Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Designs of Nature

Three weeks ago today, Nature devoted some attention to intelligent design. The results were mixed, to say the least. A clever cover and a sensible editorial were offset by an outrageous News Feature. As usual, Pharyngula was quick to point out two egregious problems with the piece. First, it is largely devoted to Salvador Cordova. I'm not one to only argue from authority, but this is too much. Who is this "scientist" exactly? Has he ever published a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal? Apparently not, according to the ISI and PubMed databases. If Nature thinks his work is so great, why don't they publish one of his papers? Second, the article talks of the efforts of poor, well-meaning "intelligent design supporters" to get a fair hearing at University campuses. Apparently they are being persecuted by evil, intolerant "Darwinists". This is all very telling because "Darwinist" is a term that, at present, you are most likely to hear from creationists and their compagnons de route. (Not that I have any problem with the term itself. I happen to think that Darwin's contributions to biology are among the greatest scientific achievements of all time, and would be honored to be considered among one of his intellectual descendants. It's just that the word is not one commonly used by evolutionary biologists.) Naturally, the intelligent design supporters were delighted with the article.

What I found to be most disappointing was that in four pages (rather long for a News Feature) there was essentially no discussion of the evidence for or against evolution (or intelligent design for that matter). Are we supposed to accept that intelligent design should be taught in Universities because it makes some students feel better? And this from Nature!

This week's issue features some counter-attacks from the forces of reason. Dan Graur, my next-door neighbor here at the University, managed to get some delightfully scathing remarks past the editors. Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, but the nonsense of intelligent design deserves no more.

Update: I agree with everything this distinguished panel of "Darwinists" (which includes my PhD supervisor) wrote.