More than once, I’ve said that I think the Discovery Institute is on the wane; Dover dealt a serious blow to their credibility, and demonstrated that their strategy was not an effective one for helping creationists get their way. That’s really all they had, was the promise that their pseudo-secular approach would give anti-evolutionists an inroad into the public school system, and it is clear now that that is not true.

I’ve also noticed that people give me a leery look when I say that—the DI has been a recent but ubiquitous feature in the Creation Wars—but now I can just tell you all to read this article.

“Dover is a disaster in a sense, as a public-relations matter,” said Bruce Chapman, a former Seattle city councilman and founder of the Discovery Institute, the country’s primary supporter of intelligent design. “It has given a rhetorical weapon to the Darwinists to say a judge has settled this,” he said.

Even some critics of evolution have taken the ruling as a sign that the fight to bring intelligent design into public schools may be over.

Judge Jones voiced it authoritatively, but I think we knew it all along: the backers of ID were almost all creationists of the old school, who saw this as nothing but a loophole they could exploit. Even the Fellows of the DI were readily admitting, outside of their official pontifications and press releases, that they believed their Designer was a God, and the Christian deity no less. The article does a nice job of documenting these beliefs, and here’s something I never thought I would say…I agree with Rush Limbaugh.

“Let’s make no mistake,” Limbaugh said on his radio show. “The people pushing intelligent design believe in the biblical version of creation. Intelligent design is a way, I think, to sneak it into the curriculum and make it less offensive to the liberals.”

Fortunately, that last clause is all wrong (we still found it offensive), so I can still say Limbaugh is a pompous gasbag who derives his authority from oxycontin-fueled bluster rather than evidence, and my world isn’t totally shaken.

Oh, but wait…I also agree with Cal Thomas! My aching brain.

Columnist Thomas, a former spokesman for the conservative Christian political group Moral Majority, said the court decision shows that academic debates, lawsuits and alternate explanations are not the way to fight the secularization of the United States.

“It should awaken religious conservatives to the futility of trying to make a secular state reflect their beliefs,” Thomas wrote.

Now that statement has more ominous overtones coming from Thomas—I think he’s implying that we need to get rid of the secular nature of the state altogether—but in general I think he’s right. Right now we have a body of precedent on the separation of church and state (and enough religious people who also appreciate the protection that separation gives them) that makes it difficult for even the ignorant wingnuts with which the Republicans are trying to stock the courts to ignore, and it is so unambiguously clear that all forms of creationism are religiously motivated, that barring even more radical destruction of the institutions of our government, creationism is just not going to fly overtly in the public schools. The frontal assault on the education system has been rebuffed, and among the severely wounded still moaning on the glacis are the followers of the Discovery Institute, and their generals have also been exposed as comic opera buffoons.

Does this mean I think we’re winning the Creation Wars? Not at all. I think one fairly recent player has been knocked out of contention, at least temporarily, nothing more. The more insidious creationist strategy of sapping the educational system by stocking school boards with anti-intellectual cretins and applying pressure to suppress scientific education and increase scientific ignorance is ongoing and is painfully effective…and we haven’t mustered a strong response to it yet. We flail at individual instances, but don’t have a more permanent institutional strategy for promoting and maintaining good science teaching at the pre-college level. We’re holding the top of the wall while they undermine our foundations, and we know where that is going to lead.

I also think that while we must win court cases like Kitzmiller v. the Dover School Board, we’re fooling ourselves if we think legal decisions are anything more substantial than stopgap measures. Losing a case like that would be catastrophic, but winning has its own costs. It solidifies opposition by feeding resentment. Every court case in this struggle, from Dayton to Dover, has failed to change a single mind, and while they have told us much about creationists and creationism, they’ve done nothing to educate people about science and evolution. And that’s the only place where this war can be won, in public education, both in the schools and among the general public.


  1. #1 MikeM
    April 26, 2006

    Hold DI’s feet to the fire, but know when to stop. We can’t ignore other threats. I think DI’s “best” days are behind them, but someone else will come along.

    In the long run, the idea that takes the least amount of time to explain will win. If Christianity takes 5 minutes to explain, as I believe, then the idea that takes 5 years or more to explain is automatically at a disadvantage.

    As much as I admire and respect Richard Dawkins, we’ll rarely find someone with less than 2 years of college to read his books. We need someone to explain evolution in very easy terms. Mostly, though, the world needs a five minute summary of why ID is BS (that sounds like a good name for a book, eh?).

    If we can’t fight our attention span problems, we may have to tailor the message for folks who can’t concentrate on anything but sports for more than 5 minutes at a time.

  2. #2 Sastra
    April 26, 2006

    As others have stated, when it comes to religion the science is not really the issue. I think the best strategy for approaching the religious — both liberal and conservative — is to point out that Creationism is actually a “test for God.” Creationist claims amount to “IF evolution happened, THEN Christianity is false.” Although they have been using this as a powerful rhetorical argument for rejecting evolution, it seems to me that it can be turned back on them.

    Even fundamentalists know that they should never “test God” — ie set up a situation where, if some event or fact pertains, this means your religion is wrong. As Dawkin’s Law of Divine Invulnerability puts it, “God cannot lose: When comprehension expands, gods contract — but then redefine themselves to restore the status quo.” By cutting off the believer’s ability to reinterpret, Creationism ends up making God falsifiable.

    This isn’t coming from the atheists — it’s coming from Christians. And Christians have the most to lose, longterm. Science will out. So SOME Christians are trying to “make a test for God.” Are People of Faith going to let them hijack the public school system to do this?

    Hammer this home. It may do more good than all the lessons on natural selection or explications of science.

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