The following transcript is from an Apologetics 315 interview with Casey Luskin. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten, of Apologetics 315. Today’s interview is with Casey Luskin, Research Coordinator for the Center For Science and Culture. He’s an attorney in the Seattle area, with graduate degrees in both science and law. Some listeners may be familiar with Casey, from listening to the “ID the Future” podcast, or from his writing at the “Evolution News and Views” blog. The purpose of this interview is to look a bit more at the idea of Intelligent Design, explore some of the common objections to ID, and see what Casey’s view is about the future of Intelligent Design as a movement. Thanks for joining me for this interview, Casey.
CL: Thanks so much for having me.
BA: Well, first off, Casey, would you mind telling our listeners a bit more about yourself, and what kind of work you’re involved in?
CL: Sure. Well, my day job is [that] I work at the Discovery Institute’s Center For Science and Culture in Seattle, Washington. Discovery Institute is probably the largest Intelligent Design organization in the world. We’re a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy think tank, that deals with a lot of different issues…transportation, technology, foreign affairs…but we’re probably most well known for our work in the Intelligent Design arena. My job at the Discovery Institute…my position is Research Coordinator. Which means I work alot with the Fellows of Discovery Institute’s Center For Science and Culture, many of which are scientists and scholars scattered at institutions all around the world – making sure that they have the funding and material and other needs that they require to do their research and scholarship related to Intelligent Design. But this is a relatively new development.
Prior to this, I was actually working in Public Policy and Legal Affairs, and I still do that as well, but my role has been working with parents, and teachers, and school board members who come to us wanting to teach evolution more accurately. And they want to know how to do that in a way that does not run afoul of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. And, we tell them that, “Yes, you can teach students about scientific weaknesses in evolution without getting into legal trouble”. We try to give them both legal tools and curricular tools so they can do that in an effective manner, without getting themselves into trouble. Another major aspect of my work here at Discovery Institute is [that] we help folks who have been discriminated against because of their views on Intelligent Design and so we devote quite a bit of time to supporting [that]. Sometimes it’s supporting lawsuits, sometimes it’s supporting people in behind the scenes kinds of ways. We’ve seen all kinds of cases over the last few years here…folks who have lost their jobs, been denied tenure, been denied access to facilities, people who have been otherwise marginalized in their attempts to do research, simply because they support Intelligent Design or are skeptics of Darwinian evolution. And so, a lot of my work at Discovery revolves around providing support for folks in those kinds of situations. So, that’s basically, what I do here at Discovery Institute, and I’ve lived here in Seattle for about six years, and I really enjoy the work.
BA: Well, very good. I’m curious, what actually got you started into that area of Intelligent Design and basically, what your personal primary interests would be in that field?
CL: Well, my first interest in Intelligent Design came from a scientific angle, before I even thought of going to law school. I didn’t even think about going to law school until after I’d finished my undergraduate studies. I was a science major – I studied earth sciences at University of California-San Diego. I got interested in ID because I had a number of friends who were science majors and we took a number of courses dealing with evolution related topics. We would talk about it and we would say, “OK, are there other possible views?” I had a friend who introduced me to Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, which came out during my freshman year of college. I think I read it after my freshman year (during the summer) and I’d been taking a number of courses in evolution during my freshman year. And you know, I was sitting there thinking that there was a problem here with these Darwinian explanations. Mainly, that a lot of the structures we see in biological organisms are not amenable to the kind of step-by-step Darwinian evolution that the modern, neo-Darwinian theory requires. And so, when my friend lent me Darwin’s Black Box and I read that, to me this was like Michael Behe was putting into words the exact questions and skeptical thinking I’d been having, sitting in these courses over the previous year. I felt like what he was saying made a lot of sense.
So that was my first introduction to Intelligent Design and that, certainly, is what got me interested. And from there it was kind of “all down hill,” so to speak. I started picking up books by William Dembski; I read some more material by Phillip Johnson and I learned a lot more about Intelligent Design. And this was then…probably my junior year of my undergraduate studies, some of these same friends and I started a club called “The Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Club.” Again, these are all friends who I’d been taking courses with, in evolution. We would sit there thinking, “Well, you know, there’s a lot of science that challenges the Darwinian viewpoint, but our professors are simply not talking about this. Nor, are they letting us, as students, have opportunities to really explore and investigate some of the scientific weaknesses with evolution or these alternative theories that are coming out, like Intelligent Design.” And we thought, “There ought to be a place for students to sit down together and have these kinds of conversations.” So, we started the student club – the Idea Club, as we called it – as a venue for students and really anybody, including faculty or community members, to come together and talk about some of the science that challenges neo-Darwinian theory or supports Intelligent Design. So we started the Idea Club, that was in 1999, and it really did turn out to be (I think) a real success, in my opinion. We had folks coming to the Club who were undergraduates, graduate students…we had some faculty come, we had a number of folks from the community…all of which were looking for a way, and a venue, and a home where they could talk about this debate. And some of them came from the pro-evolution viewpoint…some of them came from the pro-ID viewpoint. Everybody was welcome and we wanted everybody to feel comfortable and really warmly invited to come and to have whatever views they have, but just be a part of this conversation. And so to me, that’s really what got me involved and actually doing things within the ID movement. We ended up hosting a number of speakers, at UC-San Diego,
I went on to get a master’s degree in Earth Sciences. I continued to take courses in evolutionary biology all throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies. During that time [I] was spreading the Idea Club and we had lots of opportunities to meet folks in the ID movement – invite them to come speak and really became very connected to a lot of the folks in the ID movement, which is ultimately how I ended up here at Discovery Institute.
BA: Well, that’s one of the things that made me really want to interview you, Casey, is because you’ve come into contact with all kinds of angles when it comes to the “intelligent design and evolution landscape” and you’re familiar with the proponents and the detractors, if you will.
Well, we’ve got to get one thing covered right off the bat. We’ll be talking quite a bit about Intelligent Design in the interview, so first off, what is Intelligent Design? Can you give us, sort of, a working definition?
CL: Sure, I think the standard definition of Intelligent Design is this…Intelligent Design is a scientific theory which holds that some aspects of life in the Universe are best explained by an intelligent cause, rather than an undirected cause like Natural Selection. Now, that definition may sound somewhat simplistic or some people have said, “tautological” at first. But when you unpack it, it really describes a lot of core and important elements of Intelligent Design and we can get into that more as the conversation goes on, but that’s how I would define Intelligent Design.
BA: Okay. Well, another definition would be handy then and that’s this – when we talk about evolution, what exactly are we talking about? And is there some sort of standardized definition somewhere?
CL: Well yeah, I mean you can find definitions of evolution in just about every biology textbook. So, it’s not hard to find definitions, but you need to ask the question, “How are people using the term ‘evolution?’” Whenever you hear the word “evolution,” you do need to find out exactly what people mean by it, because people can mean different things. So what I’m going to give is three standard, common definitions that are meant and intended when people use the term “evolution.”
The first definition would just be mere change over time. And I think that this is the definition that is the sort of the very base level, minimum meaning of evolution. Change over time meaning that over time allele and gene frequencies will change in a population of organisms. Nobody disagrees with this definition. You can also take it to mean that life that has existed on Earth has changed over time. Obviously, we don’t see dinosaurs or trilobites running around today, but they did once exist many millions of years ago. So again, the idea that life has changed over time on Earth, this is really uncontroversial. Nobody, not even the most hardened young Earth creationist, disagrees that life on Earth changes and has changed over time. So really, this is an uncontroversial definition of evolution. We can even observe species changing in the short term today and we can observe small scale changes within populations, on a regular basis.
The next definition would be common ancestry. Perhaps, better put…universal common ancestry, the idea that all living organisms are related if you go back through time. Again, this is a definition that, I think, is more controversial, but it’s still pretty widely accepted. I think within the ID movement there’s diversity of views on the question of common ancestry, but there are certainly some folks who believe that all living organisms do share a common ancestor, or that perhaps, humans and apes share a common ancestor. So again, common ancestry is an important way of defining evolution that is not, necessarily, incompatible with Intelligent Design.
The third definition though, I think is the most controversial definition, and that is that the driving mechanism that produced the adaptive complexity of life was unguided natural selection acting upon random mutations. And this is, really, the mechanism of evolution that many people think is the primary way that species do evolve, or the primary mechanism through which we get descent with modification and universal common ancestry. And Intelligent Design does not deny that natural selection is a real force that’s at work in the world today. Of course, natural selection happens. What ID proponents would say is that it’s probably limited in what it can do. It does not have the, sort of, all powerful changing abilities that many Darwinian theorists would claim it does. And so, as Michael Behe has said, “There is an edge to evolution…there is a limit to what natural selection can accomplish.” And in many cases, the kind of complexity that we observe in biological systems requires an intelligent cause, rather than an undirected and unguided cause like natural selection. So, those are the three definitions of evolution that I would give…change over time, common ancestry, and natural selection.
BA: Good…very helpful. Well, what about the term “Darwinism?” Some people would possibly use that term interchangeably with “evolution,” so can you outline the difference there?
CL: Yeah, sure. Darwinism is the idea that natural selection is the driving mechanism behind evolution. Darwin, believe it or not, was not the first person to come up with the idea that species change, or even that living organisms today might be descended from different organisms in the deep past – even more primitive organisms, you might say. Those ideas were around long before Darwin. Darwin was the one who put together the grand vision that all life evolved by natural selection and descent with modification, through this mechanism, of what we often call today, the “survival of the fittest.” So, that is Darwinian theory.
Now, we also hear the term “neo-Darwinism.” In Darwin’s day, Darwin did not know about DNA, or genetics – those things had not been discovered yet. So again, Darwinism is just the idea that natural selection acts upon variation that we observe in populations. But, what is the mechanism that produces that variation? Well, today we know that variation, when it does arise in populations, it typically is the result of mutations in the DNA. And so, neo-Darwinian theory combines our modern knowledge of DNA and genetics, with Darwinism, which is the mechanism of natural selection. So it’s, basically, how does natural selection act upon organisms, given our knowledge of DNA, and genetics, and chromosomes, and the laws of heredity and all those things – that’s neo-Darwinism. So, those are two important terms we hear today. Usually, as you correctly said, Brian, Darwinism, or neo-Darwinism is synonymous with evolution. When we hear “evolution,” typically, the standard reigning paradigm of evolutionary thinking today is the neo-Darwinian paradigm. And it never ceases to amaze me, that when I use terms like “Darwinism” or “neo-Darwinism,” sometimes some evolutionists will look at me and say, “Well, did you invent those terms? Aren’t those terms invented by ID proponents to somehow pejoratively marginalize evolutionary theory?” And the answer to that is, “Where have you been for the last eighty years?” Every textbook uses the term “Darwinism,” or “neo-Darwinism,” to describe the current leading paradigm of evolutionary thinking. These are standard terms that you find throughout the peer reviewed evolutionary literature, in textbooks, in any technical paper on evolution, you’re very likely to find terms like “neo-Darwinian,” or “neo-Darwinism,” or “Darwinism,” so these are not terms that have been invented by ID proponents. This is the way that theorists in the standard field of evolution describe their own leading theory.
BA: Well great – again, very helpful. Now Casey, if you were to ask a lot of people, whether it be detractors or not, they might say that ID is simply creationism, albeit with some sort of scientific hat on. Someone called it, “Creationism in a cheap tuxedo.” So, the question here is, how does one differentiate between creationism, (perhaps, that needs to be defined as well) and ID? And is there any connection between the two?
CL: Sure, and these are important questions. And even folks who, maybe, are not out there with some malicious agenda, might have legitimate questions. “Well, what is the relationship between ID and creationism? What is the difference?” When I define creationism, I look at the definition that’s been given by a number of different authorities, like the U. S. Supreme Court for one, or folks who are leaders on both sides of this debate, like Eugenie Scott, or Phillip Johnson. I would say that authorities on all sides of this debate agree that, sort of, the base minimum definition of creationism is belief in a supernatural creator. So, in that sense, lots of folks are creationists. As a matter of fact, Ken Miller – the well known evolutionary biologist at Brown University, who also is a Roman Catholic – he admitted, at the Dover trial, that by some definitions, he is a creationist. He believes in creationism because he believes in a supernatural creator. So, when we use that very large scale definition of creationism, it’s not very useful for distinguishing between what different people really believe and what Intelligent Design says that is different than creationism. Well, Intelligent Design, for one, is different than creationism because it does not try to get into questions about who the designer is. And creationism, again, always refers to some kind of a supernatural or divine creator; whereas, Intelligent Design tries to restrict itself to what we can learn from the scientific data. It does not get into religious questions about the identity or nature of the designer. And in fact, many aspects of nature might have been designed by a natural designer and still fall within Intelligent Design, and so, it doesn’t necessarily dictate that you have to believe in a supernatural creator for say…the origin of the bacterial flagellum. When we look at the information in DNA, we do find lots of information that screams out, “I was produced by an intelligent cause,” but exactly who that cause was, or whether that cause was Yahweh, or Buddha, or Allah, or Yoda…whoever you might believe the designer is…those questions might not be answerable just by looking at the information in DNA alone. You might be able to tell there was an intelligent cause, but identifying the exact identity or nature of that intelligent cause is another story, that might go beyond the data. So, because Intelligent Design restricts itself to what we can learn from the science, it does not address those kinds of questions about the identity of the designer. And that is a key distinguishing hallmark between ID and creationism.
Another more practical distinction is that creationism typically starts with a religious text, like the Bible, and tries to find scientific evidence that supports some particular interpretation of the Bible. It might be a young Earth creationist view; it might be an old Earth creationist view. There are different types of creationists out there. ID does not start with a religious text. ID starts with a science. ID starts by looking at the scientific data and asks, “What can we learn?” If there are consistencies between the conclusion of Intelligent Design and certain religious teachings, so be it. That‘s fine and maybe there are, and maybe there aren’t. Many scientific theories have larger implications that you can draw from the scientifically based conclusions of those theories. But ID, in and of itself, is not making its claims using divine revelation or faith. It makes its claims using the scientific method. And again, that’s another key distinguishing hallmark between ID and creationism. ID limits its claims to what can be learned through scientific methods, and does not use faith, or divine revelation, or some religious text, when making its claims.
BA: Well, some would say that ID is just this anti-evolution movement. Is that the case?
CL: I would say no, but it depends on, again, how you define “evolution.” We have to define our terms carefully. When a lot of folks use the term “anti-evolution,” they’re using a pejorative term that’s trying to equate ID with being “anti” – “even the idea that species have changed.” They’re using this caricature that ID is going to take us back to the 1800’s, when people believed in the fixity of species, or the fixity of populations even and that ID rejects everything that evolutionary biology has to say. And that, of course, is not true. ID acknowledges that populations change; ID acknowledges that natural selection is a real force that’s at work in the world today. However, ID does not acknowledge the grand Darwinian claim that all of life’s adaptive complexity can be built by unguided natural selection acting upon random mutations that arise without any knowledge of the needs of the organism. ID would say that you cannot build many of the complex features that we see in life today through this unguided and random process. So, in the sense of change over time, ID is not anti-evolution. Even when we define evolution as common ancestry, ID is not anti-evolution. ID does not require you to throw out common ancestry, and that’s why there are some leading ID proponents (Michael Behe is a well known example) who accept common ancestry. There are also ID proponents who are skeptical. I tend to be skeptical of some of the larger claims of common ancestry, but that is not required by ID. Where ID does, really, differ from evolution is in the claim that natural selection can, basically, do anything and everything you want it to do. So, if you want to call that anti-evolution, well, I suppose you could call it that, but, I think that anti-evolution is an imprecise term that does not clearly explain what you mean by anti-evolution – so I would not use that term. I think that it’s often used to try to cast ID as, sort of, this knee-jerk, unscientific hatred of anything that has evolution attached to it, and that’s definitely not what ID is.
BA: What about this often repeated phrase, I’m sure you’ve heard it two or three times, but, “ID isn’t science.” So, what’s your response to that?
CL: Sure, we absolutely hear that all the time, and as I mentioned earlier, one of the key distinguishing hallmarks between ID and creationism is that ID uses the scientific method to make its claims. So, when folks tell me that ID is not science, I tell them, “Well, that’s a hard claim for me to accept, because ID uses the scientific method to make its claims.” And, I can explain real quickly what that looks like. I’ve owned about a hundred plus biology textbooks. They’re in my office at work, and my folks sometimes call it the “Temple To Biology Textbooks,” because they, kind of, go from the floor to the ceiling in, like, a pyramid-type shape. Many of these textbooks use the standard definition of the scientific method – I’ve gone through a lot of them. The standard definition that we find in biology textbooks is this: that the scientific method starts with observations, then you make a hypothesis, and then you do experiments to test those hypotheses, and then you form conclusions. And, of course, all scientific conclusions are held tentatively, subject to the discovery of more scientific data. And so, ID uses that scientific method to make its claims. ID starts with the observation of what intelligent agents do when they act…when they design things. ID proponents can make a number of different observations about the nature of how intelligent agents act, and what is produced when intelligent agents design things. For example, we can observe that intelligent agents produce high levels of complex and specified information when they design objects. “Complex and specified information” sounds like a really complex, technical buzzword. What it means is that there’s an event that happens – that is unlikely – making it complex, and which matches some independent pattern, making it specified. So the words and the sounds that are coming out of my mouth that you’re hearing right now over this podcast – this represents complex and specified information. The odds of the exact sound waves coming out of my mouth right now are very low, and so that makes this a complex event. But yet, they are specified, in that they match the rules of grammer in the English language, at least, I hope that they do. So, that means that we are hearing complex and specified information right now. And when intelligent agents act, they are observed that they alone are known – the only known cause that we can observe, that can produce high levels of complex and specified information. And in fact, a special type of complex and specified information (we often call it “CSI” for short)… a special type of CSI is irreducible complexity and this is the idea that was coined by Michael Behe in his book, Darwin’s Black Box, that we mentioned earlier. Irreducible complexity is the idea that there are machines that are out there that require a core number of parts to work. If you remove a part, they will cease functioning and therefore, their complexity is irreducible. If you reduce the complexity, they no longer function properly so, we have irreducible complexity. And again, this is a special type of CSI, because we see a particular arrangement of parts that is necessary in order for a system to function and that is an unlikely configuration of parts that is specified to match a particular pattern. So that’s CSI. So…in our experience, intelligent agents are the sole known cause of high CSI. So, we can make a hypothesis or a testable prediction based upon that observation. The second step in the scientific method is to make hypothesis. Our hypothesis is that if a natural structure was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI, and we can test this. This is experimentally testable – the third step of the scientific method. I’ll give just one example: there are many out there that have been done among ID research studies but, one that I think is a very simple and elegant illustration of testing for high CSI are some of the mutation sensitivity tests that have been done upon enzymes, by pro-ID molecular biologist, Doug Axe. He has looked at certain enzymes and basically, induced mutations into them. And he’s asked, “How much mutation can these enzymes tolerate before they no longer form functional protein folds, and therefore, could be functional proteins?” And he’s found that functional protein folds exist in, perhaps as few as 1 in 10 to the 74th power amino acid sequences. What does that mean? That means that functional enzymes have incredibly high levels of complex and specified information. You have to get the amino acid sequence of an enzyme extremely finely tuned just to be able to get a functional protein fold…to say nothing of getting other parts of the sequence right so it can properly do its job. So these mutational sensitivity tests have found that – yes, enzymes, from what we can tell, contain astronomically high levels of complex and specified information and in our experience, there’s only one known cause that can produce that kind of information – that’s intelligence. So…we tentatively form the conclusion that these enzymes were designed by intelligence. They did not arise by an unguided process like natural selection. And this makes sense, because if functional protein folds are very rare in sequence phase, then it’s not going to be likely that random mutations are going to stumble upon a functional sequence. That’s going to be an extremely unlikely event. And you can in many cases do the math and look at known mutation rates, generation times, population sizes, and you can ask questions like, “What are the odds? What is the probability of random mutations stumbling upon this functional amino acid sequence to get this functional protein?” And actually, Doug Axe has found that if more than six mutations are necessary before getting any functional advantage in a protein…in a system, then given the most generous assumptions to Darwinian evolution, that trait is unlikely to arise in the entire history of life. So basically, if you require more than six mutations before you get any functional advantage to the organism, that’s a level of CSI that is beyond the reach of Darwinian evolution. And you know, we might not have even anticipated that that would be (quote/unquote) “high CSI,” but it looks like that is sort of a benchmark that we’re converging on for what can and cannot be produced by natural selection and random mutation. And so you might say that that is a good place to start thinking about intelligent design as an appropriate cause.
So just to close it up…we’ve just seen how Intelligent Design uses the scientific method…observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion to make its claims. That argument said nothing about faith or divine revelation. I only use the scientific method to make this argument for intelligent design. So in that respect, I think that ID is science, because it uses the same aspects of the scientific method that is required of Darwinian theory and most other scientific theories.
One last point though – a lot of folks will say that ID also needs to be publishing its work in peer reviewed papers, which is another part of the scientific method. Well, whether or not that’s part of the scientific method can be debated, but either way, ID does publish its research in peer reviewed journals and peer reviewed papers. For example, the work by Doug Axe, that I just mentioned, was published in the Journal of Molecular Biology. And there have been a significant number of peer reviewed research studies published by ID proponents. So, I think ID really satisfies any standard definition of the scientific method you can throw out there. It’s hard to make the case that this is not science.
BA: Well then, let’s look at another one of these responses that you often hear. What about the idea of Theodosius Dobzhansky, who claimed that evolution is the cornerstone of biology, and it’s central to understanding both living and extinct organisms. And he said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” And again, that’s become this, oft repeated, phrase for those arguing for Darwinism. What’s your view on that?
CL: Well yeah, my view of Dobzhansky’s statement, which we’ve heard so many times over the years, is that it basically comes down to a creed. And I don’t think that creeds should be defining our scientific investigation. It was actually the biologist, Thomas H. Huxley, who was the great defender of Darwin (he was called “Darwin’s bulldog”) and he once famously warned that, “Science commits suicide when she adopts a creed.” And I think that Dobzhansky’s creed has become a creed for many biologists. It says nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution. Well, isn’t that sort of putting the cart before the horse? Shouldn’t we not be saying that a theory takes primacy before the evidence, but that the evidence takes primacy before we develop or conclude that a theory is correct? So, Dobzhansky’s creed actually reflects the way that a lot of evolutionary scientists approach biology today. That is, they assume that neo-Darwinian theory is 100% correct and they proceed from there. They’re not actually interested in testing it. And so I’m actually, in a sense, glad Dobzhansky made that statement, because it shows how many evolutionary theorists think today and that they’re no longer treating evolution as a testable scientific theory that is subject to falsification. They’re taking it as a starting assumption – as a given – and then they proceed from there, because in their view, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. I really do think that’s how they think. But unfortunately, that’s not a scientific approach, because they’re letting a creed and a theory dictate the way that they interpret all the evidence, rather than looking at the evidence and asking if there is evidence that supports evolution. I prefer the way Jonathan Wells has, sort of, rephrased Dobzhansky’s creed, and he says, “In reality, we should say that nothing in biology makes sense except in light of the evidence.” That is a true scientific approach to biology. And it seems like many Darwinian theorists have abandoned that approach.
BA: Well, it does kind of remind me of Francis Crick’s saying, “You have to continually remind yourself that what you’re looking at, it isn’t designed.” And it’s kind of loading the deck.
CL: Yeah, you have to ignore the evidence to come to a Darwinian conclusion, or to abandon Intelligent Design and it’s just amazing. This is not a healthy state for biology, when we see people quoting creeds like this.
BA: Well, it’s been twenty years since Phil Johnson wrote the book, Darwin On Trial, and that was a book that really launched ID in many ways. So upon reflection, many ID advocates have been impressed by the amount of progress that‘s been made in the movement, while some critics claim that, “ID is dead. It hasn’t produced anything.” So, what are your thoughts on the state of Intelligent Design twenty years after Darwin On Trial?
CL: Well, I’m always very amused when critics say that Intelligent Design is dead, because they keep saying it over, and over, and over again over the years. So, if ID is dead, why do they have to keep killing it and declaring it dead? I mean, a coroner only declares something dead once. So, it kind of makes me skeptical that ID really is dead when you keep hearing this year, after year, after year, after year. I think this is just, sort of, a talking point. It shows the way that a lot of the critics think. They want ID to be dead. They really, truly have some kind of a…it really bothers them that ID has any viability and they need ID to be dead for some psychological reason. Otherwise, I don’t know why people would be talking like this so much. The irony is that, really nothing could be further from the truth. When you look at the fundamentals of the ID movement, they are incredibly sound. Over the last four, five, six years we have seen a boom in peer reviewed publications supporting Intelligent Design coming out, and one of the things we mentioned on evolutionnews.org, recently, is that the ID movement published its fiftieth peer reviewed scientific paper in 2011. And that may not sound like a lot, but frankly, when you’re dealing with a relatively young and vastly underfunded scientific field, that’s quite an accomplishment. And it certainly – I think – refutes this talking point we hear from critics that ID doesn’t do research, or ID proponents don’t do science…those sorts of things. So, the fundamentals of ID, in terms of the science, are very sound. There have been a number of research studies that have come out supporting ID arguments and this is gaining traction within the scientific community. I can tell you, from my vantage here working at Discovery Institute, that heads are beginning to turn more than they have in the past – realizing that we actually are putting up some interesting scientific data that supports our views. And even some, you might call them friendly critics, are beginning to pay more attention…more and more attention… to what we’re doing. So – ID is certainly not dead. Polls show, as well, that the public does not think ID is dead. The public, certainly, supports an ID based viewpoint. Polls regularly suggest that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, depending on the poll, that’s all that you have in terms of the percent of the public, that supports an unguided Darwinian origin of life. So I think that, when you consider that the opposite of that is an Intelligent Design based view, there’s still a significant amount of the public that supports ID. In the last few years, we’ve also seen some real wins for ID’s educational initiatives here in the United States. In 2008, the State of Louisiana passed a law that permits teachers to teach scientific criticisms of evolution – it’s sort of an academic freedom bill. In 2009, the State of Texas – obviously, one of the largest states in the country as far as student population goes – they required (in their state science standards) that teachers teach about scientific weaknesses of Darwinian theory, as well as the strengths. And this is the exact sort of educational approach that the ID movement has been recommending for years. So, we now actually see in the U. S. – as I think that there are between 6 and 8 states that either require or permit teaching about scientific problems with Darwinian theory and this is very significant. This shows that there’s a lot of folks out there that agree with our position. As a matter of fact…again, polls show that upwards of 75 or 80 percent of the public agree that when you teach Darwin’s theory, you should teach both the evidence for and against it. So the public, by and large, is very much on our side in this debate. So, ID is certainly not dead. We have the support of peer reviewed science that’s coming out. We have the support of the public. We have lots of exciting publications that have come out, as far as books and videos, that explain ID at a popular level, over the past few years. I think that The Discovery Institute’s “ID In the Future” podcast gets about 500,000 downloads a year. So obviously, there’s a lot of folks out there that are interested in this, and I think one of the most exciting groups of people is students. [At the] Discovery Institute, we have a summer program, where every year, students from around the world can come to Seattle and learn about ID for about 7 or 8 days, from the top theorists in the field. It’s called “Discovery Institute’s Summer Seminars On Intelligent Design”. For the past 4 or 5 years we’ve done this, and basically, every year we turn out about 30 to 40 undergraduates and graduate students, in various scientific and and social science fields. These are folks that are probably, in many cases, going to go on to get graduate degrees, go on and become researchers who are learning about ID, and are going to become the next generation of ID theorists. And so, I think that again, the fundamentals are very sound. We’re attracting the interest of undergraduates and graduate students. We are seeing peer reviewed research being published. We’re seeing that the public overwhelmingly supports our position. So, I don’t understand how one can argue that Intelligent Design is dead. That…I don’t know what else to say.
BA: How would you describe a brief history of Intelligent Design, say…as a movement? What are some of the milestones that come to mind for you when you think of ID as a movement?
CL: Well, the ID movement probably had its formations in the 1980’s, when a group of scientists got together. And it’s interesting, a lot of folks claim that ID is descended from creationism. When you look at the thought processes that these people had when they were starting the ID movement, and starting to come up with the theory of intelligent design, it was actually born out of a dissatisfaction with creationism. And the dissatisfaction was this…creationism was always getting into religious questions about who the designer was. It was bringing theology or scriptural texts into the conversation. And, not all of that, is, necessarily bad, I mean, matter of fact, many of these folks in the early ID movement were Christians, who did believe that the designer was the God of the Bible, and they believed in the Bible.
However, what they wanted to do was to create a strictly scientific approach to origins, that did not mix up the theology with the science. And so, that’s what actually…that was the inspiration that gave birth, essentially, to the ID movement, and to the ID approach. It was the desire to get away from the creationist approach which was always trying to bring religion into the conversation, and ask, “Can we construct a strictly scientific approach to studying origins, that arrives at the conclusion that many aspects of life were designed?” And they found that they could do that. And so, I think that, maybe, one of the first milestones was the publication of Mystery of Life’s Origins by Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen, in 1984, I believe. And this was one of the first books to make the case for Intelligent Design, based upon the information in DNA. Probably another milestone was in the late 1980’s, and 1990’s, when Phillip Johnson got involved in the debate, and he wrote the book, Darwin On Trial, that came out in 1991. A lot of folks have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of his work, because he had a profound affect on the ID movement, in terms of, bringing people together. I think that Phillip Johnson was one of the first guys to have a really wide audience regarding Intelligent Design, and the problems with Darwinian theory. So many people in the ID movement, myself included in that, actually, say that one of the ways that they got connected to other folks in the ID movement was through reading Philip Johnson’s work and, in many cases, then meeting Philip Johnson, and then he connected them to a wider circle of people who were interested in Intelligent Design. And so, Intelligent Design was, sort of, the “nucleus” around which many “electrons” gathered in the ID movement, you might say. And so, the publication of his work was certainly a milestone in the ID movement. I think another milestone would be Michael Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, and then, a couple of years later, William Dembski’s book, The Design Inference. These two books laid down, very much, a theoretical basis of what we might expect to find in biology, or cosmology, actually, if aspects of nature were designed…and that is looking for irreducible complexity and specified complexity.
BA: What about the Dover trial? Can you tell us a little bit about that, and its significance?
CL: Sure. Well, the Dover trial happened in 2004 and 2005. And I want to first start off to tell your listeners something they may not realise, and that is, that the ID movement had long opposed mandating Intelligent Design in public schools in the United States. This was actually Discovery Institute’s policy before the Dover case, and after the Dover case, nothing has changed. The reason that we do not support pushing Intelligent Design in the public schools, is because we have always wanted the debate over ID to be a scientific one, rather than a political one. And when ID gets pushed in the public schools, it tends to politicize the debate, and take the debate out of the scientific realm, and push it into the political realm. And that politicization, unfortunately, tends to result in increased intolerance towards ID proponents in the academy, which ultimately, makes it harder for ID proponents to make their case to the scientific community, and do their research, and push their work, free from various forms of persecution. And, in fact, I’ll just say this, the Dover case is one of those times where we kind of felt vindicated by our policy…you didn’t, necessarily, want to be vindicated.
The Dover School District did not listen to our policy. They pushed Intelligent Design into the curriculum, and, unfortunately, that resulted in an intense spike in the amount of persecution of pro-ID scientists and faculty since the Dover case. So, in any case, what am I saying here? The ID movement has long opposed pushing ID in the public schools. Instead, the ID movement has long said that we should teach, simply, the evidence for and against Darwinian evolution, and not, necessarily, get into alternative theories like Intelligent Design. Well, the Dover School District did not listen to Discovery Institute’s policy position, or the position of many others in the ID movement, and in 2004, they adopted a policy that required the teaching of Intelligent Design in their classroom. And, the ACLU wasted no time in finding a group of plaintiffs to file a lawsuit, basically, trying to get Intelligent Design banned from Dover schools. Unfortunately, they were successful.
There were a lot of problems with Dover’s policy. Discovery Institute did not support their policy from the very beginning. We thought, not only was it going down an unwise policy path, but it, also, was a poorly worded policy. It appeared that, on its face, many of the school board members had religious motives for adopting the policy, and that, obviously, creates Constitutional problems here under U. S. Constitutional Law. So, we did not support Dover’s policy. We urged them to drop the policy and not try to defend it in court. Dover, unfortunately, did not listen to any of the suggestions or urgings that we gave them…went with the advise of the Thomas More Law Center, and tried to defend in court a policy that was, really, legally indefensible, unless the Supreme Court was going to overturn about 30 to 40 years of precedent of Constitutional Law. Now, the one area of the Dover ruling where we disagreed with Judge Jones, was in his argument that Intelligent Design is a religious view, that is, generally speaking, unconstitutional to teach in public schools. And that was, really, the biggest aspect of the Dover case that this Federal Trial Court judge ruled that Intelligent Design was religion, and is not appropriate for any public high school science classroom. We very strongly disagreed with that, and we’ve written a number of books, some Law Review articles, and papers and other articles dealing with problems with Judge Jones‘ ruling, because it is just, absolutely atrocious when it comes to the way that it treats Intelligent Design. For one, the Dover ruling, very badly misdefined Intelligent Design. Judge Jones claimed that ID was a supernatural explanation that is merely a negative argument against evolution. And, of course, neither of those are true.
As we have talked about, you can have even a natural designer for many aspects of life. ID leaves that option open. And in fact, the textbook that was at stake during the Dover case made that very clear, that ID does not discriminate, necessarily, at least in biology, between a natural designer and a supernatural designer. And many of the pro-ID expert witnesses that testified at Dover said the same thing. Judge Jones just ignored how ID proponents have formulated their own position, and instead that ID is a supernatural explanation. He also ruled that ID is merely a negative argument against evolution, where we, basically, infer ID by refuting Darwinian theory. And, again, as we have talked about, this is not at all how ID operates. We can make a positive case for design. We can find testable predictions, positive predictions that are made by ID, such as the prediction that we will find in nature, high levels of complex and specified information. And, various pro-ID expert witnesses testified about the positive case for design in Judge Jones‘ courtroom, and, again, Judge Jones just ignored that testimony and ruled that ID is merely a negative argument against evolution. Judge Jones also got various things that you might call “black and white” issues wrong. Perhaps we can argue and debate over whether ID is a negative or positive argument, and maybe somebody will have a different opinion, but you can’t really disagree about whether ID has published peer reviewed scientific papers, because it had. Nonetheless, Judge Jones somehow found it within him to state in about four or five places in his ruling, that ID has published no peer reviewed publications, has no research, and this is absolutely false, and the record falsifies Judge Jones‘ claim. And, in fact, he just, basically, ignored the evidence that was offered by the ID side in the case, of pro-ID publications, peer reviewed publications.
So, what we found in the Dover case was that Judge Jones basically, just, ignored the arguments of ID proponents, and signed his name on the dotted line below the arguments of the ID critics, which promoted, sort of, a false caricature, or false characterization of ID. So, the theory of Intelligent Design that got struck down in the Dover case was not theactual theory of Intelligent Design. It was thefalse version of ID that we often hear being promoted by ID’s critics. It wasn’t until about a year after the ruling came out, that we discovered why Judge Jones‘ ruling was so inaccurate. We did a comparison of his section on whether ID is science, and we compared it to a brief that was filed by ACLU attorneys about a month before the ruling came out. We found that over 90% of Judge Jones‘ section over whether ID is science, was either taken verbatim, or nearly verbatim from this ACLU brief. So we now know who really wrote the Dover ruling, in terms of who came up with the ideas, and who is promoting these bogus arguments, and Judge Jones, again, just simply signed his name on the dotted line for some aspects of that brief, with some, in many cases, trivial minor changes, and, really, it was an uncritical ruling that did not accurately deal with the issues at hand. And, unfortunately, a lot of folks out there read the Dover ruling and mistakenly think that it truly does describe Intelligent Design, and this is the ultimate treatise against ID, when, in fact, it misrepresents ID, it does not accurately state what ID is, and it gets tons of facts about ID wrong. So, I think that, unfortunately, the Dover ruling has had a negative effect, in that it has really misinformed a lot of people about ID, and it also has, as I said earlier, has resulted in a lot of persecution for ID scientists. And, this is, really, one of the more recent phases of the ID history, in that, we have seen a lot of attacks on academic freedom of pro-ID scientists. And, really, the last six or seven years, we’ve seen a number of folks that have been denied tenure, that have lost their jobs in the academy, because of their support for Intelligent Design.
And, a lot of this was discussed in the documentary that came out a few years ago called, “Expelled,” with Ben Stein. Where he told the stories of many of these scientists, who have faced discrimination because of their pro-ID views. So, this is, sort of, the modern era of ID…is that there’s a lot of exciting research that’s been going on, as I said earlier. The ID movement recently published its fiftieth peer reviewed paper, but, at the same time, we’re seeing, as ID progresses more, scientifically, the critics are turning up the heat more and more, and are doing more and more to try to make…to try to, sort of, intimidate ID proponents into silence through threats and attacks on academic freedom to be an ID proponent in the academy. So. It’s an interesting dynamic, right now, we have going on, where the (48:35 science ??) is really strong, but a lot of folks are afraid to speak out about the science because of the intolerance and this culture and atmosphere of discrimination against ID proponents that has arisen in academia.
BA: Alright, well, very good. You’ve covered a lot of history there, and cleared up, I think, some common misconceptions. And we’ve also covered some of the objections and discussed the definitions. But I wanted to ask you one more thing, and that’s, when we’re thinking about ID, the inevitable question is, OK, if we do accept Intelligent Design, then who is the designer? And I wonder how that question squares with ID as a scientific endeavor. Obviously, there may be, and the Christian would say there are religious implications from the answer to that question. But, do the possible religious implications of a scientific theory render it false or nonscientific? How does the movement approach that question?
CL: That’s a really good question, Brian, you frame this very well. If we accept ID, who is the designer? Well, obviously, there are many ID proponents, myself included, who are Christians, or Jews, and believe in, sort of, a Judeo-Christian God. Does that mean that ID, necessarily, mandates that you believe in this Judeo-Christian God? Actually, it does not. There are a number of other folks in the ID movement, who have different views of who the designer is. There are folks of, sort of, an Eastern religious persuasion. We have Buddhists in the ID movement. We have Muslims who have been part of the ID movement. There are even folks in the ID movement who you might call agnostics, or atheists, believe it or not. These are people who find ID arguments persuasive, but they aren’t sure who the designer is, or what the designing force is, or if the designer ought to be called “God.” There’s actually an atheist professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, named Bradley Monton, and, a couple of years ago, he published a book, where the subtitle was, An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design. So, it’s very clear that ID does not entail some particular belief about who the designer is, and this is what you would expect from a scientific theory that’s trying to restrict its claims to what we can learn through the scientific method. Now, you asked the question, if there are religious implications of ID, and what does that mean? Well, I think, obviously, for many people, if you do find evidence that life was designed by an intelligent cause, that is going to have a larger implication, that God is the Designer, that God exists. And that’s fine. The fact that ID theory has larger, religious or philosophical implications for many people, does not disqualify it from being science, unless you want Darwinian theory to also be disqualified from being science. Because, Darwinian theory also has larger philosophical and religious implications. We could spend another five hours here, talking about all the leading evolutionary thinkers, over the years, including some of whom are alive today, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, who have said that the implications of Darwinian evolution is that there is no god, or that there is no creator, or that there is no intelligent force behind life. Now, obviously, there are some folks out there who might fall into what you would call the theistic evolution camp, who believe in both God and evolution, but that doesn’t mean that there are not a lot of people out there who find that there are implications from Darwinian theory that count against theistic belief. There was a survey that came out a couple of years ago, by a couple of Cornell scientists, that found that only 2 out of a 149 evolutionary biologists surveyed, believe in a full theistic view, and a very significant percentage of them, were what you would call atheists. There was a survey done about ten years ago, of biologists who were members of the National Academy of Sciences, who, of course, were almost exclusively Darwinian evolutionists. And, I think that over 94% of those biologists identify themselves as either atheist or agnostics.
So, there’s no question that, at least, among many folks, they see larger implications of Darwinian evolution that count against theistic belief or Judeo-Christian beliefs. So, the bottom line here is that Darwinian theory has huge implications, larger implications, for religion or philosophy. And, if you’re going to claim that, the fact that ID has similar, but opposite implications for religion and philosophy, if you’re going to claim that that makes ID unscientific, then you’d better be prepared to accept that, under your own logic, Darwinian evolution should also be considered unscientific. My approach is to drop these unfair arguments against these theories being unscientific and say, “Look, there are lots of scientific theories that have larger implications…that does not mean that the theory, therefore, is unscientific. You can have a scientifically based argument that has larger implications, and that argument is still scientifically based.” So, I think that larger implications of a theory do not disqualify it from being science and that certainly applies to Intelligent Design.
BA: OK, so we’ve covered a whole lot of ground here. We did talk about lots of reasons why ID is not dead. And, I think, from the overall conversation, it’s pretty obvious. But, what do you think is the future of Intelligent Design, that is to say, what kind of contribution does the movement have for our understanding of the world?
CL: Well, I think the future of ID is very, very bright, and again, as I mentioned earlier, the fundamentals of the ID movement are sound. We have the scientific research coming out increasingly, that is on our side. We have vibrant research hubs, vibrant research programs that are producing research that supports the argument that only intelligence can produce much of the complexity that we observe in life and the Universe. So, again, the future of ID is bright, in that the science is going, I think, to continue to progress, and it’s going to find increasing support for Intelligent Design, we’re going to be discovering more and more biological systems that have high complex and specified information, and are best explained by an intelligent cause. And, I think that more and more scientists are going to realise that we have valid arguments here. I think, if that happens, the intolerance towards ID in the short term might increase. We might find more instances of discrimination against ID proponents in the academy in the short term, because many Darwinian lobbyists are going to find discrimination, and these heavy handed tactics. They’re going to find that they are a convenient way to keep ID from gaining traction…to, sort of, keep other scientists who, maybe, don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other…to keep those scientists from getting interested in ID, and to, sort of, keep all the troops in line. But, that is not going to last forever, because eventually, folks are going to realise that they need an explanation for these complex biological systems, and that Intelligent Design is offering them a viable scientific alternative. I’ll tell you another reason why I really, strongly think this is going to happen. While many folks are saying that ID is dead, and that’s not true, the irony is that Darwinian evolution, in many respects, is dying right now.
You can look at the technical literature, and the fundamentals of Darwinian theory are not sound. There are many theorists these days, who are abandoning, in the technical literature, you don’t see it in the public a lot, it hans’t necessarily made it’s way into the textbooks yet, but in the technical literature there are many theorists that are calling into question the core tenets of Darwinian theory. Tenets like a universal tree of life, or universal common ancestry…tenets like natural selection and random mutation can produce the observed complex features that we see in biology. A lot of this is being called into question in the technical literature. So this means, the Darwinian theory people are starting to have their eyes opened, and they can no longer say that, “Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution.” They’re beginning to realise that, actually, a lot of stuff doesn’t make sense in the light of Darwinian evolution, and they’re looking for alternative explanations. Now, right now, we’re in an interesting phase, a grey zone, where there are a number of competing theories for how we can build complex biological systems. And, these competing theories…it’s, sort of, the “wild west” of biological thinking right now. You have epigenetics, you have evo-devo, you have a number of different interesting, wacky ideas that are out there. And, it’s not clear if any of these are going to gain traction, and be able, at the end of the day, to explain the complex features that we see in biology. And, I think that where we’re going right now is, ultimately, a lot of these explanations are going to fail. We already know a lot of the problems with explanations like evo-dvo, looking to epigenetics, looking to horizontal gene transfer. A lot of these other mechanisms, we already know that these explanations, they are interesting, they work in some cases but they have very severe limits of what they can explain. So, I think, it’s going to take a little bit of time, but eventually, biologists are going to exhaust, even, these new theories that are coming in, these materialistic theories that are coming in, to replace Darwinian theory, and, we are going to come to the point, in maybe 20, 30 years, I’m not sure, where folks are going to start realising that, really, material causes altogether cannot explain the complex features we see in biology, and they’re going to realise that there is a need for intelligent causes to be a part of the picture. And, I think that as long as we can just continue to produce our own work and our own research, and prevent too many martyrs from being taken out of the academy, we’re going to be able to see the day come when ID is going to be taken very seriously by a majority of the scientific community.
BA: Well, very good. Casey, as we wrap up, are there any resources online that you would like to point our listeners to?
CL: Oh, I’d love to. I appreciate you asking that, Brian. I think that a great website is evolutionnews.org. It’s Discovery Institute’s new site where we have lots of news and information, updates on a regular basis about the debate. Another one would be the “ID the Future” podcast, that’s idthefuture.com, which is Discovery Institute’s ID related podcast. Finally, I mentioned earlier, the Idea Club that I started at University of California-San Diego. That Idea Club later became a nonprofit, The Idea Center, which helps students to form idea clubs on university and high school campuses, all around the world. So, if you’re a student, and you’d like to get more information, check outwww.ideacenter.org and you can learn more about Idea Clubs. Finally, if you’re a student, I’d also check out Discovery Institute’s Summer Seminars On Intelligent Design, by going to www.discovery.org/sem for more information on Discovery Institute’s Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design.
BA: Well, excellent. Casey, it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you, and thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
CL: Well, thanks for your work, Brian, and I appreciate you having me on.