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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Okay, so ignoring ID didn’t work. Evolutionary biologist decides to, like, talk about it

Darwinian evolutionist H. Allen Orr has written a piece in the New Yorker“Devolution” The article is most interesting because, unlike the vast majority of hostile commentators, Dr. Orr, an evolutionary biologist, has actually felt it necessary to find out something about intelligent design theory before trying to trash it.

In fact, he informs us that

Many scientists avoid discussing I.D. for strategic reasons. If a scientific claim can be loosely defined as one that scientists take seriously enough to debate, then engaging the intelligent-design movement on scientific grounds, they worry, cedes what it most desires: recognition that its claims are legitimate scientific ones.

Meanwhile, proposals hostile to evolution are being considered in more than twenty states; earlier this month, a bill was introduced into the New York State Assembly calling for instruction in intelligent design for all public-school students. The Kansas State Board of Education … [a number of ID-related events are cited] In the past few years, college students across the country have formed Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness chapters. Clearly, a policy of limited scientific engagement has failed. So just what is this movement?

It is convenient that Orr admits, up front, that stifling discussion of ID was a strategy and that the strategy has failed. Overall, he writes a surprisingly reasonable hostile account in which he makes absolutely clear that Darwinian evolution means evolution with no design or purpose and that it is the only type of evolution that is permitted to be taught in the school system.

Vast reams of media coverage of the school board controversies fail to articulate that simple fact. And if you do not know it, you will not know why Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness ( IDEA) chapters are springing up among students. In other words, it is not because students have taken a shine to the Religious Right. It is rather that, as Casey Luskin, IDEA Center co-president writes,

The reason why so many students are interested in intelligent design is because they aren't hearing about it in their classes, or are hearing about it in an exceedingly one-sided manner. This peaks their interest because students are keen at smelling when there is information they aren't being told.

Luskin, an apparent enfant terrible, also challenges Orr on a sensitive point:

I publicly invite Allen Orr to explain to us how his Darwinian view of life interfaces with his personal religious beliefs. Public disclosure of Orr's personal views would go much further towards reassuring people that it is possible to believe in God and evolution than would his mere citation to a statement by a pope who said that God and evolution are compatible. My e-mail address is

Any other Darwinist is welcome to do the same, I suppose.

The other thing I liked about Orr’s comments is that he refrains from foolish scaremongering about the Religious Right. I presume that that is because he is a sensible person, but would add that the vast majority of Americans do not believe in Darwinian evolution, so presumably they are all the Religious Right, in which case ...

Luskin also notes that he has written to the New Yorker to complain that Orr has misrepresented ID theorist Bill Dembski, and has posted comments at “Refuted Before it was Written: A Guide to Allen Orr’s ‘Devolution’ Article in The New Yorker

Dembski posted something brief on this at his own blog, Uncommon Descent and apparently plans to say more.

But overall, see how the Internet changes things? The New Yorker might majestically refuse to publish Dembski’s or Luskin’s response, but neither can prevent Dembski or Luskin from reaching whatever section of the public cares—at next to no cost.

The New Yorker must sell advertising to meet huge production costs, but a blogger doesn’t need to do much more than a journalist would. Legacy mainstream media has not grasped the significance of this, just as traditional manuscript illuminators did not grasp the significance of the new trade of printing. The illuminator generally thought that the printer was producing an inferior product, and in some ways that was true — but not in the ways that were important to the customer. The customer, for example, just wanted a Bible; he did not need an illuminated Bible.

In the same way, you don’t really need hundreds of ads for perfume and makeup. You just want a discussion of what’s going on, with links so you can follow up for yourself.

As a matter of fact, while we are on this subject, I came across another interesting statistic about the decline in the fortunes of legacy media. According to former publishing exec Russ Smith (who writes under the soubriquet “Mugger”), “In the post-Watergate 1970's, some 25 to 30 percent of Americans reported to the Harris Poll that they had a great deal of confidence in the press, more than they had in Congress, unions or corporate America. In the 2005 poll, the press ranked only ahead of law firms, with 12 percent reporting high confidence in the media.”

In one sense, this is easy to understand. Woodward and Bernstein revealed political misdeeds that were really happening! Dan Rather (pajamagate) and Newsweek (Korangate) were merely revealing their fantasies. We enjoy popular fiction, but we don’t believe it. And when it is fiction about us, we just turn to other sources after a while.

To find out more about my book on the intelligent design controversy, go to By Design or by Chance?

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