At first glance, the Potential and Limitations of Evolutionary Processes conference in Israel last week, which I attended, looked like any other scientific meeting on evolution, with talks by highly-credentialed scientists from institutions such as the Technical University of Munich, Cambridge, and the Weizmann Institute. But a closer look at the list of speakers shows that this one was different; it gave a platform to several proponents of intelligent design.
The conference included chemistry Nobel prize winners Ada Yonath and Sir John Walker, and numerous well-known evolutionary theorists such as University of Chicago molecular biologist James Shapiro and Georgia Tech biophysicist Jeremy England. But this time four or five intelligent design scientists were also invited, including Michael Behe of Lehigh University.
Most, but not all, avoided mentioning design explicitly, but still emphasized the “limitations” of evolutionary processes. Even Rice University chemist James Tour (who considers himself “agnostic” toward intelligent design) argued that origin-of-life researchers have deceived the public into believing that we are close to understanding how life formed, when we are not.
As stated on the conference web page, “the main goal of this unique interdisciplinary, international conference is to bring together scientists and scholars who hold a range of views on the potential and possible limitations of chemical and biological processes in evolution.” The organizers attempted, to a large degree successfully, to create an atmosphere of mutual respect between those who emphasized the “potential” of evolutionary processes, and those who emphasized their “limitations.”
Until recently, intelligent design has been considered an untouchable topic in mainstream scientific circles, where it’s considered axiomatic that everything must be explainable in terms of the unintelligent forces of nature, no matter how implausible and incomplete our current explanations may be. This axiom has worked well in other areas of science, but the problems of explaining the origin and evolution of life without design are inherently much more difficult than other scientific problems (for reasons which are obvious and outlined in my video, “Why Evolution is Different“).
For this reason, a growing number of scientists seem finally ready to at least include intelligent design within the “range of views” allowed to be heard. The meeting in Israel represented an important step in this direction and shows that mainstream science can ignore the obvious for a long time, but not forever.
If you need further evidence that intelligent design is finally being taken more seriously, look at the long list of distinguished scientists endorsing Stephen Meyer’s 2021 book “Return of the God Hypothesis.” Physics Nobel prize winner Brian Josephson said the book “makes it clear that far from being an unscientific claim, intelligent design is valid science.” Another endorser is Brazilian chemist Marcos Eberlin, whose own book “Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose,” which promotes intelligent design, carries the endorsements of three Nobel prize winners.
Of course, you shouldn’t judge a scientific theory by the number of distinguished scientists or Nobel laureates who support it, and certainly scientists who advocate intelligent design are still only a growing minority. But you should judge a scientific theory by its merits, and you don’t have to be a distinguished scientist to understand the merits of intelligent design. In fact, many non-scientists already do.