"Intelligent design" to meet its maker?


In a provocatively titled column in the December 4, 2005, issue of The New York Times, Laurie Goodstein considers whether "Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker." Although "intelligent design" might seem to be making headway in the headlines, she writes, "intelligent design as a field of inquiry is failing to gain the traction its supporters had hoped for." The scientific productivity of the "intelligent design" movement is meager, she notes, and "[o]n college campuses, the movement's theorists are academic pariahs, publicly denounced by their own colleagues." (A case in point, not mentioned in the article, is Lehigh University's Department of Biological Sciences, which in a statement firmly rejects Michael Behe's views while properly acknowledging his right to hold them.)

Moreover, what might have been thought to be a natural source of funding for "intelligent design" is now disillusioned with the movement. The Templeton Foundation's Charles L. Harper Jr. told the Times that although the foundation solicited "proposals for actual research" from proponents of "intelligent design," none was forthcoming. He added, "From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don't come out very well in our world of scientific review." (After a story in the Wall Street Journal [November 12, 2004] suggested that it was a major sponsor of "intelligent design," Templeton posted a response [Link broken], stating that in "nearly every case, Templeton Foundation money has supported critics rather than proponents of the anti-evolution ID position.")

"While intelligent design has hit obstacles among scientists, it has also failed to find a warm embrace at many evangelical Christian colleges," the article continues. "Even at conservative schools, scholars and theologians who were initially excited about intelligent design say they have come to find its arguments unconvincing." Goodstein mentions Vanguard University, Wheaton College, and Baylor University in particular. (She errs, however, in claiming that "The only university where intelligent design has gained a major institutional foothold is a seminary," namely Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; there is also Biola University in La Mirada, California, which sponsors conferences on "intelligent design" and emphasizes it in its Master of Arts in Science and Religion program.)

The comments of Derek Davis, director of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor, were particularly interesting, since over the last few years Baylor has experienced its share of controversies over "intelligent design," including a stymied effort to establish a center for its promotion. Davis was quoted as saying, "I teach at the largest Baptist university in the world. I'm a religious person. And my basic perspective is intelligent design doesn't belong in science class." As for the protestations of the proponents of "intelligent design" not to be talking about God and religion, Davis was dismissive: "But they are, and everybody knows they are ... I just think we ought to quit playing games. It's a religious worldview that's being advanced."

Goodstein cites the awaited decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover -- the first legal challenge to the teaching of "intelligent design" in the public schools -- as the most likely setback to the "intelligent design" movement, writing, "If the judge in the Dover case rules against intelligent design, the decision would be likely to dissuade other school boards from incorporating it into their curriculums." Before the lawsuit was filed, the Discovery Institute anxiously urged the Dover Area School Board to rescind the policy at issue. Yet a spokesperson told Goodstein, "The future of intelligent design, as far as I'm concerned, has very little to do with the outcome of the Dover case," adding, "The future of intelligent design is tied up with academic endeavors. It rises or falls on the science."