Selection Pressure

There is a heartening item in today’s New York Times: the creation myth known as Intelligent Design is having a tough time taking root. The ID movement’s complete and unsurprising lack of any scientific agenda is apparently beginning to catch up with it.

The story lists several symptoms of this happy trend. It mentions the Templeton Foundation, an organization that will be familiar to readers who follow the dialogue between science and religion. The foundation, whose mission is “to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science through a rigorous, open-minded and empirically focused methodology”, had given grants to several ID groups to support conferences and classes. But when it asked these groups to submit research proposals, nothing was forthcoming.

Even in theological institutions ID-as-science is a tough sell, apparently. “[ID] just doesn’t have the compelling or explanatory power to have much of an impact on the academy,” said one professor of Christian theology.

So: there was once an idea, very popular and successful, that all living things were created in their present form by the unmediated action of God. This idea managed to replicate itself in millions of minds. But then came enormous changes of the global climate, and the idea found its habitat shrinking. Recently, a mutated subspecies – Intelligent Design – appeared, and seemed to thrive for a while. But the hardier, more adaptable idea known as Evolution by Natural Selection, which has spread to minds in all corners of the world, may yet by its inherent robustness win the struggle for available niches after all. It is unlikely that creationism and its taxonomic cousins will go completely extinct – there are always going to be habitats where even the oddest organisms can survive – but with luck, in due time they will no longer be the memetic kudzu that they seem to be at the moment.


  1. Bill says

    Underneath it all, ID has always been a metaphysical not an episomological concept. It is interpretive, not factual. However, the Naturalist and evolutionists soiled their nest by trying to make their epistomological system metaphysical. They will forever talk past each other. In addition, having tried to take on some of the ID arguments, I have found that they will never admit to any evidence as being sufficient to satisfy their stated criteria of proof of evolution. If necessary they will ignore it completely or else shift the argument to other areas. At the same time doctrinaire evolutionists will not admit to any deficiencies in their side of the story.

    I finally said, “A pox on both houses.”

    I am an evolutionist and a theist. I have studied evolution to depths most doctrinaire evolutionists have not. It may have its gaps and weaknesses, but it’s the best game in town currently. What gets the Creationists shorts in a twist is that it directly dismisses literal biblical interpretation. No religion that accepts allegorical and metaphorical interpretation of the Bible has any problem with science or evolution. It is only the literalists that do.

    Posted December 5, 2005 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Hi Bill, and thanks for commenting.

    I do agree, as I mentioned in a previous post, that natural scientists have to varying degrees lost sight of the fact that their insistence on materialism offering “complete coverage” of all phenomena amounts to a philosophical preference, rather than a scientific position. But I cannot agree that the claims of ID are only “interpretive”. The central tenet of Intelligent Design (it’s right there in the name) is that living organisms were in fact engineered by a teleological consciousness.

    The more doctinaire Darwinians, for example Richard Dawkins, do seem to conflate their scientific views with militant atheism, to everyone’s detriment. Doing so accomplishes nothing other than further to polarize an already acrimonious debate. Not all evolutionists behave that way, though!

    I have also spent a great deal of time reading and thinking about evolution, and flatter myself that I am better acquainted with its theoretical underpinnings than most laymen. As you say, there are parts of the theoretical structure that remain unbuilt, but what has been assembled is an imposing edifice, standing solidly on deep foundations, and supported on all sides by a great many sturdy and substantial buttresses. I have no doubt that it will endure and grow.

    Right you are about the literalists. I have a sweet and charitable disposition, but I have little patience for such foolishness, and when they try to take the reins of public education they must be fought.

    Posted December 6, 2005 at 12:12 am | Permalink
  3. “Intelligent design” for most mammals is a joke. Using the human as an example,
    who would design a body with a fragile neck that serves as the only conduit from brain to the major functional parts, or, placing (as a friend of mine once remarked), the major pleasure center adjacent to the body’s disposal system.


    Posted December 7, 2005 at 5:57 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Not to mention those knees! And of course the spine is far from optimal for our bipedal posture.

    It is difficult to pin down ID proponents as to where to draw the historical line between the teleological design work and the subsequent action of evolution. Some seem to insist that ID was necessary only at the very beginning, at the cellular-machinery level, while others deny evolution by natural selection altogether.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Posted December 7, 2005 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

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