The E-News site has been inactive since February 2011 and may contain outdated information and/or broken links. For current and up-to-date Tufts news and information, please visit Tufts Now at
Tufts University e-news

Search  GO >

this site people
Tufts University Logo Bottom Search Bottom  
left side photo

"Calling All Creationists"

"Calling All Creationists"Tufts philosophy professor Daniel Dennett challenges creationists to produce scientific evidence in favor of intelligent design, a theory he says flies in the face of evolution.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.06.05] Schoolchildren sitting in science classrooms throughout the country may soon be studying more than just evolution when it comes to learning about the creation of humankind. Nationally, there is a push to expose the youth of America to two different schools of thought concerning how humans came to be: evolution and intelligent design.

But not everyone is on board with expanding biology class curriculums to include the idea that man’s creation was orchestrated by a higher power. In a recent New York Times op-ed, Tufts’ University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor ofPhilosophy Daniel Dennett questions the legitimacy of intelligent design as a scientific theory.

“It seems obvious that there couldn’t be any designs without designers, any…creations without a creator,” Dennett, who directs the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts, wrote in the Times. “Well, yes – until you look at what contemporary biology has demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt: that natural selection…has the power to generate breathtakingly ingenious designs.”

One such “design” Dennett discusses in his opinion piece is the human eye.

“Take the development of the eye, which has been one of the favorite challenges of creationists. How on earth, they ask, could that engineering marvel be produced by a series of small, unplanned steps?” Dennett wrote. “But as we learn more and more about the history of the genes involved, and how they work…we can begin to tell the story of how photosensitive spots gradually turned into light-sensitive craters that could detect the rough direction from which light came, and then gradually acquired their lenses, improving their information-gathering capacities all the while.”

According to Dennett, many of the exact details of this process remain unknown to biologists, but the proof that it does, indeed, occur is widespread.

“Real eyes representative of all the intermediate stages can be found, dotted around the animal kingdom, and we have detailed computer models to demonstrate that the creative process works just as the theory says,” he wrote.

That kind of proof – true scientific evidence – is what creationists are lacking to support their intelligent design theory, Dennett explained. And they are making no attempt to produce it, he said.

There have been “no experiments with results that challenge any mainstream biological understanding [and] no observations from the fossil record or genomics or biogeography or comparative anatomy that undermine standard evolutionary thinking,” Dennett said.

With no concrete evidence in hand, creationists take a different tactic to legitimize their theory, Dennett explained.

“The proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist’s work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a ‘controversy’ to teach,” Dennett wrote in the Times.

But Dennett says this argument is empty and does not qualify intelligent design as a true challenge to evolution.

“Indeed, no intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon. Saying, ‘You haven’t explained everything yet,’ is not a competing hypothesis,” Dennett said, pointing to the irony of the situation.

“Evolutionary biology certainly hasn’t explained everything that perplexes biologists,” he wrote in his op-ed. “But intelligent design hasn’t yet tried to explain anything.”












Related Stories
Related Links
Featured Profile