The New Yorker: Devolution by H. Allan Orr

DEVOLUTION by H. ALLEN ORR Why intelligent design isn’t.

Overall a good overview of the arguments made by Intelligent Design and why they fail.

Orr documents a beautiful case of argument from ignorance, in addition to an admission that IC really does not mean anything much

Design theorists have made some concessions to these criticisms. Behe has confessed to “sloppy prose” and said he hadn’t meant to imply that irreducibly complex systems “by definition” cannot evolve gradually. “I quite agree that my argument against Darwinism does not add up to a logical proof,” he says—though he continues to believe that Darwinian paths to irreducible complexity are exceedingly unlikely. Behe and his followers now emphasize that, while irreducibly complex systems can in principle evolve, biologists can’t reconstruct in convincing detail just how any such system did evolve.

As far as Dembski is concerned, Orr observes that

Dembski’s arguments have been met with tremendous enthusiasm in the I.D. movement. In part, that’s because an innumerate public is easily impressed by a bit of mathematics. Also, when Dembski is wielding his equations, he gets to play the part of the hard scientist busily correcting the errors of those soft-headed biologists. (Evolutionary biology actually features an extraordinarily sophisticated body of mathematical theory, a fact not widely known because neither of evolution’s great popularizers—Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Jay Gould—did much math.) Despite all the attention, Dembski’s mathematical claims about design and Darwin are almost entirely beside the point.

Indeed, I wonder how familiar the average ID proponent is with evolutionary theory beyond the Icons of Evolution as ‘presented’ by Wells.

Quickly converging on the achilles heel of Dembski’s latest ‘argument’ Orr states

The most serious problem in Dembski’s account involves specified complexity. Organisms aren’t trying to match any “independently given pattern”: evolution has no goal, and the history of life isn’t trying to get anywhere.

Orr observes that ironically, while ID takes great joy in pointing out disagreements among evolutionists as evidence that there is a ‘controversy’, ID does not seem to do much better

Those of us who have argued with I.D. in the past are used to such shifts of emphasis. But it’s striking that Dembski’s views on the history of life contradict Behe’s. Dembski believes that Darwinism is incapable of building anything interesting; Behe seems to believe that, given a cell, Darwinism might well have built you and me. Although proponents of I.D. routinely inflate the significance of minor squabbles among evolutionary biologists (did the peppered moth evolve dark color as a defense against birds or for other reasons?), they seldom acknowledge their own, often major differences of opinion. In the end, it’s hard to view intelligent design as a coherent movement in any but a political sense.

And although some ID proponents are claiming that science, especially Darwinism is atheistic and that there is a scientific and media conspiracy to hide the truth, Orr observes that

Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they’re alarmed because intelligent design is junk science. Meanwhile, more than eighty per cent of Americans say that God either created human beings in their present form or guided their development. As a succession of intelligent-design proponents appeared before the Kansas State Board of Education earlier this month, it was possible to wonder whether the movement’s scientific coherence was beside the point. Intelligent design has come this far by faith.