Wednesday’s Book Review: “Unintelligent Design”

Unintelligent DesignUnintelligent Design
. By Mark Perakh. Amherst, MA: Prometheus Books, 2003.

This fine book offers a powerful and sustained critique of the creationism argument versus evolutionary theory, especially the most recent iteration of “intelligent design” which has been politically but not scientifically successful in pressing an agenda in the public schools. The author, a scientist, also makes some larger comments on the relationship of science and religion. In many ways this is a very fine work of use to anyone seeking information on the substance of the debate.

Mark Parakh divided Unintelligent Design into three large sections, and in some respects it has the feel of three separate books. The first, and by far the most impressive section, deals with the three central advocates of “intelligent design.” Perakh devotes lengthy chapters each to the efforts of William A. Dembski, Michael J. Behe, and Philip E. Johnson, and demonstrates a succession of fallacies, logical flaws, and erroneous analyses in their publications. Perakh offers convincing evidence of the failings of “intelligent design” as propounded by all three writers and advocates. Anyone who investigates this subject will find Perakh’s withering analysis of Dembski, Behe, and Johnson enormously useful. I found particularly thoughtful his critiques of Dembski’s statistical analysis and Behe’s ideas of “irreducible complexity.” Perakh is especially effective in countering the complex statistical analysis that Dembski employs in his writings, finding that when stripped of its extraneous elements it does not amount to much.

Parakh’s second section deals with several writers, some of whom wrote more than a quarter century ago and play no role in the current “intelligent design” debate even if they may have discussed creationism, who sought to reconcile science and religion. One may ask if they are reconcilable; certainly Perakh does not think so and undertakes a blistering critique of factual and logic errors in discussing science and religion in the works of Hugh Ross, Grant Jeffrey, Fred Heeren, Aryeh Carmell, Cyril Domb, Menachem M. Schneerson, Nathan Aviezer, Gerald Schroeder, and Lee Spetner. This section is less satisfying than the first; for one thing it does not deal with “intelligent design” per se but with larger issues. Perakh does, however, shine a light on the mental gymnastics offered by the religious community in seeking to rationalize science and religion.

Perakh sees a threat to scientific understanding of the natural universe present in these ideas. At some level he is quite right. Arguments that the Earth is only 6,000 years old based on biblical evidence cannot be sustained in the face of all the scientific evidence dating the Earth to several billion years of age. Perakh is right to offer this rebuttal. At the same time, I find less disconcerting those who assign the cause of the Big Bang to God–although we have no evidence for this—for it is a statement of faith made in the absence of any evidence whatsoever to the contrary.

I find speculating on the possibility that a deity might have been the prime mover for the Big Bang much less worrisome than some of these other efforts to counteract the findings of science. Absent an effort to force the teaching of this interpretation of the Big Bang in schools, museums, science centers, and the like people of faith are free to accept this position if they wish. While the critique in this section is still quite useful, I found it less compelling than the first section’s analysis of the principal proponents of “intelligent design.”

Finally, Mark Perakh offers in his third section a fascinating discussion of science, its methodologies, and its manner of self-correction through peer review, acceptance or rejection of ideas, and the development over a long period of time with contributions from a large and diverse community of scientists to a body of knowledge that has restructured the lives of every individual on Earth. In some ways, this section might have been useful in leading off the book because of its introductory nature. Even so, it is a welcome addition to the book.

At sum, Mark Perakh finds that “intelligent design” amounts to a version of pseudoscience, proof of which comes through its “distortion and use of facts.” He asserts: “As discussed in several previous chapters, this theory, promoted by a large group of writers, including many with scientific degrees from prestigious universities and with long lists of publications, and propagated at various levels of sophistication, has all the appearance of scientific research, as it offers definitions, hypotheses, laws, models, and theories like a genuine science. What is absent in the intelligent design theory, though, is evidence. No relevant data which would support its hypotheses, laws, models, or theories are found in the articles and books written by proponents of intelligent design—only unsubstantiated assumptions. Therefore it can justifiably be viewed as pseudoscience” (p. 326).

Unintelligent Design is a powerful argument against the rise of the new creationism offered with the catchy title of “intelligent design.” It should become essential reading for anyone who has to deal with this subject in both public and private settings. It also offers greater understanding for those studying the findings of Darwinian evolution.


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One Response to Wednesday’s Book Review: “Unintelligent Design”

  1. jackcrenshaw says:

    Roger, I’m very disappointed to see you praising such a book. I thought you were someone who had an open mind, and could look dispassionately at all sides of an issue. When you use phrases like “the new creationism,” you’ve already lost any claim to dispassionate scientific inquiry.



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