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Wiki’s F – – on ID, 7: The polarising false narrative about “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design”

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The title of this post is taken from a 2004 book by Forrest and Gross, which further intensifies the earlier accusation that Intelligent Design is “Creationism in a cheap tuxedo.

Given the agenda-driven hatchet job on Intelligent Design presented as a neutral point of view objective survey of Intelligent Design (as has been critiqued here on at UD in recent days . . . ),  it is unsurprising to see this accusation summed up in the lead of the Wikipedia article on the Wedge Strategy:

The wedge strategy is a political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document,[1] which describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and “reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”[2] The strategy also aims to affirm God’s reality.[3] Its goal is to change American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian, namely evangelical Protestant, values.[4] The wedge metaphor is attributed to Phillip E. Johnson and depicts a metal wedge splitting a log to represent an aggressive public relations program to create an opening for the supernatural in the public’s understanding of science.[5]

Intelligent design is the religious[6] belief that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not a naturalistic process such as natural selection. Implicit in the intelligent design doctrine is a redefining of science and how it is conducted (see theistic science). Wedge strategy proponents are opposed to materialism,[7][8][9] naturalism,[8][10] and evolution,[11][12][13][14] and have made the removal of each from how science is conducted and taught an explicit goal.[15][16] The strategy was originally brought to the public’s attention when the Wedge Document was leaked on the Web. The Wedge strategy forms the governing basis of a wide range of Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns.

First, an early fund-raising document for a movement hardly counts as a manifesto. However, that word already tells us that the assumption is that this is to be treated strictly a matter of fear-mongering politics and it hints that we are about to get a highly negative and tendentious review from determined and agenda-driven opponents.

Sadly, that expectation is amply fulfilled.

The Wiki article starts from the implicit presumption that science as a matter of established fact or indisputable consensus, is to be understood as confined to an a priori materialist, naturalistic circle. That this immediately censors the ability of science to freely seek an empirical evidence-led, accurate — i.e. truthful — understanding of our world in light of observation, experiment, reasonable inductive hypothesis, empirical testing and logic-driven discussion among the informed, is suppressed.

Ironically, and highly instructively, a search I just now carried out at Wikipedia under the term “Billions and Billions of Demons” — the title of an infamous 1997 NYRB review article by Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin that presents a classic statement of the imposition of a priori evolutionary materialism on science as just outlined, comes up empty: there is no Wikipedia page under that title, and the only article hit is a highly adverse review of Young Earth Creationism. (A measure of how biased this article is, is the way in which it seems to cite the notorious Talk Origins archive as a trustworthy source.)

That is telling, absolutely telling on Wikipedia’s agenda-driven hostile coverage of Intelligent Design, as we can directly and simply read in that notorious 1997 article — two years earlier than the Wedge fundraising proposal — as follows:

. . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads we must first get an incorrect view out . . .   the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth [[–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]. . . .

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [[–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [[–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. [NB: For a fuller citation with responses to common objections to this cite, cf here on.]

Now, in November 1997, Philip Johnson responded to this article in a First Things commentary, and it is thus an obvious context for a genuine understanding of the Wedge fundraising proposal he authored about two years later. But of this, we find nowhere the faintest trace in the wiki introduction as cited.

Smoking guns, anyone?

Yup, sadly so.

Let me cite from the Johnson rebuttal to Lewontin, as a reminder on what is really at stake:

For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. [[Emphasis original] We might more accurately term them “materialists employing science.” And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”
. . . .   The debate about creation and evolution is not deadlocked . . . Biblical literalism is not the issue. The issue is whether materialism and rationality are the same thing. Darwinism is based on an a priori commitment to materialism, not on a philosophically neutral assessment of the evidence. Separate the philosophy from the science, and the proud tower collapses. [[Emphasis added.] [[The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism, First Things, 77 (Nov. 1997), pp. 22 – 25.]
In short, the root problem is plainly not the evidence as such, but the a prioriimposition of ideological materialism on origins science.Worse, Lewontin and others apparently do not realise that the claim, assumption or inference that “science [[is] the only begetter of truth” is not a claim within science but instead a philosophical claim about how we get warranted, credibly true belief, i.e. knowledge. So, they have contradicted themselves: appealing to non-scientific, philosophical knowledge claims to try to deny the possibility of knowledge beyond science!

Already, there is enough here to ground fair comment that the Wiki introduction and summary as cited is plainly reflective of a radical, evolutionary materialism driven secularist ideological agenda that, over fairly recent decades, has evidently seized control of institutional science and science education (cf. clips from the US National Academy of Sciences  and National Science Teachers Association here).

That would more than justify a balancing counter-strategy to challenge such an agenda.

Especially, where the proposed counter-strategy is premised on doing scientific research that soundly grounds the hypothesis that there are empirically reliable, tested observable signs in the world of life and in the cosmos that point to design as a better explanation of cause, than the sort of a priori materialism influenced assumption or assertion that such must only be explained on the premise that they can only be explained scientifically as being caused through blind forces of chance and mechanical necessity.

(Cf. here, here, here, here and here for relevant details at 101 level.)

After all, ever since Plato in The Laws Bk X, it has been on record that we may contrast causes tracing to chance and necessity with those tracing to art. And, it is well known that there are techniques that can empirically study and detect signs of ART-ificial cause.

Such as, we may explore through the causal analysis and design inference explanatory filter (here, adapted from Dembski):

The per aspect explanatory filter that shows how design may be inferred on empirically tested, reliable sign

So, the pretended contrast presented by Wiki and many advocates of a priori materialism in origins sciences, natural vs supernatural, is already premised on a strawman caricature of design thought.

(NB: Wiki’s onward attempt in the article to trace the frame of design thought to John 1:1 on the Logos in action, fails to address the implications of the John’s empirically risky and testable assertion that Reason and Communication is the foundational principle of creation. Had it been seen instead that he world rests on chaos, this would have been held up as overturning the Christian conception of an orderly, reasonable world that is accessible to reasoned empirical study . . . a major contribution to the foundation of modern science. But instead, over the past three to four centuries we have seen that indeed the world is very orderly to the point where there has been talk about the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in understanding the cosmos and its phenomena. As in, as Boyle and others would put it: “thinking God’s [rational, orderly creative, providential and sustaining] thoughts after him.” The very term, “laws of nature,” speaks to that view.)

Sadly, such by now drearily familiar tactics by Wikipedia are unsurprising.

However, to further understand the situation, we may consult the Discovery Institute’s response to the artificially stirred up scandal:

Darwinian activists and self-identified“secular humanists” claimed that the “Wedge Document” provided evidence of a great conspiracy by fundamentalists to establish theocracy in America and to impose religious orthodoxy upon the practice of science. One group claimed that the document supplied evidence of a frightening twenty-year master plan “to have religion control not only science, but also everyday life, laws, and education.” Barbara Forrest, a Louisiana professor active with a group called the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, similarly championed the document as proof positive of a sinister conspiracy to abolish civil liberties and unify church and state. Others have characterized it as an attack on science and an attempt “to replace the scientific method with belief in God.” . . . .

In 1996 Discovery Institute established the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (since named the Center for Science and Culture—CSC). Its main purposes were (1) to support research by scientists and other scholars who were critical of neo-Darwinism and other materialistic theories of origins, and to support those who were developing the emerging scientific theory of intelligent design; (2) to explore the larger philosophical or world-view implications of the scientific debate about design as well other philosophically-charged issues in modern science, and (3) to explore the cultural implications of competing philosophies of science and worldviews. With respect to (2) and (3), it has been a particular interest of the Center to counter the idea that science supports the unscientific philosophy of materialism.

From the beginning the Center has focused its attention on scientific discoveries and theories that raise larger philosophical, world-view or cultural issues.

For this reason, Center Fellows examined theories of biological and cosmological origins as well as theories in the social and cognitive sciences that raise questions about human nature.

More recently, the Center has begun to address bioethical issues arising from developments in bio-medical technology.

It is in the context of our concern about the world-view implications of certain scientific theories that our wedge strategy must be understood. Far from attacking science (as has been claimed), we are instead challenging scientific materialism—the simplistic philosophy or world-view that claims that all of reality can be reduced to, or derived from, matter and energy alone. We believe that this is a defense of sound science.

With this in mind, we have supported research that challenges specific theories (such as neo-Darwinism, chemical evolutionary theory and various “many worlds” cosmologies) that provide support for the materialistic vision of a self-existent and self-organizing universe.

We also have supported research that challenges theories (such as behaviorism, strong AI (artificial intelligence) and other physicalist conceptions of mind) that have portrayed humans as completely determined animals or machines.

Naturally, many of our scholars and scientists are also working to develop competing hypotheses and theories, including theories of intelligent design and theories that defend the reality and irreducibility of human agency, responsibility and consciousness.

As it happens, many of these fellows think that new discoveries in science either support, or are consonant with, a “broadly theistic” world-view. The “Wedge Document” makes the philosophical significance of our work—its challenge to scientific materialism and its favorable implications for theism—known to potential supporters. Even so, the case that our scientists have made against neo-Darwinism or for design is based on scientific evidence. Scientists of various (and no) religious persuasions have formulated such arguments (see below). Their work stands on its own.

In any case, the “Wedge Document” articulates a strategy for influencing science and culture with our ideas through research, reasoned argument and open debate. As our not-so-secret secret document put it, “without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.”

That puts a very different light on the document, and its context, especially given the wider context of the Lewontin article and the statements by the US NAS and NSTA.

(Frankly, the above tactics remind me a lot of an old — and widely circulated — propaganda presentation by the USSR, which showed the US Naval, Air Force and Military deployments around the world in the 1980’s as a “proof” of American Imperialism. Smoking gun? Nope, as, when one saw also the deployment of Soviet assets and the pattern of Communist aggression, a very different conclusion was immediately obvious. In short, the Wiki hit piece on the Wedge document, is yet another instance of “he hit back first” rhetoric.)

But, as design theory objector TimothyA informs us, the Wedge document calls for introducing ID in schools!

Overblown. Under the list of five-year objectives, p. 16, we may read:

6. Ten states begin to rectify ideological imbalance in their science curricula & include
design theory.

What does that brief reference mean? How is it to be understood?

A clue lies in the words: rectify ideological imbalance in their science curricula.”

As in, are there — and, circa 1999 were there —  ideological imbalances in science education curricula in the US and elsewhere, that lead to indoctrination in a priori evolutionary materialism?

Patently, yes.

Would it be appropriate to rebalance such, in a way that is based on a more reasonable understanding of the true nature of and a historically informed and philosophically more balanced definition of science, its methods and their strengths and limitations?

Obviously, yes.

Similarly, would it be reasonable to hold that:

As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively.

Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned.

Discovery Institute believes that a curriculum that aims to provide students with an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian and chemical evolutionary theories(rather than teaching an alternative theory, such as intelligent design) represents a common ground approach that all reasonable citizens can agree on.

Plainly, yes.

And so, a reasonable and contextually informed reading of the Wedge document’s objective, would be to inform it based on the formal declaration of DI’s policy on science education: teach MORE, not less on evolution (including unanswered gaps and challenges thus a bit on the inherently provisional nature of science and the special issues of trying to find out what plausibly happened in a remote and unobserved actual past faced by origins science . . . ), and teach it in a balanced way informed by its strengths and limitations, also allowing students and teachers academic freedom to engage in reasonable debates on views, concerns and issues.  Including, I would add, the “science and society” ethical concerns that have emerged across the past century and more. At worst, then, the reasonable reading would be that at first Mr Johnson may have wanted some inclusion of an exposition of design theory results in school science curricula, but from quite early days, this did not prevail in DI’s thought and policy decisions.

In short, yet another unsurprising piece of snip, strawmannise and snipe.

The core challenge, then is that we do evidently face an imposition of a priori materialism that seems to be able to warp not only science but becomes a platform for shaping society in ways that many people find questionable or even potentially dangerous. A fair estimation of the Wedge document should address this context and should engage the other side of the story.

Wikipedia, again, fails in this duty of care to truth and fairness. Sad, but by now not unexpected.

Let us hope that Wikipedia will wake up and make amends before it is too late. END