August 02, 2005

George W. Bush Darkens Counsel by Words without Knowledge

Does Bush's endorsement of teaching the "controversy" over intelligent design actually surprise anyone? Hopefully not, and let's take some comfort from the fact that, according to a reporter who was there, he didn't seem too eager to discuss the topic. (Full transcript here.) As usual, only Fafblog is capable responding to the news in an adequate manner.

Still, for the record: there is no scientific controversy over intelligent design. The best attempts of the intelligent design movement to produce scientific work are, as we've seen, rubbish (e.g., 1, 2). I read them from time to time, but then, I also read people who claim to have found the lost city of Atlantis in Wisconsin, or unearthed the suppressed secrets of anti-gravity, and many other varieties of crackpot. There are two reasons why the best efforts of the intelligent design movement are rubbish. The first, and most important, is that the theory, to the extent there is a theory, is false. Still, I could make out better arguments for ID than they're managing to do; they are either not trying very hard, or just not very good. Which brings us to the other reason why those best efforts are rubbish: the goal is not to produce scientific work. It is instead to give lay-people the appearance of a controversy — to generate uncertainty and doubt — so as to give excuses to politicians like Bush. Organizations like the Discovery Institute do not exist to make discoveries, or advance knowledge; they are, rather, front organizations. In their less guarded moments, people like William Dembski realize this perfectly well, and say things like "intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory". (See Larry Arnhart's exchange with Behe and Dembski in First Things. Arnhart, incidentally, is proof that intelligent, conservative evolutionists are possible; he even has an interesting book on Darwinian Natural Right, about which more another time, perhaps.)

(Some other time, I'll talk about the history which links places like the Discovery Institute back to the first wave of right-wing think-tanks like Heritage and the American Enterprise Institute, and what those in turn owe to the intellectual Cold War and ultimately to the Communist Party (USA); but in the meanwhile I'll just recommend that you read Creationism's Trojan Horse, and the chapter on "the triangular trade" in Michael Lind's Up from Conservatism.Paul Krugman has now written about this, without, however, going all the way back to the CP.)

The thing is, this leads to bad science, and, if an unbeliever can say so, bad religion. The stakes are more serious here than with silly "devotionals with mathematical content", but the issues are not that different. Doing what you must know is shoddy science, in the hope that it will provide cover for propagating the gospel, shows a poor opinion of your fellow creatures, of the gospel, and of God. Of your fellow creatures, because you are resorting to trickery, rather than honest persuasion or the example of your own life, to win converts. Of the gospel, because you do not trust its ability to change lives and win souls. Last and worst, of God, because you are perverting what you believe to be the divine gift of intelligence, and refusing to learn about the Creator from the creation. And for what? To protect your opinion about what measure you think it fitting for God to employ.

One of the greatest passages in the Bible is when "the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind":

Where was thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Creationism is a way of responding to this profound challenge by saying "I know! I know! You did it just like I woulda!"

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Creationism; The Running-Dogs of Reaction

Posted by crshalizi at August 02, 2005 19:29 | permanent link

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