Review: Intelligent Thought pt. 1

As mentioned in a recent post, I have been reading the collection of essays, Intelligent Thought: Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement. I stated previously that I bought this book partially because I was curious to see what was said about ID, especially since the list of names include quite a few prominent names like Dawkins and Dennett. So here are some of my thoughts upon completion of the book, starting first here with summary comments on the introduction and the first essays and in my next post with the last essays and the coherence of the whole.

First, a few comments on editor John Brockman’s introduction: It is all too apparent to me that Brockman is not a scientist (he’s a businessman, publisher, and editor) because of several errors he makes. One is that science is doomed if intelligent design is given credence (he ends the introduction by referring to ID advocates as “Visigoths”), a very questionable slippery slope that has been dealt with quite a few times in the past by ID advocates. Another is the mischaracterization of educational initiatives in places like Kansas as an”anti-evolutionist tide” when close investigation reveals that they are instead wanting to look at evolution critically – its strengths and weaknesses – rather than the current one-sided view (and these initiatives generally exclude discussion of alternative theories like creation science and ID). A third yet is the claim that “Europeans cannot believe that such an argument should be raging in the twenty-first century” (p. x of introduction), since the same debate is “raging” in many European countries, especially Britain, where the organization Truth in Science has been stirring up things (with the help of some prominent British thinkers like Antony Flew). Finally, the book ends with selections from the Kitzmuller v. Dover Area School District judgment, which has been criticized for its copious amounts of copying from the ACLU pre-trial “Findings of Fact” brief and the fact that Judge Jones overstepped his bounds in saying that ID is not science. In other words, it is fairly obvious that Brockman has accepted the party line without question, and so the hopes of this book being a fair look at intelligent design are very slim.

Now, on to the first set of essays (and I will try to be as brief as possible):

Essay #1: Jerry Coyne, Intelligent Design: The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name – This is actually one of the best essays in this collection in that it does raise some good points about the shortcomings of ID and the strengths of evolution. However, it also adds in some that are not true – for instance, Coyne claims that “imperfections and inefficiencies make sense only if one assumes that evolution has occurred!” (p. 9, emphasis his). The problem with this statement is that he presents the ID counterargument to this in the immediately preceding context – that dysteleological arguments to rule out a designer are unscientific (and I would add ‘generally irrational’ to that) – and circumvents it with a rather hand-waving “But IDers are missing the point here”. Oddly, he never says why. He also considers the “inability” of IDers to make a coherent stance about the age of the earth to be detrimental to the movement, which strikes me as odd considering that this is a way to create solidarity among peoples who think that there is some creative force at work in the universe. Coyne seems to have missed the point here.

Essay #2: Leonard Susskind, The Good Fight – This essay focuses quite a bit on the cultural struggle (as the name suggests), noting past struggles between religion and science (here comes the ubiquitous Galileo reference) and claiming this is just another one that the guardians of science must fight off. Yawn. Here we find echoes of the introduction: ID advocates are now “hard-core creationists” and “masters of manipulation” (p. 32).

Essay #3: Daniel C. Dennett, The Hoax of Intelligent Design and How It Was Perpetrated – I was expecting no less than this essay from Dennett, having read his NY Times editorial called “Show Me the Science”, which he in fact borrows from in this essay. One huge problem with the essay is an apparent contradiction (which Dennett doesn’t bother to explain) between his characterization of the movement as a “hoax” with his backtracking later to say that ID theorists like William Dembski and Michael Behe aren’t “deliberate hoaxers” and that they “fervently believe they have seen the truth” (p.44). Can someone please point out to Dennett that the phrase “deliberate hoaxer” is a mindnumbingly redundant pleonasm? [Kudos to those of you who caught that.] Next, please.

[I will discuss essays #4 and #7 by Nicholas Humphrey and Richard Dawkins (respectively) in later posts.]

Essay #5: Tim D. White, Human Evolution: The Evidence – White talks for 17 pages about the evidence for human evolution. Take that, creationists! Wait, weren’t we talking about intelligent design…?

Essay #6: Neil H. Shubin, The “Great” Transition – Shubin talks for 10 pages (thank God it was less than White) about the transitional evidence from fish to tetrapods. Man, this “ID = creationism” tripe is really entrenched. Moving on.

Essay #8: Frank J. Sulloway, Why Darwin Rejected Intelligent Design – Credit #2 for a great essay goes to Sulloway, a historian of science (thankfully), who discusses Darwin’s conversion from creationism to evolution (are you sensing a pattern here?). His treatment is thorough and insightful, showing how Darwin rejected creationist theories like “centers of creation” to create his own theory that was immensely more predictive. Sulloway also talks about Darwin’s initial influence by William Paley (who is infamous for his “divine watchmaker” analogy from his Natural Theology), which certainly gives some insight into why Darwin rejected creationism. It does not, however, address why people today should reject intelligent design on the grounds of what we know today – it only asserts at the end of the essay that since Darwin rejected intelligent design, “any well-informed person ought to reject it” as well (p.125). Which raises the question (to quote Bill Dembski): “Is it that ID proponents don’t understand evolution or that we understand it well enough and think it’s bogus?”

Look for part II shortly.


One Response to Review: Intelligent Thought pt. 1

  1. […] Intelligent Thought pt. 2 Continuing from part I, here are my comments on the last eight essays in the collection, with a short summary at the […]

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