August 22, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

I.D. vs. Evolution Rhetoric Continues Unabated

The surge in articles and editorials about intelligent design vs. evolution, prompted by President Bush’s remarks (08/13/2005) often seems to track the political philosophy of the person or group: Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal – but not always.  Recent salvos:

  • Irish Scream:  Bill O’Reilly had Dr. Richard Sternberg on his O’Reilly Factor show on Fox News Aug. 24 (see Washington Post background story and Discovery Institute fact sheet).  O’Reilly was clearly animated over the “brutal” tactics of the “fascist” anticreationists as Sternberg described how he was treated at the Smithsonian for allowing an I.D. paper to be published.  With incredulity expressed in two-hand gestures, O’Reilly asked “Why?” they were doing this to him.
  • Concerned Women for Human Events:  The debate over ID was discussed both by Concerned Women for America and Human Events, which reprinted David Limbaugh’s essay (see below).
  • Larry King Jive:  Larry King moderated a heated discussion between pro-ID panelists John MacArthur, Jay Richards and Senator Sam Brownback, and anti-ID panelists Barbara Forrest, Depak Chopra and Senator Christopher Shays.  Larry King’s opening questions seemed off point.  The first thing out of his mouth was asking MacArthur if he believed the earth was only 5000 years old, and then asking Forrest if we came from monkeys, why there are still monkeys.  Both respondents seemed to wonder what those questions had to do with the item under discussion.  The anti-ID side seemed the most intent on making their case that ID isn’t science, while MacArthur wondered why evolutionists seem to be in such a panic over the obvious evidence for design.  Jay Richards stuck to his guns that the Discovery Institute does not advocate mandating ID, despite Forrest’s persistent attempts to prove that ID people are religiously motivated.  Chopra, who accepts ID as a source of consciousness, was more vicious against MacArthur than the evolutionists.  Senator Brownback calmly asked that the nation engage in a vigorous discussion over evolution, bringing the best arguments together.  Let’s identify facts that are facts and theories that are theories, he repeated.
  • Frist in Line:  Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn), though recently breaking ranks with the President over stem cell research, announced his agreement with Bush over intelligent design in an AP story (see MSNBC News).  Frist has an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.  He said that exposing children to both views “doesn’t force any particular theory on anyone.  I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future.”  The article mentions a voice from the other political persuasion: Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean called President Bush “anti-science” over his remarks.
  • OhIDo:  Governor Bob Taft of Ohio, a Republican, threw his hat into the ID ring, according to the Chillicothe Gazette.  He’s not sure what intelligent design means, but at least feels students ought to be able to hear criticisms of Darwinian evolution.  The “teach the controversy” approach will provide the best compromise, he feels, between opponents who have differing ideas of how evolution should be taught.
  • Dykstra’s Law:  David Limbaugh answered the critics who called him an idiot for this editorial, proving that everyone is someone else’s weirdo.
  • Hidden Motives:  Why did Science reproduce the following quote without comment?  Utah state senator D. Chris Buttars, in a USA Today editorial August 9, said, “The trouble with the ‘missing link’ is that it is still missing! … The theory of evolution … has more holes in it than a crocheted bathtub.”
  • Who Speaks for Space?  In an ostensibly nonpartisan editorial on Space.Com, SETI Institute Director of Education and Public Outreach Edna DeVore spoke out against the President’s remarks.  Though written as the statement of a scientific rather than political organization, and quoting the positions of scientific societies, DeVore nonetheless employed arguments common to liberals: “Teaching creationism is in violation of the separation of church and state, and has been ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court in several cases.”  DeVore mentions in passing that Bush’s remarks have generated about 120 reactions per day in print since he spoke in favor of intelligent design August 2.
  • Name-Calling:  William Safire in the New York Times looked at the scorn heaped on “creationism” in a brief and simplistic history of anti-evolutionism, and quoted several vehement anti-ID polemics, mostly liberal but with one conservative joining the scorn fest.  Noting the new attack word “neo-creo” invented by anticreationist Philip Kitcher to counter the “marketing genius” of the label “intelligent design,” Safire left his own views unclear.  He gave the last word with a Nobel laureate at Brown University, Leon Cooper: “If we could all lighten up a bit perhaps, we could have some fun in the classroom discussing the evidence and the proposed explanations — just as we do at scientific conferences.”
  • Getting Warmer:  The New York Times printed two more articles on the intelligent design controversy Sunday and Monday.  Though the articles still lean heavily against I.D., the Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman gave them credit for making progress on toning down their bias.  He thinks the articles have gone from 90% negative to about 60%.
  • Separate, but Equal?  Lee Harris at Tech Central Station wrote a long essay that basically takes a “non-overlapping magisteria” position, hoping peace will be attainable if Christians throw creationism overboard and stick with theology, and science leaves them alone with their beliefs.  He calls Darwinism part of the “normal science” consensus of our day.
  • Censorship:  The conservative internet news source World Net Daily has published an issue of its Whistleblower Magazine devoted to the issue, entitled, “Censoring God: Why is the science establishment so threatened by the intelligent design movement?

The pro-I.D. Discovery Institute, on its Evolution News blog, keeps harping on reporters to get the definition of I.D. right.  I.D. is not about supernatural design, but about intelligent design.  The I.D. movement remains agnostic about the designer.  Slowly, some reporters are getting their wording right, but many, like the New York Times, keep defining I.D. in sentences like, “[intelligent design claims that] some organisms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone, pointing to the possibility of supernatural influences.”  The wording should be, according to a Discovery Institute statement, “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

The wording may seem subtle but is significant.  Anti-ID reporters are determined to portray intelligent design as inherently religious, so they employ the word supernatural to make their point: “See?” they gloat, hammerlocking their straw man;  “This can’t be science, because it’s about the supernatural!”  But if the reference is to intelligent causes, those are already employed in scientific explanations in many fields.  Science can investigate whether the cause was planned or unplanned without making any statements about who the Planner was or what the motive for the design was: this is done all the time in archaeology and criminology, for instance – even in SETI itself, which makes DeVore’s position all the more ironic.  Caught in a logical trap, all she can do is fall back on arguments from authority and bandwagon.
    It’s good that evolution and intelligent design are getting debated in public more and more these days, but not all comments are well reasoned or informed.  Some writers who think with their gall bladders instead of their cerebra are saying the most bile things.  Investigating I.D. with uninformed prejudice, they ask, “what’s that awful smell?”, unaware it is their own breath blowing back in their face.  Their acerbic remarks may some day come back to sting them when the Darwin idol, like that of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, falls and is dragged around the scientific square by cheering, liberated minds.

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