Intelligent Design

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Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 275–282, 2004 0892-3310/04 Intelligent Design: Ready for Prime Time?1 ALAN D. GISHLICK National Center for Science Education 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 e-mail: Abstract—Intelligent design (ID) is outside the mainstream of science. Is it likely to move into the mainstream in the future? Continental drift, reformulated as plate tectonics, did make this move. A comparison of the course and nature of resea
  Intelligent Design: Ready for Prime Time? 1 A LAN D. G ISHLICK   National Center for Science Education420 40th Street, Suite 2Oakland, CA 94609-2509e-mail: Abstract —Intelligent design (ID) is outside the mainstream of science. Is itlikely to move into the mainstream in the future? Continental drift, re-formulated as plate tectonics, did make this move. A comparison of the courseand nature of research in the two areas does not suggest that ID is likely tofollow suit.  Keywords: intelligent design—plate tectonics—continental drift—fringe and mainstream science—mainstream and fringe science Introduction In what is commonly called ‘‘ fringe science, ’’ there are many ideas whoseproponents insist that they deserve the attention of  ‘‘ mainstream ’’ scientists. Theimportant question is, at what point should attention be given? When does a pieceof  ‘‘ fringe ’’ science become ‘‘ mainstream? ’’ Nowhere is this question morepertinent today than in connection with ‘‘ intelligent design. ’’ Is intelligent design(ID) a scientific theory deserving an equal place in the scientific community,science funding, and science education? Proponents of ID insist that they offernothing less than a paradigm shift in biology, and indeed in science as a whole.Theydemandthatthescientificcommunity,andthescience-educationcommunityespecially, take them seriously and give them ‘‘ equal time. ’’ Is this deserved?Is science snubbing ID?To answer this question, I think it is helpful to compare the scientificproductivity of ID in its formative years to that of other scientific fields that havemade the transition from the ‘‘ fringe ’’ to accepted paradigm. I will take as myexample an idea that, when first proposed, was called ‘‘ utter damned rot ’’ (attributed to W. B. Scott). Mainstream scientists warned that those who valuedtheir reputation for scientific sanity should shun this theory, complaining, ‘‘ If wearetobelievethishypothesis,wemustforgeteverythingwehavelearnedinthelast70 years and start all over again ’’ (R. T. Chamberlain, quoted in Stewart, 1990).This criticism sounds quite similar to what has been said about ID over itstwenty-year career since the publication of Thaxton, Bradley, and Olsen ’ s The Mystery of Life ’  s Origin (1984)—or so claim advocates of ID. Indeed, someadvocates of ID have embraced the comparison (Dembski, 2001). The differenceis that after fifty years, despite those harsh statements initially made about the  Journal of Scientific Exploration , Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 275–282, 2004 0892-3310/04 275  aforementioned theory, it was the dominant paradigm of the field. If ID is toattain the same level of scientific acceptance, it will have to follow the samepath. Continental Drift: Initial Criticisms The ‘‘ ugly duckling ’’ theory was, of course, continental drift, now theaccepted paradigm of geology (re-formulated as plate tectonics, whichconsiders the crust of the earth not as composed of continents floating onoceanic crust, but instead as a series of tectonic plates). The road toacceptance of continental drift was long and hard. Although Alfred Wegenerwas the first to codify a theory of continental drift, documenting it with a greatdeal of evidence, the idea did not start with him (Stewart, 1990). The moderngeological idea of continental drift can be traced to the American geologist F.B. Taylor, who suggested in 1910 that drifting continents caused wrinkling of the crust along the leading direction of motion, thus building mountain ranges(Taylor, 1910). He postulated that tidal forces, generated when the moon wascaptured during the Cretaceous, caused the continents to shift. FollowingTaylor ’ s work, H. Baker produced a reconstruction of ancient continentalpositions. Using the shape of the continental coastlines, he postulated that allthe continents were once joined together in a super-continent that suddenlybroke apart during the Miocene (Baker, 1914). He also proposed a similarlyimaginative tidal-force model, in which orbital variations brought Venus andEarth close together, tearing the moon loose from the Pacific basin, whereuponthe continents slipped into the void (Baker, 1914). In such writings, theproposed causes of continental displacement were so outlandish that the ideaof continental displacement became nearly impossible for scientists toswallow, and thus it was largely ignored.Alfred Wegener was a well-respected climatologist and an acknowledgedexpert on polar climates when he became interested in the idea of continentaldrift. His interest stemmed not just from the corresponding shapes of thecontinents, which previous researchers had noticed, but also from the geologyand paleontology of the continents, particularly the pattern of glaciation inthe Permian. The Permian glacial record displays extensive glaciations on thesouthern continents, extending near the equator to India (Stewart, 1990). Further,the glacial striations (marks left by glaciers that show the direction from whichthe glacier came) pointed to the center of glaciation being in what are nowoceans: a geological impossibility, since glaciers always come from land. But if the continents were aggregated together during the Permian and located over theSouth Pole, the observed pattern of glaciation would have been geologicallypossible.Wegener summarized a body of evidence for continental drift from patterns of geology, geography, biology, and fossil bio-geography into two scientific paperspublished in German in 1912 (Wegener, 1912a,b) and into his book, Die 276 A. D. Gishlick    Entstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane ( The Origin of Continents and Oceans ),published in 1915. In the first half of his book, he detailed his theory and arguedthat it was not vulnerable to the problems he saw with the contraction and geo-synclinal theories (the generally accepted global models for geology at the time).In the second half of the book, he detailed how continental drift better fit the datafrom geology, geophysics, paleontology, bio-geography, and paleoclimatology.He also proposed the first reconstruction based on continental-shelf marginsrather than on coastlines. He named the hypothetical super-continent ‘‘ Pangaea ’’ (for ‘‘ all land ’’ ) and also suggested that it broke up during the Mesozoic(Wegener, 1915).Wegener ’ s ideas met with harsh criticism in the geological community. TheBritish Geographical Society and the American Association of PetroleumGeologists (AAPG) separately conducted symposia (in 1923 and 1926 re-spectively) at which Wegener ’ s ideas were examined and rejected (Stewart,1990). The general reason for the rejection was not that continental driftlacked a ‘‘ mechanism, ’’ as commonly believed, but because the ideas did notfit with the prevailing theories of the American geological establishment.Continental drift violated the idea that multiple working hypotheses wererequired to explain geological phenomena; it seemed to contradict the well-tested and accepted ideas of isostasy (how the continents ‘‘ float ’’ ) and geo-synclinal theory; and it seemed to contradict uniformitarianism. In total, itseemed to fly in the face of the entire basis of geological thought going back to Dana (Oreskes, 1999, 2001). The criticism was not limited to the evidence,however. Wegener was criticized because he was not a geologist yet presumedto advance grand theories about geology (Oreskes, 1999; Stewart, 1990).Owing to the staunch criticism of the most prominent figures of geology at thetime, there were few willing to support continental drift in Great Britain andthe United States (Stewart, 1990).While Wegener ’ s ideas were largely dismissed in Europe and America, othergeologists in specific areas found the concept of drift useful. Swiss alpinegeologists, Spanish and Dutch geologists, numerous South African geologists,and a few British geologists were particularly open to the idea of continentaldrift because it fit well with the data that they observed in their own work.Principal among these were South African geologist A. L. Du Toit (Stewart,1990) and British geophysicist John Joly. Joly proposed an early model of convection-driven drift, but his physics background made him suspect ingeological circles (Oreskes, 1999). While Joly was a leading theorist of continental drift, Du Toit was its most zealous and outspoken proponent. In hisbook  Our Wandering Continents (1937), Du Toit blasted the mostly Americangeological establishment for its adherence to the orthodoxy of static continents,and criticized in particular the use of such ad hoc hypotheses as land bridges toexplain the facts of bio-geography (Du Toit, 1937). Unfortunately, Du Toit ’ salmost religious zeal for drift hurt his chances of receiving a hearing inmainstream geological circles (Stewart, 1990).Intelligent Design 277  Continental Drift and Intelligent Design The fact that both theories received harsh criticism from the scientificestablishment is about the only thing continental drift and intelligent design havein common. A scientific theory is more than just rhetoric. The success of a theoryultimately depends on whether it is supported by the evidence, and whetherit provides a better explanation for the available data. One way to assessthe productivity of a particular theoretical framework is to look at the relevantscientific literature and see to what extent it is pursuing useful research. Arough-and-ready way to compare intelligent design with continental drift is tolook at the amount of attention both have received in the scientific literature inthe first twenty years after the theories were proposed (Tables 1 & 2). Theindexes of the scientific literature show that there was a steady increase inpublications dealing with continental drift in those years, particularly after it waspublished in English in 1924. By contrast, in the scientific literature onintelligent design in its first twenty years, there have been few publications, andmost of them are critical or polemical. During this same period, however, IDadvocates have produced a flood of internet, popular-press, and opinion-relatedpublications, the utility and number of which are hard to quantify. This ismarkedly different from the early publications on continental drift, whichappeared in the mainstream scientific literature: continental drift was makinga contribution to the field of geology even at its earliest stages. This lack of scientific productivity in comparison to continental drift suggests that it isunlikely ID will be productive in the future. In short, ID has yet to demonstratea long-term research potential and has not generated enough interest to warrantinclusion in curricula or funding.As the literature comparison shows, those who support ID are not doingscientific research in support of the theory. Their ‘‘ research, ’’ if they do any atall, consists of perusing the professional literature in search of anything they canuse to suggest that evolution is a weak theory (Wells, 2000 is a particularly TABLE 1Scientific Productivity for Continental Drift a YearsContinental drift or  continentaldisplacement or  plate tectonics1911–1920 4 (0.03%)1921–1930 35 (0.03%)1931–1940 113 (0.16%)1941–1950 184 (0.17%)1951–1960 156 (0.14%)1961–1970 1445 (0.47%)1971–1980 15474 (3%) a Scientific productivity for the first 70 years of continental drift based on a GEOREF search forsubject terms ‘‘ continental drift ’’ or ‘‘ continental displacement ’’ or ‘‘ plate tectonics. ’’ Numbers inparentheses indicate the percentage of total publications in geosciences for that period. 278 A. D. Gishlick 
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