Origins and the Scientific Community
Karl Giberson, director of Gordon College's Forum on Faith and Science, Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and Marcus Ross, a professor of geology at Liberty University suggest the best ways the intelligent design movement can gain academic credibility.
Find a Fertile Idea
Karl Giberson, director of Gordon College's Forum on Faith and Science
Leaders of the intelligent design (ID) movement—William Dembski, Stephen C. Meyer, Michael Behe, Paul Nelson, Jonathan Wells—write mainly for popular audiences and have a negligible presence—as ID theorists—in scientific literature.
To get credibility in the academy, these theorists need to engage the academy by publishing in its journals and attending its meetings. But first they need a fertile idea—one that generates new scientific knowledge.
ID's central thesis—that biological systems show scientific evidence of intelligent design—has not developed to the point where it can make specific predictions that lead to new knowledge. At the end of the 18th century, William Paley wrote about how the intricate mechanics of a watch provide evidence of a designer. Two centuries later, Behe is making the same argument about the flagellum of the bacterium.
If ID proponents want to update Paley's arguments for the 21st century, they need to show how their version is more fertile. Paley-era biologists—many of them Christians—did not abandon Paley because his design arguments were refuted; they weren't. They moved on because his ideas were sterile. Good scientific ideas, like atomic theory, gravity, quarks, and genetics, are rich. Such ideas are like bags of popcorn in the microwave, exploding with new insights into nature.
Two decades ago, Phillip Johnson launched the ID movement with Darwin on Trial. He galvanized the search for a study of biology without evolution. Ambitious agendas were developed. Promises were made in those early days that ID would produce new scientific knowledge.
It hasn't. ID's ideas are no better developed now than they were in the 1990s. And many of the ideas—like the irreducible complexity of the blood-clotting cascade and the bacterial flagellum—have grown measurably weaker as research has successfully "reduced" the complexity. Little progress has been made on even articulating a definition of design, and different ID theorists look for the definition of design in different places.
ID's own thinkers disagree about such basic questions as common ancestry and the age of the earth. A paradigm so vaguely articulated and inconsistently embraced by its own adherents will not win over a skeptical scientific community.
I would love to see ID redirect its energies to developing a genuinely fertile idea. Stop trying to prove that Darwin caused the Holocaust or that evolution is ruining Western civilization. Agree among yourselves that the earth is old, since science has proven that. Do not call world-class scientists "cranks," as Meyer implies in Signature in the Cell. Do not claim that evolution is collapsing, when everyone in the field knows it isn't. Stop claiming that you cannot get your work published in conventional journals when you aren't submitting papers to these journals.
Instead, roll up your sleeves and get to work on the big idea. Develop it to the point where it starts spinning off new insights into nature so that we know more because of your work. Then the academy will welcome you with open arms. Science loves rebels.