The Loom

Literature Check

In one of the weirdest attempts to pretend that creationism is a real science, a student at Harvard Law School wrote a favorable review in the Harvard Law Review of a book about Intelligent Design. You’d think that this would be so irrelevant that it would vanish off the cultural radar in a flash. But it has ballooned into something of a blogospheric hurricane, mainly because the National Review Online wants to pretend that criticism of the review is an Inquisition-style persecution. It’s a cute way to distract attention from the basic issue of whether creationism in any of its manifestations has scientific merit, which it doesn’t.

I only have one thing to add to the discussion (which has been ably handled by the likes of Brian Leiter, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and Chris Mooney). It’s an observation about the way creationists ornament themselves with references to peer-reviewed scientific papers that they claim support Intelligent Design, a great flood, whatever. In the course of interviewing scientists for articles or books, I will sometimes mention to them that they have been invoked in this way. Now, you’d think that if their work really did support creationism, they’d be delighted. Of course, the opposite is true: usually I hear a groan of someone being hideously misrepresented. Here’s an example that was fortunately preserved in print. (Follow-up here) It frustrates scientists to no end that research that can take years to bring to fruition can be misused so swiftly.

Next time you encounter creationists trying to create an aura of respectability with a scientific citation and a few words quoted out of context, ask them what the authors of the paper think of creationism.


  1. #1 msg
    March 17, 2004

    It’s important to remember, I think, that the creationist stand isn’t prompted by the “science” it offers, or even by the “revelation” it holds. It’s not about the “truth” or the “facts”. Those are shields, devices, defense mechanisms.
    This is borne out by the relative ease and quickness with which the stance of fundamentalist apologists shifts to accomodate the irrefutable.
    It’s also important to remember that that defensiveness is not protecting ideas, mistaken or otherwise, but people.
    Humans coalesce around ideologies, rationalist, humanist, theocratic; or around non-ideological themes like mutual greed and gratification, because it furthers our chances of survival.
    Creationist “science” is a bulwark, as is the puritanical sexual code gaining strength in American social politics.
    They don’t advocate these things as much because they believe them, or “in” them, but because they understand that their survival depends on the discrimination that that belief makes possible.
    Individuals who would be left behind by a rationalist society are vital to a theocratic one. You can expect those most threatened to recognize this first.
    This seems as important as the point-by-point argument, of Intelligent Design versus whatever it is we call Darwinian happenstance these days, which is itself urgently necessary, and admirable when it’s done calmly and cogently, as it is here.

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