Dispatches from the Creation Wars

John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture, the most prominent ID think tank in the world, is mad as hell and he’s not gonna take it anymore. It seems that a state legislator in Utah has submitted a bill in that state to give equal time in state science classrooms to teaching “divine design” along with evolution – and that just will not do. West is quite verklempt about the whole thing:

While it’s frustrating when critics of intelligent design mischaracterize what ID is about, it’s even worse when people billing themselves as friends of ID do the same thing. As the term “intelligent design” has increasingly entered the public discourse, the number of people misusing the term to advance their own agendas by calling it “design” has increased. Take the recent proposal by a Utah legislator for something he calls “divine design,” by which he clearly seems to mean creationism…

I’d like to give a clear message to those who are trying to hijaack the term design in order to promote something else: Stop!

And he quotes himself being quoted in a Salt Lake Tribune article on this bill:

“We get very upset when supposed friends are claiming far more than what the scholars are saying,” says John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle…

“We wish [Buttars] would get the name right and not propose something he doesn’t understand,” West says.

Let me join West in expressing my outrage at Buttars’ presumptuous “hijacking” of the term “intelligent design”. I mean, where on earth could Buttars have ever gotten the idea that ID had something to do with “divine design” or anything to do with notions of God and divinity at all? He clearly hasn’t been listening to the Discovery Institute’s scholars, but only to us evilutionists who are bent on distorting their true intent. Shame on him!

On the other hand…maybe he got that idea from prominent ID scholar William Dembski who famously said:

The world is a mirror representing the divine life. The mechanical philosophy was ever blind to this fact. Intelligent design, on the other hand, readily embraces the sacramental nature of physical reality. Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

Or perhaps he got it from prominent ID scholar Nancy Pearsey, who says:

By providing evidence of God’s work in nature, it (intelligent design) restores Christianity to the status of a genuine knowledge claim, giving us the means to reclaim a place at the table of public debate. Christians will then be in a position to challenge the fact/value dichotomy that has marginalized religion and morality by reducing them to irrational, subjective experience.

Or perhaps directly from Phillip Johnson, the man most responsible for putting ID on the intellectual map and the primary architect of the Wedge strategy itself:

The Intelligent Design movement starts with the recognition that “In the beginning was the Word,” and “In the beginning God created.” Establishing that point isn’t enough, but it is absolutely essential to the rest of the gospel message.

And…

The objective [of the Wedge Strategy] is to convince people that Darwinism is inherently atheistic, thus shifting the debate from creationism vs. evolution to the existence of God vs. the non-existence of God. From there people are introduced to “‘the truth” of the Bible and then “the question of sin” and finally “introduced to Jesus.”

And…


Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.

Or perhaps Buttars simply looked to the Wedge document itself, which describes in vivid detail the aims of the very organization that West represents and on whose behalf he is writing:

Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature.

See, the problem here for West is not that no one is listening to the ID scholars; the problem is that we are listening to them and their own words are in direct contradiction to the tactical marketing campaign that the DI is trying so desperately to run. It’s the same catch-22 they’ve always been in. For legal purposes, they absolutely must separate ID from religion and they must pretend that ID is purely a scientific matter that deals with inferences of design, but the designer has nothing to do with God, it might just be an alien or something. But for fundraising purposes, they have to convince their followers that they are striking a blow against atheism and standing up for God – that’s how you get the money flowing in.

So the fact is that they have had to keep up this silly charade for years now, where they pretend that ID has nothing to do with God and hope no one notices the enormous trail of writings and speeches and fundraising letters they’ve left behind that conclusively disprove that notion. And when someone does notice it, they accuse them of bias and ignorance, but they never bother addressing the evidence itself. So you’ll pardon me for not taking West’s feigned outrage seriously. Buttars is saying nothing different than what ID scholars have said a thousand times. The fact that it contradicts your current rhetorical and marketing strategy does not establish their ignorance, it establishes your duplicity.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark Paris
    June 24, 2005

    I am shocked! Shocked!

    And my irony meter is pegged.

  2. #2 RPM
    June 24, 2005

    Hypocrisy and double-talk? That’s the last thing I would have expected from the discovery institute.

  3. #3 llDayo
    June 24, 2005

    To funny, rofl!!

    Could you provide links for the original quotes? You may have done it before when you mentioned these quotes but I can’t remember. It’d be nice to link these during a forum debate ;)

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    June 24, 2005

    Ildayo wrote:

    Could you provide links for the original quotes? You may have done it before when you mentioned these quotes but I can’t remember. It’d be nice to link these during a forum debate ;)

    I don’t know that I have links to all of them, but I can certainly give you sources for all of them. The first Dembski quote is from Touchstone magazine, July/August 1999. The quote from Nancy Pearsey is from her 2004 book, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. The first Phillip Johnson quote is from a foreword he wrote to the 2000 book, Creation, Evolution, & Modern Science. The second Phillip Johnson quote is from the April 1999 issue of Church and State magazine. The third Phillip Johnson quote is from an interview he did on American Family Radio on January 10, 2003. The Wedge Document was linked to. For those who don’t know, that document was an internal Discovery Institute memo apparently used for fundraising.

  5. #5 Macht
    June 24, 2005

    Are any of those quotes by Johnson, Pearcey, or Dembski spoken (or written) in the context of public education? That’s clearly what West was talking about, but I don’t think that’s what any of the others were talking about.

    If all you are saying is that a lot of IDers are motivated by religious beliefs and ultimately think that the designer is God, I’m sure West would agree with you.

  6. #6 llDayo
    June 24, 2005

    Thank you Ed, that’d be good enough. Maybe I’ll be able to track down some copies of those magazines.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    June 24, 2005

    Macht wrote:

    Are any of those quotes by Johnson, Pearcey, or Dembski spoken (or written) in the context of public education? That’s clearly what West was talking about, but I don’t think that’s what any of the others were talking about.

    I don’t think this distinction makes any difference. I’m not talking about different policy recommendations, I’m talking about what ID actually means. ID was conceived precisely to be a campaign of Christian “cultural renewal” and was designed (intelligently or not) for the purpose of Christian apologetics as a means to defeat “materialism” and “atheism”. The short term policy goals are irrelevant, as they’ve changed many times over the years and are conceived for pragmatic reasons, not ideological ones. The problem comes in the very definition. John West wants everyone to believe that ID is solely a scientific research program to identify design in nature. But even the most prominent ID scholars have defined ID as a campaign in Christian apologetics, depending on who they’re speaking to.

  8. #8 roy Sablosky
    June 24, 2005

    How many IDers does it take to change a light bulb? — Trick question. You can’t use IDers to change a light bulb.

  9. #9 Macht
    June 24, 2005

    Yes, the motivation of many IDers is the renewal of culture and many would like to see an end to materialism and atheism. Every one of those quotes you gave came from writings meant for a Christian audience. They are talking about what motivates them and why they are doing the things they are doing. The Dembski quote was in a section called “Design, Metaphysics, & Beyond” (my emphasis). Pearcey’s quote comes from a book about developing a Christian worldview in which she argues that religious, scientific, moral, etc. beliefs aren’t in separate realms and should all be consistent with each other. The sentence previous to the one you quoted makes this very clear:

    “If the broader impact of Darwinism was to remove Christianity from the sphere of objective truth, then the broader significance of the Intelligent Design movement will be to bring it back.” (my emphasis)

    I don’t know why you would leave that part of the quote out. She’s talking about the “broader significance” of ID, not ID itself. I don’t have the context of the Johnson quotes, so I can’t comment on those. The Wedge quote talks a lot about the goals of the DI, but doesn’t say anything about what ID is.

    West, however, is concerned about 1) conflating “design” with “creationism” and 2) using that equivocation in order to get creationism in the schools. IOW, whereas the quotes you gave are talking about broader, cultural issues, West is talking about public policy issues about what should be included in science classrooms. I’m not sure why you say that West “wants everyone to believe that ID is solely a scientific research program” when in the article he linked to he talks about how theological and cultural issues are relevant to ID, but “distinct from intelligent design as a scientific research program” (my emphasis). The “as” (as opposed to “is”) implies to me that ID may have multiple meanings (much like the term evolution does) which can only be interpretted in the context of what is being said. Before calling people duplicitous, consider that they may be talking about 2 different things (ID as science and ID as a larger theological/cultural issue) which may be clear to them but not as clear to others. (Although, perhaps they are being duplicitous … I don’t know. It probably depends upon whether one gives them the benefit of the doubt or not in what they say.)

    If this is the case, I don’t think that anybody has “defined ID as a campaign in Christian apologetics.” I think those quotes you gave above would be much closer to meaning something like what is meant by “Darwin made it easy to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist …”

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    June 24, 2005

    Macht wrote:

    Yes, the motivation of many IDers is the renewal of culture and many would like to see an end to materialism and atheism. Every one of those quotes you gave came from writings meant for a Christian audience. They are talking about what motivates them and why they are doing the things they are doing.

    No, it goes much deeper than that. ID is intrinsically an attempt to prove the existence of God. It’s not just their motivation, it is intrinsic to the definition of ID itself. You need look no further than the DI’s “top questions” FAQ, in which they answer the question “What is theory of intelligent design?” There answer:

    The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

    This puts the lie to their claim that ID isn’t about God or the supernatural at all and that it could just as reasonably mean aliens. Aliens exist within the universe, hence could not have designed those features of the universe. Thus, ID can only refer to something outside the universe – something supernatural; i.e. God.

    Beyond that, consider that ID takes the form of a classic god-of-the-gaps argument – “not evolution, therefore God”. The closest ID comes to having actual hypotheses are found in two ideas, Dembski’s complex specified information (CSI) and Behe’s irreducible complexity (IC). But both are purely eliminative, negative arguments of the above structure – “If evolution can’t explain this, then God must have done it”.

    And further, consider that even if we were dealing solely with their motivation, that alone would still be a fair criticism of the ID movement. Surely if Darwin had begun The Origin of Species with a diatribe about how evil Christianity or religion was, how it had caused every horrible thing in the world, and that his life’s goal is to see it destroyed, one would hesitate to take him seriously. It would be the antithesis of how science is supposed to operate by putting the political/philosophical goal ahead of the attempt to explain the data and make science subordinate to his anti-religious quest. It would not necessarily prove him wrong, of course, but it would rightly raise suspicion. If after writing that he then went on to deny that that was his motivation, even more suspicion would be raised. When you combine that with things like Jonathan Wells’ outright lie about being convinced solely by the evidence that evolution was wrong (when in fact he had elsewhere written that he was convinced by Rev. Moon to go to grad school to “destroy Darwinism”) and his book containing numerous outright distortions of the views of fellow scientists, it is perfectly reasonable to view this with a bit of a jaundiced eye.

    The bottom line at this point is that ID isn’t a scientific research program at all, it is purely a marketing/political campaign. There is no ID model from which one could derive testable hypotheses, hence nothing on which to base such research. Dembski tells us again and again that time will provide those things. But until that day, given the highly deceitful marketing campaign with which they have promoted their ideas and have attacked evolution (Wells’ book really is just one distortion after another), I think a conclusion of duplicity is entirely reasonable.

  11. #11 Macht
    June 24, 2005

    You’ve really switched the subject. I’ve said nothing about the scientific merits of ID. If the “bottom line” of your original post was to say that “ID isn’t a scientific research program at all,” I doubt I would have commented.

    I see no reason why designing certain features of the universe requires a supernatural designer. I suppose it might depend on what one means by “features of the universe.”

    I tend to agree that Dembski’s method of design detection is eliminative, but eliminative is not the same as god-of-the-gaps. If his filter actually worked, we could easily apply his filter to human artifacts. It would still be eliminative, but it wouldn’t be a god-of-the-gaps argument.

    I’m not sure how Behe’s arguments require the supernatural, either.

    IOW, you are just wrong about both of their arguments being “If evolution can’t explain this, then God must have done it”. Their arguments very well may be “If evolution can’t explain this, then they must be designed,” but I don’t see how [b]you[/b] slip God in there.

    If you think overall the DI is duplicitous, fine. I’m not going to argue against that. I haven’t read Wells or even most of the documents the DI has put out. I just don’t think your original post offered any evidence towards your conclusion.

  12. #12 Macht
    June 24, 2005

    And by [b]you[/b] I mean you.

  13. #13 386sx
    June 24, 2005

    I see no reason why designing certain features of the universe requires a supernatural designer. I suppose it might depend on what one means by “features of the universe.”

    I’m guessing that your hypothetical space aliens would be one of the features of the universe that don’t require a supernatural designer. Or maybe the jury’s still out on that one. Lol.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    June 24, 2005

    Macht wrote:

    You’ve really switched the subject. I’ve said nothing about the scientific merits of ID. If the “bottom line” of your original post was to say that “ID isn’t a scientific research program at all,” I doubt I would have commented.

    I’m not changing the subject, I’m giving you the background that explains why I interpret their statements the way I do. If ID is not a scientific research program at all, then I would venture to say that ID is precisely what I’ve said it is – a public relations/apologetics campaign in the service of “christian cultural renewal”, dressed up in scientific-sounding terminology. If the following statements are true:

    A) There is no actual ID model or theory from which to derive testable hypotheses;

    B) There is no way to either confirm or disconfirm ID;

    C) In an attempt to support ID, ID advocates spend most of their time attacking evolution with claims that are either oversimplified or simply wrong because they misrepresent the material they intend to critique;

    D) ID advocates have dishonestly claimed that the “designer” could be someone who acts within the universe when their own definition contradicts that claim; and,

    E) They continually tell policymakers, like school board members and state legislators, that they are wrong to say that ID is about defending God and defeating atheism when they themselves have said the very same thing time and time again

    Then I think I’ve made a very reasonable case for my conclusion.

    I see no reason why designing certain features of the universe requires a supernatural designer. I suppose it might depend on what one means by “features of the universe.”

    Well if you’re familiar with their material, they mean essentially the “anthropic coincidences” that are used to support the strong anthropic principle. Which means they’re talking about the very nature of the physical laws of the universe, which certainly could not be the work of aliens or, for that matter, anything that exists within the universe itself. It is simply a fiction that they mean anything other than God.

    I tend to agree that Dembski’s method of design detection is eliminative, but eliminative is not the same as god-of-the-gaps. If his filter actually worked, we could easily apply his filter to human artifacts. It would still be eliminative, but it wouldn’t be a god-of-the-gaps argument.

    I don’t see a distinction between an eliminative argument and a god-of-the-gaps argument in this context. They have no positive evidence for ID, so they are left only with attacking evolution with the presumption being “not evolution, therefore God”. Part of the problem is that Dembski hasn’t applied his filter to human artifacts, or to objects in nature at all. It’s a purely theoretical argument that has little bearing on the real world.

    IOW, you are just wrong about both of their arguments being “If evolution can’t explain this, then God must have done it”. Their arguments very well may be “If evolution can’t explain this, then they must be designed,” but I don’t see how [b]you[/b] slip God in there.

    I don’t slip God in there; they slip God in there. The fact that they claim it could be something else doesn’t mean they actually believe it, or that it actually could be something else, especially in light of the definition I cited above.

  15. #15 raj
    June 26, 2005

    A nit: it’s “verklemmt” not “verklempt” Past participle of the German verb “verklemmen,” which basically means “to clamp” or “to stop up.” It’s also used to refer to “constipated.”

    Good post, by the way.

    I’ve long wondered how much these people who are associated with the DI have earned as a result of their association. I just wonder whether they actually believe what they say, or whether they are merely shaking down the rubes for cash.

  16. #16 Uber
    June 26, 2005

    ‘Christian worldview in which she argues that religious, scientific, moral, etc. beliefs aren’t in separate realms and should all be consistent with each other.’

    Maybe but really it’s an impossibility. You can’t believe people can fly and rise from the dead and then call your views scientific or logical. Nor can one argue that they can be consistent with one another. It’s silly.

  17. #17 Bill Ware
    June 26, 2005

    raj,

    There is a word verklempt. It’s yiddish slang and means “overcome with emotion,” which is what Ed meant here, I believe.

  18. #18 Scott
    June 26, 2005

    Ed:

    I’m wondering if you have elsewhere treated more fully your argument that alien intelligent designers “exist within the universe, hence could not have designed those features of the universe.” Superficially, it’s not apparent to me that second clause follows necessarily from the former. For example, on a much smaller scale, a skyscraper may be called a “feature of the universe” that was intelligently designed by certain humans, which exist within the universe.

    I’m not, of course, trying to defend the ID postulate. I just want to understand your argument beyond the superficial rendition quoted above.

    Thanks.

  19. #19 raj
    June 26, 2005

    Bill, I was being cheeky. But I do German (language) and the Juedisch (Yiddish) phonetic misspellings do cause me a bit of pain. Unfortunately, there is no HTML tag for “cheeky.”

    And “verklemmt” (or “verklempt”) is usually used for the equivalent of “constipated.”

  20. #20 Ed Brayton
    June 26, 2005

    Scott wrote:

    Superficially, it’s not apparent to me that second clause follows necessarily from the former. For example, on a much smaller scale, a skyscraper may be called a “feature of the universe” that was intelligently designed by certain humans, which exist within the universe.

    But in this case, it is not that type of feature that they are referring to. They are referring to the “anthropic coincidences”, values and constants that are part of the physical laws of the universe itself, not to artifacts within the universe. The argument is that the physical laws of the universe are precisely “fine-tuned” to allow the existence of life in the universe. Aliens are also life in the universe, so they would be a result of those features, not the cause of them.

  21. #21 Scott
    June 28, 2005

    Works for me. Thanks, Ed.