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This year in intelligent design

There are hundreds of papers published each month whose authors find evolution useful in explaining their results. One would think that, if "intelligent design" has any scientific merit, there would be a significant number of papers each month presenting evidence of supernatural intervention by an intelligent designer. Surely the many religious scientists, in particular, wouldn't fail to publish results that turn out to support intelligent design, even if that wasn't the original focus of their research.

However, I haven't seen even one paper on intelligent design so far this year that meets the basic scientific criteria in my first post. Maybe I've missed some? Let's check the Discovery Institute web site.

No, nothing so far in 2007. What about 2006?

Aha! Here's one by Ø. A. Voie, "Biological function and the genetic code are interdependent," Chaos, Solitons and Fractals, Vol 28(4) (2006): 1000-1004.

Despite the weird title, this is a real journal. They're not likely to have any biologists among their peer-reviewers, but at least it's a journal. How about my requirement that papers of the week contain new data? Oh, too bad. It's just a bunch of incoherent philosophizing.

Anything else for 2006? No, that's it.

If I had a senior grad student publishing as little as the entire "intelligent design" community put together, I would be suggesting that he or she reconsider whether a career in science makes sense for someone unlikely to be competitive for grants in today's tight-funding environment.

But wait, I missed an article on intelligent design published in 2007! No new data in this one either, but at least the discussion is based on papers with lots of data. Also, it's a book chapter, so peer review was probably less stringent than we'd expect with a good journal. Still, how could the Discovery Institute have missed this one?

Maybe because it's about intelligent design of crops by humans. Disclosure: I wrote it. The topic is closely related to our previous work on Darwinian Agriculture. If the link disappears, here's the citation:
Denison, R.F. 2007. When can intelligent design of crops by humans outperform natural selection? p. 287-302. In: Spiertz, J.H.J., P.C. Struik, and H.H. van Laar (eds.). Scale and complexity in plant systems research: gene-plant-crop relations. Springer.

If the Discovery Institute adds this to their list, can I sue for libel?

Next week: back to peer-reviewed journal articles with original data. They've been piling up.


They've been piling up.Funny how that happens in a theoretically rich research tradition. Pity about ID, though. Hit its peak in 1802 with Paley, and has been downhill ever since. I like Philip Kitcher's term for it: "dead science". And his term for its modern proponents is even better: "Resurrection men". :)

About Intelligent Design (ID)

ID is most often and wrongly linked to God and creationism, as opposed to Darwinism and evolutionism. We are there in fact facing an old philosophical problem transposed this time from man to the universe: the difficult and even impossible distinction between what is innate and what is acquired. But the reader of my pages http://controlled-hominization.com/ will perhaps agree that evolutionism is not in contradiction with all forms of ID. As a materialist, I think that the confrontation between both concepts is sterile and that a synthesis is even possible.
If any great complexity of a feature could not exclude evolutionism, science itself could not reject some forms of ID in the evolution of the universe, at least in some steps of the process. After all, man himself is already a local actor in this evolution, an actor showing little intelligence so far (global warming, life sciences …). He could however be led to play a greater and nobler part if he succeeds to survive long enough (dissemination of life in the cosmos, “terraforming? of planets, planetary and even stellar formation, artificial beings…). The development of this kind of “draft ID? could only be limited by our refusal to do so and by our ability to survive. We would be viewed as gods by our ancestors from the middle Ages, and we would also view our descendants as gods if we could return in a few hundreds or thousands years.
By his refusal to consider that intelligence could already have played a significant part in the evolution of this universe, man takes in fact for granted that he is the most advanced being. It is in fact just another way for placing himself once again in the middle of everything, as for the Earth before Galileo. This anthropocentric view is not very rational.
Within the frame of evolutionism, the concept of ID could however be applied to the future man if he manages to survive long enough to be able to play a significant part in the evolution of this solar system, in the galaxy, and why not more. And it could also apply to eventual advanced ET preceding man in this cosmic part, advanced ET who could for instance, thanks to their science, have already played a significant part, even if they were themselves born from random processes.
Without going back to a controversial God, pure intelligence born from random processes is so far too easily ignored in the evolution of this universe, and I think that this choice has more to do with faith in man’s solitude in the universe than with true science. Even if it appears later that the ID concept has yet never been used by other beings in this universe, what could prevent man from applying it in the future? As with the Big Bang, ID would certainly remain in the field of hypotheses, but science progresses that way, and it would not be scientific to exclude one hypothesis that could be quite credible. ID is too easily discarded and laughed at, somewhat like continental drift not long ago, and a lot of other concepts too.
Benoit Lebon

Thanks for your interesting comment. There's lots of evidence for evolution by natural selection and no evidence -- "we can't explain X yet" isn't evidence -- for intelligent design. I assume we will make life from scratch someday and lifeforms around other stars may already have done so. But Voyager has traveled only 1/4000th of the distance to Alpha Centauri in 30 years. If you assume an interest rate of 1%, the present-discounted value to Earth of delivering a terraforming probe at the end of a 120,000-year journey would have to be incalculable ($1 followed by more than 300 zeros) to warrant investing $1 in the launch. Near-lightspeed travel would help, but then I would have expected colonists or trade delegations, not just microbes. Maybe their budget got cut. I have nonetheless argued that intelligent design, as a scientific hypothesis, would be appropriate for inclusion in a xenobiology class, where it would fit well with the speculative nature of the rest of the subject matter.

"They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown." -- Carl Sagan

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