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Homework Avoidance: A Major Reason for Resistance to Intelligent Design

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We had a group of visitors come through Discovery Institute on Friday and a conversation, becoming interesting and intense, broke out around the question of why some folks who ought to know better resist the critique of Darwinism and the offer of a scientific alternative like intelligent design. I'll briefly summarize the gist of what we talked about.

Probably most serious working biologists dispense with Darwinian theory in their everyday work. It simply doesn't come up, and insofar as it does, it raises manifest problems in terms of its own scientific credibility. The defense of the theory is thus left to two notable groups: the Internet atheist brigade of PZ Myers & Co. and celebrity atheists like Richard Dawkins -- who, for his part, is no longer considered a serious scientist or even a serious public intellectual -- and, curiously, to a fringe of minor academics at small religious colleges.

As one of our colleagues puts it, the latter -- theistic evolutionists -- are trying baptize a failing theory, not realizing the moribund state it's in.

You could speculate about what drives some of the religious folks who take Darwin's side. A desire to curry respect with higher-up figures in the academic world, or a fear of being mocked for holding a controversial minority scientific view. I would say there's an additional factor, though, one that is of much wider applicability: homework avoidance. I see this clearly in the religious community I know best, the Jewish one, and in the professional community I belong to, that of journalists. It's huge.

If you're going to identify yourself with one side or the other in the evolution debate, it's very, very tempting to go Darwinist. Sure, there's the consideration of your own social anxiety and eagerness to win the esteem of your peers and betters. But even more important for many is that when you embrace orthodox evolutionism, you can feel confident that for the most part you'll be able to go about your business without anyone challenging you to defend your beliefs. If they do, you can just say, "Hey, it's what all those scientists say! Leave me alone."

Identifying with an alternative to Darwinism is far more difficult. What if someone challenges you on that, demands that you defend your regard for intelligent design? To answer creditably, very different from Darwinism, you need to have done your homework. And that's no easy thing. The science is hard, and I say that as someone, a non-scientist, who's immersed in it daily.

I would say ID's greatest challenge at the moment is to make its ideas publicly accessible -- explain itself to people in a way that's easy to grasp by any thoughtful individual. This is terribly important. Right now, we have a lot of work to do on that front.

Photo credit: golly gee damn/Flickr.