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Orr on "intelligent design" in The New Yorker


H. Allen Orr of the University of Rochester again takes on "intelligent design" in his essay "Devolution: Why intelligent design isn't," published in the May 30, 2005, issue of The New Yorker. Beginning with the controversy in Dover, Pennsylvania, where the school board's decision to require students to be exposed to 'intelligent design' resulted in a federal lawsuit, and briefly mentioning a host of debates over the teaching of evolution around the country, Orr sketches the core idea of "intelligent design" and proceeds to evaluate its central attempts at scientific argument, due in his view to Michael Behe and William Dembski. With regard to Behe, Orr argues that his principal argument from "irreducibility complexity" acknowledgedly fails. To the fallback argument "that, while irreducibly complex systems can in principle evolve, biologists can't reconstruct in convincing detail just how any such system did evolve," he responds, "What counts as a sufficiently detailed historical narrative, though, is altogether subjective. Biologists actually know a great deal about the evolution of biochemical systems, irreducibly complex or not." With respect to Dembski, Orr writes, "Dembski’s mathematical claims about design and Darwin are almost entirely beside the point." Noting the discrepancies among the views espoused by proponents of intelligent design, Orr remarks, "In the end, it's hard to view intelligent design as a coherent movement in any but a political sense. It's also hard to view it as a real research program." He supports these judgments by citing the now notorious Wedge Strategy as well as other equations throughout the "intelligent design" literature of evolutionary biology with atheism. But, he retorts, "Biologists aren't alarmed by intelligent design's arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they're alarmed because intelligent design is junk science."