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Peter Hitchens on Intelligent Design

Tom Bethell introduced us to the delightful Darwin-doubting tendencies of venerated atheist Christopher Hitchens's younger brother, Peter. But wait, it gets better. Now atheist Darwin defender and biologist Jerry Coyne, who despises the witty London Daily Mail columnist as a "pathetic little man," points out that Hitchens is also a sympathizer with the theory of intelligent design.* Very nice!

When Expelled was released in England on DVD back in 2010, Hitchens wrote an enjoyable review. He wasn't entirely mad about the film, but he gets a lot right about ID advocates and about their critics:

Something that is also missed here is the fact that ID is not identical with Biblical literalism, as is generally claimed by evolution enthusiasts. In fact it doesn't really set out a coherent theory of the origin of species, or if it has I've never seen it. It suggests that there are reasons to believe that some sort of design is, or may be involved in the natural world. It doesn't specify who or what the designer is. There is a wonderful interview with Professor Dawkins in Expelled, in which he appears to accept the possibility of design - and then gives a wonderful evolution-compatible explanation of this which gave -- and gives -- me great pleasure. It's worth the price of the DVD to see this and several other Dawkins moments. He has hit back at the film's makers on his website, and I don't blame him at all. They made him look silly, something he's not used to in a generally admiring world.
Actually, the film's most telling moments are those where orthodox scientists are shown blustering vaguely but overconfidently about the origins of life, a thing they can't explain, have in fact failed to explain, and whose explanation is becoming more elusive, as we learn more about the astonishing complexity of the living cell. The cell is something Darwin knew very little about. Their performances strongly reinforced my own view. That is that nobody knows how the realm of nature took its present shape. I don't, they don't -- and all prescriptive statements on this subject are risky, and people should be polite to each other about it when they disagree.
Coyne fights back:
Most supporters of ID are not scientists, but some are people who were trained as scientists...but don't practice it now. Exceptions are almost never biologists, but engineers and chemists. And all the supporters of ID are religious, which surely should tell you something.


If there's no religion behind ID, why are all its advocates religious?

Peterhitchens.jpgAs Josh Youngkin pointed out the other day, Discovery Institute maintains a "Scientific Dissent from Darwin" list to answer these silly accusations. To say, as Coyne does, that "Most supporters of ID are not scientists" is of course true. But most believers in Darwinian evolution are also not scientists. Most people are not scientists. The Darwin debate is being fought out by professional academics, scientists and philosophers and others, but also by journalists, educators, and thoughtful people from a variety of backgrounds. The question of whether life reflects purpose and design is an ultimate question -- arguably the ultimate question -- and to say that only scientists can tell us the answer would be a gross abdication of intellectual and spiritual responsibility.

The New Republic's Leon Wieseltier made that point wonderfully in his recent column on Thomas Nagel.

To say that ID advocates, scientists and non-scientists alike, include many who hold religious beliefs of some kind is also true. But again, most people hold such beliefs. Why should we in the ID community be any different, or more inclined against theism than the rest of the world? As Hitchens points out, and this is obvious, ID has implications that, among other things, allow space for theistic commitment. So wouldn't it be counterintuitive -- in fact, upside-down and crazy -- if most people who sympathize with ID turned out also to reject its theism-friendly significance?

But that's what Jerry Coyne seems to be demanding. Yeah, he might have more respect for intelligent design -- which, in truth, to judge from his other writings he seems to know little about -- if ID theorists and supporters rejected the implications of the theory they advocate. OK, sure. Right.

*Presumably in calling Hitchens "little," Dr. Coyne, no giant himself, isn't referring to physical stature.