Karl Giberson, who I’ve bashed once or twice, has a fresh new pile of nonsense on the Huffington Post. Jerry Coyne has already tackled it, but it pushes a few of my buttons, so I’ve got to say my piece, too.
To summarize the Giberson nonsense briefly, he claims that Intelligent Design creationism is not dead, but is thriving, and in order to defeat it, we need to shut the atheists up who are making people choose between gods and science. I disagree with every bit of it.
ID is not only dead, it was stillborn. No one believes in it; it is a sterile abstraction with no evidence that was cobbled up entirely to pass the church/state separation tests in the courts. Phil Johnson, the fellow who invented it, has plainly stated that he is a born-again Christian lawyer, and his goal with the development of ID was to create a legal construct that could not be excluded from the schools, because it left out any mention of gods. Yet all the major players on the ID side are devout: Dembski is a crazy evangelical, Behe is a Catholic, and if you go through the roster at the Discovery Institute, you’ll find similar religious/ideological leanings throughout (except, maybe, Berlinski — but he’s his own unique brand of supercilious lunacy).
The Dover trial laid it bare. ID was simply the façade a troop of fervent Christian creationists used to conceal their true motivations. ID isn’t the problem. The problem is wide-spread sectarian Christian beliefs that want to masquerade as science — they finally realized after three quarters of a century of courtroom failure that going about with bare-faced Jesus freakiness was going to get them nowhere, so they’ve pulled down ID as a handy mask. It doesn’t work. Everyone can see right through it, and the cdesign proponentsists rely on a lot of wink-wink you-know-I-love-god-even-in-my-labcoat games to get support.
ID is dead, except as a political tool, which is all it ever was anyway. The only people who use it are plain old creationists; strip away ID, and they’ll just grope for a new guise.
Giberson drags out 4 bad arguments for why Intelligent Design is still vital.
1) The complex designs of many natural structures that have not yet been explained by science. As long as there are ingenious devices and intricate phenomena in nature (origin of life, anyone?) that we cannot understand, there will be ID arguments.
2) The remarkable, finely-tuned structure of the cosmos in which the laws of physics collaborate to make life possible. Many agnostics have had their faith in unguided materialism shaken by this, most recently Anthony Flew.
3) The widespread belief that God — an intelligent agent — created the universe. The claim that an intelligent God created an unintelligent universe seems peculiar, to say the least.
4) The enthusiastic insistence by the New Atheists that evolution is incompatible with belief in God. Most people think more highly of their religion than their science. Imagine trying to get 100 million Americans to dress up for a science lecture every Sunday morning — and then voluntarily pay for the privilege.
Hang on, wait a minute. I’ve heard all of that from the Intelligent Design creationists, but I’ve also heard it somewhere else…where could that be…hmmm. Hey, I know! Those are the same arguments that the theistic evolutionists use on the Biologos website!
As long as we don’t understand every detail of how life originated, the theistic evolutionists will be claiming a role for gods in it. As long as they’re preaching about souls, they’re rooting beliefs in ignorance about how minds work.
The theistic evolutionists make a big deal of fine-tuning arguments. I fail every time to be surprised that life like ours exists in a universe where the physical constants allow the formation of stars. Oh, and please, Antony Flew’s late-life fame seems to derive entirely from the fact that he tepidly embraced ID when he was fading into senility and was being coached by a sympathetic advocate for creationism.
Theistic evolutionists believe a god or gods created the universe!
Theistic evolutionists get really peevish at all those atheists pointing out that their belief in magical beings is very, very silly. They now use that as a recruiting tool, trying to convince people that they can have their science and still believe in ghosts and spirits and demons and angels. You know, Ken Ham tries the same thing, coupling dinosaurs to biblical literalism. It’s awfully hard to distinguish the principles and tactics of Biologos from those of the Creation “Museum”.
Weird, isn’t it? It’s as if Giberson doesn’t realize that demolishing the foundations of Intelligent Design creationism would also undermine theistic evolution…and that maybe the atheists he is complaining about are aware of this, realizing that creationism, intelligent design, and theism all share precisely the same faulty construction — we can’t get rid of one without shattering all the others.
I do agree with Giberson on one thing. Most Americans do think more highly of their religion than science. But there’s a significant difference: I think that having a citizenry that worships irrational, fact-free thinking and zombie gods and believes in a coming apocalypse — which they consider an event to be greatly desired — is a bad thing. Giberson regards it as a virtue. That difference dictates that we’ll have different strategies: I want to break people’s habits of gullibility and supernatural delusions; Giberson wants to prop them up. If you really want to defeat ID, the way to do it is to defeat religious thinking.
Giberson wants to claim that a godless scientific approach is a failure, and as an example, he uses the persistence of astrology.
Consider astrology. A 2009 Pew Poll showed that some 25 percent of Americans “believe” in astrology. President Reagan “believed” in astrology. Twenty million astrology books are sold each year. What is going on here? Didn’t science thoroughly discredit astrology at roughly the same time it was establishing the motion of the earth? How can an idea so thoroughly refuted be so popular?
If the scientific community cannot successfully convince Americans to abandon belief in astrology — which is not tied to any powerful religious tradition or even to belief in God — what hope is there to refute an idea like Intelligent Design, which is so much more complex than astrology?
What an odd argument. The Bible condemns astrology; Jehovah wants his chosen people to have no truck with divination, sorcery, omens, witchcrafte, necromancy, or any attempt to contact the dead. Yet still 25% of Americans, many of whom must be Christians, still persist in it! What hope is there of refuting bogus ideas like astrology or ID with an Abrahamic religion, which has a 3,000 year record of failure?
I’ve looked into both ID and astrology, and again, Giberson is completely wrong. Astrology is much more complicated. It has accreted many centuries of rationalizations and anecdotes and weird thefts of bits and pieces of mathematics and astronomy. There’s virtually nothing to ID but hot air in comparison.
Of course, I don’t accept one bit of astrology. However, it does have widespread appeal because it can provide a long history of tradition and dogma, scholarly works that go back to the Middle Ages, an endearing habit of claiming that the entire universe is all about you, and thousands of sects and variants that one can fall back on if a prediction in one schema fails. It has all the properties of religion!
I would argue that one reason that astrology (and religion) haven’t gone away is that people like the answers they provide, even if they’re wrong, and that celebration of wishful thinking is an epidemic in the populace. And one reason it persists is that we have a significant number of our citizens dutifully trotting into churches every Sunday, where they are told by solemn authorities that the universe loves them personally, and look, here’s an old book reassuring us that it is so. Religion is a cultural parasite that weakens our intellectual immune system, and opens the door to lots of other opportunistic infections. Jesus cults and astrology and scientology and snake oil and the Secret and quantum woo are the Kaposi’s sarcoma of a deeper disease—faith.
We’re just now beginning the process of rooting out the causal agents of that disease, and what we need to do is promote more intellectual hygiene, like skepticism, which is the rational equivalent of washing your hands. The wishy-washy, ridiculous theism that Giberson promotes echoes the medieval scholars who tried to argue that bathing was a nasty habit.
Giberson doesn’t want that. We’re supposed to endorse one version of humbuggery, religion, while deploring another, ID, all in the name of keeping everyone comfortable in their prejudices, no matter how erroneous.
If the scientific community wants to dislodge ID, they need to start by admitting that their efforts have been an abysmal failure so far. And then they need to turn their considerable analytical skills on the problem of explaining that failure. If they do this, they might discover that enthusiastic pronouncements like “ID is dead” or “science has proven God does not exist” or “religion is stupid” or “creationists are insane” are not effective. They might discover that affirming that the universe is wonderful, despite our bad backs and the nonsense in our genomes, makes it easier for people to accept the bad design in nature.
And above all, they need to decide that it is OK for people to believe in God. For millions of Americans belief in ID is tied to belief in God. Unless people can find a way to separate them — and not be told by agnostic bloggers this is impossible — ID’s coffin will remain empty.
Yes, we godless scientists are often affirming the wonderful qualities of the universe. But, and this is an important distinction, we do so by discussing what is real, not the awesomeness of some imaginary phantasm that the theists want us to worship. We are not going to succeed at getting people to embrace reality if some dufus in a clerical collar keeps trying to insert some ridiculous proxy he calls a god into our understanding, and further, insists that we can really only appreciate physics and chemistry and biology if we deeply adore a particular dead prophet.
ID and a belief in gods are all tangled together, and they are inseparable. Killing one requires killing the other, and it seems to me that only the atheists are recommending the practical approach of tossing out the whole religious package with its attendant absurdities, and rebuilding an ethical, rational vision of the world that does not require any supernatural bullshit at all.