Your responses to this condensed version of an editorial would be appreciated. (This item is available free as a special feature.)
“Anti-Darwin activism is alive and well. The most insidious movement promotes ‘intelligent design’ (ID) – the notion that some features in nature are best explained by an intelligent cause – as an alternative scientific theory to evolution by natural selection.
Pro-ID interest groups can be found throughout US and Europe. It becomes increasingly likely for a scientist to be confronted by a pro-ID campaigner or challenged by a student, friend or neighbor intrigued and seduced by the concept of a scientific theory of design.
How to respond is not a trivial matter.
One can choose to fully engage in debate and debunk ID claims one by one with scientific arguments. This, however, requires a good knowledge of the topic and the ability to present it effectively to a lay audience.
Squarely dismissing the ID proposal as nonsense is tempting, but reinforces images, which ID advocates relish, of arrogant scientists dodging critique or even of ‘Darwinian activism’.
It is wise not to make the discussion a religious issue to avoid an unproductive debate about personal beliefs.
The best approach will often be to accept discussing ID but to emphasize the fact that it is not a scientific discipline.
At the core of ID is the notion of ‘irreducible complexity’, which postulates that some features in nature are too complex to have evolved in a step-wise fashion by natural selection and ‘therefore’ must be the result of an intelligent cause.
Because it invokes a supernatural origin for something one cannot yet explain, and because it does not generate testable hypotheses and cannot be subjected to empirical inquiry, ID is not science.
ID proponents often present the theory of evolution as “a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned”, whereas in fact evolution is a scientific theory – one that has stood the test of time and of multiple lines of empirical investigation. Intelligent design is not. Remembering this contrast should inspire scientists to defend their turf.
At the core of the debate is the definition of science itself.”
Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: NATURE METHODS Editorial, copyright Dec1 2007