Some years ago I became interested in criticizing the latest mutation of creationism, intelligent design. In 2004, this culminated in the publication of Why Intelligent Design Fails, one of the leading books critical of ID, which I co-edited with Matt Young.
Lately I’ve eased off on ID, because I decided that I had said what I could about the subject. ID just wasn’t intellectually interesting anymore: having figured out exactly why ID fails, we could learn what we could from that and move on. And ID proponents have not come up with anything truly new in years; they seem to have settled into a pattern of reasserting the same stuff and patting each other in the back about how revolutionary they all are.
Still, I keep an eye on what’s going on in the ID area. Old interests don’t vanish overnight. And I admit I am curious about the sense of triumph many ID writers tend to project. William Dembski keeps announcing that it’s obvious to everyone but the dogmatic “Darwinists” that Darwinian evolution is, intellectually, a spent force. ID proponents still promote Dembski’s pathetic “Explanatory Filter” and “Complex Specified Information” as luminous breakthroughs that are the centerpiece of the effort to rigorously indentify an irreducible signature of intelligence. Michael Behe announces that ten years after Darwin’s Black Box, his critics have utterly failed to make headway with Darwinian explanations of molecular machinery in cells, and that he feels completely vindicated and more confident about ID than ever. And I just read Darwin Strikes Back, Thomas Woodward’s insider “history” of the ID movement’s recent doings, which transports the reader to a bizarre alternative universe where ID proponents are all pinnacles of intellectual virtue, where both theoretical developments and empirical data strongly undermine naturalistic, Darwinian “macroevolution,” and where mainstream scientists hold on to Darwinian ideas almost entirely because of an ideological commitment to philosophical materialism. From the perspective of someone entrenched in the scientific mainstream such as myself, there is hardly a paragraph in Woodward’s account of ID and its critics that is credible. And yet, he writes with the same overwhelming sense of confidence. He sincerely thinks that he’s in the middle of an exciting intellectual revolution, that ID should be victorious at any moment (it’s held back only by dogmatism and institutional inertia), and that the intellectual case for ID is all but wrapped up.
So, I can’t help but be curious: where does this confidence come from? Someone here is severely deluded: ID proponents or their critics within mainstream science. Now, I think I can recognize crappy work that’s not up to intellectual standards, and I’m pretty sure ID fits the description. I think there are some severe, likely fatal critiques of ID out there, and that most ID critics have done an honest (if often thankless) job rather than act under the influence of “metaphysical panic” as ID proponents would have it. The scientific community—which I think is by and large trustworthy, though not perfect— seems to be overwhelmingly against ID. Yet with all that, I’m damned if I can pump myself up to be so chirpily confident that I’m correct. It’d feel ridiculous. So again, what’s with the ID crowd?