Public not buying ‘I.D. is not science’ argument
By Beverly Kelley
August 22, 2005
Opponents of intelligent design are going to have to rethink their “it’s not science” campaign slogan.
Any debate expert will tell you that all you have to do to refute a definitional argument such as “it’s not science” is cite one instance of unscientific content currently being taught in the schools. Just one. Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World” is chock-full of examples of junk science already crowding curricula.
Intelligent design advocates who purists find so infuriating are not your father’s “the world was created in six days” Bible-thumpers. They are, for the most part, credentialed scholars who identify two scientific developments that, they claim, could undermine Darwinism. The first is the molecular biology revelation that life is staggeringly and unexpectedly more complex than evolution can explain. (See Michael J. Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box.”) The second is a set of mathematical findings that casts serious doubt on the power of natural selection to accomplish macro-evolutionary changes. (See: William A. Dembski’s “The Design Revolution.”)
In “Darwin on Trial,” Phillip Johnson charged: “The very persons who insist upon keeping religion and science separate are eager to use their science as a basis for (negative) pronouncements about religion. The literature of Darwinism is full of antitheistic conclusions.”
Intelligent design is enjoying a good year. It’s been featured on national magazine covers, deliberated on editorial pages, and “Nightline’s” Ted Koppel was shocked and awed by its “skilled marketing campaign.”
I.D. clubs are popping up at Ivy League universities. High-profile backers of intelligent design include not only the creators of the wildly popular Matrix movies but also the president of the United States.
Currently, the ban on teaching creationism is being challenged in 20 states. According to an April CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, three out of four respondents have no problem with both evolution and intelligent design being taught in science classes.
So if intelligent design is merely “a weakened and airbrushed version of creationism,” as adversaries sniff, how can its attractiveness be explained?
Three reasons come to mind.
First, never mind religion — the average American isn’t about to abandon superstition, pseudo-science or any other unproven phenomenon. Take a gander at cable television. The most frequently viewed shows, even on the science-oriented channels, focus on ghosts, ESP, alien abduction, near-death experiences and even good old Nostradamus.
Second, intelligent-design advocates are being assisted by a national sense of fair play. Demanding an equal hearing is at least as inherently American as motherhood, baseball and apple pie. In addition, intelligent-design advocates are aided and abetted by the media, which, obsessed with a warped 21st century “marketplace of ideas” mind-set, insist on presenting opposing points of view, valid or otherwise.
Furthermore, intelligent-design supporters argue that educators, who are tasked with preparing students to function as informed participants in the democratic process, are holing up behind irrelevant separation of church and state guidelines. As to any “not in my science class” objections, since philosophy or religion classes don’t exist in K-12, inquiring minds want to know, “Where should we talk about intelligent design?” So far, educators have ducked the question.
Third, intelligent-design foes have been unable to counter the “what would it hurt?” frame of mind that lingers around the edges of the dispute. Moreover, if evolution backers are actually engaging in anti-religious discrimination, as alleged, God help them.
Are evolution advocates simply afraid to entertain such questions as:
— Have researchers become so invested in Darwin, that they have ceased looking for contradictory evidence? (See Thomas S. Kuhn and “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.”)
— Is academia’s dirty little secret that scientists can’t expect to be promoted or published if they don’t espouse an atheistic, materialistic worldview?
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas fingered the reason advocates of intelligent design are never, ever going to give up, “Many of those red-state voters feel their faith, virtue and values no longer matter, and are no longer welcomed in the public square.”
“The intelligentsia,” writes Lee Harris in “Policy Review,” “has no idea of the consequences that would ensue if middle America lost its simple faith in God and its equally simple trust in its fellow men. Their plain virtues and homespun beliefs are the bedrock of decency and integrity in our nation and in the world.”
The armies have assembled their troops. They stare fiercely at one another across a wide expanse of munitions-littered landscape. On one side — purportedly the entire scientific community. On the other — determined activists for intelligent design. As they lob verbal grenades at one another, neither side seems to realize that the American public, in no man’s land, remains relatively unmoved by the “it’s not science” squabble.
— Beverly Kelley, who writes every other Monday for The Star, is an author (“Reelpolitik” and “Reelpolitik II”) and professor in the Communication Department at California Lutheran University. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit http://beverlykelley.typepad.com/my weblog.