Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison
During the second half of the twentieth century the greatest threat to evolution came from so-called creation science, a Bible-based scheme that limited the history of life on earth to less than 10,000 years and attributed most of the fossil-bearing rocks to the year of Noah’s flood. However, during the past fifteen years or so a new, nonbiblical, form of opposition to evolution has arisen under the banner of “intelligent design” (ID), which seeks to “reclaim science in the name of God” and to change the very rules governing the practice of science by allowing appeals to supernatural forces to count as scientific explanations. The “astonishing complexity of subcellular organic structure” led one prominent ID theorist to conclude – on the basis of scientific data, he asserted, “not from sacred books or sectarian beliefs” – that an intelligent designer had been at work. “The result is so unambiguous and so significant,” he insisted, “that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science,” rivaling “those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrödinger, Pasteur and Darwin.” Critics, not surprisingly, dismissed it as “stealth creationism” or, more colorfully, as “the same old creationist bullshit dressed up in new clothes.” Late in 2005 a federal judge in Pennsylvania, himself a conservative Christian, described ID as a “breathtaking inanity.” He ruled that ID was “not science” because it invoked “supernatural causation” and failed “to meet the essential ground rules that limit science to testable, natural explanations.” Despite this setback, support for intelligent design continues to grow around the world.
Ronald L. Numbers is Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine and a member of the department of medical history and bio-ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has taught for over three decades. He has written or edited more than two dozen books, including, most recently, Darwinism Comes to America (1998), Disseminating Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender (1999), coedited with John Stenhouse, When Science and Christianity Meet (2003), coedited with David Lindberg; Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew (forthcoming). For five years (1989–93) he edited Isis, the flagship journal of the history of science. He is writing a history of science in America (for Basic Books), editing a series of monographs on the history of medicine, science, and religion for the Johns Hopkins University Press, and coediting, with David Lindberg, the eight-volume Cambridge History of Science. A former Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, he is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the International Academy of the History of Science. He is a past president of both the History of Science Society and the American Society of Church History. In 2005 he was elected to a four-year term as president of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science / Division of History of Science and Technology.