In December 2005, a federal judge in Pennsylvania declared intelligent design (ID) a “religious viewpoint” that is unconstitutional to teach in public schools. Predictably, critics who backed the Kitzmiller v. Dover lawsuit jubilantly declared the “death” of ID. Now that we’re approaching the ten year anniversary of the case, we can count on the media to again proclaim a great triumph for Darwinian evolution and secularism. Reality, however, is very different.
The Dover ruling was full of errors of fact and law. It badly misdefined intelligent design and ignored peer-reviewed papers and research by ID scientists. One leading anti-ID legal scholar, Boston University law professor Jay Wexler, called the judge’s arguments that ID isn’t science “unnecessary, unconvincing, not particularly suited to the judicial role, and even perhaps dangerous both to science and to freedom of religion.”
Such a flawed ruling could never kill ID. But there’s a much stronger sign that ID is alive and well: the many intellectual victories for ID in the past decade.
First and foremost, the ID research community has published dozens of pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific papers advancing the scientific case for ID since Dover. This includes experimental research demonstrating the unevolvability of new proteins, as well as theoretical papers refuting alleged computer simulations of evolution, showing that intelligence is needed to produce new information.
This research is being presented at scientific conferences, such as a major ID research conference held at Cornell University in 2011, which led to the publication of the volume Biological Information: New Perspectives through World Scientific, a major mainstream scientific publishing house.
Even non-ID researchers have unwittingly and decisively confirmed ID predictions since Dover. In 2012, an international consortium of researchers published the ENCODE project, supporting the longstanding ID prediction that “junk DNA” would turn out to have function. Likewise, the burgeoning field of epigenetics has validated ID’s claim that we will find new layers of information, code, and complex regulatory mechanisms within biology.
At the same time, Darwinian arguments have suffered. Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller’s main argument at the Dover trial was that a stretch of DNA called the beta-globin pseudogene was “non-functional” junk, supposedly demonstrating our common ancestry with apes. In 2013, however, a paper in Genome Biology showed the “pseudogene” was functional, refuting his argument.
Likewise, in 2014 a favorite argument against pro-ID biochemist Michael Behe was overturned as chloroquine-resistance turned out to be a multimutation feature that is difficult to evolve.
Meanwhile, the past 10 years have seen a flood of peer-reviewed scientific papers critiquing core tenets of neo-Darwinian theory, and concessions from influential evolutionists that neo-Darwinism faces serious scientific criticisms. Couple this with major admissions from leading atheists like philosopher Thomas Nagel that ID arguments have merit and should be taken seriously, and the anti-ID intelligentsia is not happy.
ID books and videos have also made huge impacts post-Dover.
In 2008, over 1.1 million viewers flocked to theatres nationwide to watch “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” a documentary featuring comedian Ben Stein recounting various high profile cases of discrimination against pro-ID scientists.
The following year, ID theorist Stephen Meyer published “Signature in the Cell,” which made the case for design based upon the digital information in our DNA code. The book received an endorsement from Thomas Nagel which led to its being named one of the “Books of the Year” by the prestigious “Times Literary Supplement” in London.
In 2013, Meyer published “Darwin’s Doubt,” which made the New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists, was endorsed by leading scientists like Harvard geneticist George Church, and received a serious (though critical) review in the top journal Science by UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall. Marshall’s responses to Meyer—in his review and in an ensuing radio debate--made it clear he had no explanation for the origin of the biological information necessary to build new forms of animal life.
Many more successes could be listed, but the point is this: ID has had many recent intellectual “wins,” and rumors of ID’s demise are greatly exaggerated.
Federal judges cannot settle scientific debates. The day after the Dover ruling, our cells were still full of language-based digital code and miniature factories that produce micromolecular machines, and the universe remained exquisitely fine-tuned to sustain complex life. No court ruling can negate the scientific evidence for design in nature.
Despite what you hear—or don’t hear—in the media, the scientific fundamentals of ID are incredibly sound and the future is looking bright.
Casey Luskin is research director for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture and co-author of Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design & The Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision.