Ideas: Intelligent Defense

Why, of all the assertions of modern science, does evolution by natural selection attract the most dissent? As the philosopher Daniel Dennett points out, Darwin's theory is no more implausible than the claim by quantum mechanics that an electron can appear to be in two places at once, yet physicists don't have to endlessly explain and justify their theories to a skeptical public. Dennett's answer is that natural selection, "by executing God's traditional task of designing and creating all creatures great and small, also seems to deny one of the best reasons we have for believing in God's existence." Which should leave no one in doubt about the source of the attack on Darwinism in the guise of intelligent design: it comes from religion.

The intelligent-design movement suffered a political setback last December when a federal judge ordered a Pennsylvania school district to stop talking about it in high school, but it lives on as an idea, to the bemusement and occasional frustration of most serious scientists. Sixteen of them, including Dennett, contributed essays in defense of evolution to a small anthology called "Intelligent Thought," published last week. It was compiled by John Brockman, better known as the editor of the Web site, the thinking man's Drudge Report. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins deconstructs the claim by ID proponents that the "designer" could be an intelligent alien rather than God, and psychologist Steven Pinker shows how moral sensibility can arise by way of natural selection. "Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists," Dennett concludes, "but Intelligent Design hasn't yet tried to explain anything at all."