Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Nature Profiles Intelligent Design

Speaking of grudging concessions, Nature, a prestigious international science journal, has run several articles on Intelligent Design in its April 28 issue. William Dembski comments:

Bottom line: ID still isn't science and is dead wrong, but too many people are taking it seriously, so it needs to be addressed seriously. This is an important concession. Look for more to come.
Reading the linked article and the attached editorial, I am struck by the fact that the focus is completely on the human interest aspect of ID advocates and completely ignores or misstates the actual argument of ID. One example among many:
Others, including Cordova himself, arrived at intelligent design from almost the opposite direction. Over a coffee earlier that day, he explains how intelligent design helped him resolve his own spiritual crisis five years ago. Since high school, Cordova had been a devout Christian, but as he studied science and engineering at George Mason, he found his faith was being eroded. "The critical thinking and precision of science began to really affect my ability to just believe something without any tangible evidence," he says. The breaking point came in 2000 when a woman from his Bible study group put her faith before her personal safety - traveling to Afghanistan as part of a covert Christian mission in a country that was, at the time, a militant Islamic theocracy. He felt unhappy accepting the promotion of such activities unless he could be sure Christianity was a true faith.
Frankly, I could care less about how he feels about ID, Evolution or Christianity. My interest in the subject is with the quality of the ideas. It is true that ID is a school of thought with quite a few lacunae in its argument, but such gaps can best be filled by discussing the theory as it stands and challenging both sides to come up with answers. Focusing on secondary issues such as motivations and personal perspectives gives people the false impression that they have understood the theory when all they have done is decide who they want to sympathize with. This serves neither the reader nor the scientific community at large and is more worthy of Newsweek than Nature.

But Dembski makes a good point in noting that this is a slight victory for ID in that it is being mentioned at all. Up until recently the strategy of evolutionists has been to ignore ID, thus implying that it is not worthy of serious discussion. As a side bar in the article notes:
Evolution advocates say that researchers should be careful about how they respond to such overtures. If the request is for a public debate with an intelligent-design advocate, the best answer is 'no', argues Robert Pennock, a philosopher of science at Michigan State University in East Lansing. "A public debate is an artificial setting for getting into scientific issues," he says. "There's no way in that format to thoroughly give a scientific response, especially to a lay audience."

"A formal debate is not how we do science," agrees Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California.
Which is all very well, except that the exclusion is also applied to peer-reviewed journals, which is how we do science. But if that wall starts to break down, it may not be long before ID researchers begin to gather the public recognition -- and the concomitant funding -- that will allow them to make their case more rigorously.

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