Intelligent Design in the New Yorker

Fortunately, someone around here is awake at the switch. Rich emailed me to point out that the latest issue of the New Yorker has an article about Intelligent Design. No, not whether the New Yorker (or New York itself, for that matter) is intelligently designed, but about the ID movement and evolution. I had actually read the article and intended to talk about it here, but then I didn’t because of those deadlines I mentioned.

Anyway, it’s a good article, and you can read it at You might not like it if you think ID is good science, but it does respectfully lay out some of the main arguments for ID, and then give a science-based critique of them.

The author, H. Allen Orr, also talks a bit about the sometimes rocky relationship between evolution and faith:

The idea that Darwinism is yoked to atheism, though popular, is also wrong. Of the five founding fathers of twentieth-century evolutionary biology—Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright, J. B. S. Haldane, Ernst Mayr, and Theodosius Dobzhansky—one was a devout Anglican who preached sermons and published articles in church magazines, one a practicing Unitarian, one a dabbler in Eastern mysticism, one an apparent atheist, and one a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and the author of a book on religion and science. Pope John Paul II himself acknowledged, in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, that new research “leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” Whatever larger conclusions one thinks should follow from Darwinism, the historical fact is that evolution and religion have often coexisted.

And then, in conclusion:

Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they’re alarmed because intelligent design is junk science.

I’ve just started reading Kenneth R. Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God, written by an evolutionary biologist who’s also a person of faith. I hope to say more about that later. (But at the rate of 10 minutes a day when I’m on the exercise bike—minus the times when I’m reading my daughter’s Zits cartoon collections instead—it’ll take me a while to finish.)

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  1. Tim
    | Reply

    I’m not going to bother commenting on the main topic of your post, but seriously Zits? There are better comics out there….like mine 🙂

  2. Harry
    | Reply

    Thanks for posting a link to that article.

    He contradicts himself at a point or two, first stating that “…evolution has no goal…” but then in the same paragraph he goes on to say that “…organisms aren’t striving to realize some engineer’s blueprint; they’re striving (if they can be said to strive at all) only to have more offspring than the next fellow.” He goes on to mention Dawkins as a pro-evolution argument which includes math and his (not mentioned in the New Yorker article) ‘selfish gene’ idea. This certainly seems like a goal to me. Along with the idea of more children the idea is merely that the genes, the code itself want to survive.

    The first way that genes survive is replication; without that there is no survival as one copy cannot last forever. That alone is not enough, so they need a container, a cell, to protect them from damage. While cells are successful, some with differences wanted to survive apart and better than the rest and the easist way is to live in a habitat or use resources not used by others. This laziness drives it toward other solutions in this space, from sea onto land, from hydrogen/sulfur to oxygen/carbon, from single celled to multicelled, etc.

    Coincidentally, I wrote a piece in my blog last month about evolutionary solution spaces. My background is computer science with a few biology electives. I did some genetic programming as part of my grad work and it is interesting what behaviour can come from purely random rearrangement, given a sufficiently limited problem and solution space. The problem of suboptimal solutions is also apropos and explains why we don’t have a constant upward progression of organisms from simple to complex; as well as explaining why species can be quite happy for long periods before something jolts them out of their suboptimal solution which can explain the herky-jerky nature of the fossil record.


  3. tsmacro
    | Reply

    Well that wasn’t a short article now was it? *L* Anyway, this same basic argument has been going on many centuries. Basically it comes down to if humans couldn’t explain or don’t understand something then they say it’s the way God made it. Well then someone comes along with an explaination and other people say “now wait a minute we already explained it by saying it was because of God.” Well as more and more explanations were offered by way of science more and more people who were confortable with the “God explanation” became more uncorfortable and felt that science was essentially stepping on God’s toes. So now we have people trying to poke holes in scientific theories by pointing out that because these theories can’t explain everything that they must be wrong and once again it’s that way because it’s the way God intended. So round and round it goes a continuing viscious circle. Personally I don’t see why there has to be a conflict. I don’t see how knowing more by way of continuing scientific research in any way dimishes God. Essentially better understanding the universe we live in should lead to a better understanding of God, now shouldn’t it?

  4. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Okay, Tim, those are fightin’ words. You can attack my religion, my politics, my science, my first-born children…but don’t go attacking my favorite comic. I love Zits–that and Get Fuzzy are my nominations for heirs apparent to Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side. I can only conclude that you have no teenagers in your house. 🙂

    But thanks for the link to your comics–I had no idea you did a strip. I had a good time reading some of your archive.

    Harry, I think you could argue that the “selfish gene” doesn’t have a goal, but rather that that’s a handy anthropomorphic way of describing a tendency to survive when certain criteria are met.

    Ts, I agree, especially with your last sentence.

  5. Harry
    | Reply

    I’m not so sure I’m anthropomorphosizing the survival needs of genetic code. What is the point of a virus? Many retroviruses are no more than a strand of RNA with a thin protein coat. It’s purpose is to reproduce that RNA and protein to make more. In some ways, it may be the perfect example.

  6. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    My question is whether you can use the words “goal” and “purpose” in relation to genetic code without anthropomorphizing. You’ve described what a virus does, and by doing it, the virus multiplies. But to say that that’s its purpose implies, to me, an intelligent or conscious goal.

    Obviously, you’re not saying the virus is intelligent or conscious. Instead, you’re using the common shorthand of “purpose.” Which, to me, is anthropomorphizing. We all do it. It’s easy, and usually it causes no confusion.

  7. Harry
    | Reply

    Does a goal or a purpose require intelligence and/or consciousness? I say no but this is just a point of argument. The mindless operation of a virus is self-replication, whether it is a goal or just the way it works.

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