Academic ExtinctionDavid Berlinski is a fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.
Friday, April 1, 2005
Wearing pink tasseled slippers and conical hats covered in polka dots, Darwinian biologists are persuaded that a plot is afoot to make them look silly. At Internet web sites such as The Panda's Thumb or Talk Reason, where various eminences repair to assure one another that all is well, it is considered clever beyond measure to attack critics of Darwin's theory such as William Dembski by misspelling his name as William Dumbski.
Publishing his work with the Cambridge University Press, hardly a venue known for its slack intellectual standards, Dembski has proposed that designed structures in nature might be detected by means of a rigorous analytical test. The idea of design is a staple of the social, anthropological and forensic sciences. It is the crucial metaphor in Noam Chomsky's minimalist theory. Dembski holds two PhD's, the first from the University of Chicago in mathematics, and the second from the University of Illinois in philosophy.
Dumbski indeed. Elsewhere, rhetoric is more measured, even if it conveys arguments no more compelling. After alluding to Intelligent Design at a faculty cocktail party-Je m'imagine cela-the dean of undergraduate education at the University of Calfornia at Berkeley was amazed and remarked "that colleagues indicated a great deal of sympathy for this alternative to ‘Darwinism.'"
His amazement notwithstanding, the dean's defense was a model of evasive circumspection.
"Although I told them that few, if any, reputable biologists in the country subscribe to intelligent design, I could tell that they were not persuaded. Somewhat dismayed, I turned to other, more congenial issues."
Now these are remarkable words, if only because they reveal that a prominent academic regards it as quite natural to be dismayed on those occasions when his views are disputed. They are remarkable as well because they indicate that the dean is persuaded that dissent might in the case of Darwin's theory be ended by an appeal to what "reputable biologists believe."
My dear dean. Allow me to set you straight. It is precisely the reputable biologists who are under attack. For the first time, they are being asked to defend the thesis that biological design is more apparent rather than real. The effort has left them breathless. They are, of course, not about to surrender their ideological allegiances. Their rhetoric fills the op-ed columns of every liberal newspaper and is conveyed additionally by academic allies whose welfare is contingent on theirs -analytic philosophers, pop psychologists, and even newspaper columnists eager beyond measure to do anything but attentively study the evidence.
But what is at issue, of course, is not what reputable biologists believe, but whether it is true.
A great many ordinary men and women are persuaded that it is not. And even at Berkeley. Their dissatisfaction has traveled as far a field as Paris. Expertise is hardly at issue. Darwin's theory of evolution is not protected by the twelve doors mentioned in Revelation 21:21. It is right there in plain sight.
The unfathomable complexity of living systems, Darwin's theory affirms, is the result of random variation and natural selection. Is it indeed? Of these concepts, the second is hopelessly confused and the first is of no intellectual interest. Darwin's theory, when the thing is plainly considered, is no more than a form of behaviorism written on the level of the species. Like those endless psychological experiments, all of them conducted apparently at Harvard, in which some undergraduates were trained to say ouch after being stuck with a pin, and others to say ooh, species, on Darwin's view, are trained to say ouch or ooh when stuck by the environment.
B.F. Skinner is long dead, and among the dinosaurs, behaviorism in psychology has been the first to descend, honking sadly, into the tar pits.
What reputable biologists believe is one thing; what they fear is there in plain sight.
"Everyone on the Berkeley campus should be exposed to the arguments supporting real science and to the fallacies of views based on guesswork and unfounded hypotheses."
Ah, yes, Everyone should. Even at Berkeley.
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