Coyne and Mooney on "intelligent design"


Appearing shortly after President Bush's August 1, 2005, remarks that seemed to endorse the teaching of "intelligent design" in the public schools, a pair of important recent articles -- Chris Mooney's "Inferior design" in the September 2005 issue of The American Prospect and Jerry Coyne's extensive "The faith that dare not speak its name" in the August 22, 2005, issue of The New Republic -- offer different but complementary examinations of "intelligent design" creationism. Both articles emphasize important, but comparatively obscure and underreported, facets of the history of the "intelligent design" movement, with Mooney revealing a perhaps surprising ideological transformation in the careers of the founders of the Discovery Institute and with Coyne providing a biologist's informed evaluation of Davis and Kenyon's Of Pandas and People, the canonical textbook of the "intelligent design" movement. Neither author is impressed by what he finds in examining "intelligent design" and its proponents: Coyne argues, "[f]ar from a respectable scientific alternative to evolution, ["intelligent design"] is a clever attempt to sneak religion, cloaked in the guise of science, into the public schools," while Mooney argues, "in the history of the Discovery Institute, we encounter a narrative that cuts to the heart -- and exposes the intellectual sleight of hand -- of the modern right’s war on science." Both articles are essential reading for those seeking to understand the "intelligent design" movement.

Mooney's article, adapted from his forthcoming book The Republican War on Science (Basic Books, 2005), begins with a review of Kitzmiller v. Dover, the upcoming case in which the constitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools is at stake. Ironically, the Discovery Institute -- the institutional headquarters of "intelligent design" -- expressed opposition to the policy under challenge in Kitzmiller; for a further irony, as Mooney divulges, the Discovery Institute's Bruce Chapman and George Gilder have evolved since the 1960s "from liberal Republicans into staunch conservatives." Noting that "ID proponents have adopted many of the same political tactics practiced by the old-school creationists," Mooney surmises that "the peculiar characteristics of the ID movement are a direct response to the tactical and legal failings of earlier creationists." (NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch is quoted as observing that the "teach the controversy" strategy was "pioneered in the wake of Edwards v. Aguillard.") Nevertheless, he concludes, "just like creation scientists of yore, ID hawkers have clear and ever-present religious motivations for denying and attacking evolution. And like creationists of yore, they have failed the only test that matters: They simply are not doing credible science. Instead, they are appropriating scientific-sounding arguments to advance a moral and political agenda, one they hope to force into the public-school system."

Coyne's article [Link broken] also begins with a review of Kitzmiller v. Dover, but then situates it within the long history of assaults on evolution education in the United States, from the Scopes era to the advent of "intelligent design" creationism. A biologist at the University of Chicago, Coyne takes the opportunity to rehearse "just a few observations that not only support the neo-Darwinist account, but in so doing refute the alternative theory of creationism -- that God specially created organisms and their attributes," before taking on "intelligent design," which he describes as "simply the third attempt of creationists to proselytize our children at the expense of good science and clear thinking. Having failed to ban evolution from schools, and later to get equal classroom time for scientific creationism, they have made a few adjustments designed to sneak Christian cosmogony past the First Amendment." He incisively criticizes the "intelligent design" textbook Of Pandas and People, which is at issue in Kitzmiller v. Dover, as well as Michael Behe's notion of "irreducible complexity" as a challenge to evolution. "It is clear, then, that intelligent design did not arise because of some long-standing problems with evolutionary theory, or because new facts have called neoDarwinism into question," Coyne concludes. "ID is here for only one reason -- to act as a Trojan horse poised before the public schools: a seemingly secular vessel ready to inject its religious message into the science curriculum."