Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Evolution and the Stages of Grief


In The Design Revolution, I characterized theory change as follows:

The acceptance of radical ideas that challenge the status quo (and Darwinism is as status quo as it gets) typically runs through several stages. According to Arthur Schopenhauer, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Similarly, evolutionist J. B. S. Haldane remarked, “Theories pass through four stages of acceptance: i) this is worthless nonsense; ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so.”

I like to flesh out Haldane’s four stages as follows. First the idea is regarded as preposterous—the ruling elite feel little threat and as much as possible ignore the challenge, but when pressed confidently assert that the idea is so absurd as not to merit consideration. Second it is regarded as pernicious—the ruling elite can no longer ignore the challenge and must take active measures to suppress it, now loudly proclaiming that the idea is confused, irrational, reprehensible, and even dangerous (thus adding a moral dimension to the debate). Third, it is regarded as possible—the ruling elite reluctantly admits that the idea is not entirely absurd but claims that at best it is of marginal interest; meanwhile, the mainstream realizes that the idea has far reaching consequences and is far more important that previously recognized. And fourth, it is regarded as plausible—a new status quo has emerged, with the ruling elite taking credit for the idea and the mainstream unable to imagine how people in times past could have thought otherwise. With intelligent design, we are now at the transition from stage two to stage three—from pernicious to possible. This is the hardest transition.

I’d like here to pursue further the psychology of theory change. It seems that scientists are increasingly reacting to intelligent design in terms of the stages of grief when someone is confronted with a catastrophe. Intelligent design represents nothing less than a catastrophe to conventional materialistic science, committed as it is to an atheistic understanding of the physical world. That’s because if we’re right, it’s not just evolutionary theory that must change but our very conception of science, which must open itself to intelligence as a fundamental power in nature. Recall that the stages of grief are usually the following:

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Even two or three years ago, the scientific community was still in a state of denial, denying that ID was any sort of factor in scientific discussions. We’re now clearly in the anger stage, with violent attempts to shut down the discussion. I expect soon enough evolutionists will start bargaining, attempting to minimize the importance of ID while trying to incorporate some of its legitimate insights. The problem is that ID cannot be assimilated into a strict materialism, and so the more atheistic scientists will become depressed. As for acceptance, I doubt that much of the old guard will ever get that far. Rather, acceptance will come from a younger generation that is able to throw off the shackles of materialistic thinking.

For those of the old guard who come to accept the demise of Darwinism, that acceptance will come through the rigorous self-examination and honesty characteristic of twelve-step programs. Thankfully, one such program is already in existence: Evolutionists Anonymous — A 12 Step Program for Those who Suffer from Methodological Naturalism.

Kind of related, in Dean Radin's book, The Conscious Universe (a book about debated evidence from anomalous cognition experiments), he talks about stages that skeptics tend to go through: 1) skeptics "confidently proclaim that the idea is impossible because it violates the Laws of Science" 2) "skeptics reluctantly concede that the idea is possible but that it is not very interesting" and its effects are extremely weak 3) the mainstream realizes the importance of the idea and "that its effects are much stronger and more pervasive than previously imagined" 4) those who were originally skeptical now "proclaim that they thought of it first."jzs
September 1, 2005
06:12 PM

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