Publisher: Intelligent Design about “our Relationship with God”

*Hello to visitors from Pharyngula

(Corrected – see comments, and thanks to Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

The InterVarsity Press reports* on its role in propagating Intelligent Design materials:

The book Darwin on Trial, by University of California-Berkeley Law School professor Phillip Johnson, was published by both InterVarsity Press and Regnery Press in 1991. Two years later InterVarsity Press exclusively published the paperback version, and went on to publish five more titles from Johnson as well as two books by William Dembski. These books, along with Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box (published by The Free Press), have positioned Intelligent Design as a logical alternative to the perceived shortcomings of naturalistic evolutionary theory.

In other words, the movement has been promoted in the main by an evangelical Christian publisher, with a bit of help from wingnut outfit Regnery and one other publishing house. The Free Press is an imprint of Simon & Schuster – but Behe’s pre-publication reviewers hardly offered much of an endorsement: Robert Shapiro thought his conclusions were wrong but that book was provocative and so worth publishing, while K. John Morrow thought it was nonsense and sent a section to Russell Doolittle (a clotting expert) who was even less impressed. Behe himself claims that publication got the go-ahead after a review from Michael Atchison, but, as the ACLU of Pennsylania noted a month ago, Atchison never saw the manuscript and his “peer review” was a ten minute phone call with the editor, in which he said he thought Behe’s ideas sounded interesting (Two other reviewers are currently unidentified. For some reason, the InterVarsity report fails to note William Dembski’s The Design Inference, which at least had Cambridge University Press backing).

However, lack of support from mainstream scientists is no bar to success:

InterVarsity Press Publisher Bob Fryling can tell that Intelligent Design has suddenly become a hot topic. Sales of the four main ID books quadrupled between June and September of this year. The books are Intelligent Design and The Design Revolution, both by William Dembski, plus Defeating Darwinism and Darwin on Trial, both by Phillip Johnson.

ID proponents famously argue that their position is not a religious one; design can be inferred by scientists who are not biased, but that does not mean the designer is God. Their main publisher, however, is less interested in this distinction:

“The debate over beginnings reflects fundamental issues of how we understand the nature of humanity, our purpose in life, and our relationship with God,” said Fryling.

And there’s more on the way:

Next March InterVarsity Press will publish a book on Phillip Johnson, edited by William Demski [sic], called Darwin’s Nemesis.

One dead Victorian scientist who travelled the world to develop a theory that has become the keystone of biology, versus…a California lawyer (By the way, Dembski should not be too upset; elsewhere on the page his publisher does manage to spell his name correctly).

InterVarsity does, though, recognises that ID is controversial even among Christians (and not just Young Earthers):

While the debate has helped the bottom line at InterVarsity Press, it is a sensitive subject among the Christian professors that InterVarsity works with on the nation’s college campuses. There are Christian scholars on both sides of the Intelligent Design debate. “We have done the right thing to play a role in encouraging discussion of ID,” says Faculty Ministry director Stan Wallace. “It fosters conversation about a fault line within higher education.”

The lack of non-Christian scholars on both sides of the debate (besides Jonathan Wells of the Unification Church) is not commented on. Wallace apparently has a background in the philosophy of science, and he explains that

Many scientists, based on their training, do not accept conclusions that are not explained fully and only by physical causes…But other scientists reject Methodological Naturalism. They are open to considering that whatever can’t be explained by natural causes may be explained scientifically by non-natural causes, and still count as scientific theory, much as psychologists and sociologists appeal to the choices people make to explain some phenomena. “For scientists who embrace Methodological Naturalism, Intelligent Design is a non-starter,” Wallace says. “To them it’s just wrong headed. But those who reject Methodological Naturalism believe Intelligent Design theory makes sense of much of the data.”

This, of course, fits with the new definition of science recently adopted by the Kansas School Board. But, just like them, Wallace does not explain how non-naturalistic science should actually work as a practical method. Here’s my (hopefully) helpful definition, the Unwritten Rule of Non-Naturalistic Scientific Method (which I first posted back in January):

When observing any phenomenon, the scientist should first of all consider how it could be explained as evidence for an action by God, angels, or demons. However, a supernatural interpretation should not be given when even a poorly-informed lay-person could reasonably say that such an explanation is “silly”.

*Report is also featured on ASSIST.

3 Responses

  1. New definition of science!?! I got a BA in Philosophy,
    focusing on philosophy of science, and I can tell you that it is not a new definition at all. Rather it is the recovery of the definition that was in use for well over a thousand years. Really…

    Naturalistic materialism is the real new-comer here. It was a fad and is now passsing away, thanks be to God.


  2. I look forward to seeing this fad pass away – why should I continue to take medication for asthma when an exorcism might prove more effective?

  3. Just a minor correction. You write that the only peer review that Behe’s book received was a 10 minute phone call between the editor and a scientist who hadn’t see the manuscript, but that’s not accurate. The book was reviewed by 5 people, one of whom was the scientist you mentioned above (Michael Atchison) and the 10 minute phone conversation. That was quite an embarrassment to Behe when he claimed on the witness stand that Atchison was one of the peer reviewers of the book – in fact, he claimed in an article earlier that Atchison’s review was the one that convinced the publishers to go ahead with it – and then had the attorneys quote Atchison’s own words saying that he had never seen the manuscript and only had a short phone conversation with the editor.

    However, there were 4 other legitimate reviewers of the book, two of which have been identified and have come forward with the substance of their reviews, Robert Shapiro and K. John Morrow. Shapiro has noted that while he thought Behe was wrong in his conclusions, he thought the book should be published because it is well written and on a provocative subject (peer review for a book is nowhere near as rigorous as for a scholarly journal). Morrow absolutely slammed the book and thought it was utter nonsense, and he further sent out one portion of it (the section on blood clotting) to Russell Doolittle, perhaps the world’s foremost expert on clotting, who slammed it even harder. The other two reviewers have not been identified at this point.

    Anyway, the point is that it’s not accurate to say that the only pre-publication review the book received was the phone call with Atchison. There were other reviews done, even if they were highly negative.

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