Intelligent Design: Inherit the Wind: Part II?

In November, Samford University President Thomas Corts announced that SU would host a lecture on Intelligent Design February 27, 2006. The event is sponsored and organized by Fixed Point Foundation. This announcement met with a storm of protest that was chronicled on the front page of The Birmingham News and in op-ed pieces that followed. The article below was written in response to those protests. It was published Sunday, December 18th.


Ideas are often like lost artifacts resting on an ocean floor. Once discovered, layers of sediment and encrustation must be removed before one can discern whether the item is of any value.

Intelligent Design is just such an artifact. Once advocated in one form or another by history’s great scientists—Kepler, Galileo, Newton to name only a few—the idea was temporarily lost to all but the most obscure circles while naturalism carried the day. But in recent years the theory has been rediscovered, retooled, and given formidable intellectual teeth. The problem, however, is stripping away the corrosive layers of politics and rhetoric that obscure the idea itself.

Consider the recent protest by some faculty at Samford University in response to the announcement that SU will host a lecture by Dr. John Lennox on I.D. in February. So incensed were some that they have made every effort to derail the event. Thomas Spencer’s article in Thursday’s News cited a resolution submitted by a member of that faculty charging that such a lecture was a violation of the separation of church and state. Precisely what relevance this has with a lecture on I.D. at a private, Christian university is not clear, but I’m sure those making the reference thought that it had an authoritative ring to it. Like the ‘Easy’ Button in Staples’ commercials, separation of church and state is invoked when all else fails. (“Hey, you can’t park there! That’s a violation of the separation of church and state!”)

It was further asserted that Lennox intends to give an “anti-science” presentation. This is a curious charge against a man who possesses doctorates from Oxford and Cambridge and has dedicated his academic life to the discipline. The more so when one considers that those making the accusation have never heard him speak on the subject. One may disagree with his position (once it has been articulated), but for members of a liberal arts college to attempt to prevent a fellow academician from sharing his views seems rather illiberal.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. Those politicizing the issue have been quite skillful in spinning the story as a modern version of Inherit the Wind. (The play is, by the way, brilliant propaganda, but poor history.) I.D. advocates, cast in the role of William Jennings Bryan, are narrow-minded ideologues and bigots who want nothing less than a theocracy where George Bush will reign as priest-king. Opposing them are the Clarence Darrow-like representatives of modernity, progress, and democracy. One thing is certain: the H.L. Menckens of our time have had a field day characterizing the I.D. camp as a bunch of bumpkins. And, it must be admitted, that in some instances they have been aided in this characterization. But it is a convenient stereotype and misses the larger and infinitely more important picture.

Suppose, for example, I were to relate to you a story of how I won game after game of poker. I claim that every time the cards were dealt I was given a royal flush. Not once did I have to discard anything. Every hand of every game was a royal flush. I further maintain that this was both random and unguided. You would say, and not unreasonably, that my story was either a fabrication or that I had persuaded the dealer to alter the random and unguided nature of things.

Yet random and unguided is precisely what many scientists expect us to believe happened when life in the universe began. According to the theory, natural selection, that godlike entity, dealt nature exactly the right material building blocks at exactly the right moments. To put that in real terms, the human genetic blueprint, some 2.9 billion DNA letters long, would have to be delivered in perfectly sequential order unaided. Now that’s some luck of the draw—or was it? Many scientists don’t think so. The late anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith wrote, “To ask me to believe that the evolution of man has been determined by a series of chance events is to invite me to give credit to what is biologically unbelievable.” Certainly many of Keith’s colleagues would disagree with his assessment, but he raises a question that is both valid and logical and deserves a proper hearing.

Others have said that I.D. advocates are making claims that are not scientific. Undoubtedly this has been, from time to time, true. But isn’t the reverse also true? Is every statement made by an anti-I.D. scientist a scientific statement? Are the anti-religious declarations of Richard Dawkins a result of his scientific method, or are they the products of a personal bias?

It is not expected that a lecture by Dr. John Lennox will resolve these questions, or that a dozen such lectures from people on either side of this debate could do so. But they will go far in aiding our understanding of an important issue that has consequences for us all. So let us cease with the ad hominem attacks and political diversions and consider the ideas themselves. Who knows? Perhaps we will discover treasure beneath the layers of special interest.

These are just some random—but not unguided—thoughts.


© Copyright 2005 Larry A. Taunton