Why ID Failed: Evolution and the True “Design” of Biological Systems

Saturday, February 13, 2016: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Marshall Ballroom West (Marriott Wardman Park)
Kenneth R. Miller, Brown University, Providence, RI

Despite its legal and scientific failings, the “intelligent design” (ID) movement has been a public relations success story in the United States.  By creating doubts about the adequacy of evolution to account for the complexity of life, the ID movement has invoked the values of “fairness” and “openness” to argue for inclusion in classroom and curriculum.  In this way, it has attempted to lay claim to the very principles of critical analysis and open discussion that are at the heart of the scientific enterprise. In so doing, it has provided critical support for a vigorous anti-science movement that now challenges the scientific community on issues as diverse as climate change, vaccination, and genetic modification.

To many Americans, it seems obvious that living things were “designed.” From the subtle beauty of a flower to the precision fluid dynamics of the circulatory system, living organisms seem to be the product of careful and complex engineering, and indeed they are. But it is not the sort of engineering that derives, as the ID movement claims, from an unnamed “intelligent designer.”

Using scientific expert testimony in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial as an example, I will examine the scientific claims of the ID movement, and show how they can be countered effectively in the public arena.  Specific case studies, including the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting cascade, show how scientists can play a leading role in deconstructing the arguments advanced in favor of ID.  The key to this strategy is remarkably simple.  It is to take the claims made by ID proponents seriously, and follow them to their logical scientific conclusions.  When this is done effectively, the hypothesis of  “design” can be publicly falsified in ways that are understandable to laypeople and decision makers in education.  There is indeed a design to life, and living things do indeed carry the marks of their designer – it is the evolutionary process itself.