“Intelligent Design” Polemics Examined

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Some time ago, an Insight article by Stephen Goode quoted ID advocate and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow William A. Dembski as saying that biologists opposed to “intelligent design” were like the repressive former Soviet regime. Knowing something of the history of science under Soviet rule, I knew that the actual lessons of history were being completely inverted by Dembski. Scientists who applied principles of biology accepted in the West were, in fact, repressed under Soviet politically mandated biological doctrines, specifically those teleological principles of Michurinism promulgated by Trofim Denisovich Lysenko.

I joined with Mark Perakh, who lived through Soviet scientific repression and encountered Nazi materials in World War II, to write an essay that explores the ID advocates’ deployment of invidious comparisons of biologists to the Soviet and Nazi regimes. We conclude that these comparisons cannot be sustained, that they can only be proposed through thorough ignorance of the actual historical record, that politically mandated biology is a costly proposition, and that the elements of self-aggrandizement in ID advocacy ironically echo the Soviet and Nazi regimes that they invoke as being like their opponents.

The essay is available on TalkReason.org and as a PDF at TalkDesign.org and atAntievolution.org.

There is a thread on invidious comparisons used by “intelligent design” advocates on the Antievolution.org discussion board.

14 Comments

Back in 2000 when ID first raised its ugly head in our metropolitan newspaper (in the form of an op-ed piece by a pro-ID federal district judge, no less), I wrote a response in which I brought up the Lysenko affair. (I thought I was being original at the time, but it’s a pretty obvious parallel.) His response? Another example of how “Darwinists” resort to name-calling instead of addressing the issues.

An excellent article. One minor suggestion: At the end of part 3, when Mr. Perakh discusses the IDAers’ propensities for wild, smug predictions, he might wish reference the recent World magazine articles. Nothing more clearly demonstrates the propagandistic, self-deluded mindset of the ID movement than those pieces.

Thanks, Andrew, for your kind words and for the advice. It looks like a good idea. This essay by Wesley and myself was written several months ago, long before the ridiculous foursome published their “predictions” in World. For a number of reasons Wesley and I kept the essay in cold storage until now. Perhaps I’ll add a few sentences along the lines of your suggestion when updating my part of the essay. Mark

The outlook from India

I am not sure where this comment belongs, but maybe this post is the best place. Given the buzz about things out of India readers might be interested in what the English press in that country has to say on what is a unnecessary controversy here in the US. “The Hindu” a very smart newspaper published out of the Souhern city of Chennai in its editorial titled politically correct “Humankind and Evolution” http://www.hindu.com/2004/04/20/sto[…]01741000.htm dismisses any talk of “(Un)Intelligent Design” like one would swat a fly! In the popular imagination evolution by common descent has been well accepted for decades now - it meshes well with the large body of folklore and myth. Muslim Indians (India is home to over 140 million of them 2nd only to Indonesia) have never been known to express doubts about evolution. Christians in India (I should know as I went to a Jesuit college) ranging from priests and pastors to scientists and laypeople whom I have known have found the activities of the Young Earthers, Old Earthers and IDAs embarassing and irrelevant. Scientists in India hold a wide range of religious belief as scientists everywhere do. But no one has been known to take a contrary position on evolution. Science, naturalism, methodological or otherwise doesn’t trouble the scientific establishment in India.

The outlook from India

I am not sure where this comment belongs, but maybe this post is the best place. Given the buzz about things out of India readers might be interested in what the English press in that country has to say on what is a unnecessary controversy here in the US. “The Hindu” a very smart newspaper published out of the Souhern city of Chennai in its editorial titled politically correct “Humankind and Evolution” http://www.hindu.com/2004/04/20/sto[…]01741000.htm dismisses any talk of “(Un)Intelligent Design” like one would swat a fly! In the popular imagination evolution by common descent has been well accepted for decades now - it meshes well with the large body of folklore and myth. Muslim Indians (India is home to over 140 million of them 2nd only to Indonesia) have never been known to express doubts about evolution. Christians in India (I should know as I went to a Jesuit college) ranging from priests and pastors to scientists and laypeople whom I have known have found the activities of the Young Earthers, Old Earthers and IDAs embarassing and irrelevant. Scientists in India hold a wide range of religious belief as scientists everywhere do. But no one has been known to take a contrary position on evolution. Science, naturalism, methodological or otherwise doesn’t trouble the scientific establishment in India.

Shiva,

Fascinating. I would wager that the places in the U.S. which are most likely to embrace creationism are, ironically, some of the places likely to suffer the most economically as a result of competition with educated Indians such as yourself.

A friend of mine who was born in India but lives here and works in San Francisco as a lawyer recently told me a horrifying story about a lunch he had with a fellow attorney, whom I shall call Y. Y is in her late 20s and has attended several of the most prestigious schools in the country. My friend is a patent lawyer and he was talking with Y about the issues in a case he is handling, some of which relate to DNA sequencing technology. At one point, Y interrupted his decription to ask, “Do you really believe in all that DNA stuff?” Needless to say he was stunned into silence.

Ours is a very strange country indeed. You can get very far and earn a lot of money without knowing a bloody thing about science. If only that fact wasn’t so damn obvious, perhaps more people would give a hoot about the anti-evolution crowd.

Thanks for the article; I look forward to reading it in detail. For now, though, I must say I am astonished that any discussion of T.D. Lysenko fails to mention his effect on N.I. Vavilov, truly one of the heroes of Soviet science. Was this a deliberate choice?

Jeremy Cherfas

Lloyd, Superstition in its extreme forms is a serious problem in India despite decades of a State-supported Science Policy that has tried to inculcate what probably no country has done - a “scientific temper”. There is a correlation between economic status and scientific belief in India - but not a large one. The superstitious shenanigans of the wealthy and powerful in India are embarassing and unpardonable for a country that now has a aerospace engineer for its President! The Cabinet Minister in charge of science, technology and education is a physicist who has ensured never before levels of funding for pure sciences including the biosciences and he is not squeamish about stem cell research or cloning. However the same man believes in astrology! There’s your contradiction for you. It is the same Henry “Fritz: Schaefer who writes tomes on Quantum Chemistry while enjoying a fellowship from the Discovery Insititute!

A friend of mine who was born in India but lives here and works in San Francisco as a lawyer recently told me a horrifying story about a lunch he had with a fellow attorney, whom I shall call Y. Y is in her late 20s and has attended several of the most prestigious schools in the country. My friend is a patent lawyer and he was talking with Y about the issues in a case he is handling, some of which relate to DNA sequencing technology. At one point, Y interrupted his decription to ask, “Do you really believe in all that DNA stuff?” Needless to say he was stunned into silence.

Do you know if Y is a leftist/postmodernist, or is she a christian creationist? Apparently, there was a similar anecdote reported in the Nation which has since been recounted in several articles, such as this one by Kenneth Silber. (Do a search on “believe in DNA”)

In the eighties and nineties, it became commonplace for postmodernist academics to talk about the “social construction” of reality. The idea was that what might seem like objective facts and phenomena were actually just self-serving assertions presented by dominant social groups. Truth was unavailable, in this view, but at least left-wing academics were around to point out how the ruling class was making everything up.

Such social constructivism swept through the humanities and social sciences. But it began to founder against hard-to-deny facts of the natural sciences. At one interdisciplinary conference, a speaker who mentioned DNA received the retort “You believe in DNA?” This kind of thing left postmodernism open to ridicule. In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal published a nonsense-laden article about quantum gravity in a postmodernist journal. After revealing the piece was a hoax, he invited anyone who thinks gravity is a social construct to jump out the window of his high-rise apartment.

“Do you know if Y is a leftist/postmodernist, or is she a christian creationist? “

Y is not a Christian creationist. That was explicitly asked. I am afraid she falls into the camp of people who are easily duped by pointy-headed liberal arts professors. Blame it on too much TV.

Jeremy wrote

Thanks for the article; I look forward to reading it in detail. For now, though, I must say I am astonished that any discussion of T.D. Lysenko fails to mention his effect on N.I. Vavilov, truly one of the heroes of Soviet science. Was this a deliberate choice?

I think of Vavilov every time I hear “Lysenko.” Thanks for remembering him.

RBH

nice blog and good post

Wesley - can you scrub the Gloryhole Girls comment weblink as it leads to a porn site.

Cheers

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on April 21, 2004 1:47 AM.

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