Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design
reviewed by Louis Markos
The intelligent design (ID) movement has come a long way since Phillip E. Johnson’s crusading book, Darwin on Trial (1991), challenged its readers to question not only the science behind Darwinian (macro) evolution but also the academic-political-media establishment that dismisses as “unscientific” any discussion of origins that does not adhere religiously to the dogma of scientific naturalism.
Johnson’s call was heard by Michael Behe, who, in Darwin’s Black Box (1996), argued that Darwinian (naturalistic) evolution was incapable of assembling complex chemical structures, and by William Dembski, who, in The Design Inference (1998), proposed a method by which researchers could test whether a phenomenon was the result of necessity, chance, or design.
Still, the movement lacked a historian. Enter Thomas Woodward, who teaches systematic theology and the history of science at Trinity College of Florida, whose 2003 book Doubts About Darwin provided a clear and comprehensive history of the major figures, books, and breakthroughs that have marked the growing success of ID.
In Darwin Strikes Back, he explores the animosity that ID has provoked from the academy and the media. He carefully documents how its critics have changed their tactics since 2000, shifting from ridicule andcondescension to outright attack and accusation, attempting to undercut ID’s strong scientific foundation while associating ID with theocracy, witch trials, and the end of progress. No longer willing (or able) to ignore the arguments of ID, they have grown increasingly dishonest and uncivil.
The charge that ID is religion disguised as science was, of course, raised against Johnson, but the “religion, not science” label, used sporadically in the 1990’s, became [after 2000] a vehement first volley in almost every rhetorical encounter between the two sides. Often it was closely tied to the charge that many adherents of ID theory were known to be “religious” or, even more rhetorically poisonous, “fundamentalists.”
In God, the Devil, and Darwin (2004), for example, an Oxford University Press book praised by Science as a “cogent and well-argued alarum” that “deftly skewers the scientific pretensions of intelligent design creationists,” historian of science Niall Shanks declared that “a culture war is currently being waged in the United States by religiousextremists who hope to turn the clock of science back to medieval times.” This war is an important fragment of a much larger rejection of the secular, rational, democratic ideals of the Enlightenment upon which the United States was founded. The chief weapon in this war is a version of creation science known as Intelligent Design Theory. . . . At the fat end [of ID’s wedge strategy] lurks the specter of fundamentalist Christian theocracy.
According to Woodward, one of the key players in the fight against ID’s “fundamentalist takeover” is Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), whose “goal is not only to warn the pro--evolution constituency of these threats but to seek to block and thwart them at every turn.” As a typical example of the extent of her efforts, he documents how, along with the ACLU, she pressured a Washington state high-school superintendent into prohibiting a biology teacher from bringing into his classroom information critical of Darwinism, even though that information had appeared in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals.
ID Strikes Back
Having established the general rhetorical tone of ID criticism, Woodward surveys the major critiques not only of Behe’s irreducible complexity and Dembski’s design inference, but of ID research in the fields of paleontology (the Cambrian Explosion), biochemistry (DNA), physics and cosmology (the Big Bang and the Finely Tuned Universe), and the history of science (textbook misinformation). He then lets us hear Behe and the others answer, point by point, the charges of their critics.
Woodward concludes with a promise: that the wedge ID has driven into Darwinism will soon (“by 2025 at the latest”) split open the “aging paradigm” of “nature-driven macroevolution.” New naturalistic paradigms will spring up to take the place of Darwinism, but he argues that these new paradigms will be less rigidly defined and will allow for the parallel growth of ID research that accepts microevolution (adaptation) while insisting on the need for design.
Although well organized and uniformly engaging, Darwin Strikes Back badly needs a timeline that can double as a bibliography. Woodward is most helpful in documenting ID responses to what I consider the most successful anti-ID book of the last decade, Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God (1999), but he needs to devote more than two pages to answering the critiques of Evangelical and Catholic Darwinists who argue that God initiated the universe but subsequently refrained from intervening in nature.
Still, these are minor concerns. Darwin Strikes Back offers both a unique, rhetorical history of the ID versus Darwinism debate and an accessible primer on how proponents of ID may best defend their position.
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