Taner Edis

Preface to Paperback Edition (2006)

The appearance of this book in 2004 was more timely than we had imagined; since it was published, the “debate” over intelligent-design creationism has intensified. The Kansas state school board and local school boards in Dover, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere have labored hard to downplay evolution or to introduce ID creationism into public school science classrooms. In 2002, the school board in Cobb County, Georgia, inserted into biology textbooks stickers stating that evolution is “a theory, not a fact.” The stickers were ruled out by a federal court, but the school board has appealed. Time magazine ran a cover story on “The Evolution Wars,” the New York Times ran a three-part, front-page series on ID creationism, the New Yorker and the New Republic published articles critical of ID creationism by well-known biologists, National Geographic magazine devoted an issue to the question, “Was Darwin Wrong?” and Natural History magazine ran a special issue on “Darwin and Evolution.”

An influential Roman Catholic cardinal, Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, appeared to retreat from John Paul II’s support of evolution and wrote in the New York Times that descent with modification is a fact, but evolution in the sense of “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection” is false. Many of Schönborn’s complaints about Darwinian evolution echoed pronouncements originating from the Discovery Institute, the right-wing American think tank that plays a central role in the ID movement (and whose public relations firm submitted Schönborn’s article to the Times). Finally, the president of the United States averred in a press conference that while decisions should be left to local school boards, students should be taught both sides of the “debate.”

ID creationists have not suggested a single new argument that cannot be refuted effectively by the material in the first edition of this book. Politically, however, ID creationism has become a hotter topic than ever, and increasing numbers of scientists and science educators have been forced to pay attention to its ill-conceived challenge to mainstream science. Yet, ID creationism has never produced anything new or scientifically substantive. Its adherents have suggested no research program and have published virtually nothing in the scientific literature. In an apparent exception, the Biological Society of Washington published in its Proceedings a paper by ID creationist Stephen C. Meyer (2004) on the origin of biological information; the paper was severely criticized by mainstream biologists for its many distortions. Additionally, there was controversy over whether the outgoing editor, Richard von Sternberg, had deliberately chosen favorable reviewers, and the society repudiated the paper. The incident allowed ID creationists to purport that they were being persecuted by the “Darwinian establishment.”

The recent book The Privileged Planet, written by astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and theologian Jay Richards, argued that our Earth is almost uniquely situated in the universe to allow for intelligent life and to give that life the best possible opportunity to observe and learn about the universe. The authors, however, are evidently more concerned about winning over the general public than the scientific community: The Privileged Planet was soon accompanied by an attractively produced video with the same title, suitable for showing to a TV audience who would have been unable to distinguish it from a credible science documentary. The Discovery Institute arranged for a showing at the Smithsonian Institution, only to be turned down later because of outrage among mainstream scientists. Politically, ID could not lose: If the film was shown at the Smithsonian, it could be presented as an acknowledgment of ID by a prestigious scientific institution. But when official cosponsorship was withdrawn due to such concerns, ID advocates insisted that the affair was yet another example of suppression of debate by the Darwinian orthodoxy. The Privileged Planet, however, offers little that is fundamentally different from the widely criticized argument that physics has been fine-tuned by a creator specifically to produce intelligent life. It would have been notable as only another attempt to press some curious astronomical facts into the service of a classic flawed argument––if not for the political strength of ID creationism.

Michael Behe and William Dembski—the two most prominent ID theorists on whose claims this book concentrates—have also recently produced variations on their well-worn arguments. Behe and David Snoke (2004) published a theoretical paper in support of intelligent-design creationism. Specifically, they attempted to show that the evolution of certain complex features by natural selection was highly unlikely under “Darwinian” processes, but they used a non-Darwinian model in which intermediate steps of protein evolution were not subject to natural selection. In rebuttal, Ian F. Musgrave, Steve Reuland, and Reed A. Cartwright (2004) showed that Behe and Snoke’s assumptions were overly pessimistic and, furthermore, that their model demonstrates that the evolution of such features is actually to be expected. In addition, Michael Lynch (2005) showed that if the model had been more realistic, then complex features would have evolved readily.

William Dembski (2005) has been working on what are supposed to be a series of more rigorous expositions of the mathematical foundations of ID creationism. So far, his effort shows no promise of acknowledging the problems raised within this book, let alone fixing them. Still, the significant support for ID creationism outside the scientific community provides a ready market for the promise that ID is waiting for a breakthrough that always lurks right around the next corner

Thus, there is a significant controversy over ID among laypersons. Indeed, “teach the controversy” has become the byword of the ID creationists. Teach the controversy. It is very seductive; who would not want their children to hear both sides of any controversy? Unfortunately for that argument, the controversy is almost entirely political and religious. As we show in this book, there is no controversy among scientists because there is no evidence to favor ID creationism, and its arguments fail when subjected to scientific criticism. ID creationists claim to be developing an alternative explanation of functional complexity that will produce a revolution in science, but they have attracted almost no support among scientists who are expert in various aspects of complexity. Virtually no trained biologists countenance ID, no physicists interested in complex systems declare that the objects of their study must have been supernaturally put together, and no information theorists or computer scientists find useful the procedures that ID theorists propose to detect signs of intelligence. For practicing scientists, ID is a distraction from explorations that have real prospects of teaching us something new about the world. For educators who work hard to get their students to grasp well-established scientific concepts, ID is at best a waste of time in an already overcrowded curriculum.

No substantially new ID arguments have emerged since 2004, and this edition is little changed from the first hardcover edition, except for some minor corrections and an updated Appendix. With the political battle over ID heating up, however, the book is needed now even more than in 2004. ID creationists regularly charge the mainstream scientific community with refusing to respond to their claims, saying that scientists invariably try to dismiss ID creationism on philosophical rather than scientific grounds. Why Intelligent Design Fails demonstrates that this claim, like many others promulgated by ID creationists, is completely without merit.

Matt Young, Boulder, Colorado

Taner Edis, Kirksville, Missouri



Behe, M. J., and D. W. Snoke. 2004. “Simulating Evolution by Gene Duplication of Protein Features That Require Multiple Amino Acid Residues.” Protein Science 13, no. 10: 2651–64.

Dembski, William A. 2005. “Searching Large Spaces: Displacement and the No Free Lunch Regress.” http://www.designinference.com/documents/2005.03.Searching_Large_Spaces.pdf. Accessed 26 September 2005.

Lynch, M. 2005. “Simple Evolutionary Pathways to Complex Proteins.” Protein Science 14, no. 9: 2217–2225.

Meyer, Stephen C. 2004. “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117, no. 2: 213–239.

Musgrave, Ian F., Steve Reuland, and Reed A. Cartwright. 2004. “Theory Is as Theory Does.” The Panda’s Thumb, http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2004/10/theory_is_as_th.html. Posted 11 October 2004.

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