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Addressing Dinesh DíSouza's Misunderstandings About Intelligent Design

A Response to D'Souza's "The Failure of 'Intelligent Design'"

By Casey Luskin, casey@ideacenter.org

Introduction:
When I was a law student at the University of San Diego, social commentator Dinesh DíSouza was invited multiple times to the campus to comment on various controversial issues of our day. I like much of what Mr. DíSouza has to say, including many of his rebuttals to the "new atheists." On March 31, 2008, Mr. DíSouza wrote an article titled, "The Failure of 'Intelligent Design'," that was posted on an AOL blog. Mr. DíSouza starts his article on intelligent design (ID) by correctly observing that, "ID should not, however, be confused with bible-thumping six-day creationism. It does not regard the earth as 6,000 years old," and he ends it by rightly criticizing those who use evolution to promote an atheistic philosophical agenda. Unfortunately, the rest of his article makes misguided attacks upon ID as he (1) makes logically fallacious arguments against ID (i.e. ad hominem attacks and appeals to authority), (2) fails to discuss the science and appears to uncritically accept the neo-Darwinian viewpoint, and (3) makes factually incorrect arguments against ID.

Logical Fallacy # 1: Ad Hominem Attacks and Namecalling:
Ad hominem arguments attack the person making the argument rather than addressing the argument itself. Ad hominem attacks are fallacious because they do not address the argument being made. Rather than making scientific rebuttals to intelligent design, Mr. D'Souza simply makes ad hominem attacks against ID proponents, trying to make them look uncool by engaging in namecalling, comparing ID proponents to "narrow-minded Christians." This is saddening because such rhetoric is wholly false and it only serves to harm the cultural and scientific debate over intelligent design.

Mr. DíSouza continues his ad hominem attacks, claiming that ID should be opposed because the ID movement is like a "group, made up of a law professor, a couple of physicists, several journalists, as well as some divinity school graduates, [that] flatly denies Einsteinís proposition that e=mc2." His ad hominem attacks here are not only fallacious, they are also factually incorrect: the ID movement includes a significant number of scientists, including biologists, biochemists, including scientists with training in evolutionary biology, who support the view that life was designed. It is saddening that Mr. D'Souza misrepresents the credentials of pro-ID scientists.

Mr. D'Souza also misrepresents the facts because the views of ID proponents are not so-outlandish as to "den[y]" basic observations about evolution. ID proponents recognize that species can evolve to some degree, and in fact ID does not necessarily challenge the view that all species share a universal common ancestor. But the claims of modern neo-Darwinism--that random mutation and unguided blind natural selection generated all of the complexity of life--are increasingly coming into question by scientists. Over 700 scientists (some of which do not even support ID) have signed a statement agreeing that such integrated, organized complexity of life is not what we would expect from a random-and-unguided process like Darwinian evolution (see dissentfromdarwin.com).

Mr. D'Souza makes emotional arguments: he tries to make ID look uncool by labeling it "narrow minded," he ignores its support among qualified biologists, and he wrongly claims it is merely supported by non-biologists such as lawyers, reporters, and theologians. These arguments fail because they are fallacious and factually wrong; it's clear that the scientific views of ID proponents are not as outlandish as Mr. D'Souza makes them appear.

Logical Fallacy # 2: The Appeal to Authority:
Mr. D'Souza also claims that people should support Darwinian evolution because it like Einstein's theory of relativity, which "enjoy[s] near-unanimous support in the physics community worldwide." Mr. D'Souza's argument here constitutes an appeal to authority, a logical fallacy: he claims you should accept Darwinian evolution not because of the evidence but rather because other scientists support it.

By comparing ID to physics or relativity, Mr. D'Souza uses a poor analogy because I know of not one single ID proponent who rejects Einstein's theories regarding relativity, yet it seems that there are far more scientists who challenge Darwin. As I noted above there are hundreds of scientists who have risked their careers by publicly stating dissent from neo-Darwinism. In the end, people should challenge (or accept) the claims of neo-Darwinism because they are compelled to do so by the evidence, not because of appeals to the authority of other scientists.

By making an appeal to authority, Mr. D'Souza follows the dogmatic approach of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), who in January 2008 declared that the public should accept neo-Darwinism because ď[t]here is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution,Ē and it is ďso well established that no new evidence is likely to alterĒ it. Yet as I discuss in "The Facts about Intelligent Design: A Response to the National Academy of Sciencesí Science, Evolution, and Creationism," the NAS failed to discuss much scientific data that challenges neo-Darwinism and supports intelligent design. Mr. D'Souza also fails to give any meaningful discussion of the scientific the science and simply tells people to uncritically accept evolution because it's the popular thing to do among scientists.

Failing to discuss the science and uncritically accepting the neo-Darwinian viewpoint:
Another instance where Mr. D'Souza fails to discuss the science is where he uncritically asserts that, "Man, as an animal, is also the product of evolution, having descended from the same evolutionary 'tree' that produced gorillas and chimpanzees." But Mr. D'Souza makes this statement as an assertion of fact, and discusses no scientific evidence to bolster his claim. In fact, as I have discussed elsewhere, there are good scientific reasons to challenge the some of the Darwinian accounts of human evolution:

  • Human Origins and Intelligent Design
  • Paleoanthropologists Disown Homo habilis from Our Direct Family Tree
  • The myth of 1% human-chimp genetic differences.

    Sadly, Mr. D'Souza's article provides no scientific discussion of any of this evidence, but simply asserts human evolution as a fact, accepting neo-Darwinian theory without discussing any critical examination of its claims.

    Mis-Stating the Law
    Mr. D'Souza implies that judges should reject intelligent design because it is a minority viewpoint in science, stating, "How would a judge, who is not a physicist, resolve the group's demand for inclusion in the physics classroom? He would summon a wide cross-section of leading physicists." According to Mr. D'Souza, because intelligent design is not supported by "leading" scientists, it should be unconstitutional to teach. As far as constitutional law goes, that is completely wrong and mis-states the law.

    Under our system of First Amendment constitutional law, judges have the right to determine if teaching a subject violates the establishment clause and thus establishes religion. But they do not have so much authority as to disbar a subject from the classroom simply because many leading scientists may disagree with it. Under America's three-branched system of government, the choice of subject matter for the curriculum is left to the people-- to the legislative branch, i.e. school boards. As I co-wrote in Montana Law Review, judges do not have the authority to throw out an educational policy simply because they disagree with the subject matter being taught: "Even if Judge Jones believed that ID is false, he should have remembered that 'the wisdom of an educational policy or its efficiency from an educational point of view is not germane to the constitutional issue of whether that policy violates the establishment clause.' If it is really true that '[s]tates and local school boards are generally afforded considerable discretion in operating public schools,' then what matters is that the school board sincerely believed that ID has scientific merit, not whether a federal judge is convinced of its ultimate scientific truth."

    (David K. DeWolf, John G. West, Casey Luskin, "Intelligent Design will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover," 68 Montana Law Review, 7 (Spring, 2007).)
    Mr. D'Souza would have judges overstep their bounds and engage in judicial activism by taking over the role of the legislative branch to determine whether a subject is right or wrong, and whether it should be included in science curricula. Mr. D'Souza's legal philosophy would make for bad educational policy because it would take curricular decisions out of the hands of the people, diminishing the rights of people to control the education of their children in their local school district. Moreover, Mr. D'Souza's legal philosophy gravely endangers the system of checks-and-balances built into our government to prevent singular unelected citizens (like judges) from having too much power.

    But there is a deeper problem with Mr. D'Souza's argument: scientists should settle scientific debates, not judges, and Mr. D'Souza's approach would silence minority scientific views. As Stephen Jay Gould and other scientists told the U.S. Supreme Court during the Daubert case, minority scientific views must NOT be ignored by courts or society: "Automatically rejecting dissenting views that challenge the conventional wisdom is a dangerous fallacy, for almost every generally accepted view was once deemed eccentric or heretical. Perpetuating the reign of a supposed scientific orthodoxy in this way, whether in a research laboratory or in a courtroom, is profoundly inimical to the search for truth." Thankfully, the Supreme Court sided with the party that Gould was supporting in this case, allowing minority scientific views to be heard in courtrooms. The history of science shows that every majority view started off as a minority view. But if Mr. D'Souza had his way, only majority scientific views could be heard and there could be no valuable dissenting voices within science.

    Misrepresenting the Educational Policies Advocated by the ID Movement:
    Finally, Mr. D'Souza provides inaccurate discussions of the educational policies promoted by the ID movement. He states, "any judge would promptly show the dissenters the door and deny their demand for equal time in the classroom. This is precisely the predicament of the ID movement." But the ID movement does not support mandating ID in the curriculum, much less requiring "equal time" for ID in the classroom. The Discovery Institute has long opposed policies that would even go so far as to require intelligent design in public schools, much less give ID "equal time": "As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively. Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned."

    (Discovery Institute's Science Education Policy)
    Thus it seems that the educational policies advocated by the ID movement are very different from Mr. D'Souza's statements: the ID movement seeks to advance ID as a science, not push it into schools. Rather the ID movement seeks to end the dogmatic teaching of evolution by allowing teachers to challenge it in the classroom.

    This position is not new, for it has been the position of leaders in the ID Movement for many years. An op-ed by Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer published in 2002 recommends precisely the same approach: don't mandate ID in the curriculum (see Stephen C. Meyer, "Teach the Controversy," Cincinnati Enquirer, March 30, 2002).

    Conclusion:
    Dinesh D'Souza is an insightful commentator with many good things to say. Unfortunately, he has made some mistakes in his attack on intelligent design, which fails to scrutinize the evidence for Darwinism and uncritically accepts neo-Darwinian evolution by appealing to authority. Mr. D'Souza also makes false representations of the scientists who promote the theory of intelligent design, and he also gives inaccurate descriptions of the legal tests regarding the constitutionality of teaching ID. Let us hope that people will instead think for themselves, investigate the evidence, listen to dissenting voices, and feel free to follow the evidence wherever it leads.