Joined: May 2002
Van Harvey's review is trenchant and confirms what I've been able to read of Wiker on the web.
The article from April/May: http://www.crisismagazine.com/april2003/feature1.htm
Next installment is coming out in July I guess.
Archiving the letters as the URL looks non-permanent:
Science and Intelligent Design
In his piece, "Does Science Point to God? The Intelligent Design Revolution" (April 2003), the author, Benjamin D. Wiker, makes several common mistakes. The first and most critical is the assumption that Darwinism, taken to its extreme, calls into question the existence of a purposeful Creator. If we drop the simplistic idea that creation by "design" means something mechanistic has to be happening and allow instead for a broader control that does not rule out novelty, then the entire set of arguments given in his article become beside the point. After all, God can create any way He wants, and it's not our job to tell Him how He has to do it, but rather to find out precisely what He did. To me, mechanistic creation makes God in our image and likeness, which I read in Genesis is the opposite of what happened. (Frankly, such a view of life is also boring, and the Creator is probably anything but that.)
The other assumption here is the argument (currently very popular) from complexity. It goes something like this: "The structures we see, from DNA to the eye or similarly complex organs, are too complex for evolution to have built them up from less complex intermediate forms." This essentially boils down to, "Since we can't figure out how such complexity arose, then it must have taken God to make those things." And so we're back to an earlier paradigm of the "God of the Gaps," which says that whenever we can't figure out how something happened, we attribute it to God—pretty risky business.
Wiker allows for the universe to be unimaginably old and, having once been set in motion, to develop by physical laws in a controlled but stochastic manner. He then goes on to suggest that for biology to start, the Creator had to once again give creation a push. One wonders why one push wasn't enough for the Lord of the universe to achieve His purposes.
He cites the so-called Cambrian explosion as evidence that Darwinian ideas are incorrect, yet ignores Gould and Eldrige's suggested correction of punctuated equilibrium. Is he suggesting that, at the outset of the Cambrian, God had to step in to get the ball rolling? He also ignores the pre-Cambrian wealth of soft-bodied creatures (harder to fossilize). Did God have to get those started also? How many times does he think God had to step in? The answer seems to be every time that Wiker can't explain what or how something happened. This turns the almighty Creator into a tinkerer, who can get things going but has to help them out every now and then. This is pretty much the God of the Gaps warmed over.
Wiker's thesis is that those who think things got kicked off and have developed on their own have to be atheists. This is nonsense. To counter this idea, I recommend an excellent book by Kenneth Miller that deals with all this and more: Finding Darwin's God. It deals with all this stuff and shows how most of it is poor science or wishful thinking. In short, a loving, provident Creator could easily have made the universe we see without having to periodically inject Himself to fix things. As John Polkinghorne has written, we see a universe run by controlling laws but with the ability to generate endless novelty.
Wiker seems to be concerned that Darwinism will cause people not to believe in God. In my experience most people question God's existence because of evil in the world, which ID has a very hard time explaining but stochastic variation encompasses easily.
I agree with Wiker in one sense. Science has found nothing that rules out a Creator. Indeed, the anthropic principle is the embodiment of the comforting fact that all of creation is at least consistent with ID, if not proof of it. Finally, many of us think that the Creator most likely would not have left fingerprints in creation, else we'd be forced to acknowledge God's existence, which would in some sense violate free will and faith. For me, it's enough to know that nothing yet found by science contradicts God's existence, and actually science is showing us a creation quite comfortable with having been created by a loving, purposeful, but extremely clever God.
Charles Keller, Ph.D. Los Alamos, New Mexico
Benjamin Wiker's article, "Does Science Point to God? The Intelligent Design Revolution," dramatically overstates the case for the claims of Intelligent Design (ID).
If ID has had a significant impact on modern science, it is virtually undetectable. Its proponents typically do not publish claims about it in scientific journals, preferring to bypass the rigors of peer review for the safety of popular books published by right-wing and/or religious publishers. (Wiker's own book, Moral Darwinism, was published by the evangelical InterVarsity Press.) In 1997, George Gilchrist surveyed several hundred thousand scientific papers but "failed to discover a single instance of biological research using intelligent design theory to explain life's diversity." A similar study in 2001 by Barbara Forrest failed to turn up a single paper.
Wiker also fails to reveal that the arguments of both Behe and Dembski, supposedly the leading intellectuals of the ID movement, are fatally flawed. Brown biologist Kenneth Miller has completely dismantled Behe's claims about "irreducible complexity," and I addressed Dembski's bogus claims about "complex specified information" in a recent issue of BioSystems.
Wiker falsely claims that "ID theory affirms the universe to be 15 billion years old." On the contrary, leading intellectuals of the ID movement, such as Phillip Johnson, have repeatedly stressed that ID makes no predictions about the age of the universe. (This allows Johnson to garner support from fundamentalists who believe in an earth created at most 10,000 years ago.)
There are many other errors in Wiker's piece, but I will stop here. Suffice it to say that never before in the history of science has there been so much hoopla over so few results. ID is simply a vast propaganda exercise, funded by the Discovery Institute, and dedicated to replacing modern science with a flavor of Christian theology. It should be rejected by any thinking person, whether religious or not.
Jeffrey Shallit, Ph.D. University of Waterloo Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Benjamin Wiker responds:
I thank Drs. Shallit and Keller both for taking the time to offer their various criticisms of my article. The worst thing that could happen to the Intelligent Design (ID) movement would be refusing to face the most trenchant criticisms of its presuppositions, arguments, and conclusions. Of course, I also believe that the worst thing that has already happened to evolutionary theory is that its proponents do not face the most trenchant criticisms of its presuppositions, arguments, and conclusions. ID, if nothing else, is the gadfly whose sting the evolutionists should welcome.
To begin with Dr. Shallit, he's half right in remarking that I dramatically overstated the case for ID. I was indeed dramatic, but lacking space, I was dramatically understating the case, hoping to spark interest in readers so that they'd read more extensively about ID. For my part, I assure Shallit that I'll make up for my deficiencies in my next two (yet-to-be-written) books.
It's simply false to say that ID has had no impact on modern science. As any historian of science well knows, if you leave out the impact of ID, modern science is historically unintelligible. If we survey the most prominent scientists from 1600 to 1800—those giants of modern science upon whose shoulders contemporary science stands—we find that, almost to a man, they believed that science was possible because the order of nature was intelligently designed. About the time of Darwin, that assumption changes, and not just because Darwin explicitly sought to eliminate design from biology. Darwinism was merely part of an overall shift to a secular culture, a shift that has its origins not in science as such but in the materialist assumptions that came to define science. Please see my book, Moral Darwinism, for more details.
Shallit can, with some truth, state that ID is not yet having an impact on contemporary science, but that's precisely because science is currently controlled by materialist assumptions—a sociological and historical fact, not a scientific one. That would help explain why no one dares make explicit mention of ID in the journals. The jury of peers in such peer-reviewed journals are stacked against it.
I believe that Gilchrist and Forrest would find overwhelming evidence that current biological research uses design if they had searched properly. Instead of searching merely the titles and abstracts for "intelligent design," they should try searching the actual texts for the number of times authors use the word "design." You will find, I assure you, that in those "several hundred thousand scientific papers," it is used several hundred thousand times at the very least. Why? Because working biologists spend almost all of their time investigating actual, functional living organisms, wherein they assume (as with all things designed) that the functional integrity of the organism is the touchstone against which all research into the biological minutiae of the parts must be scratched. The functional integrity is the design.
That's why even arch-Darwinian Richard Dawkins asserts that "biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose" (emphasis added). The functional complexity of the living thing is not at issue, otherwise it wouldn't appear to be designed. The fight occurs in regard to the cause of the design, not the fact of design. Darwinists assume it's the result of a series of accidents; ID proponents argue that it's the result of both intelligence and accident.
In this disagreement, we find two quite interesting things. First, ID proponents may allow for a great deal of chance, for it's the preexisting design, the functional integrity of the living thing, that permits chance to have a form, so that it can have an effect. By contrast, Darwinists are far more parsimonious, not allowing even a whisper of intelligence lest their entire edifice crumble. Second, as Michael Behe has found through equally extensive searches in scientific journals, when evolution is even addressed by practicing biologists—which is rare—it invariably takes the form of "unsupported attributions of a feature to evolution," or unverifiable just-so stories. Most biologists are concerned not with evolution but with the analysis and description of living organisms.
As for ID making no predictions about the age of the Earth, I think that is quite sane. The second-to-last I heard, scientists thought it to be 15 billion years old. Then, after I'd sent in my article, they informed us that it was only
13.7 billion years old. For myself, I now fear to make predictions even into next week. In any case, an effect can be known to be designed, even if we're not able to discern exactly when it was caused.
Finally, readers should judge for themselves whether Behe's and Dembski's arguments have been "dismantled." I suspect if readers take the time to examine the following replies by Behe, Dembski, and others, they'll find that the reports of the death of ID have been greatly exaggerated: M. J. Behe's "The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis: Breaking Rules" in God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science, ed. Neil Manson, 277-291; "Reply to My Critics: A Response to Reviews of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," Biology and Philosophy 16: 685-709; "Self-Organization and Irreducibly Complex Systems: A Reply to Shanks and Joplin," Philosophy of Science 67: 155-162. For William Dembski's replies to critics, go to www.designinference.com.
And now for Keller's letter. In one sense, Keller seems to have twice joined me in his own refutation. He ends by asserting that the anthropic principle is not only valid but "is at least consistent with intelligent design if not proof of it." Yet he begins by chiding me for allowing an ID foot in the biological door. Alas, he does not tell me why what is perfectly reasonable cosmologically is perfectly reprehensible biologically.
Or again, Keller warns me that "God can create any way He wants, and it's not our job to tell Him how He has to do it, but rather to find out precisely what He did." Then he goes on to inform me that God could only touch His creation, as it were, right at the beginning and would only be demonstrating His inferiority by touching it again. For Keller, God is not God unless He rules in absentia. Rather than rule how God must rule, I do believe Keller was right the first time. Let the evidence be our guide.
As for the rest, I have no problems with stochastic explanations— stochos in Greek means both an aim (i.e., as in shooting an arrow at a target) and a guess (and hence by derivation, taking a chance, or involving chance). To return to a point already made, ID allows for chance but makes the quite obvious claim that chance in order to have an effect, is always subordinate to design, or form. A chance is always a chance of something. The chance of rolling a six on a die is determined by the shape, or form, of the die. In biology, the preexisting functional integrity of the living thing makes possible any effect of natural selection—as is well known, pre-biological natural selection is a contradiction in terms. Therefore natural selection is subordinate to design.
Is ID a desperately disguised god-of-the-gaps? Indeed not. The criticisms coming from ID proponents arise from knowledge, not ignorance. For example, it is our knowledge of the prebiological conditions of the Earth that allows us to reject the possibility that amino acids could spontaneously form the first proteins; it is our knowledge of chemistry and the actual complexity of cells that allows us to reject the silly notion that the first proteins could have been formed on the surfaces of silicate clays; it is our knowledge of the general deleterious effect of mutations that allows us to reject the continual recourse to mutation miracles by Darwinists.
I look forward to hearing again from readers—and critics—when Part II appears in the July/August issue.
Other Wiker articles online:
Playing Games with Good & Evil: The failure of Darwinism to explain morality
Alot of egregious misunderstanding of game theory and a complete lack of mention of things like kin selection.
This part I find especially priceless:
In contrast to Darwinism, the theory of natural law assumes that human beings are distinct from all other animals. As St. Thomas Aquinas argued in his Summa Theologiae, human beings alone among the animals have "a share of the Eternal Reason," since they are made in the image of God, and "this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law." Such reasoning assumes that human nature is permanently defined and that all human beings are of the same species, subject to the same moral dictates of the natural law. Thus, for example, "Do not murder["] is a moral command rooted in and defined by the nature of the human species.
Here, he explicitly notes that (in Christian natural law theory), morality is not a simple matter of "do what God says". Such a simple morality does not explain why we have a moral sense, why we should follow it, why it lines up (presumably) with God's commandments, and why we should follow God's commandments in the first place.
With Aquinas and presumably Wiker, however, the moral sense is a fundamental part of human nature, in the same way that, say, language ability is fundamental. We can no more rid ourselves of the moral sense than we could our language ability or our breathing ability, or our other fundamental drives such as hunger. Since human nature is effectively universal (to humans), it applies to everyone. This is pretty clear in the works of Bishop Joseph Butler.
The irony is that once this is established, you have a foundation for morality that is origins-independent. Sure, this moral theory works fine if human nature is directly designed by God (as Wiker and presumably Aquinas would have it). But it also works fine if that same human nature was arrived at by natural processes.
What Darwin was actually trying to do in chapter 4 of Descent of Man
(link: http://pages.britishlibrary.net/charles....04.html )
...was to argue that natural selection could arrive at such a human nature, and furthermore probably would in any species with a similar natural history, complex sociality, and language.