The Chronicle: 1/19/2007: Why Can’t We Discuss Intelligent Design?

J. Scott Turner comments on why academe ought to allow questions about “design” in nature. A few good quotes:

I wonder, for example, what demon had gripped a past president of Cornell University when he singled out intelligent design as a unique threat to academic and civil discourse. Aren’t universities supposed to be a place for dangerous ideas?

Also amusing is the spectacle of independent-minded scientists’ running to college administrators or the courts for help in defining what is science and what is permissible discourse in their classrooms. And I find it hard to suppress a chuckle at the sheer brass of books like Richard Dawkins’s recent The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), which seem untroubled by traditional boundaries between religion and science as long as the intrusion is going their way.

That is a pity because at the core of intelligent design is a question worth pondering: Is evolution shaped in any way by purposefulness or intentionality? Darwinism is clear in its answer — no way, no how — and that is not mere obstinacy, as some might charge. The banishment of purpose from evolution is Darwinism’s sine qua non, which Darwin himself fought hard to establish, and which his descendants have defended stoutly ever since.
But what if evolution really is purposeful in some way? In fact Darwin dethroned only one type of purposefulness, the Platonic idealism that had previously underscored the concept of the species. There’s more to purpose than Plato, however, and it remains an open question how other forms of purposefulness might inform our thinking about evolution. What might purposeful evolution look like? Is design its signature? Can it be reconciled with Darwinism? If so, how? If not, why not?

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