Intelligent Design: William A. Dembski & Michael Ruse in Dialogue
Robert B. Stewart is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he holds the Greer-Heard Chair of Faith and Culture. It is there that he also directs the annual Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, which is a five-year pilot program that provides evangelical and non-evangelical scholars opportunities to come together to dialogue on issues of religious or cultural significance. This particular book is an edited edition of the presentation papers at the 2006 Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, held in Marietta, Georgia, February 3-4. The conference brought together 13 scholars, in addition to the editor, to discuss the subject of Intelligent Design Theory (IDT).
The subject of IDT is assuredly an explosive topic in this era. Some see the position as scientifically fruitful whereas others see the IDT movement as a reincarnation of Old Earth Creationism. But debaters on both sides of the aisle often are mistaken in their arguments because they do not know in truth what IDT is. In the introductory comments made by Dembski, he notes that Darwin did not write regarding the origin of life, but the origin of species instead. Dembski notes that Darwin was woefully ignorant of the inner workings and complexity of cells in organisms. As a result, he and his followers extended the power of his theory of natural selection to levels that exceeded its explanatory power. Indeed, Dembski notes, there are levels of biological complexity that are impossible to attain through Darwinian selection pressures, and thus exhibit hallmarks of intelligent design, which he defines as the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as the result of intelligence (20). While not allowing Darwinian processes to be the sum of what drives evolution, Dembski (and other ID theorists) allow Darwinian processes some value in the process nevertheless.
But Ruse, in his dialogical comments to the introduction, counters that the world is merely an example of something that appears “as if” designed (26). Moreover, he questions the fruitfulness of the IDT research program, noting that any scientific theory should be productive of further research programs, which he does not see IDT doing (32). Ruse notes that the whole point about science is not that it has all the answers, but that it has a lot of interesting problems that are giving way to naturalistic answers (37). Ruse notes that he does not deny the possibility of non-natural causes, but that he does question the usefulness of such a position to science.
Following the introductory chapter which contains the substance of the “dialogue” with Ruse and Dembski, eleven scholars make their own contribution to the ongoing dialogue regarding IDT. It is with these that the majority of the book is composed, and it will be upon these that the remainder of this review is focused. Martinez Hewlett, in an article entitled “The Evolution Wars,” contends that IDT is not truly a scientific endeavor, but an ideology instead. He argues instead for theistic evolution, as a means to understand evolution, one which he contends correlates well with Thomas Aquinas’ distinctions of primary and secondary causes operating in nature. William L. Craig makes a convincing case that support for the notion of evolution does not necessarily entail a commitment to metaphysical naturalism. In fact, in his essay entitled “Naturalism and Intelligent Design,” he asserts that evolutionary theory does not prescribe any sort of epistemology.
Wesley R. Elsberry and Nicholos Matzke, in “The Collapse of Intelligent Design,” recount with much detail and acumen the details surrounding the Dover, Pennsylvania schoolboard’s decision to include IDT materials in their curriculum, and the resulting lawsuit which ruled such to be unconstitutional. Frances J. Beckwith, in “Intelligent Design, Religious Motives, and the Constituion’s Religion Clauses,” however, does not agree with the Supreme Court’s decision, and posits that IDT should not be prohibited from the public-school classroom. Notably, Hal N. Ostrander, in “Because ‘Cause’ Makes Sense,” argues for an anthropic cosmological principle (ACP), which seemingly has promise for further research and investigation. In one of the finer contributions, Nancy Murphey, “Science, Divine Action, and the Intelligent Design Movement,” makes a strong case for theistic evolution.
In sum, although the book is highly interesting – even intriguing – I believe that the title oversold the contents of the book. There were in fact only about 43 pages of dialogue between Ruse and Dembski, with the remaining eleven chapters, some 186 pages, being comprised of various other scholars contributing their views upon the subject of IDT. Moreover, the various contributors, excepting Ruse himself, all seemed to be somewhat amenable to-ward IDT (or at least not hostile), and as a result, the book has a decidedly “pro-IDT” flavor to it. Moreover, in an otherwise exceptional essay, I found Alister McGrath’s contribution to this volume, “Dawkins, God, and the Scientific Enterprise,” to be related only peripherally (if that) to the overall thrust and topic of the collected essays. Nevertheless, these reservations aside, I recommend this book for undergraduate and graduate level readers who are interested in the continuing dialogue between religion and science.