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The Ever-Imminent Collapse of Evolution

By Wesley R. Elsberry

Posted July 25, 2004

Touchstone magazine this month has an issue devoted to antievolution, running under the title, "Darwin's Last Stand?" In a question and answer section, there is a question that William A. Dembski provides an answer for:

Touchstone: Where is the ID movement going in the next ten years? What new issues will it be exploring, and what new challenges will it be offering Darwinism?

Dembski: In the next five years, molecular Darwinism the idea that Darwinian processes can produce complex molecular structures at the subcellular level will be dead. When that happens, evolutionary biology will experience a crisis of confidence because evolutionary biology hinges on the evolution of the right molecules. I therefore foresee a Taliban-style collapse of Darwinism in the next ten years. Intelligent design will of course profit greatly from this. For ID to win the day, however, will require talented new researchers able to move this research program forward, showing how intelligent design provides better insights into biological systems than the dying Darwinian paradigm.

(Anonymous (Touchstone Magazine), (2004). "The Measure of Design: A conversation about the past, present & future of Darwinism and Design." Touchstone, 17(6), pp. 60-65.)

The structure of the answer is quite interesting. Asked about the future of intelligent design, Dembski immediately responds with speculations about Darwinism.

The fact of the matter is that "intelligent design" has not, to date, offered any new challenges to any part of evolutionary biology. Every single argument made by ID advocates had its origins elsewhere, either in the biological literature or in antievolutionary sources. According to Dembski, designers are innovators, but thus far ID advocates have tallied up a big goose egg on innovative critiques of evolutionary biology.

Does ID need talented new researchers? Given the billing that the ID advocates make for themselves as "top scientists" and favorable comparisons of current ID advocates to past scientists such as Newton, Pasteur, and Darwin, it seems that the current crop of ID advocates should have found the wherewithal to "move this research program forward". ("Create an ID research program" would be more accurate.) That these self-proclaimed wonders of science have thus far produced nothing of scientific merit corresponding to even a scientific theory of intelligent design says to me that ID is a field that talented new researchers would be well advised to assiduously avoid.

Dembski's invocation of "the dying Darwinian paradigm" is amusing. Evolutionary biology is a dynamic field of research, with theoretical and empirical work going on in hundreds of institutions around the world. The scientific literature shows no tapering-off of reports of research into evolutionary phenomena. If there are death-like references to be made, they should be directed to "intelligent design", where they have the advantage of accurately describing the topic: still-born, barren, moribund, putrescent. It's simply the result of ID advocates trying, unsuccessfully, to revive the exhumed arguments of William Paley. The Paleyist corpus of arguments are ready for re-interment.

The claim that evolution will soon collapse is not a new one. In fact, it predates Darwin's Origin of Species. This point is made clear by Glenn Morton's More and More essay. Dembski's claim is simply the most recent "prediction" of the imminent collapse of evolutionary biology.

One has to wonder about the "Taliban-style collapse" Dembski uses as an invidious comparison. Evolutionary biologists haven't engaged in the egregious human rights violations that characterized the Taliban's hegemony. The Taliban did not collapse because of consideration of empirical evidence. The Taliban "collapsed" because a massive military operation removed them from power. So, do ID advocates look to a day not far off when, faced with their persistent inability to muster either arguments or evidence that displace evolutionary biology, they will simply take up arms against evolutionary biologists? One hopes that Dembski's unfortunate rhetoric is simply that, and not a sign of an imminent shift in ID tactics from shady political action to physical terrorism.

First posted to Panda's Thumb weblog on July 8, 2004