If you want to aggravate an intelligent design advocate all you have to do is point out the obvious. Everybody knows that intelligent design is just warmed-over creationism, but some creationists love trying to create a false dichotomy between the two in an attempt to appear more respectable. Creationism starts with the Bible, they say, while intelligent design starts with science. Nevermind that the most vocal advocates of intelligent design are evangelical Christians or some other flavor of theist. There’s no connection there at all! Seriously! It’s not like some of the most prominent folks behind the whole ID charade say that their ‘Designer’ is definitely the Judeo-Christian god or anything…
Even if we assumed that ID was actually science for a moment, though, there would be sparingly little to say about it. There is no real research program and the majority of what the most prominent ID folks do is publish their opinions in the form of textbooks, articles, or pop-sci books. Even then much of what they talk about (the supposed lack of transitional fossils, for example) is borrowed from other forms of creationism. If modern intelligent design had to stand by itself there would be almost nothing to talk about! All the advocates do is point to a structure and shout “Design!” without telling us anything about the what, where, why, how, and (most importantly) the who of the supposed miracle.
None of this is new. ID (creationism by any other name) has failed to come up with any concrete evidence to support its central claims and, frankly, is mind-numbingly boring. What good is a “science” where you can simply say “God did it!” (or come up with some convoluted theological reason, like radioactivity is really God’s anger) when you do not understand something?
Given that ID has failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny its advocates are turning to the “It’s not fair!” defense. This is the kind of populism that allowed the Butler Act and similar laws to create such a headache in the early 20th century. Many lawmakers went with “The schools should teach what most people believe,” regardless of what science actually revealed. We have moved beyond this, to some extent, but there are still many who sit on school boards who think bringing creationism into the classroom is doing a favor for Jesus.
Indeed, there is perhaps no group that has a worse persecution complex than fundamentalist Christians, and NJ.com blogger George Berkin has been good enough to prove this point. Apparently Berkin went to a screening of the classic film Inherit the Wind (see my previous post on the Scopes trial) the other night and was appalled when the audience did not agree that intelligent design should be taught in public schools. According to Berkin those who deny that creationism is science (or at least deserves equal time in science classrooms) are as “intolerant and close-minded” as the pious Hillsboro Townsfolk from the film. He, and his children, are now the ones being persecuted! (Nevermind that he is given free reign on a prominent blog to make whatever unsupported assertions he wants and nj.com does not appear to make much effort to cover stories about evolutionary science. So much for equal time, eh?)
I wish Berkin offered up a more substantial argument, something that would let me talk about some really cool science, but he didn’t. Rather than supporting his points he sticks to classic creationist canards that are meant to stir outrage among those who already agree with him. “Darwinism” is a religion, Berkin insinuates, while intelligent design is pure science. He claims that intelligent design advocates make no reference to religion at all, so you can imagine why I laughed when he used works by Philip Johnson and Michael Behe to support his case.
It is difficult to understand how defenders of ID can continue to make such claims. Either they aren’t really reading what the people they cite say (a good possibility) or they are being deceitful. I know it absolutely shocking to suggest that someone who professes to be a Christian would lie, but some people will do just about anything if they think it will give a hand to their chosen higher power. I really don’t know if Berkin truly believes that ID is separate from creationism, but even if he keeps saying “ID is science!” it doesn’t make it so. Creationism still remains as intellectually bankrupt.
Even if tactic fails, at least we can all agree that being “close-minded” about anything is bad, right? Freedom is a good thing, and so much the better if the freedom Berkin is asking for coincides with his already-established beliefs. Given that he is an evangelical Christian and a creationist it is not surprising that Berkin wants schools to reflect his view of the universe. I don’t see him wailing about how it is unfair that geocentrism, homeopathy, alchemy, astrology, or any other form of pseudoscience be brought into the classroom. If people believe in these things, though, (and there are some who still do) isn’t our exclusion of their views just as unfair? Is it not a good thing to have a completely open mind?
Of course not. Education seeks to create discriminating minds, not ones that are open to any idea some crackpot can cook up. We don’t want students believing that 2 + 2 = 5 just because someone says so, so why would we want them to reject real science in favor of what some pastor says about the fossil record on Sunday? Whinging about “academic freedom” only clouds the fact that religious parents, like Berkin, are uncomfortable with the fact that their children are required to learn about a part of reality they can’t accept because of their steadfast adherence to a particularly interpretation of religion.
As the saying goes, though, you can’t draw blood from a stone, and that would be comparatively easier than changing Berkin’s mind. A slew of commenters, my fine colleague John Pieret among them, have taken him to task over his rather shoddy editorial. Berkin has remained steadfast in his responses, and has insisted that scientists are all practitioners of a “materialist” religion and that ID really is science, really. I can only imagine the gems he is going to mine from the depths of Answers in Genesis and Discovery Institute propaganda when he gets to the fossil record (as he promises to do soon).