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The Latest “Intelligent Design” Journal

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Latest “Intelligent Design” Journal
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
30
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2010
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
10–13
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

ENTER BIO-COMPLEXITY

A new on-line, open-access, peer-reviewed journal with the ungainly name BIO-Complexity (ISSN 2151- 7444) was announced on April 30, 2010, by its publisher, the Biologic Institute. According to its statement of purpose and scope, BIO-Complexity “aims to be the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life.” The journal hopes to publish “studies in all areas of science with clear relevance to its aim, including work focusing on the relative merit of any of the principal alternatives to ID (neo-Darwinism, self-organization, evolutionary developmental biology, etc.).”

Hailing the journal was the Discovery Institute’s Jay Wesley Richards, on the Discovery Institute’s blog on May 1, 2010. He declared, “A new scientific journal, BIO-Complexity, is set to accelerate the pace and heighten the tone of the debate over intelligent design,” complained that work supporting “intelligent design” is unjustly (if not entirely) excluded from the scientific literature, and added, “Of course, the journal itself is simply a forum for the evidence to be presented, defended, debated, and critiqued — not to be a mouthpiece for ID” (Richards 2010). A look at the publisher, the editorial staff, and the history of “intelligent design” journals suggests otherwise.

THE BIOLOGIC INSTITUTE

The Biologic Institute — as Barbara Forrest noted in her “Understanding the intelligent design creationist movement” — was first publicly mentioned in a story in The New York Times (Chang 2005) in August 2005, “one month before the Kitzmiller trial began, at the time of the ID movement’s greatest need to create the appearance of scientific authenticity” (Forrest 2007: 23). Yet it was not incorporated in the state of Washington until October 2005, and its existence was not publicly confirmed until 2006, when Celeste Biever, a reporter for New Scientist, visited it in person and received a chilly reception. “The reticence,” she reported, “cloaks an unorthodox agenda” (Biever 2006).

George Weber, a director of the Biologic Institute, a retired member of the business faculty at Whitworth University, and the head of the Spokane chapter of the old-earth creationist ministry Reasons to Believe, told Biever, “We are the first ones doing what we might call lab science in intelligent design. ... The objective is to challenge the scientific community on naturalism.” After he spoke to New Scientist, however, Weber left the board of the Biologic Institute, and Douglas Axe, the lab’s senior researcher, told New Scientist that Weber “was found to have seriously misunderstood the purpose of Biologic and to have misrepresented it.”

Instead, Axe said, the lab only seeks “to show that the design perspective can lead to better science. He also contended that it will nevertheless “contribute substantially to the scientific case for intelligent design.” Axe told New Scientist that the Biologic Institute was currently conducting research on “the origin of metabolic pathways in bacteria, the evolution of gene order in bacteria, and the evolution of protein folds”as well as research on computational biology, where, he claimed, “we are nearing completion of a system for exploring the evolution of artificial genes that are considerably more life-like than has been the case previously.”

A list of selected publications on the Biologic Institute’s website cites twenty-eight papers in a variety of fields. But over half were published before the institute was officially formed, and Biologic Institute is listed as the affiliations of the authors on only two (Axe and others 2008, Sternberg 2008); neither mentions “intelligent design”. The editor of the journal in which the former article appeared commented:

There has been some concern about the authors’ connection with an intelligent design institute, which understandably creates a perception that the research may be ideologically biased. I did not detect any such bias in this manuscript; nor do the results support intelligent design in any way. (Scheffler 2008)

New Scientist reported, “It was Discovery that provided the funding to get the Biologic Institute up and running,” but noted that both Axe and a spokesperson for the Discovery Institute insisted that the Biologic Institute is a “separate entity” from the Discovery Institute (Biever 2006). Biologic Institute’s tax return for 2006 indicated revenues of $261 000 from “indirect public support” — a category that would include revenue from a tax-exempt parent organization, such as the Discovery Institute. In 2007 and 2008, the Biologic Institute’s revenues, of $464 000 and $280 998, respectively, were from direct public support. The source is unclear.

There is also overlap between the personnel of Biologic Institute and of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture: Guillermo Gonzalez and Jonathan Wells are both listed under “People” at the former and as “Senior Fellows” at the latter. Brendan Dixon, listed under “People” at the Biologic Institute and a coauthor of Axe and others (2008), donated $700 000 to the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in 2006 through a private family foundation (Bottaro 2007). The same foundation also donated $30 000 to Baylor University to fund a parttime appointment for William Dembski; it was later returned by the university (Bottaro 2007).

Axe himself was named in the Wedge document as the head of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture biochemistry program, and he was listed as a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (as it was known then) in 2000; although his name was removed in the same year, his curriculum vitae in 2003 listed him as a Senior Fellow from 1999 to the present (Forrest and Gross 2004: 40–1). Axe told Forrest in 2001 that he had not attempted to argue for “intelligent design” in any of his publications (Forrest and Gross 2004: 42), although in 2007 he was quoted as saying that they “add to the case for intelligent design” (Forrest 2007: 24).

THE EDITORIAL STAFF

BIO-Complexity’s editor-in-chief and the thirty people on its editorial board have a variety of connections with the “intelligent design” movement. Five — Michael Behe, Walter Bradley, William Dembski, Scott Minnich, and Jonathan Wells — are Fellows at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Those five, as well as Russell Carlson, James Keener, Matti Leisola, and Jed Macosko, were Fellows of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, which William Dembski cofounded in 2001, with the slogan “retraining the scientific imagination to see purpose in nature”. ISCID seems to have become moribund.

The editor-in-chief and twentyfour members of the editorial board of BIO-Complexity are signatories to the Discovery Institute’s “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism”:

We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged. (www.dissentfromdarwin.com)
The statement, of course, is widely and misleadingly cited by creationists as evidence for the claim that there is a genuine scientific controversy over evolution.

Three members of the editorial board — Behe, Dembski, and Minnich — were slated to testify in Kitzmiller v Dover, although only Behe and Minnich did so (Elsberry 2006). Five members of the editorial board — Behe, Carlson, Edward Peltzer, Ralph Seelke, and Wells — testified in Kansas in May 2005 to express their support for the so-called minority report version of the state’s science education standards, rewritten with the aid of a local “intelligent design” organization to misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial. (The standards were adopted in November 2005, only to be rescinded in February 2007, after the balance of power on the state board of education shifted.)

There are also connections with creationism in its traditional forms, starting with the editor-in-chief, Matti Leisola. He is identified by BIO-Complexity as “a professor of Bioprocess Engineering at Aalto University (previously Helsinki University of Technology).” Unmentioned, however, is the fact that he is evidently a dyed-in-thewool creationist, having spoken on his “30 years as a non-evolutionist” at the 8th European Creationist Conference (Anonymous 2003), being described by Creation Ministries International as a biblical creationist (Wieland 2009), and having told a Finnish Christian youth magazine that evolution “is basically a heresy” (Anonymous 2006).

Similarly, Colin Reeves is a Trustee of Biblical Creation Ministries and a contributor to the journal of the Biblical Creation Society (Lynch 2009, Pieret 2009); Stuart Burgess is listed as a speaker for the United Kingdom branch of Answers in Genesis and a contributor to AiG’s journal (Lynch 2009, Pieret 2009);Norman Nevin edited and contributed to a book arguing that Christians ought not to accept evolution (Nevin 2009); David Snoke wrote a book arguing for old-earth creationism (Snoke 2006); and so on. To be sure, none of these activities and affiliations implies that the editorial board members are not competent to evaluate submissions to the journal. But it is hard to imagine such a prevalence of creationists in a journal without any axe to grind.

True, it seems that there were efforts to recruit non-creationists to the editorial board. Loren Haarsma and Scott Turner are both on the board: Haarsma is a physicist at Calvin College who coauthored a book arguing for a reconciliation of evolution and religion — in particular, Christian Reformed doctrine — (Haarsma and Haarsma 2007;see Flietstra 2008), while Turner is a biologist at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry who wrote a book declaring on its first page that it “is not about intelligent design ... ID theory is essentially warmed-over natural theology” and adding, “it is not a critique of Darwinism” (Turner 2007).

Günter Wagner, a biologist at Yale University, was also asked to join the editorial board. He told RNCSE that he declined because “the existing evolutionary biology journals are able to handle the necessary research on the evolvability of complex characters.” He explained:

Publishing on this subject in mainstream journals is also better for ... the credibility of the eventual answer to this question, as well as for the integrity of the scientific process in general. There are too many reasons for scientists to distrust a journal with a substantial ID influence, regardless of whether this particular enterprise is biased or not. ... In the current situation any project of this sort will have a hard time to earn the trust of the scientific community.

THE HISTORY OF “INTELLIGENT DESIGN” JOURNALS

The first, and most successful, “intelligent design” journal was Origins & Design (ISSN 0748- 9919), produced by the Access Research Network, formerly Students for Origins Research, which published Origins Research. The stated goal of Origins & Design was “(1) to examine theories of origins, their philosophical foundations, and their bearing on culture, and (2) to examine all aspects of the idea of design.” The journal received a portion of its funding from the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (Forrest and Gross 2004: 166, 176). Origins & Design apparently ceased publication in 1999, with its last issue identified as volume 19, number 2.

After his plan to establish a base for “intelligent design” at Baylor University failed, Dembski founded the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (Forrest and Gross 2004: 207–13). ISCID published the second “intelligent design” journal, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design (ISSN 1555-5089) in an on-line format. Its stated goal was “to advance the science of complexity by assessing the degree to which teleology is relevant (or irrelevant) to the origin, development, and operation of complex systems.” Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design ceased publication in 2005, with its last issue identified as volume 4, number 1.

The on-line Journal of Evolutionary Informatics (no ISSN) was sponsored by the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, a project of Dembski and Robert Marks, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Baylor University. The “Lab”was controversial because it was originally hosted on a Baylor University server; after Marks and Baylor were unable to come to terms about its content, it was removed to a third-party hosting facility. As a result, Marks was then featured as a “victim” in the creationist propaganda movie Expelled (Sager 2008). The Journal of Evolutionary Informatics seems to have become defunct before managing to publish a single issue.

These journals failed to make a splash scientifically: articles from none of them appear in major scientific indexes such as PubMed, Web of Knowledge (which subsumes Science Citation Index and Biological Abstracts), and EBSCO’s Academic Search Complete, although a few articles from Origins & Design are indexed in GeoRef. Google Scholar indexes articles from all of the “intelligent design” journals except the Journal of Evolutionary Informatics — but it also indexes articles from such young-earth creationist journals as Creation Research Science Quarterly, Acts and Facts, and the Journal of Creation, betraying a certain lack of discrimination.

Moreover, few articles from “intelligent design” journals are even cited in the scientific literature. According to Web of Science, only two such articles, both from Origins & Design, have ever been cited in the literature — and not auspiciously. One, Craig (1996), was cited by two ringleaders of the “intelligent design” movement, writing in the theology journal Zygon (Dembski and Meyer 1998). The other (Kenyon and Mills 1996; coauthored by Dean Kenyon who also coauthored Of Pandas and People) was cited in a notorious paper (Meyer 2004) published in a legitimate scientific journal under suspicious circumstances and subsequently disavowed by the journal (Sager and Scott 2008).

It is not surprising, then, that academic libraries were not inclined to subscribe to Origins & Design. Only thirty-two libraries listed in WorldCat show holdings of Origins & Design; the majority are libraries of seminaries or of colleges or universities with religious affiliations historically disposed toward creationism in various forms. WorldCat lists fifty-two libraries with holdings of Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design — but those libraries need not subscribe to or provide space for a free on-line journal. No libraries apparently have holdings of the Journal of Evolutionary Informatics (which is not even listed on WorldCat), or of BIOComplexity (which is listed).

“Intelligent design” journals thus seem to be a scientific cul-desac — a fact ironically conceded by the Discovery Institute, which in a “briefing packet for educators” (Discovery Institute 2007) recommends articles from Origins & Design and Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, but under the rubric “Science Resources About Evolution and Intelligent Design” rather than “Peer Reviewed Sciences [sic] Articles”. Scientists with anything scientifically important to say about “intelligent design” will, as Wagner noted, take it to the mainstream scientific literature, which is already widely disseminated and respected, not to a parvenu like BIO-Complexity.

WHITHER BIO-COMPLEXITY?

It seems safe to predict that it will be difficult for BIO-Complexity to attain its ostensible goal of serving as “the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design ... is a credible explanation for life.” But was that really the point? Unable to convince the scientific establishment of the merits of their views, creationists have long been engaged in the project of constructing a counterestablishment, which mimics — or perhaps the mot juste is “apes” — not only peer-reviewed journals but also professional societies, textbook publishers, media organizations, natural history museums, and graduate programs at accredited universities.

The purpose of the counterestablishment is not necessarily to challenge the scientific establishment or to affect the public’s view of science, although those are certainly accomplishments that would not be despised if they were to come to pass. Instead, the counterestablishment seems primarily to serve to reassure the activists, the supporters, and (perhaps crucially) the funders of the creationist movement that there is a worthwhile project under way. To the extent that BIO-Complexity flourishes, it will not be because it is reporting scientific tests of “intelligent design” but because it is evincing, in the otherwise declining “intelligent design”movement, a few feeble signs of life.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Michael D Barton compared the editorial board of BIO-Complexity with the signatories of the Discovery Institute’s “Dissent” statement and kindly shared the result.


References

[Anonymous.] 2003. 8th European creationist congress [Internet]. Available from www.genesis.nu/8thecc/. Last accessed May 25, 2010.

[Anonymous.] 2006. Bilsan maikalle kampeen [interview with Matti Leisola; Finnish] [Internet]. Available from: www.nuotta.com/nuotta/haastattelu/bilsan-maikalle-kampeen.html. Last accessed May 25, 2010.

Axe DD, Dixon BW, Lu P. 2008. Stylus: A system for evolutionary experimentation based on a protein/proteome model with non-arbitrary functional constraints. PLoS ONE 3: e2246.

Biever C. 2006. Intelligent design: The God lab. New Scientist 2482: 8–11.

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Richards JW. 2010. BIO-Complexity: A new, peer-reviewed science journal, open to the ID debate [Internet]. Available from: evolutionnews.org/2010/05/biocomplexity_a_new_peerreview.html. Last accessed May 27, 2010.

Sager C. Meet the martyrs: Robert Marks, Pamela Winnick, Michael Egnor. Reports of the NCSE 28 (5–6): 39–41.

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Snoke D. 2006. A Biblical Case for an Old Earth. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Books.

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Wieland C. 2009. In Charles Darwin’s footsteps. Available from creation.com/charles-darwin-voyagemovie. Last accessed May 25, 2010.


About the Author(s): 

Glenn Branch is NCSE's Deputy Director

AUTHOR’S ADDRESS
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncse.com