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SMU Religious Studies Professor Mark A. Chancey Attempts to Discredit Intelligent Design With Bad History

Still searching for some rhetorical crowbar to remove the "Four Nails in Darwin's Coffin," Mark A. Chancey claims ID "originated within certain religious circles and has credibility only within those same circles -- mostly theologically conservative Christian groups that find aspects of evolutionary theory threatening." Readers may find his complete comments at SMU Daily Campus, but whatever else may be said of his characterizations, the statement above is surely bad history and not an accurate reflection of the development of modern ID. Here is why.

If ID is measured by the yardstick of modern evolutionary theory (one could conceivably go as far back as Anaxagorus [500-428 BC] for its beginnings), then surely the idea that certain features of the natural world give evidence of having been intelligently designed rather than due to blind chance and necessity must be ascribed to Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). Wallace believed that nature gives manifest evidence of "creative power, directive mind, and ultimate purpose." That's right, the co-discover of natural selection--indeed, the man who prompted Darwin to stop dawdling and rush his Origin of Species to press--believed in intelligent design! In fact, the words quoted above come from the subtitle to his grand evolutionary synthesis The World of Life, first published by Chapman and Hall in December of 1910. After more than sixty years of inquiry into the nature and meaning of biological processes and life itself, Wallace concluded "that they imply first, a Creative Power, which so constituted matter as to render these marvels possible; next, a directive Mind, which is demanded at every step of what we term growth, and often look upon as so simple and natural a process as to require no explanation; and, lastly, an ultimate Purpose, in the very existence of the whole vast life-world in all its long course of evolution throughout the eons of geological time." Wallace was surely no young-earth creationist; he wasn't even Christian! And as for Wallace's politics, he declared himself a socialist in 1890, promoted land nationalization, equal rights for women, minimum wages for workers, and even a manufacturer's labeling law to protect consumers.

Chancey's "history" of the origins of ID is simply a gross mischaracterization of the intellectual heritage of the current movement. Chancey also forgets about famous astronomer, mathematician, and cosmologist Fred Hoyle (1915-2001), a great admirer of Wallace, who first announced his commitment to ID in 1982 and later expanded on his views in The Intelligent Universe (1984). This too comes from a non-Christian (for more, see Hoyle and ID).

If Chancey wants to argue the evidence as presented by Axe, Meyer, Sternberg, and Wells, all fine and good, but constructions of fanciful histories borne of stereotype and misrepresentation do not reflect well on professor Chancey and lend nothing to the discussion. His assertions regarding the historical foundations of ID are simply wrong on all counts. ID is not creationist or conservative; it has nothing to do with either. Neither Bibles nor right-wing party alliances are necessary join the ranks of Darwin's critics, as the examples above and others, like socialist Max Horkheimer (1895-1973), clearly indicate. Of course these are inconvenient facts for those like Chancey who would prefer straw caricatures (like those conjured up by bad Hollywood scriptwriters in Inherit the Wind) over real scientists and intellectuals when facing ID.

Since Chancey is at SMU, perhaps he should consult the important historian and Methodist Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979), who warned of his kind of history-turned-propaganda. Writing in 1931, Butterfield cautioned against the tendency to write on the side of the reigning power brokers, "to praise revolutions provided they have been successful, to emphasis certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present" (The Whig Interpretation of History, p. v). Unfortunately, Chancey, by perpetuating the stereotypes and implying that ID and evolution are at loggerheads, succumbs to this brand of intellectual negligence. In fact, Wallace helped to develop modern evolutionary theory and was proud of it, what he opposed were the blind processes insisted upon by Darwinian materialists. Fred Hoyle too agreed with much of Wallace's analysis. Hoyle rejected purely chemical explanations for the origin of life, was a staunch critic of Darwinian evolution, and believed that the "information-rich" universe was controlled by an "overriding intelligence" (a phrase remarkably close to the "Overruling Intelligence" Wallace used in 1869 marking his break with Darwin). The question isn't--and never was--evolution or no evolution. The real question is, is evolution directed, detectably designed, and purposeful common descent or is it, as Darwin himself suggested, no more designed "than the course which the wind blows"? In short, is evolution intelligent? In order to get an answer we'll surely need something far more intelligent than professor Chancey's Whiggish and misleading declarations.