Darwinism Under Attack
View that 'intelligent force' shaped life attracts students and troubles scientists
by Beth McMurtrie
The Chronicle of Higher Education
When John L. Omdahl teaches a course on biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of New Mexico, he sets aside a portion of his last lecture to explain why he disagrees with a central tenet of evolutionary science: that Darwin's theories of random mutation and natural selection offer a reliable framework for understanding how life developed. In fact, throughout his course, the professor tries to avoid the word "evolution," which he calls a "loaded term."
To Mr. Omdahl, who has taught at the university since 1972, a more palatable explanation for the diversity of life is that an intelligent force has guided the evolutionary proc-ess. The universe is too complex, the conditions for life too exacting, to conclude that it could have developed in such a sophisticated way without help from some "external agent."
[[The article points out the reasons why many in Academia feel that ID is illegitamate science]]
The growing visibility of intelligent-design theory troubles some academics. They say that through sloppy science and deceptive logic, its advocates are winning converts among students, professors in nonscientific fields, and the public. "I don't think intelligent design is a science," says Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences. "It's a way of restating creationism in a different formulation."
[[The article gives a brief history of Intelligent Design]]
The book credited with laying out the philosophical underpinnings of the modern intelligent-design movement was published in 1991 by Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor at Berkeley who claimed that Darwinian evolution is based on scant evidence and faulty assumptions. In 1996, a biochemist at Lehigh University, Michael J. Behe, offered scientific argument in favor of intelligent design. Mr. Behe introduced the idea that some living things are irreducibly complex, meaning that they could not have evolved and must have been designed.
Two years later, a mathematician who now works at Baylor University, William A. Dembski, claimed to have developed a mathematical "explanatory filter" that could determine whether certain events, including biological phenomena, develop randomly or are the products of design.
The intelligent-design movement attacks evolutionary theory in two basic ways. Philosophically, it argues that because science refuses to consider anything but natural explanations for things, it is biased against evidence of supernatural intervention. Scientifically, it criticizes the evidence for evolution through natural processes.
The movement has expanded by pitching a big tent. It includes people like Mr. Behe, who believes that all living things evolved from a common ancestor, as well as Mr. Nelson, a creationist who believes the earth is several thousand years old. What all agree on, though, is that an intelligent force, which many of them personally believe is God, has directed the development of life.
[[The article ends by discussing ISCID and its potential for generating ID related research]]
Last year, Mr. Dembski was at the center of what many intelligent-design advocates say was a clear case of discrimination. Baylor hired him to create a research center dedicated, in large part, to intelligent-design research. A faculty uproar ensued, leading the university to appoint an external committee to review the center's mission and structure. Eventually, the center was dismantled, although Mr. Dembski continues to work on intelligent design at Baylor.
Faculty members there said they were upset because the center had been created through administrative fiat rather than academic review. By doing so, they said, the administration had given intelligent-design theory a level of credibility it had not yet earned. Mr. Dembski says today that he has the university's support, including a five-year contract, a position as associate research professor in the conceptual foundations of science, and no teaching responsibilities. But he maintains that the center was destroyed by intense political pressure from outside the university.
Undeterred, Mr. Dembski has simply carved out another route. This month, the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design was born. In a news release, the group is described as a "cross-disciplinary professional society that investigates complex systems apart from external programmatic constraints like materialism, naturalism, or reductionism." As with established academic organizations, this one offers conferences, postdoctoral fellowships, research grants, and a journal, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design.
Mr. Dembski, Mr. Behe, Jed Macosko, Mr. Nelson, and Mr. Minnich are fellows of the new society.
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