The Questionable Authority

Over at The Austringer, Wes Elsberry has been engaging in a bit of debate with BeliefNet blogger David Opderbeck over Opderbeck’s views on the Dover Intelligent Design case. The bulk of their disagreement seems to center on the appropriateness of Judge Jones’ decision to rule that Intelligent Design is not a scientific concept. Opderbeck thinks Jones should have avoided the topic; Wesley disagrees.

This is long-familiar ground, of course. The Discovery Institute has been complaining that Jones should have stayed a long way away from the question of whether or not ID is science for years now – despite the fact that they themselves submitted an amicus brief in the Dover case that seems to ask Jones to address that topic. Given that the plaintiffs and defendants both asked the court to rule on whether or not ID was science, I think that Wesley is on much firmer footing than Opderbeck.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about right now.

When I was looking at Opderbeck’s side of the argument, something he said about the Intelligent Design movement caught my eye – mostly because it seems to reflect a certain ignorance of the Intelligent Design movement as it actually exists:

I’ve come to believe that the misuse of ID theory by those Dover school board members reflects a common misuse of ID in the Church generally. In my experience, it’s widely assumed by evangelical church-goers – contrary to the official statements of leaders in the ID movement – that ID supports belief in God, or more specifically supports young earth creationism, over and against evolution. Countless apologetics programs, websites, and publications designed for evangelicals respond to any suggestion that biological evolution may be true (or that direct creationism may be false) with a passing reference to Mike Behe and Bill Dembski. These would-be apologists are sometimes shocked to learn that many ID theorists accept common descent, which definitely is not compatible with special creationism (or sometimes they know better and conveniently fail to mention that fact in their presentations!).

The unfortunate reality, in my judgment, is that ID theory – or rather, a crude distillation of ID theory – has been reduced to a tool in the culture wars both inside and outside the Church. Whether the leaders of the ID movement intended for this to happen or not, Christian proponents of ID are using it just as they tried to employ “creation science” in the 1980s. Within the Church, this tends to remove ID from the realm of ideas that can be calmly and reasonably discussed, and places it instead into a “hot button” category.

(Emphasis mine.)

It is not possible for Intelligent Design to be reduced to a tool in the culture wars for the simple reason that it has never been anything more than that. That fact is clearly apparent to anyone who has taken the time to give more than a cursory examination to the actual activities of the main Intelligent Design proponents – particularly those affiliated with the Discovery Institute.

Even if we completely disregard the infamous “Wedge Document” – which begins not with an analysis of the scientific strengths of Intelligent Design but with a denunciation of the social consequences of “materialism” – there is still ample evidence that Intelligent Design is less about investiganting reality than shaping people’s perceptions of reality.

I realize that it’s been years since I’ve updated this, but I think it’s still extremely compelling evidence:

The Discovery Institute is and always has been the center of the ID movement. It’s fellows have provided the public face of the movement, and conducted the bulk of the alleged research. When I took some time back in early 2006 to look at how the effort they put into public relations compared with the effort they put into science, the results were revealing:

Press Releases: 0.44/day

‘Scientific’ pubs: 0.0046/day

As I mentioned, those are old numbers, but I think they still tell the story well. At the height of the Intelligent Design movement, the Discovery Institute was pushing public relations materials at a rate that was two orders of magnitude greater than the rate at which they were pushing out material that they could claim as scientific support for their views.

That’s not what you expect to see from people who are trying to do science, but it’s exactly what you’d expect to see from people who are primarily focused on fighting the culture wars.

Comments

  1. #1 ngong
    December 1, 2009

    …These would-be apologists are sometimes shocked to learn that many ID theorists accept common descent…

    The reason they’re shocked is because the only time the “we believe in common descent” card gets played is on the rare occasion the IDiots engage the scientifically literate.

    And it isn’t “common descent” anyway. It’s common descent + meddling, which isn’t common descent. To quote Darwin, “I would give absolutely nothing for the theory of Natural Selection, if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.”

  2. #2 Joshua Zelinsky
    December 1, 2009

    Honestly, I have to wonder if Opderbeck has been paying any attention at all and whether he actually a) read the decision or b) read Barbara Forrests testimony or c) has ever heard the term “cdesign proponentists” and is aware of just when the search and replace seemed to occur compared to Edwards v. Aguillard.

  3. #3 Ginger Yellow
    December 1, 2009

    Let’s not forget that the bit of the Discovery Institute responsible for ID is called the Centre for Science and Culture. And the claim that “many” ID proponents accept common descent is absurd. The whole point of ID is to refute common descent. A handful of its supporters may accept it genuinely and confusedly, but more likely he’s thinking of people like Behe who claim to accept it, but make arguments (eg irreducible complexity) which imply special creation for each organism. If, as Behe claims, the mammalian immune system cannot have evolved, how exactly did the 5,000 species of mammals come to be if not creation?

  4. #4 Wesley R. Elsberry
    December 2, 2009

    There is now a part 2 to the discussion with Opderbeck.

  5. #5 Sigmund
    December 7, 2009

    “If, as Behe claims, the mammalian immune system cannot have evolved, how exactly did the 5,000 species of mammals come to be if not creation?”
    Presumably Behe doesnt need every mammal to be created seperately, just the first one with the ‘irreducibly complex’ immune system in question.
    What surprises me is the fact that the diversity of views about evolution is so great amongst the members of the Discovery Institute. There are disputes amongst their stated positions over the age of the Earth (between ten thousand and 4.5 billion years old), common descent, macroevolution and even in the case of Egnor, microevolution!
    We need to have a teach the controversy campaign for them alone so they can let people know their enormous level of disagreement.
    The problem is that they simply don’t seem to care (to me the idea that the age of the earth or the question of common descent is central to the question – that anyone could see these as unimportant cannot be seriously thinking about doing science.)

  6. #6 Ginger Yellow
    December 7, 2009

    “Presumably Behe doesnt need every mammal to be created seperately, just the first one with the ‘irreducibly complex’ immune system in question.”

    Except that, as he himself has said, different mammals have different, supposedly IC, immune pathways. Behe explicitly rejects the evidence of multiple mammalian immune systems with different parts “missing” as evidence that a given mammalian immune system could have evolved. The only logical inference is that every single one was specially created.

  7. #7 SLC
    December 7, 2009

    The bulk of their disagreement seems to center on the appropriateness of Judge Jones’ decision to rule that Intelligent Design is not a scientific concept. Opderbeck thinks Jones should have avoided the topic; Wesley disagrees.

    As Judge Jones has made clear in a number of talks he has delivered since his decision in the Dover case, both sides requested that he rule on whether ID was science. Mr. Opderbeck is talking out of his posterior orifice.

  8. #8 DPSisler
    December 16, 2009

    Press Releases: 0.44/day
    ‘Scientific’ pubs: 0.0046/day

    Good numbers to know. I suggest updating these figures. This could be a good focus for your website (if I may be so bold as to suggest that. That is, a counter on the sidebar) providing an agruement against ID as science.