Intelligent Design and Peer Review

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Bob Murphy raises some interesting points in today’s column on intelligent design. (Though it’s hard to top our greatest contemporary social philosopher, Scott Adams [1,2].)

Two additional points about peer review. First, as Bob points out, mainstream consensus is not the same thing as truth — a point Austrian economists can particularly appreciate. Second, the claim that ID proponents do not publish in peer-reviewed journals is partly true, but misleading. Academics like Michael Behe and William Dembski certainly do publish their day-to-day, bread-and-butter research — “normal science,” in Kuhnian terms — in peer-reviewed outlets. What they don’t publish in the refereed journals is the “extraordinary science” — the more general, speculative arguments about whether philosophical or methodological naturalism can account for the origin and complexity of life. But, then again, neo-Darwinists don’t publish the corresponding counter-claims — that blind, purposeless forces are wholly responsible for the biological world — in peer-reviewed journals either. Those claims are advanced in popular books and essays by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Pinker, etc. (and the introductions to most high school and college textbooks). ID and neo-Darwinism seem to be on fairly even footing here.

Update: A correspondent tells me that neither Behe nor Dembski has personally published many peer-reviewed papers since they became visible ID proponents. Fair enough, but my point wasn’t about those two in particular. I know several practicing (and accomplished) biologists who claim to be proponents of ID, though their mundane, day-to-day research has little to do with the grand questions regarding the origin of life and the descent of man. My point is that the everyday research of most ardent neo-Darwinians also has little to say about these big questions. These questions are mostly addressed by philosophers, science popularizers, and textbook writers, not practicing scientists. To put the problem differently, when was the last time you heard a scientist or science educator complain that The Blind Watchmaker wasn’t peer reviewed?

12:07 pm on January 17, 2006