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Intelligent Dissent: A Review Article

Bryan Estelle

Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, edited by William A. Dembski. Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books, 2004, xxvii + 366 pages, $28.00, paper.

Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, by Stephen C. Meyer. New York: Harper Collins, 2009, viii + 611 pages, $28.99.

Most people know about the intelligent design (ID) movement through the media stories about the trial that occurred in 2005 in Dover, Pennsylvania. A judge ruled that teaching ID theories in public schools would transgress the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, since ID theory is not really science but religion. The judge presiding over the case essentially accused the ID advocates of sneaking religion into the classroom. Sometimes advocates of ID are labeled as creationists and lumped together with young earth creationists. This is ironic since ID advocates often depend on uniformitarian reasoning, something which young earth creationists often loathe. These two books, however, are a good way for an officer in the church to learn about the intelligent design movement firsthand. The first book is a collection of essays by the leading proponents of the movement. The second book is an extended argument for design based upon DNA.

The articles in Uncommon Dissent are divided into four major parts. In part one, the first three chapters fall under the category of "A Crisis of Confidence." These essays argue that the explanatory power of Darwinism has become impoverished. In part two, the next four chapters fall under the heading of "Darwinism's Cultural Inroads." These chapters demonstrate the various ways in which Darwinism has influenced culture and the significant hold such claims have exercised in different areas of modern society. Part three, "Leaving the Darwinian Fold," contains three autobiographical essays that describe why the authors departed from their previously held positions, which were more favorable to Darwinism. Part four, "Auditing the Books," is the final section and has four chapters arguing why Darwinism is a failed intellectual project.

Robert Koons begins the essays with an article entitled, "The Check is in the Mail: Why Darwinism Fails to Inspire Confidence." Koons argues that Darwinists must carry the burden of proof for their overconfident posture regarding strongly held tenets. The second chapter is by Phillip E. Johnson, "Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism." What is especially interesting about reading this chapter is hearing imaginatively how the various arguments on various sides would fare in a court of law, since Johnson, a Berkeley law professor, brings his legal precision to bear on the issues at stake. Marcel-Paul Schützenberger, a member of the French Academy of Sciences, writes the next chapter, "The Miracles of Darwinism: 1966 Interview with La Recherche." This essay is helpful for understanding the most important points of leading Darwinists Gould and Dawkins. Schützenberger claims that the explanatory value of Darwinism is impoverished, and he is not timid about getting into the ring with the major pundits.

The fourth chapter is by Nancy R. Pearcy, "Darwin Meets the Berenstain Bears: Evolution as a Total Worldview." Pearcy's indebtedness to the late Francis Schaeffer and her approach to one aspect of apologetics are evident in the essay: one's view of origins is the big picture that draws everything together, always. Helpfully, she argues that distinctions should be made between folk science and true science. In the fifth chapter, "Teaching the Flaws in Neo-Darwinism," Edward Sisson, a lawyer, exposes fallacious arguments and rhetorical strategies which so often pepper the debates among Darwinists, ID advocates, and creationists. Interestingly, this sleuthhound lawyer read the original manuscripts and papers involved in the famous Scopes Trial and came up with some very interesting conclusions using his "back to the sources" method. Chapter six, "Accept No Imitations: The Rivalry of Naturalism and Natural Law," is a very interesting discussion by J. Budziszewski of a subject that keeps raising its head in this debate about origins. Chapter 7, "Refereed Journals: Do They Insure Quality or Enforce Orthodoxy?" is a fascinating but critical description of the peer review process that occurs in scientific journals, especially since World War II. I have no doubt that some of what Tipler describes in scientific journals is true; however, having been part of the peer review process at numerous levels in ancient Near Eastern studies, I do think that his analysis comes off a little bit cynical. Even so, he has a suggestion for a two-tier system of peer review for the academy that is very intriguing.

The next chapter is by Michael J. Behe, the author of Darwin's Black Box.[1] Behe argues that design is not strictly a religious idea; rather, the conclusion of design for biological origins is completely empirical. Even so, he maintains that you cannot separate faith and science. Chapter 9, "An Anti-Darwinian Intellectual Journey: Biological Order as an Inherent Property of Matter," is by Michael John Denton. This is an autobiographical essay. Going from medical school to Israel to Kings College, London profoundly influenced his intellectual development. Denton argues that natural law is responsible for biological adaptations and perhaps "God is more clever than the humans can imagine!" Chapter 10, "Why I Am Not a Darwinist," by James Barham, argues that natural selection, the chief tool of the Darwinists is a rather blunt one. He should know, since he used to be fully committed to the paradigm. The eleventh chapter, "Why Evolution Fails the Test of Science," is by Cornelius G. Hunter, a research scientist who spends part of his time working at the University of California, San Diego. He suggests that the evidence for evolution falls into three distinct categories: small scale adaptability, the fossil record evidence, and comparative anatomy. All three areas register weak evidence in favor of Darwinism. In the twelfth chapter, "Darwinian Evolutionary Theory and the Life Sciences in the Twenty-First Century," Roland F. Hirsch is especially interested in describing what genome sequences tell us about evolution. He notes the influence of Malthus on Darwin, something that Marilynne Robinson has taken great pains to expose as well.

Chapter thirteen, "Cheating the Millennium: The Mounting Explanatory Debts of Scientific Naturalism," is by Christopher Michael Langan, an independent researcher. This is actually one of the densest and most challenging essays in the book. The last chapter is by David Berlinski, "The Deniable Darwin." Berlinski has taught mathematics and philosophy at numerous American universities. He is a hard-hitting debater, and it is interesting to see how Darwinists and ID advocates debate based on the letters written to Berlinski and his responses.

I have one initial comment on some of these articles: the unevenness of the essays. This is almost inevitable in a project like this; however, some of the essays were markedly weak in comparison to others. For example, Pearcy's essay was so general at times in its criticism that one wonders what details and nuance are being missed. Shoot with a shotgun instead of a rifle, and you not only miss your target, but you might not take down your prey. However, this book is an excellent introduction to the ID movement. Many of the most significant scholars writing for the movement are represented here. In fact, a constant refrain in the book is the appeal to read fuller arguments of the authors in the books or monographs of which these essays are essentially a précis.

The second book under review, Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer, is a very different book than the former one. It is written in a very accessible style so that a layman and one who is not a trained scientist can understand it. This book is autobiographical in nature. It describes Meyer's journey as a young scientist. First, he was an exploration geophysicist working for large multinational oil companies, and then he moved to Cambridge to take up studies in the history and philosophy of science. Next, he spent about a decade teaching undergraduates at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington; and finally, he became one of the leaders of the ID movement and settled in Seattle as part of an ID think tank. He has arguably become one of the most public figures in the ID movement. What became his passion throughout this journey is the intersection between science and the origin of life. Meyer uses his own pilgrimage as a philosopher of science, and his increasing convictions about design holding significance for origin-of-life theories.

Meyer's book has the strength of being clearly written. Exceptionally lucid illustrations and helpful analogies are given throughout, making difficult scientific concepts abundantly clear to the untrained scientist. It is evident that Meyer's tenure as a college professor, hammering out explanations at a simple level, has served him well in writing a very clearly argued tome. Even so, I found Meyer's book too wordy and repetitive. It reminded me of a German classmate of mine in graduate school whose first draft of her dissertation exceeded 800 pages. She was instructed by our professor to go and cut it in half and not come back until she had condensed it. Even so, Meyer's book is clearly organized, and I think he and the editors at Harper are to be commended for their organizational structure.

Meyer's tone throughout the book is well mannered and reasonable in contrast to the vitriolic criticism that has been levied against the ID movement at times, especially from those committed to scientific materialism. The last chapter (chapter 20) in the book is one of the best. In it, Meyer states his religious sympathies forthrightly while still maintaining that the argument of his book is purely scientific: the "specified information in the cell establishes the existence and past action of intelligent activity in the origin of life" (343). Of course, he makes careful distinctions earlier in the book on the difference between the methods of historical scientists and experimental scientists.

One thing is clear from reading the ID advocates: they vary in their positions. Therefore, we should exercise caution in our estimations of their work. Just as I think we should talk about New Perspective(s) when we are referring to this influential movement in Pauline studies and not one monolithic New Perspective, so we should also be careful to distinguish among various positions notable among those committed in one degree or another to ID. Needless to say, philosophical naturalism is deeply engrained in people within our culture. The literature of the ID advocates can help officers in the church to notice some of the ways in which materialism has so thoroughly influenced people with whom we come into contact.

Endnote

[1] Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).

Bryan Estelle is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church serving as associate professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California. Ordained Servant Online, November 2010.

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