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The Chutzpah of Intelligent Design

Yesterday Jewcy published an exchange on the topic of evolution between author Neal Pollak and Discovery Institute senior fellow David Klinghoffer. Jason Rosenhouse, a professor at James Madison University and host of Seed Magazine's Evolution Blog, sends us this response.

I do not know what you do for a living, but I suspect you are pretty good at it. You probably trained for years to learn the basic elements of your craft, and then honed those skills through more years of on-the-job experience. Now imagine that someone without that training and experience presumes to discourse on your profession. Worse, they make assertions and arguments that are obvious nonsense to anyone versed in the subject. Not an altogether uncommon experience for you, I suspect, but one that is no less annoying for that.

Now suppose that after ignoring your best attempts to explain things, your interlocutor goes running off to the press. It is alleged that your entire profession is corrupt and shot through with religious and political agendas. Then he goes running to the local school board to pressure them into teaching his view of things despite its complete lack of acceptance among knowledgeable people. Then he gives public presentations, announcing he is going to blow the lid off the scandal in your profession.

Are you there? Are you really picturing it? That, you see, is what scientists contend with in confronting proponents of intelligent design (ID). For more than a century every branch of the life sciences has reported that all of the considerable available evidence points to the conclusions that modern species are related through common descent, and that natural selection is an especially important mechanism guiding that descent. Scientists applying evolutionary thinking to their work have been met with a nearly unbroken string of successes in solving the practical problems they face in the field and the lab. Pretenders like ID, on the other hand, have led to precisely nothing.

That is why ID folks spend very little time arguing with scientists, preferring instead to take their case directly to a public unlikely to be familiar with the minutiae of genetics or biochemistry. Tell a roomful of mathematicians that some back of the envelope probability calculations are enough to refute evolution, and they will rightly laugh in your face. But I know from sad experience that such arguments are rhetorically effective. Tell a physicist or an engineer that Darwin runs afoul of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and watch how quickly you are sent to a remedial course. Tell a gathering of paleontologists that there are no transitional forms, and the most polite among them will simply refer you to an elementary textbook. Yet ID folks routinely parrot these bogus arguments, and many others besides.

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