If certain "terrorist" groups hold the USA to be "The Great Satan", then people in that country have a "Great Satan" of their own - Charles Robert Darwin. David Quammen declares that "81 per cent to 87 per cent of Americans reject Darwin's view" of the evolution of life. So what do all those millions of people accept as the basis for life and its changing aspects? Apparently, some kind of divine intervention. A generation ago, it was one of the versions of the Book of Genesis. Somewhat later, that view was "supported" by a movement known as "creation science". Thrown out of US schools as unconstitutional, "creation science" itself evolved [irony of ironies] into something called "Intelligent Design". This collection of essays examines ID from various perspectives. All find "eye dee" wanting.
Jerry Coyne opens the series by exposing the basic fallacy of ID - it's a religious movement that denies its own roots. In the United States, public schools are supposed to keep religion out on the street. While "official" ID documents are careful to keep their "designer" unnamed, their spokesmen are less cautious. Their ambition to modify US education along lines they define as "Christian" has been manifested without hesitation. Even with this exposure, which counters US law, ID has continued to seek popular acceptance.
More to the point of Brockman's subtitle, however, is the theme of the remaining essays. ID declares itself to be "scientific" and has co-opted some trained scholars into the movement. With degrees trailing behind their names, they seem to have credibility in their claims of certitude. Several of the essayists examine the claims of ID and how those were derived. Neither research nor logic support the thesis that an "intelligent agent" either caused life to originate nor "tweaked" it with various "upgrades" over the passage of time. The evidence from fossils and genomes, as several of these writers point out, precludes any modifications not attributable to natural forces. Scott Atran explains how natural selection has built on each organism's antecedents in dealing with change in conditions. The lineage of life, these authors demonstrate effectively, is long. Yet, given that duration, life conserves what's useful over many millennia. There's no place here for a "designer". Even the conditions in deep space and time show no need for a divinity to have been involved.
Advocates of ID claim their efforts are not to establish religious ideologies in classrooms, but the works of their writers, however, belie their true foundation. Daniel Dennett shows the propaganda methods ID uses to appear "disinterested". Nicholas Humphrey demonstrates how the "argument from design" has a long lineage, and how Darwin's concept demolished it. Raising the concept anew doesn't give it validity. Worse, the "Intelligent Design" proponents can't even validate their own proposals. No research, not even a theoretical statement, has ever been produced by any of ID's adherents. Merely declarations that "such things can't be" without an outside agency are forthcoming. One needn't be a scientist to understand that "Intelligent Design" isn't. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]