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Vancouver Sun Columnist Is Uninformed on Intelligent Design and Misleads Readers About IDers' Views on Science and Evolution

Vancouver Sun columnist Peter McKnight has suddenly launched a crusade against intelligent design in a series of columns looking at science and religion.

In the second part we learn that McKnight is sadly uninformed about intelligent design. He conflates it with creationism, and confines it pretty much to biology. Indeed, the theory goes beyond just biology and encompasses, physics, chemistry and cosmology as well. Intelligent design is not creationism, nor was it developed to get around court rulings. A little history is in order here.

Instead of appearing in the late 1980s as McKnight implies, we know that Oxford scholar F.C.S. Schiller employed the term "intelligent design" in 1897, writing that "it will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of Evolution may be guided by an intelligent design." In By Design, a history of the current design controversy, journalist Larry Witham traces the roots of the contemporary intelligent design movement in biology to the 1960s and 1970s. In the late 70s ID ideas began appearing in the scientific literature in various fields. Leading theoretical physicist Paul Davies described the fine-tuning of the universe as "the most compelling evidence for an element of cosmic design." Fred Hoyle, the eminent theoretical physicist and agnostic, followed with The Intelligent Universe (1983), featuring chapter titles like "The Information Rich Universe" and "What is Intelligence Up To?" Hoyle wrote:

A component has evidently been missing from cosmological studies. The origin of the Universe, like the solution of the Rubik cube, requires an intelligence.
In 1984 one of the first scientific books advocating intelligent design appeared, Mystery of Life's Origin, which was favorably received by leading scientists and scholars and lauded by journals such as the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Also in 1984 biologist Ray Bohlin published The Natural Limits to Biological Change, one of the first books to use the term "intelligent design" in its modern sense. All of this was before court cases such as Edwards v. Aguillard, which didn't come until years later. This is covered in The Origins of Intelligent Design by senior fellow Jonathan Witt.

Interestingly, McKnight gives ID proponent credit for what we don't do, not for what we do do.
He claims that ID has produced no research program, nor any peer-reviewed articles. It's hard to believe that he did any research whatsoever, or he would have learned about the controversy that surrounded Stephen Meyer's 2004 paper published by the Smithsonian's Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, which led to one of the most infamous cases of the trampling of academic freedom rights of a scientist -- Richard Sternberg. He also could have reviewed the list of peer-reviewed papers on our website here. And he could have reviewed the information about ID research ongoing at the Biologic Institute.

But then he claims:

The centre has proven highly successful in this regard, convincing many politicians to consider laws favouring at least the mention of ID in biology classes.
Completely false. We have never championed laws or standards or any such thing that would push ID into biology classes. What we have endorsed is the idea that students should learn all about Darwinian evolution, including the evidence that supports it and the evidence that challenges it.

As for his rehashing the Wedge Document, we've responded to that so many times it's again hard to see how he couldn't have found our responses and seen that we've already refuted such assertions and claims.

McKnight concludes by saying:

By eschewing reliance on supernatural causes, science has been tremendously successful at explaining - and controlling - the natural world. If we were to permit consideration of the supernatural, this success would likely come to a crashing halt because once we posit a supernatural cause for some phenomenon, we have our answer, and there is no reason to seek further explanation.

One thing that also struck me as strange when I read this was that he claims science can't proceed if you believe in supernatural causes.

To be clear: He claims that we posit supernatural causes. We don't. We are not positing supernatural causes -- only intelligent ones.

McKnight argues that positing supernatural causes is a science stopper. But since we are positing intelligent causes, we should ask whether this would be a science stopper. It is not. Our standard riposte is about junk DNA, but why would we not seek further explanation if ID is true? I think, like the junk DNA example shows, ID would make us look at all sorts of things we've never even thought to explore.

I also wondered how it was that any pre-enlightenment science progressed. All the way back to the Greeks most "scientists" were folks who believed in supernatural causes. Yet, that didn't stop Keppler or Brahe or Newton or Bacon or any of them from continuing to investigate and explore and experiment.