Two IDEA Center Board Members Defend Intelligent Design in First Things - April 9, 2014
In February, 2014, theistic evolutionist biologist Stephen Meredith published an article in the journal First Things, "Looking for God in All the Wrong Places," critiquing intelligent design. Meredith's article mentioned the IDEA Center's website by name, and purported to critique some of our arguments for intelligent design. Two IDEA Center Board Members—Lynette Renner and Stephen Huxley—submitted letters to First Things in response to Meredith, defending intelligent design and the IDEA Center. Both of their letters were published in the April, 2014 issue of First Things.
The letters were published in an abridged version, and are online here, though behind a paywall. Below we reprint the full version of their letters as they were originally submitted:
Letter from Lynette Renner:
First Things is known for its civility and its seriousness. But Stephen Meredith’s recent piece, “Looking for God in All the Wrong Places,” detracts from that reputation. Not only does he claim that intelligent design (ID) proponents lack “intellectual honesty,” but he refers readers to websites like The Panda’s Thumb, apparently to learn about why ID proponents are so dishonest.
I suppose it’s appropriate that an uncivil article would recommend The Panda’s Thumb, because that website is a haven for ad hominem attacks. Perusing its blog posts and comments one finds that ID proponents are regularly subjected to invectives like “liars for Jesus” and “mendacious intellectual pornographers,” as well as to comparisons to members of the KKK, Holocaust deniers, or worse. PZ Myers, the virulently anti-Catholic atheist blogger, is a longtime contributor to The Pandas Thumb, where he enjoys accusing ID proponents of “stupidity and dishonesty.”
The rhetoric of The Panda’s Thumb is so over the top that a 2010 article on science blogging in the Journal of Science Communication noted the website’s “emotional” and “insulting” rhetoric which aims “to distinguish their group of reasonable and worthy individuals from others, who are wrong, unintelligent, and overall worthless.” Commenting specifically on The Panda’s Thumb, the article stated: “The frequency of such evaluations and mockery undermines the goals of rational debate and criticism.”
It is equally unfortunate that Meredith was so dismissive of Stephen Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, failing to engage its major arguments. Contrast Meredith’s dismissal with the praise Meyer’s book has received from prominent scientists like paleontologist Mark McMenamin of Mount Holyoke College, State University of New York evolutionary biologist Scott Turner, and Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, a plant geneticist who spent his career at Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research. Harvard geneticist George Church has said that Meyer’s book “represents an opportunity for bridge-building, rather than dismissive polarization—bridges across cultural divides in great need of professional, respectful dialog—and bridges to span evolutionary gaps.”
Meyer’s book—and the intelligent design position as a whole—deserved a far more thoughtful treatment from First Things, one that actually engaged the arguments made by ID proponents.
 Inna Kouper, “Science blogs and public engagement with science: practices, challenges, and opportunities,” Journal of Science Communication, 9(1) (March, 2010).
Stephen Meredith’s article, “Looking for God in All the Wrong Places,” (Feb. 2014) quotes the IDEA Center’s website. He says that its claim that we can empirically show “humans exist because an intelligent being did ‘have them in mind’” is “wishful thinking.” Having taught statistics for nearly 4 decades, I believe I can confidently say that the methods used by the ID movement to detect design are far more rigorous than “wishful thinking.”
ID theorists detect design using the classical scientific method of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and conclusion. Here's how ID follows the scientific method (also adapted from IDEA’s website):
Observation: In our experience, intelligent agents regularly (and uniquely) produce high levels of complex-specified information (“CSI”). CSI is a scenario or system which is highly unlikely to exist by chance (because it is complex), and conforms to a humanly recognizable pattern (making it specified). Symbols, language, mathematics, and machines are all examples of entities with high CSI.
Hypothesis: If a natural object was designed, it should contain high CSI.
Experiment: We can experimentally examine biological structures to test for high CSI. For example, biological studies reveal machine-like structures which are complex because they have an unlikely arrangement of many interacting and interlocking parts, and specified because their particular arrangement of parts is necessary for function. Genetic knockout experiments show these systems are “irreducibly complex,” meaning any change in the arrangement of their parts destroys some or all of the functions they perform.
Conclusion: Because they exhibit high CSI, a quality known to be produced only by intelligence, we can reasonably conclude intelligent design is the best explanation for irreducibly complex biological systems.
This, of course, does not “prove” that they are intelligently designed, any more than observations of common body functions between animals and humans “prove” Darwinism. But the pathway from observation to the conclusion of design has far more behind it than “wishful thinking,” and meets the standards accepted by historical sciences.
Though Meredith quotes the IDEA Center website, he never mentions these sorts of arguments—also taken from IDEA’s website. It appears to me that Dr. Meredith’s arguments attacking ID should give anyone pause to reflect who it is that is really engaging in “wishful thinking.”
Stephen Huxley, Ph.D.
Member, IDEA Center Board of Directors
Professor of Business Analytics
School of Management
University of San Francisco