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The Furious Response to Intelligent Design


By Tom Bethell | March 2006
Tom Bethell is a Contributing Editor of the NOR and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (Regnery, 2005).

The fury and table-thumping aroused by the Intelligent Design movement has to be experienced to be believed. Droves of readers write in to the newspapers, some on the verge of apoplexy; and on radio talk-shows, the phone banks light up. I wrote my first article criticizing evolution some 30 years ago, for Harper’s magazine. Headlined “Darwin’s Mistake,” it evoked a large response (mostly enraged, but some supportive). The Editor, Lewis Lapham, had not been long on the job and the volume and intensity of the mail surprised him. He took no position on the issue, but he was definitely interested in arousing the readers. So he allowed me to write two more articles on the topic.

I have written “doubting Darwin” articles many times since then, and the impassioned response never fades. With the rise of Intelligent Design, it has only increased. I have two chapters (out of 15) on the controversy in my new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, and in talk-radio interviews the subject almost always comes up.

I don’t want to turn this into a discussion of the case for or against Darwinism. But let me quote one comment by the late Colin Patterson, a senior paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History. He had already written an introductory text called Evolution. After it came out, a curious reader asked why he had not included in the book any “direct illustrations of evolutionary transitions.” Patterson replied: “You say I should at least ‘show a photo of the fossil from which each type of organism was derived.’ I will lay it on the line — there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument. The reason is that statements about ancestry and descent are not applicable in the fossil record. Is Archaeopteryx the ancestor of all birds? Perhaps yes, perhaps no: there is no way of answering the question. It is easy enough to make up stories of how one form gave rise to another, and to find reasons why the stages should be favoured by natural selection. But such stories are not part of science, for there is no way of putting them to the test.”

At about that time, Patterson gave a talk to curators at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In the course of his talk he said that there was “not one thing” that he knew about evolution although he had been studying it for twenty years. He challenged colleagues to tell him “any one thing that you think is true,” but was answered with silence. That was in 1981.

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