Saturday, July 23, 2005


What ID and New Coke Have in Common

Will we look back, sometime in the future, at the middle of a hot, muggy July in the summer of 2005 as the time when the sell by date on intelligent design expired, and it was pulled from the shelves to make way for its somewhat stodgier, but seemingly more durable sister product: creationism?

Making predictions is always risky, and Red State Rabble approaches this prediction with a certain amount of humility -- having been found to be wrong in the prediction business more often than we care to admit.

With that caveat in mind, like the spectacular flameouts of New Coke, Betamax, and Microsoft Bob, we are beginning to see certain unmistakable signs that intelligent design -- a pseudo-theory in search of a constituency -- is in trouble, and that old-school young earth creationism is making a comeback in the market.

RSR has already taken note of a number of ominous developments for the ID theorists gathered around the Seattle-based Discovery Institute:

First, they've been shown the door by the fundamentalist Thomas More Law Center in the Dover case.

This is dangerous for them because the Dover ID case may be the next to be heard in federal court. It could just be the one that sets the precedent for teaching intelligent design in public schools -- and Discovery Institute, the patent holder on ID theory is standing on the platform while the young earth creationists on the Dover school board and at the Thomas More Law Center pull the train out of the station.

Second, Discovery Institute has been forced to issue a series of statements opposing independent moves in the Pennsylvania and Utah legislatures to mandate the teaching of intelligent -- some call it divine -- design.

Finally, their carefully crafted Kansas strategy was derailed when the state school board failed to adopt a science standards minority report -- drafted by intelligent design activists associated with Discovery and the ID Network -- in opposition to mainstream scientists and educators on the state science curriculum committee. The now forgotten minority report took the Discovery line of calling for "teaching the controversy" over evolution.

Instead, the school board science subcommittee -- composed of young earth creationists Steve Abrams, Connie Morris, and Kathy Martin drafted their own revisions -- revisions that are certainly critical of evolution and friendly to ID, but are a bit more ad hoc in nature and, therefore, more vulnerable to challenge.

Perhaps most telling, however, is the symbolic contrast between the obvious success of the 2005 Creation Mega-Conference -- attended by some 2,000 young earth creationists this past week in Lynchburg, Tenn. and the rather pathetic counter announcement by Discovery that "[i]n the last 90 days, 29 scientists, including eight biologists, have signed the "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism."

If you haven't followed the Creation Mega-Conference you've missed something. Reason Online has two excellent articles by Ronald Bailey, and Panda's Thumb also has two great eye-witness posts from Jason Rosenhouse.

Bailey, for example, reports on a presentation at the Mega-Conference by Georgia Purdom, an assistant professor of biology at Mount Vernon Nazarene University who was once attracted to intelligent design, but eventually found it unsatisfying. Here's how Bailey summarizes Purdom's talk:
Purdom explained that intelligent design was just "refurbished natural theology"
... Purdom believes that both natural theology and intelligent design are fine as far as they go, but they don't go far enough. The problem is that nature is a general revelation while scripture is a special revelation and special revelation trumps general revelation.

The problem that creationists have with intelligent design -- and let's not forget that creationists make up the overwhelming majority of activists who oppose evolution -- is that it searches for proofs of God's hand in nature rather than in the good book. For these people, who for the most part slept or doodled on the cover of their notebooks during middle and high school science classes, the cold logic and demand for evidence that attracts some to science can never compete with biblical narrative.

In her magisterial book Doubt, Jennifer Michael Hecht observes that "[i]n the early Middle Ages, something curious happened to the ideas of faith and philosophy. For the first time, belief itself became the central religious duty. "

Doubt and belief are at the center of the evolution controversy for both the intelligent design crowd and their more simple-minded cousins in the creationist camp. What the creationists want is certainty. They get that from the Bible. Anything else, even ID, is dangerous because it might introduce doubt. There are, for example, some -- not many -- ID theorists who are open to the idea of an old earth. For the biblical literalists, this is blasphemy. It brings in doubt about God's word, and doubt, above all things, is something to be avoided.

For them, the revealed word of God is a complete package. It's not going to change. They aren't interested in the debate between ID "theorists" and real scientists. The truth is, they have a real hard time distinguishing between the two.

Inevitably, this division between the creationist shock troops -- numbering in the millions -- and the handful of "scientists" who are skeptical of Darwinism -- now up to 400 and counting -- will expose the boys at Discovery as a general staff without an army.

The legal and political strategy of "teaching the controversy," even if it were to prove successful, will never be enough for the creationists.

The rift between the two is already apparent. It will only grow larger.


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