The ID debate is getting pretty trite. The only thing keeping it interesting to me is the incredible lengths that both sides will go to get their points across. Whether it’s sending free, lavish copies of an anti-evolution book to every evolutionary scientist in the western world (Harun Yahya) or inventing a the label of “bright” for you and your enlightened, like-minded friends (Richard Dawkins), the intensity of the fighting seems to be escalating. The media, our supposed source for clear thought, is acting more like a bookie at a boxing match: whoever wins, the real winner is the house. And don’t get me started on the internet! This whole thing should have been called a draw a hundred years ago.
Or should it have? Can some real intellectual advance come from all this madness? As someone who has picked a side but sees no point in picking fights, there is one thing I have noticed, a phenomenon that most people entrenched in the fighting are missing. This phenomenon is even eerily reminiscent of a well known evolutionary principle, and it is this: the ID movement coupled with evolutionary science is as effective at producing a better theory of evolution as an evolutionary arms race is at producing more complex organisms. That’s right, there is an invisible hand moving amongst the chaos. Allow me to explain.
ID is very often maligned for being an entirely unscientific enterprise because it makes no testable hypotheses. This is not exactly true. It makes one, a hypothesis popularized by Michael Behe as the irreducible complexity hypothesis. The idea, however, is not new and was even made explicit by Darwin at the very beginning. He said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” To someone who has a vested interest in Darwin’s theory breaking down, this sounds like a tantalizing challenge. As the field of evolution has expanded and engulfed newer and more complex fields like biochemistry and development, the processes that constitute life seem more bafflingly complex than ever. Instead of the eye, nowadays one would more likely hear about the cilia or the blood-clotting pathway as the ultimate example of an answer to Darwin’s challenge. For many in both camps, Richard Dawkins’ flippant answer of “we’re working on it,” just doesn’t cut it. Looking at the Dynein and Kinesin proteins that tightrope walk along 30 nanometer microtubules with their special deliveries between two organelles in a cell, even the most secure evolutionist wipes sweat from his or her brow and thinks I sure hope the Discovery Institute hasn’t seen this.
And this is just the point. What feels better for an evolutionist than figuring out that some animals with fully functional clotting are missing major elements of what we know as the blood-clotting pathway? Figuring it out and presenting it in the spotlight of the Dover trial, shutting down the ID defense, and the having the judge write a cutting 100+ page report documenting your opposition’s defeat, that’s what. Rest assured, however, that the IDers will not go home and toss out their holy books in favor of the Origin of Species. The defeat will only inspire them to look ever more deeply, scrutinizing every little detail of evolutionary theory, probing the foundations until another weak spot is hit. Can you see now how absolutely perfect this relationship is? If TH Huxley was Darwin’s bulldog, then ID is Dawkins’ basset hound, an organization whose goal is to sniff out weak points in evolutionary theory, almost like a third-party auditor making sure your books are in order. Evolutionists retaliate, showing that Darwin’s challenge has not been met, and the cycle continues, producing as a side effect an even more coherent evolutionary theory.
The ID debate is simply not a scientific or a logical one. It is a metaphysical one, in which two basic assumptions about the world are pitted against one another. Unless one side can get the other to radically alter their entire world-view, bits of evidence either way will be trivial battles won and lost with little long-term effect. Until then, the war rages on. Considering that the more we know in biology, the more it makes our heads spin, it will likely keep raging for years to come. The good news is that until the Lion lies down with the Lamb, the real benefit of all this conflict is to the theory of evolution itself.