Then and Only Then: A Response to Mike Gene

By William A. Dembski

With Addendum by Jonathan Wells

 

 

Mike Gene and I used to be quite active on a private listserve some years back. I even arranged for him to give a keynote address at a private ID conference in the fall of 1997. When we were on that listserve together, I used to keep many of his posts because I thought that they were so insightful (unfortunately many were lost when a computer virus chewed up my email program). In all that time I do not recall ever taking sharp exception to him. But this time it's happened. My beef centers on Mike's comments on my exchange with Scott and Branch.

Scott and Branch write:
"Thus, school board members and administrators would be ill-advised to include ID in the public school science curriculum. If the scholarly aspect of ID becomes established–if ID truly becomes incorporated into the scientific mainstream–then, and only then, should school boards consider whether to add it to the curriculum."

I had in my response remarked that Scott and Branch's comment about my work and that of Michael Behe not having fared well in the scientific community was besides the point because it had not been refuted. In response to this Mike Gene remarked:

"S&B raise the most compelling reason to keep ID out of the schools. And it doesn't even have to be in the 'mainstream.' The simple fact that ID has not established itself in the scientific community is all we need to deny ID's entry into a high school curriculum. The counter-argument about ID not being refuted is weak. We don't teach kids things 'as long as they have not been refuted.' If we are to teach them science, we must teach them the facts, theories, and hypotheses used by scientists. And I'm afraid that the appeal to the few places where ID is discussed in the scientific literature (as mentioned by Dembski) don't counter S&B's claims. They point out that these ideas 'have not [been] applied' 'in researching scientific problems.' Yes, there was the mention of the JMB paper. But unless we can be specific and open about it, it hardly amounts to a reason to teach ID in schools. And yes, in a strange way, Thornhill and Ussery do apply the concept of IC as an impetus to outline possible mechanisms of evolutionary change. But they are simply trying to counter the 'IC means it can't evolve' claim. They were not using it as a true guide to research a biological phenomena (although I think it can be done, as explained on Brainstorms)."

To this Mike Gene then added:

"I'm in strong agreement with Scott and Branch on this point."

Indeed, we do not teach things in science simply because they have not been refuted. But I do not view my work on the design inference or Michael Behe's work on irreducible complexity of biochemical systems in the same category of "nonrefuted" as the claim that "gnomes and goblins have not refuted because no one has definitively shown that they do not exist." Our ideas are under intense discussion and we have many supporters in the scientific community (including experts in our respective disciplines), though certainly the majority is not with us at this point.

Now, what does all this say about the teaching of ID? Mike, along with S&B, takes the "high road" that ID must first be developed further as a scientific and scholarly program before it may be legitimately taught in public school science curricula. Before the dissolution of my ID think tank at Baylor, my sentiments were largely the same. But I've come to reject this view entirely. Here are the relevant considerations from my end:

(1) Evolutionary biology has been so hugely unsuccessful as a scientific theory in accounting for the origin of life and the emergence of biological complexity that it does not deserve a monopoly regardless what state of formation ID has reached.

(2) ID is logically speaking the only alternative to evolutionary biology. Either material mechanisms can do all the work in biological origins or some telic process is additionally required.

(3) Why should ID supporters allow the Darwinian establishment to indoctrinate students at the high school level, only to divert some of the brightest to becoming supporters of a mechanistic account of evolution, when by presenting ID at the high school level some of these same students would go on to careers trying to develop ID as a positive research program? If ID is going to succeed as a research program, it will need workers, and these are best recruited at a young age. The Darwinists undestand this. So do the ID proponents. There is a sociological dimension to science and to the prospering of scientific theories, and this cannot be ignored if ID is going to become a thriving research program.

My response to Scott and Branch was a puff piece -- a bit of rhetorical posturing to balance out their rhetorical posturing. The NCSE, of which they are a part, is best considered a group of paid advocates for the Darwinian establishment (and no, the same cannot be said for me on the ID side -- I'm not receiving any Discovery Institute funding, and when my contract at Baylor is up, I'll need to find another academic job).

It's all very convenient for Mike Gene to adopt a pseudonymous persona and discuss the appropriate time for ID to be introduced into the high school biology curriculum. In the neat and sanitized world of Internet discussions, this works just fine, and Mike and keep his coterie of hangers-on happy by taking the "high road." But come out of the shadows long enough to feel the brunt of the Darwinian establishment, and things look very different.

 

=-=-=-=-=-

 

Bill Dembski wrote:

 

>

> Evolutionary biology has been so hugely unsuccessful as a scientific

> theory in accounting for the origin of life and the emergence of

> biological complexity that it does not deserve a monopoly

> regardless what state of formation ID has reached.

>

 

I agree.

 

In fact, the ONLY reason Darwinian evolution enjoys its present status is

that it can claim to be the best naturalistic theory of life's origin and

biological complexity.  (Indeed, this may be the only completely truthful

claim Darwinism makes).  Any reasonably objective evaluation of the

evidence, however, quickly reveals that at most levels Darwinian theory is

not just unsupported -- it has been falsified.

 

For example, modern Darwinists predict that a living cell can arise

spontaneously from non-living chemicals.  This prediction has never been

even remotely supported by experiments, no matter how sophisticated.  If I

put a living cell into an ideal buffer solution in a clean test tube and

poke a hole in it, its contents will leak out, and I will have in hand ALL

the complex molecules and structures necessary to make a living cell; but

every biologist knows I won't be able to do it.  Even with all of modern

technology at my disposal, I can't put humpty-dumpty back together again.

Why any rational person thinks such complex molecules could originate

spontaneously and then assemble themselves into a living cell is beyond me.

 

I could list other examples: At the level of the animal phyla, the more we

learn about the fossil record the worse it is for Darwin's theory; the more

we learn about genetics the worse it is for neo-Darwinism's theory that

changes in gene frequencies lead to evolutionary changes in anatomy (except

perhaps the LOSS of morphological features); and the more we learn about

complex intracellular structures the more they look like things we KNOW to

be designed.

 

Of course Darwin's theory works within species (for example, in the

acquisition of bacterial antibiotic resistance, or minor and reversible

changes in finch beaks).  Above the species level, however, Darwin's theory

has met with so little success that if it had been a theory in physics or

chemistry it would have been discarded long ago.

 

I have read in several textbooks that "creation science" (i.e. young-earth

creationism, or YEC) has been empirically refuted, so it should not be

taught in science classes.  One does not need to take a position on the

validity of YEC to see that this same criterion, when applied to the larger

claims of Darwinian evolution, would also justify its exclusion from the

science classroom -- if it were not for the fact that it remains the best

naturalistic account.  The persistence of Darwinism is not due to its

success as empirical science, but (as Phillip Johnson has often said) its

usefulness as applied naturalistic philosophy.

 

Nevertheless, ID proponents are not arguing that the larger (and largely

falsified) claims of Darwinian evolution should be dropped from the

curriculum.  Instead, ID proponents are merely arguing (1) that the evidence

be presented honestly, so students can use their perfectly good minds to

decide whether the theory works or not; and (2) that Darwinian theory (like

every other scientific theory) be required to compete evidentially with a

reasonable alternative -- even if that alternative happens NOT to be driven

by naturalistic philosophy.  Darwinists resist both these options as though

the whole scientific enterprise were at stake.

 

And indeed it is -- but not for the reasons Darwinists trumpet.  The future

of the scientific enterprise is at stake because (in biology, at least) it

is currently held hostage by a relatively small number of dogmatists.

Darwinists achieved their monopoly over biological science by systematically

distorting the evidence and by ruthlessly expelling dissidents (why else

would Mike B. Gene feel the need to write under a pseudonym?).  Not

surprisingly, this biological equivalent of the dictatorship of the

proletariat wants to exclude from the curriculum ALL challenges to its

power. 

 

I say: Keep up the pressure on them, by all truthful and ethical means

necessary.  At stake is not just the future of science, but (as Ben Wiker's

new book, Moral Darwinism clearly shows) the future of our civilization.

 

Jonathan Wells

Discovery Institute