Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

Evolution News and Views

Reviewing Jerry Coyne

Dr. Jerry Coyne is a prominent evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago. He has written extensively about the Darwinism/intelligent design controversy, and he is highly critical of I.D. Recently in The New Republic, he published a review of two books: "Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution" By Karl W. Giberson and "Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul" By Kenneth R. Miller. Dr. Coyne's review, entitled "Seeing is Believing" is long, and is an fine example of the convoluted arguments used by Darwinists to defend their ideology against the overwhelming scientific evidence that favors design in biology and against the American public who overwhelmingly favor (by a ratio of 3:1) discussion of the strengths and weakness of Darwinism in public schools. Dr. Coyne's review is, in other words, a fine example of Darwinist ideological distortion of science and endorsement of censorship in education.

So I'll review Dr. Coyne's review in detail. I'll quote Dr. Coyne, then reply.

Early in his essay Dr. Coyne writes:

... the history of creationism in America has itself been an evolutionary process guided by a form of natural selection. After each successive form of creationism has been struck down by the courts for violating the First Amendment, a modified form of the doctrine has appeared, missing some religious content and more heavily disguised in scientific garb. Over time, the movement has shifted from straight Biblical creationism to "scientific creationism," in which the very facts of science were said to support religious stories such as the Genesis creation and Noah's Ark, and then morphed into intelligent design, or ID, a theory completely stripped of its Biblical patina. None of this has fooled the courts...

Dr. Coyne misunderstands the history of this issue. Regardless of whether or not creationism has undergone an "evolutionary" process, ID isn't on the historical continuum with creationism. Creationism is the opinion that Genesis is more or less literally true as science. Many Christians hold to that view, and they have my respect, but I (and the vast majority of I.D. advocates) disagree.

Intelligent design is the opinion that design is empirically detectable in biology, and that it is the best scientific inference to explain many aspects of biology, especially the genetic code and the complex molecular machinery inside cells. I wasn't a creationist, ever. I was a Darwinist, for most of my life, until I looked closely at the evidence. Most ID advocates have had similar experiences. Most ID advocates were never creationists, and ID is not creationism nor is it derived from it. In fact, ID has been criticized by the creationist community. ID is an appeal to evidence in the natural world, not an appeal to Biblical revelation.

ID has a long pedigree in science and philosophy. The great Greek philosophers -- Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus -- noted the obvious evidence for design in nature, and the design inferences of leading Christian theologians -- Augustine, Aquinas, Abelard, Pascal -- were inferences to evidence in nature and did not depend on a literal reading of Genesis. Most (virtually all) of the great scientists since the enlightenment (Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Pascal, Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, Planck, Schrodinger) inferred design in nature. ID has been the scientific understanding of nature throughout most of history. ID didn't "evolve" from creationism.

Creationism -- the view that Genesis is literally true as a scientific text -- has a much more recent pedigree, and is primarily associated with modern Protestantism. I believe that creationists are right about the most important aspect of natural science: there is evidence for design in nature. But that doesn't make me a creationist. But as an ID advocate I believe in following the natural evidence, and in my view (and the view of most ID theorists) the evidence doesn't support a literal interpretation of Genesis.

The evolution of this debate has not been the evolution from creationism to ID. ID has been the mainstream scientific inference for nearly all scientists and philosophers for several millennia. It didn't evolve from Christian creationism. The first people to systematically infer design in nature weren't Christians (they were early Greek philosophers), and most people throughout the world today who infer design as the most reasonable explanation for natural science aren't Christians (they're Muslims, Buddhists, Confucianists, Hindus, etc). The design inference in natural science is common to virtually all cultures, present and past.

But, pace Dr. Coyne, there has been "evolution" of this debate. Yet Dr. Coyne misrepresents it. The evolution has been that of Darwinist tactics. Darwin's theory is the creation myth of atheism, and for the past century Darwinists have worked very hard to impose their ideology using the science curriculum in public schools. In the Scopes trial (1927), Darwinists fought censorship of their views at the hands of fundamentalists. Perhaps in this case, they were on the right side of the issue. However, in many subsequent cases, such as Daniel v. Waters (1975), Edwards vs Aguillard (1987), or McLean v. Arkansas (1982), the Darwinists became the censors, as they won court cases that successfully banned creationism from public schools. The Darwinist push for censorship of dissenting views continued. In Selman v. Cobb County (2005) Darwinists used federal courts to censor a sticker in biology textbooks that said: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things". In Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005), Darwinists again used federal courts to censor a brief mention of intelligent design in biology classrooms.

And their efforts to censor continue outside of the courts. Recent Darwinist efforts in Texas asked the Texas State Board of Education to to remove any reference to teaching weaknesses of evolution in public schools, because such teaching would obviously allow teachers and students to discuss the evidence for and against Darwin's theory. Darwinists have no intention of allowing real discussion -- which includes critique as well as endorsement -- of Darwinism in public schools.

Dr. Coyne's invocation of legal coercion -- "...None of this has fooled the courts..." -- is telling. The real evolution of ID-Darwinism debate has been the evolving willingness of Darwinists to use increasingly stringent court-imposed censorship to defend Darwinist dogma in public schools. They have been quite successful at imposing their ideology on our children. The underpinning of Darwinists' aversion to open discussion or criticism of Darwin's 'Fact' in public schools is their obvious fear of the scientific evidence itself. The survival of Darwinist ideology as the only acceptable theory of biological origins depends almost entirely on censorship. There is no other field of science in which scientists go to court to silence opposing theories.

So Darwinists have most certainly evolved a lot themselves. Back in 1925, they were being censored. But in the decades since, Darwinian fundamentalists have established a long track record of censoring views that disagree with them. This is why many people -- including Justice Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court -- today think that we have "Scopes in reverse."

More to come on Dr. Coyne's essay...