To hear some conservatives talk, there is no room for proponents of intelligent design (ID) in the “big tent.” In recent months commentators such as John Derbyshire in National Review and George Will and Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post have inveighed against ID. Warning that “the conservative coalition” is coming unglued, Will all but called on “the storm-tossed and rudderless Republican Party” to repudiate the ID movement.
Conservatives who hope to be on the winning side, however, may want to put their money on ID, even if they harbor a few reservations at present. Here’s why. For starters, the affirmation of design is good for science. Like all knowledge, science is a pattern-seeking project. The human mind inherently seeks intelligible order. Thus the conviction that such an order exists to be found is a crucial assumption. No scientists are going to find their work diminished because they ground it in the search for an inbuilt design in nature.
Indeed, as sociologist Rodney Stark argues in To the Glory of God, modern science could have arisen only in a culture convinced that the universe is the creation of a rational mind–and is thus intelligible to our rational minds. This explains why science arose historically in medieval Europe, a period when western civilization was saturated with Christianity. Steve Fuller, a sociologist of science, offers this as one reason he testified for ID in the recent court case in Dover, Pa. “The idea that religion provided intellectual sustenance for science,” he explained on a recent blog, is “obviously borne out by history.”
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By contrast, Darwinist theory claims that the design in nature is not real but only apparent, a product of blind, mechanical forces. As arch-Darwinian Richard Dawkins said in a recent Salon interview, evolution produces “the illusion of design.” The implication for science, as Richard Rorty elaborates so clearly, is that truth is not “out there” to be discovered but is merely a social construction. Such postmodernist notions threaten to undercut the scientific enterprise.
The second reason ID will win is that, contrary to the way it is often portrayed, it does not thrive on “gaps” in science but rather on the growth of science. The argument from design first became popular during the scientific revolution, which revealed that nature is more intelligible than anyone had hitherto imagined. And the current resurgence of ID was spawned by the revolution in biochemistry, which revealed the complex engineering and information processing that goes on within the cell.
We now know that the cell bristles with molecular machinery far more complicated than anything devised by mere humans. Each cell is akin to a miniature factory town, humming with power plants and automated factories, connected by criss-crossing transport rails and directed by a headquarters (the nucleus) housing a library of coded blueprints. The more we learn about life, the less plausible is any evolutionary theory that relies on blind, undirected, piece-by-piece change.
Third, ID will win because it incorporates the insights of the high-tech world of information theory. The revolution in biochemistry revealed that the core of living things is a code, language, information (DNA). The origin of life has now been recast as the origin of complex biological information. This explains why laboratory experiments to create life have failed—because they work from the bottom up, by assembling the right materials. But life is not fundamentally about matter; it’s about information.
In today’s preferred analogy, the DNA molecule is the hardware, while the information stored and transmitted is the software. “Trying to make life by mixing chemicals in a test tube,” writes astrophysicist Paul Davies, “is like soldering switches and wires in an attempt to produce Windows 98. It won’t work because it addresses the problem at the wrong conceptual level.” The paramount role of information strongly suggests that mind preceded matter.
Fourth, ID will win because it recovers the unity of truth. Edward Purcell in The Crisis of Democratic Theory: Scientific Naturalism and the Problem of Value explains how Darwinism led to a naturalistic worldview–one in which the natural sciences were elevated to the only form of objective knowledge while “theological dogmas and philosophical absolutes were at worst totally fraudulent and at best merely symbolic of deep human aspirations.” In other words, Darwinism lent scientific support to the fact/value dichotomy, where religion and morality are dismissed as merely subjective and private, or even outright false.
As a result, ID appeals to a broad range of people concerned about overcoming the fact/value split–especially relevant during the Christmas season, when the ACLU and assorted secularists try to impose their gospel of privatized religion onto the rest of the country. As Richard John Neuhaus wrote recently in First Things, not just conservative Protestants but also “Catholics and everyone else have an enormous stake in defending the unity of truth.” BBC’s Washington correspondent Justin Webb recently asked why American social conservatives “are spending more energy fighting Charles Darwin than cutting taxes,” but the reason is clear: At stake is not just a scientific theory but a divided concept of truth that reduces religion and morality to the level of myth.
As though to prove the point, at Kansas University the chairman of the religious studies department, Paul Mirecki, announced a new course subtitled “Intelligent Design, Creationisms, and other Religious Mythologies.” Mirecki posted a note on a student atheists website bragging that he was “doing my part to [tick] off the religious right,” giving them a “slap in their big fat face by teaching [ID] . . . under the category ‘mythology.'” (Mirecki has since apologized.)
Which suggests the final reason ID will win–because it accords with the ideals of a free and open society. In our pluralistic age, schools should train students in critical thinking to prepare them to engage respectfully and intelligently with a wide range of worldviews, both religious and secular. Yet under current rules, public schools may present evidence for scientific theories that imply a strictly materialistic or secular worldview, while they are not allowed to present evidence for scientific theories that imply a non-materialistic or religious worldview (though the latter may be mocked and ridiculed, as the KU course proves).
The public cannot help but notice that many ID proponents are well educated and credentialed. Yet, as attorney Doug Kern writes in Tech Central Station, “the pro-Darwin crowd insists on the same phooey-to-the-booboisie shtick that was tiresome in Mencken’s day.” It has grown even more tiresome in our own day.