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Owen Gingerich,"Taking the ID debate out of pundits’ playbooks" (2005)

Owen Gingerich says he believes there is immense incomprehension from both the friends and foes of Intelligent Design, "Science & Theology News" November 8, 2005;

Taking the ID debate out of pundits’ playbooks

> <!-- Blurb --><span class="smallHeader">Owen Gingerich says he believes there is immense incomprehension from both the friends and foes of Intelligent Design.<span>
> <br> By Owen Gingerich
> <span class="dateText">(November 8, 2005)<span>

> (Photo: Adrian GazMorguefile)

> <strong>Related STNews articles<strong>
> <strong>Related external information<strong>
> <div>

Along with the vast majority of members of the Abrahamic faith traditions, I believe in a created cosmos.

Thus, I believe in an intelligent Creator and Designer of the universe. I have said that I therefore believe in intelligent design, lowercase “i” and “d.” But I have trouble with Intelligent Design — uppercase “I” and “D” — a movement widely seen as anti-evolutionist.

I have come to appreciate that there is immense incomprehension from both the friends and foes of Intelligent Design. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction among the critics that ID is simply creationism in disguise. It is unfortunate that our language is so easily hijacked that a perfectly reasonable word — creationism — now almost universally refers to belief in a 6,000-year-old young-earth sculpted by a worldwide Noachian flood. Even a passionate anti-evolutionist, Phillip Johnson, objected when I referred to him as a creationist. Intelligent Design is not young-earth creationism, and it is not necessarily opposed to many of the ideas of evolution.

I am sure that many friends of Intelligent Design would be dismayed and alarmed to hear this. They presume that ID is a bulwark against evolution, which they assume is atheistic to the core. They do not want to hear that Homo sapiens could have been on the family tree with an ape-like ancestor, despite the fossil record and the DNA lineages. Many of the supporters of the teaching of ID in public schools naturally expect that this would give credence to the literal story of Adam and Eve being directly created out of the dust — please, no story of intervening generations of single cells to amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

In a panel discussion at a meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, Michael Behe, one of the architects of ID, declared that Intelligent Design is essentially theistic evolution. For many foes of evolution — and quite possibly for many advocates of evolution as well — theistic evolution seems like a contradiction of terms. Richard Dawkins, a triumphalist atheist, lauds materialistic evolution as making atheism intellectually respectable.

On the other hand, many eminent scientists, ranging from Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of the modern synthesis of evolution, to Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Project, have accepted evolution as the operational means by which the Creator brought the panoply of living forms into existence.

Essential to the theory of evolution is the hypothesis of common descent, the powerful idea that every creature had a parent. As a hypothesis, it is as reasonable as the notion that the Earth goes around the sun. But children are not clones of the parents, and perhaps not always even the same species, for there is the matter of mutations. Most mutations are disasters, but perhaps some inspired few are not. Can mutations be inspired? Here is the ideological watershed, the division between atheistic evolution and theistic evolution, and frankly it lies beyond science to prove the matter one way or the other. Science will not collapse if some practitioners are convinced that occasionally there has been creative input in the long chain of being.

The leading theorists of ID argue that the mechanisms of random mutations and natural selection are inadequate to account for the intricate and astonishing variety of life the world offers. Some would argue that the evidence for intelligent input is overwhelming. In terms of final causes, they make a good case for a coherent understanding of the nature of cosmos. But they fall short in providing any mechanisms for the efficient causes that primarily engage scientists in our age. ID does not explain the temporal or geographical distribution of species, or the intricate relationships of the DNA coding.

ID is interesting as a philosophical idea, but it does not replace the scientific explanations that evolution offers. But evolution presented as a materialistic philosophy is ideology, and that is something that can be legitimately resisted. Unfortunately, the battle as it is being fought is a battle of misunderstandings on both sides of the terrain. 

Owen Gingerich is professor emeritus of astronomy and history of science at Harvard University and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Mass.

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