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Textbook case

The ID debate follows the model of past scientific revolutions

Issue: "Five-man legacy," Jan. 28, 2006

Intelligent Design took a hit when a federal court in Dover, Pa., banned it from being taught in the state's public schools. Now Darwinian activists are targeting the Ohio school system for including a biology lesson that simply poses questions about evolution.

Pundits are ridiculing those who doubt evolution as being "anti-science." They are using the controversy over Intelligent Design to warn about "fundamentalists" who want to reverse modern science and take us back to the Dark Ages. Even some conservative pundits, such as George Will, are piling on, eager to distance themselves from those embarrassing conservative Christians who somehow got into the Republican Party's big tent.

Meanwhile, evolutionists rallied to Darwin's defense. Popular magazines such as Newsweek, National Geographic, Discover, and Wired put Darwin on the cover, along with dismissive treatments of Intelligent Design. More serious scientists admitted that there are some gaps in evolutionary theory, but insisted that those gaps will someday be filled!

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The overheated reaction-including purges of scientists who doubt Darwinism, censorship of dissident ideas, and legal action against promulgating Intelligent Design-is a textbook illustration of what the pioneering historian of science Thomas Kuhn describes in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962).

He shows how scientists develop "paradigms," or explanatory models, the terms of which they use to organize their findings and interpret their research. For example, for centuries, the Ptolomaic model of the universe, the assumption that the moon, the sun, and the planets revolve around the earth, was adequate to account for nearly all astronomical observations.

But then someone discovered "anomalies," facts that the model cannot easily explain. Galileo with his telescope observed that some other planets have moons revolving around them as earth has.

Typically, the old-paradigm scientists first defend the model by attacking the anomaly detectors, often virulently, sometimes using the law and institutional power to silence the critics of the established model. Galileo was tried as a heretic, forced to recant, and put in prison.

Meanwhile, the scientists tinker with the model to try to make it fit the observations. The Ptolomaic system was modified with epicycles and complex new mathematical models. Eventually, though, as more and more anomalies are discovered, the old paradigm is abandoned and a new one that explains the anomalies takes its place-such as the Copernican model that the earth and planets revolve around the sun. This process is what Kuhn describes as a "scientific revolution."

Intelligent Design has found anomalies that just cannot be explained in terms of Darwin's random natural selection. As Michael Behe has shown, the most basic mechanisms of life-the structures within a cell, the chemistry of blood-clotting, the processing of oxygen-display "irreducible complexity" that could not have evolved randomly. If these already complex and finely tuned structures were not in place, life on any level could not exist.

Apologists for evolution often simply ignore these anomalies. They launch off on "evidence" for Darwinism, such as how bacteria develop strains that are resistant to antibiotics through natural selection. But no one denies that natural selection occurs. Obviously, the fittest will survive. But Darwinism insists that natural selection is what creates new species. And the evidence for that happening-for bacteria turning into another life form-is lacking.

Oddly, some of the outrage against Intelligent Design comes from "theistic evolutionists." These are Christians who have made their peace with the major scientific paradigm, upholding both evolution and a belief in God. They believe that evolution is the way God chose to create His natural order. The book of Genesis, they say, is symbolic. God directed evolution to create man.

But the crux of Darwinism is precisely that evolution is undirected, stemming from random mutations. Those who say there is a purpose to evolution are no longer in the Darwinist paradigm. Whether they want to or not, they are advocating Intelligent Design.

Since purpose, direction, and non-random order can be observed everywhere in nature, perhaps eventually they will inspire a scientific revolution.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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