In this issue Ian Wishart responds to Warwick Don’s critique of his article on Intelligent Design.
- I deny any fudging on the use of the word “creationist”. I make a clear distinction between young-earth creationism and intelligent design (ID) creationism, at the same time indicating a link between the two. In my article in Investigate magazine (November 2002), I write: “there are several types of anti-evolutionary creationists”, implying that there are also pro-evolutionary creationists. So I object to being accused of bandying the term (creationist) around.
- Ian Wishart questions my separation of organic evolution from other phases of reality on methodological grounds. It’s not a case of “a need to avoid discussion of the bigger picture” – it’s simply that each major phase, the cosmic or physical, the organic or biological, and the psychosocial or human (to use a standard classification) has its own entities or objects, evolutionary mechanisms, problems and research methods. Exactly how organisms arose is irrelevant to what occurred subsequently in the form of organic evolution. And I do recognise the bigger picture when I refer to “a postulated continuity linking all aspects [phases] of an evolutionary universe.”
- My note concerning the identity of the postulated land ancestor of whales was intended only to point out that the allusion in Wishart’s article (“Walking with Beasts”) to mesonychids is out of date. That the mantle of whale ancestor has shifted to another group in no way influences the nature and significance of “the ancient whale trail” as recently revealed in the fossil record, and about which Wishart continues to be skeptical.
- As for Archaeopteryx, its transitional status has never been in doubt. A fossil does not have to be directly intermediate to be labelled transitional. There is discussion about where Archaeopteryx lies in relation to reptiles (in particular, dinosaurs) and later birds. Current consensus places it on a side branch, sharing a common ancestor with younger birds. But this phylogenetic discussion does not affect the transitional status of this remarkable animal – it is the mixture of ‘old’ and ‘new’ features (in this case, reptilian and bird) which is significant, providing powerful evidence of a reptilian ancestry.
- Eugenie Scott has made it patently clear why science must ignore all supernatural entities, such as an Intelligent Designer. It is not a case of wanting to, but of having to. Not an iota is added to the sum total of scientific knowledge by invoking a Designer. The accusation of “presumptive biases” on the part of Eugenie Scott and myself is without foundation. If “said Designer suddenly appeared in the clouds at 3pm one Tuesday” (as depicted by Ian Wishart), then I feel sure Eugenie Scott would be among the first to embrace such an entity (figuratively, of course) as part of the empirical world and therefore amenable to scientific study!
- Wishart refers to “evidence pointing towards a Designer at more subtle levels.” This sounds very much like the “God of the Gaps” argument applied at the molecular level. The onus is on ID creationists to convince the scientific fraternity that such evidence exists. Key ID concepts, such as Behe’s “irreducible complexity” and Dembski’s “design filter”, have so far merely provoked adverse criticism in scientific and philosophical circles. As pointed out in my Reply to Behe (Investigate magazine, November issue), a key aim of the ID movement is to launch a number of scientific research programmes. After a decade, apparently none has materialised.
- Finally, regarding Wishart’s plea to “let science do the digging unfettered by religious or anti-religious bias…”, I fully agree. I would only add that science education too should be kept free of such non-scientific influences.