August 4, 2005

Let's see some ID


A few weeks ago, New Scientist ran a package of articles about intelligent design that is worth revisiting now. Officially available only to NS subscribers, parts of it have been reposted here.

The first article, "A Battle for Science's Soul" [scroll to "Gabrielle, July 9, 9:44], explains why ID is "far more radical and much more dangerous" than garden-variety (pun intended) creationism in that IDers seek to "redefine science itself to include non-natural or supernatural explanations for natural phenomena."

The second, "A Skeptic's Guide to Intelligent Design [scroll to "Gabrielle, July 9, 9:45], casually demolishes the premises of ID in a manner not quite as thorough as H. Allen Orr's recent New Yorker essay but much more accessible to the layperson.

This article also discusses The Wedge Strategy, a founding document of the Discovery Institute that leaked out a while back. It spells out in no uncertain terms that the leading (only?) ID think-tank was actually created "to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies [and] replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God." (SCLM alert: recent articles mentioning intelligent design: 1,030; recent articles mentioning the Discovery Institute: 65; recent articles mentioning the Wedge Strategy: 2.)

A third article, Survival of the Slickest, isn't available in full but it begins, "Science only functions with the presumption of honesty. It flounders when confronted by those who knowingly and willingly distort the truth."

I flashed to this after reading the Discovery Institute's willingly distorted answer to the question [scroll to #6], "Is research about intelligent design published in peer-reviewed journals and monographs?" The short answer, "Yes," is immediately followed by a barrage of doublespeak making clear that the longer answer is, "no."

First we get the classic "I'll show them who's mad!" defensiveness about "hostility" from the establishment, without which there would obviously be a lot MORE peer-reviewed ID work. Then we get a mention of a few books. I'm not an academic, so correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that book divisions do not peer-review with anything like the same rigor and stringency of journals. This is followed by the carefully worded sentence, "Michael Behe has defended his concept of 'irreducible complexity' in the peer-reviewed journal Philosophy of Science published by the University of Chicago," which to me means that he wrote a non-pr'd letter to the journal in response to a pr'd critique of his work. This is followed by the priceless, "There is also now a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on design theory, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design," i.e., "We don't need to be picked for your stupid team. We'll start our own team and pick ourselves." And finally the vague and meaningless, "the works of design theorists are starting to be cited by other scholars in peer-reviewed journals such as the Annual Review of Genetics." Cited how, exactly?

This FAQ page is dated, however, and more recently the DI has posted a Bibliography of Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design that is, at least on the surface, a lot more careful.

Lacking the time and expertise to dissect it, I've posed a question about its claims to Slate's Explainer, which has covered aspects of this subject before. I do know (thanks to CSICOP) that one article touted on this page was involuntarily withdrawn after the publisher determined that it was "not published in accordance with the journal's established review procedure" and was "a crock of shit" (OK, that's a paraphrase). I invite academic-oriented readers to post their thoughts about whether ID has been sufficiently peer-reviewed here or on their own blogs (let me know if you do).

Further reading: Robert Wright and Will Saletan on ID. CSICOP on why evolution doesn't say what the anti-Darwinists say it does. New Scientist on what it does say (attention list fans: check out the sidebar on life's 10 greatest inventions). And Evolution Blog picked the wrong time to go on vacation.

Update: Slate Explainer Daniel Engber passed on my question, but notes that in the past he's written critically about the notion that peer review is an automatic stamp of legitimacy and suggests that if ID theories have been published in pr'd journals, that only proves his point. He also confirms my understanding that books are not peer-reviewed in anything close to the same manner as journal articles.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Nice recap. Another decent critique of ID, and lotsa links to relevant articles, can be found at The Skeptic's Dictionary.

Are we debating Darwin here?....and forget God for a moment!!
Here's a thought....genetic engineering is moving genes across the evolutionary tree.
(eg. bacterial genes in animals and plants). ...and by the way, we're just starting out!!!
What would a far future student (human/non-human) of genomics make of this?
Can anyone say for sure that our genome or other species genomes haven't
already been "intelligently" altered? Can anyone
say for sure that it isn't possible to "design" a
living organism from scratch? Isn't this kind of
work being done right now?......and....guess what?
....isn't this truly "intelligent design"...er...that can possibly (maybe easily)
be passed down eons from now to be pondered by future "Darwinists"???....the "intelligent design"
portion being hidden but still operating in the nooks and crannies of the organisms "normal" evolution!!

Check out "The Panda's Thumb" (http://www.pandasthumb.org/) and "Pharyngula" (http://pharyngula.org/) for some high-octane debunking of ID from P.Z. Myers, a biology prof at the U. of Minnesota.

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