2016-07-27
What is your reaction to Judge Jones' decision in the Dover intelligent design case?

I'm very disappointed in it, because not only did he say that the school board was motivated by religious feelings, but he said that intelligent design itself is religious. And I simply disagree with that. It seems that he simply adopted all of the arguments of the plaintiffs and just dismissed out of hand the arguments of the witnesses for the defendants [the Dover Area School Board, which instituted the policy of reading a statement informing students of gaps in Darwin's theory of evolution and directing them to an intelligent design textbook titled "Of Pandas and People."] So, it's a drag.

Judge Jones says the motivation behind the school board's policy was primarily religious and so violated what is known as the Lemon test, arising from the 1971 Supreme Court decision in Lemon v. Kurtzman-that the primary motivation for public-policy decisions cannot be the promotion of a religious perspective.

I don't know what the motives of the Dover board were. I didn't listen to their testimony. But the question is, can ID be investigated solely because of interests other than religious ones? I think the answer is clearly yes. It's an explanation that immediately suggests itself when one learns about the complexity of life. And so does not necessarily arise from religious motivations.


Judge Jones argues that while Darwinian theory "cannot yet render an explanation on every point" of the natural world, that "should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classrooms." So he says intelligent design is untestable and therefore not a scientific method. What do you say about that?

I think that's simply untrue. Intelligent design is testable. Some scientists have tried to argue that it is false-[but] you can't say that intelligent design is falsifiable, as some scientists have argued and that it is untestable.

Is it verifiable?

Can you confirm it? Well, intelligent design is an inductive argument. In other words, whenever we have seen a particular kind of phenomenon, it has always been produced by a particular kind of cause. So whenever we see complex functional systems, it's always been our experience that they arise by purposeful design. And the way one refutes an inductive argument is by finding an exception to it. For example, if you say that all swans are white, the only way you can test that proposition or falsify it, is to find a swan that is not white. It doesn't do to keep on finding more swans that are white.

In fact, a number of philosophers of science have argued that scientific theories are tested more by withstanding falsification than they are by confirmation.

You're saying that the argument for intelligent design is falsifiable?

Yes, but it has not been falsified.



Cheerleaders for Darwin?
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  • On what basis do you contend that it is falsifiable?

    If somebody went into a laboratory and showed that random mutation and natural selection produced some new, complex system, then it would be falsified on that basis, because intelligent design, at least as I have formulated it, says that these complex systems that we see in the cell require intelligent activity to produce them. So that would show that they did not require intelligent activity

    What is the implication of Judge Jones' decision for intelligent design? This affects primarily what is done in public schools as opposed to what is done in other forums. So what do you see as its consequence for the pursuit of intelligent design as a scientific theory?

    I don't really think it has any implications for the pursuit of it as a scientific theory other than in public schools in the middle of Pennsylvania. None of this decision affects reality, and it's reality that we're trying to get a grip on.

    The fact of the matter is that the foundation of life is extraordinarily complex and functional. Nobody-Darwinian claims not withstanding-knows how such a thing could have arisen by an unintelligent process. Whenever we see such functional complexity, we've always found it in the past to have been the result of design. And if we want to understand where life came from, then we will have to come to grips with that. So this judge's ruling doesn't affect that at all.

    The Discovery Institute, the think tank that is the locus of intelligent design theory, was opposed to the school board's decision to read this disclaimer about Darwinian theory in the public schools. The strategists at Discovery felt it was a poor judgment, and the judge obviously agreed. Were you in favor of this policy, and do you continue to be in favor of it?

    You mean in favor of reading the statement to kids? No. I think things like this are kind of dumb, frankly-disclaimers and statements. Frankly, I think they should be in a biology textbook, in the main curriculum. I don't think they should be an add-on or some such thing.

    One of the basic questions of biology, whether you agree with it or not, is how to explain what everybody agrees is the strong appearance of design. And so whether you think Darwin's theory accounts for it, or maybe in the future will account for it, or doesn't account for it but maybe in the future some other theory will, or whether you think it's real design, I think it's good to point this out to students. I think one of the big problems is that that's simply ignored, and students aren't even made aware of the fact that people are trying to account for the appearance of design by non-design type of explanations.

    So this should not be addressed in a kind of sideways manner; it should be more forthrightly spoken about.

    Would that be through the mechanism of pointing out the shortcomings of Darwinian theory-which is what the Discovery Institute advocates. They say, `Don't try to teach intelligent design to high school kids, because it's too complex. Rather, point out the flaws in Darwin's theory.' Is that what you're advocating?

    No, that's not exactly it. I think that's fine; student should be apprised of the good and bad points of any theory and should not be told to take any theory as the last word. I think everybody's agreed on that.

    So you think that that is already going on in schools?

    Oh, no.

    So when you say "everyone is agreed on that," who is everyone?

    Well, you know, for example, the witnesses [for the defense] at the trial. But if you look at biology textbooks, frankly, they act more like cheerleaders for Darwinian theory than they do as critical evaluators of it. And I think that's the big problem; that misleads students about what can be explained and what's still a problem for Darwinian theory. But I don't think discussions should be limited to that. I think students should be apprised that there are huge questions [in Darwinian theory], not that there are little details that are probably going to be solved in the next couple of years or so. And, that what people are trying to account for is the appearance of design. So whether or not that can be accounted for and whether or not you even think design is a scientific theory, it's still a live question.

    So your point of departure with the Discovery Institute is that you don't agree that intelligent design theory is too complex to present to high school students?

    No, I don't think so. I think it's pretty much the flip side of Darwinian theory. Students are told that Darwinism can account for the appearance of design. So if they're told that, they can be told why it doesn't look like some apparently designed things can be accounted for with Darwinian theory.

    One of the main arguments against design is why an intelligent designer would design organisms that are destructive-killer viruses, super antibiotic-resistent bacteria, avian flu? What sort of intelligent designer would intentionally create such things? How does intelligent design theory account for this?

    Well, frankly, it doesn't account for it. Designers can have all sorts of motives. What sort of a designer would make an atomic bomb? Or make a gun, or some such thing? Is a gun good or bad? Those are more philosophical questions. The question ID focuses on is, can this be accounted for by unintelligent processes? Does it have the earmarks of design? Is it a sophisticated, functional system? If it is, then that would be the criterion for whether it was designed or not-not what motives you might be able to think of for it.

    Does it trouble you on a theological and moral level? If the designer behind these deadly diseases were a deity, that implies malign intent as opposed to absolute goodness.

    It's not troubling from a scientific perspective, but even from a religious perspective-I am Christian-I don't think it raises any more questions than any other theory of how life got here, because the viruses and bad things, from our perspective, are here. And you're either saying that God made them for some reason-there might be some purposeful reason for these things, maybe they do something else in nature which are beneficial. He either made them directly, or designed them, made the information for them, whatever, or He permitted them to arise. In either case, He could have done something about it. So, in either case, the problem of evil remains.

    I don't think it raises any questions for intelligent design that it doesn't raise for a theist who thinks Darwinian evolution is true. In either case-if Darwinian evolution is true, then what sort of method did God choose to make life that results in all this suffering for humans? I don't see how tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes-they raise the same sorts of problems. And what's more, I think it's a huge assumption to say that the primary effect of viruses in nature is to cause problems for us. It's entirely possible that they are doing something important in the biosphere about which we are still unaware.

    It sounds like intelligent design raises far more questions than it provides answers.

    Well, just because we can't explain everything doesn't mean we can't explain anything. And again, you can show a child a gun, and he can ask, "Why do people shoot each other?" and "My Mommy was shot by somebody and that was bad." It may be bad, and it may raise philosophical and moral questions, and even questions of theodicy [the theological questions arising out of the existence of evil and suffering], but you can look at the gun and tell it was designed. Those questions might be important, and might arise later on, but you do know that the gun was designed.

    I'm certainly not competent to explain or even think much about theological questions. I'd be delighted if other people would start to think about these questions. I'm just concentrating on a very simple point: I see what I seen in a cell, and what I think is the best explanation for that.

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