Saturday, February 10, 2007


The Collapse of Discovery's ID Frame

Anyone who's visited Evolution News and Views lately -- that's the blog of the Discovery Institute that venerable intelligent design belief tank in coffee-crazed Seattle -- knows that they've gone off the deep end. And this time it's not simply a case of too many triple hazelnut lattes -- make it venti, please.

The increasingly shrill tone of posts on Evolution News and Views indicates, as nothing else could, that they've lost the plot up in Seattle.

A case in point is their coverage of Evolution Sunday.

Discovery in particular, and the ID movement in general, have always framed the debate between intelligent design and evolution as a battle between faith -- and by that they mean Christianity -- and godless atheism.

In an article tilted "Shouting `Heresy' in the Temple of Darwin" published in the October 24, 1994 issue of Christianity Today (p.26), Phillip Johnson, the father of the intelligent design movement, wrote:
They [scientists, RSR] have defined their task as finding the most plausible -- or least implausible -- description of how biological creation could occur in the absence of a creator. The specific answers they derive may or may not be reconcilable with theism, but the manner of thinking is profoundly atheistic.
And, in the very next sentence, Johnson goes on to say that belief in God and acceptance of the evidence for evolution are inherently incompatible:
To accept the [scientist's, RSR] answers as indubitably true is inevitably to accept the thinking that generated those answers. That is why I think the appropriate term for the accommodationist position is not “theistic evolution,” but rather theistic naturalism. Under either name, it is a disastrous error.

A more recent example of this thinking can be found in a news release issued by John Calvert's ID Network in anticipation of a vote by the Kansas school board to throw out ID-inspired science standards voted in by the creationist-dominated board in 2005 in favor of those adopted by the standards committee:

Presenting only the case for a materialistic origin of life could establish a state ideology that supports Atheism, Humanism, and other non-theistic religions and belief systems while denigrating traditional theistic beliefs.

But, the growing success of Evolution Sunday, being observed today by some 601 Congregations from all 50 States, the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands and five nations -- the most ever -- drives a stake into the heart of the evolution equals atheism frame.

Added to this, are the more than 10,000 clergy members who have now signed the Clergy Letter statement saying:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.

In an attempt to keep their "evolution is incompatible with Christianity" frame alive, Evolution News and Views was reduced to hyping a letter to The Yale Daily News urging churches not to participate in Evolution Sunday by Moonie Jonathan Wells.

That the Discovery Institute was forced to rely on a member of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church -- who believes that that Jesus was not put on earth to die, and that the "Lord of the Second Coming" must be a man born in Korea -- to counter the message sent to people of faith by Evolution Sunday, may also help to account for the increasingly frantic tone there.

Even more indicative of the battiness that has taken over at Discovery are the six -- yes, count them six -- posts in recent days which label Randy Olson's light-hearted film, "Flock of Dodos: the Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus" a hoax. Discovery has been so unnerved by the success of the film that they've even created a special "Hoax of Dodos" website.

Outside the hermetically sealed world of intelligent design, of course, the film has been universally praised for its balance, essential fairness, and good humor. Early on, many ID activists, including John Calvert who has a starring role in the film, participated in panel discussions that followed screenings of the film. Back then, those ID activists never even hinted that there were any factual errors in Olson's film.

The primary charge made against "Flock of Dodos" by Evolution News and Views has to do with whether or not Haeckels discredited drawings of embryos are still used as evidence for evolution in biology textbooks as Jonathan Wells charges they do in his book Icons of Evolution.

One of the most amusing parts of Olson's film is John Calvert's futile onscreen search through his own library of biology textbooks for an example to back up the claim.

We have already noted the weasel-worded use of the phrase "Haeckel-based" drawing in Evolution News and Views posts that make the charge. Now, PZ Myers has posted a survey of 15 biology textbooks published between 1923 to 1997 on his Pharyngula blog.

Of the 15 books, only 5 show Haeckel's drawings, two in whole, three in part.

Of those 5, only one presents the biogenetic law uncritically, and that book is the 1937 H. C. Skinner, T. Smith, F. M. Wheat "Textbook in Educational Biology".

The other 4 of these 5, along with another 7 that actually mention Haeckel, either dismiss Haeckel's laws as crude or incorrect, or else critique them in the sense that embryos resemble one another at early stages, but that adaptational pressures have obscured or removed most of the similarities.

Why the wild charges and the rising level of hysteria over "Flock of Dodos' now? Well, it's a result of the collapse of ID's second framing device.

Early on, the leaders of the movement were thought of as diabolical geniuses for having framed the debate between evolution and ID as one of fairness. They didn't want to indoctrinate kids, heck no, they just wanted to "teach the controversy." Intelligent design, they said, wasn't creationism. It wasn't even religion. It was a scientific controversy and all they wanted was to have all the evidence presented-- especially the evidence about the "gaps" and "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution that "Darwinists" were hiding from the kids.

But that frame collapsed in Dover when Judge Jones concluded that ID is not science, and that it can't "uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

Moreover, Jones went on to write in his ruling, "many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general... in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator."

Now "Flock of Dodos" is being screened for admiring audiences on college campuses across the country. Tomorrow, on Darwin Day, the film will be shown at 31 science centers from coast to coast -- including here in Kansas where the ID movement once thought it had won one of its most important victories.

Discovery's ID film, "The Privileged Planet," by contrast ,will be shown at no science centers. Instead, it will be screened almost exclusively in fundamentalist churches before audiences of hardcore creationists.

And the supreme irony of that is that the film will have a hard time competing with the music, the lights, and the testimony of practiced motivators such as the young earth creationist Ken Ham. These audiences attend church not because they're interested in an intellectual debate, but because it appeals to their emotions.

They don't require a pseudo-scientific veneer to make belief in the old-time religion palatable. They're perfectly comfortable with a literal reading of the Bible. The scientific camouflage that disguises the biblical story of creation in "The Privileged Planet" reminds them only of the tedious hours spent waiting for the bell to ring while they squirmed in their seats in high school science classes.

Back in the heady days when ID Wedge Document was being written, leaders of the movement dreamed that ID books and films would have moved into the mainstream -- the science centers and classrooms of the country by now.

Instead, they are competing in the increasing crowded market of the fundamentalist sideshow where both young earth and old earth creationism have an edge.

No wonder they've lost their touch as the increasing frantic nature of their communications with the world outside the bunker attests.

They don't need another latte at the Discovery Institute. They need a good, stiff drink to help calm their nerves while they adjust to their newly lowered expectations.



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