus Menuge, points out, ISSR got things backwards. A professor of philosophy at Concordia University-Wisconsin, Dr. Menuge is author of the excellent study, Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science (Rowman and Littlefield) and a contributing author to Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA (Cambridge University Press).

Comment on the ISSR Statement on Intelligent Design

by Angus Menuge, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Concordia University-Wisconsin

The ISSR statement includes the following paragraph about Intelligent Design (ID):

We believe that intelligent design is neither sound science nor good theology. Although the boundaries of science are open to change, allowing supernatural explanations to count as science undercuts the very purpose of science, which is to explain the workings of nature without recourse to religious language. Attributing complexity to the interruption of natural law by a divine designer is, as some critics have claimed, a science stopper. Besides, ID has not yet opened up a new research program. In the opinion of the overwhelming majority of research biologists, it has not provided examples of “irreducible complexity” in biological evolution that could not be explained as well by normal scientifically understood processes. Students of nature once considered the vertebrate eye to be too complex to explain naturally, but subsequent research has led to the conclusion that this remarkable structure can be readily understood as a product of natural selection. This shows that what may appear to be “irreducibly complex” today may be explained naturalistically tomorrow.

Unfortunately, this reaction to ID rests on a simple mistake. Inferring design from irreducible complexity does not at all “stop science,” but invites investigation into the control program that assembles the IC system, as Behe’s latest book, The Edge of Evolution, details. The problem is a persistent false picture of designer as fairy godmother, rather than designer as computer engineer who works through means. If I infer design from a print-out of the Mona Lisa, I am not at all discouraged from investigating the mechanisms (photography, scanners, computer software and hardware) used to bring that designed product to us. Design isn’t committed to the idea that every time a phenomenon is identified as designed, the designer must have immediately brought it into existence. This is as silly as thinking that because ID sees design in human beings, it is claiming they were brought into the world by supernatural storks, and not through the means of reproduction.

In truth, as has been often mentioned by proponents of ID, it is Darwinism that is a science stopper and/or retarder, because it allows people to accept non-functionality too easily and to accept non-testable just-so stories because they are the sort of thing that “just has to be true,” regardless of the evidence.

As with scholastic science, why bother to look if “the philosopher” (then, Aristotle; now, Darwin) has proclaimed it must be thus and so?

What’s more, design is already promoting research because methodological design is more useful than methodological materialism. This is the point of Michael Ruse:

We treat organisms-the parts at least-as if they were manufactured, as if they were designed, and then try to work out their functions. End-directed thinking-teleological thinking-is appropriate in biology because, and only because, organisms seem as if they were manufactured, as if they had been created by an intelligence and put to work.

Michael Ruse, Darwin and Design, 268.

It is also reinforced by Bruce Alberts’ claim that 21st century biologists will need to learn the principles of engineering and computer science (design principles):

Why do we call the large protein assemblies…machines? Precisely because, like the machines invented by humans…these protein assemblies contain highly coordinated moving parts.

Bruce Alberts, “The Cell as a Collection of Protein Machines: Preparing the Next Generation of Molecular Biologists,” Cell, Vol. 92, 1998, p. 291.

The fact that these scientists all claim that nature does it all, doesn’t show a thing: it is a statement of faith that plays no substantive role in the actual experimental analysis given. Design does all the heavy lifting; then the attributes of the designer are transferred mythologically to natural selection, without evidence. As A. S. Wilkins wrote,

The subject of evolution occupies a special, and paradoxical, place within biology as a whole. While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky’s dictum that nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution, most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas. Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one.

A.S. Wilkins, Evolutionary processes: a special issue, BioEssays, December(2000), 22, 1051-2.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
Discovery Institute