Saturday, November 05, 2005


The Times - inaccurate report on intelligent design

Today's edition of The Times (Saturday, November 5, 2005) carries an article by Martin Penner in Rome, under the heading 'Vatican's view evolves on the origin of the species' (page 55).

Penner reports some comments by Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, as 'a stout defence of Charles Darwin' and a 'strong criticism of Christian fundamentalists who reject his theory of evolution and interpret the biblical account of creation literally.' (There is no 'evolution' of the Vatican's view here, as the header implies.) This amounts to the perpetuation of a false dilemma, since many people 'reject the theory of evolution' in part without interpreting the biblical account of creation literally. It is, after all, not only Christians who reject the totalizing claims of Neo-Darwinism (one need only consider the views of secular Jew, mathematician David Berlinski to see that, cf.

I am an advocate of ID, and yet I agree with the Cardinal's remarks that Darwin's theory of evolution is 'perfectly compatible' with belief in creation, and that 'To say that the principle of evolution goes against the principle of creation makes no sense.' My reasons for endorsing ID are not theological. I also agree with the Cardinal that 'the Universe didn't make itself and had a creator' and that it is important for Christians to know how science sees things so as to 'understand things better.' Indeed, I think that understanding the scientific theory of ID helps us to better understand the fact that the Universe didn't make itself and had a creator!

Unfortunately, Penner's report includes false, inaccurate, or at least misleading statements:

Penner says that the Cardinal's statements were interpreted in Italy as a rejection of:

'the "intelligent design" view, which asserts that the Universe is so complex, some higher being must have designed every detail.'

This statement is at best so oversimplified as to be inaccurate. First, ID does not infer design on the basis of mere complexity, but of specified and/or irriducible complexity (cf. William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch). Second, ID does not assert that some higher being must have 'designed every detail' of the universe. It only asserts that intelligent design is the best explanation for those particular aspects of the universe which exhibit specified and/or irreducible complexity.

Penner reports: 'Vatican analysts said that Cardinal Poupard's remerks were partly designed to distance the Church from American concervatives campaigning against the teaching of evolution in state schools.' Now, I may be wrong about this, but as far as I know, there aren't any American concervatives campaigning against the teaching of evolution is state schools. At least, there are to my knowledge no high profile cases of such campaigning at the present time to which one might relate the Cardinal's comments. Indeed, Penner moves on to assert that:

'A court in Pennsylvania is hearing a lawsuit brought by parents against a school district that teaches intelligent design as well as evolution. It is a test case, the result of which is expected to affect the curriculum in thousands of schools.'

But note that, according to Penner himself, this lawsuit does not concern an attempt to eliminate the teaching of evolution, but rather concerns the teaching of ID in addition to evolution.

In point of fact, I think Penner's statement is somewhat misleading. The lawsuit in question involves a school district that requires teachers to read a single, short (not especially well worded) statement about evolution and intelligent design to students, a statement which points students to the secondary text book, Of Panda's and People, in their school library if they want to learn more. Penner's report would surely be taken by the uninformed to imply rather more than that (i.e. that ID was actually part of the science lessons taught in class).

(To read more about the Dover school trial cf.

Penner ends his report by noting that in 1987 the US Supreme Court abolished a law banning the teaching of evolution unless creationism was also taught, before claiming that:

'President Bush has said that he believes schools should teach both.'

This statement is incorrect because it fails to distinguish between 'creationism' and intelligent design theory. Penner implies that Bush has said that schools should teach both evolution and creationism. Not so. During a round-table interview with reporters from five Texas newspapers on Monday August 2, 2005, President Bush said he believes schools should discuss 'intelligent design' alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life: 'I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,' Bush said, 'You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.' Unfortunately, Penner's article propogates the false idea that creationism and ID are one and the same thing. They are not (cf. William A. Dembski, 'Why President Bush Got It Right About Intelligent Design' @ & John G. West, 'Intelligent Design & Creationism Are Just Not The Same' @

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