The argument put forth by
creationists advocates of the so-called Intelligent Design theory is that there is supposedly a huge disagreement among scientists over whether I.D. or the Theory of Evolution is the best explanation for the development of life on Earth and thus their favorite rallying cry is that schools should “teach the controversy” and include lessons on Intelligent Design in science classes. This mantra—teach the controversy—is repeated so much that many otherwise intelligent folks who don’t have much science background might be excused if they start to believe that there actually is a big controversy about the issue among scientists. So Robert Camp decided to find out once and for all if such a controversy actually existed by polling the heads of prominent research university biology departments and asking a simple yes or no question: “Regarding the issue of “Intelligent Design theory” vs. current biological consensus on the mechanisms of evolution – is there a difference of professional opinion within your department that you feel could be accurately described as a scientific controversy?”
Of the 158 initial query emails sent over two days I received 73 responses, 45 of which included comments (Table 1). Both of these numbers far exceeded my expectations. Although I’d planned to send a second email thanking the respondents for their time and asking (what I expected to be) the few who sent comments for their permission to quote, I had not expected such an extended second round of emails. Of the 45 responses with comments, 27 allowed me their use, only two of those asking that I withhold their name. Considering the vicissitudes of email, the extra bother to very busy people, and the natural desire not to cause any potential distraction for an employer, I found the overall response to be instructive.
Over 97% of the responding Bio dept. heads answered in the negative – affirming that there is no scientific controversy at their institution (Table 1). Just one individual (1.4%) hedged by allowing that there was one faculty member who publicly supports ID (see Comments), but this observation was followed by the assertion that the “vast majority” do not consider ID scientific and thus see no scientific controversy. And one individual (1.4%) responded with a positive recognition of a scientific controversy. It must be noted that this lone “Yes” response came from a theological medical university.
Professors from Washington to Florida and from southern California to New England responded to the question, all but two with an unqualified “No” (some even added an exclamation point). And those two divergent responses serve to point up the open and thoughtful nature of the answers. One, a “No, but…” observed that there was virtually no professional controversy within their department but acknowledged that one colleague had spoken favorably of the concept publicly (see Comments). And the only assent to controversy came from an institution dedicated to an ideological view of the world, including the world of biology. This may serve as evidence of a “controversy” in that particular university. But in the larger context, its effect is only to put the overwhelming consensus into sharper focus.
There is no party line, there are no knee-jerk responses in the comments received (though there is a good bit of candor). These results are born of the understanding, among those with authoritative opinions, of where the proper lines between scientific and religious epistemologies must be drawn. Some even teach classes that include discussion of “Intelligent Design” but they understand that it is not science, and that there is no relevant controversy.
Of course you’ll note that when IDiots are claiming that a “growing number of scientists dispute the Theory of Evolution” they don’t include the word “biology” anywhere in the sentence. This is because there is a bit more support for I.D. among scientists that aren’t part of the biology field such as mathematicians or engineers, but even expanding the realm of consideration beyond biology to other scientific fields adds only a minor amount of support for I.D. and hardly adds up to the claimed huge controversy. The point remains that when you’re designing a curriculum on engineering you don’t include any controversy among biologists about, say, the theory of bridge building so why should the reverse be any different? Among those who should know best there is no controversy to speak of.