Nightline: Exposé on ID and the Discovery Institute

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Oh man. The Discovery Institute Media Complaints Division really isn’t just going to like what just got broadcast on ABC’s Nightline. Nightline essentially did an exposé on (1) how ID has no scientific support, but (2) has gained national attention through clever marketing. Nightline, unlike most other media which tends to rely on the “dueling quotes” model in a “controversy,” did the obvious thing for once. They contacted their partner U.S. News and World Report, got the list of the top ten biology departments in the country, and got the chair of each department to give their opinion on ID. This seems to have informed the rest of Nightline’s analysis. Good for them.

Following the news segment was a discussion between Cal Thomas and George Will – theocon vs. neocon – on the politics of ID. Refreshingly, Cal Thomas didn’t attempt to obfuscate the fact that promoting a particular religious belief is really what ID is about. Thomas argued that ID is part of a larger cultural battle involving school prayer, ten commandments, and similar religion-and-government issues – a politically astute analysis, by a supporter of this agenda. George Will, on the other hand, acknowledged the political appeal of ID but made a stand for restricting science and science classes to studying testable empirical hypotheses, and leaving other discussions for other arenas. At the end of the show I was left with this indescribable fuzzy warmness for George Will. I assure you this is a singularly peculiar feeling for me – I may have to seek medical treatment if it doesn’t go away soon.

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I'm sorry to say that I missed the Nightline segment on Intelligent Design creationism, but Nick Matzke has a review (does anyone have a transcript or video capture? There is a BitTorrent here, but it isn't working for me). It sounds like the... Read More


Haha, the post over at the DI is just fantastic. I love their comment on ‘peer reviewed’ papers from ID scholars. That is, if a paper that essentially says nothing in a fringe journal that is home to various cranks (whom I am sure they like spending time with) is ‘peer’ reviewed. Not to mention Meyers hopeless monster but after that it’s really about all they’ve actually got in any form of ‘peer review’. Only massive obsfuscation can make publishing books through a university press equivalent to publishing a paper in Nature or Science.

There is a torrent of last night’s Nightline available here, in case anybody missed it.

This sounds like a keeper - will Nightline offer a transcript?

Unless I was dreaming, there was Stephen Meyers, big as day, who said (and I’m quoting from my feeble memory)

“Well, I think the designer is God.”

Just like that. Not coy at all, our little Stevie.

For whether you agree with him or not, George Will isn’t stupid.

Cal Thomas? Cal Thomas… well, I suspect if he could get away with it without completely undermining his credibility, he’d be in favor of returning to racial segregation, to barring women from the workplace. OK, that was an ad hominim attack, and perhaps unfair. I will say, though, that the Cal Thomas columns I’ve seen in my local newspaper (The Tennessean) have me convinced that the man is odious. That is my judgement based on his words. More than once I’ve come close to cancelling my subscription to the local newspaper just because they somtimes reprint his columns. Perhaps my favorite ones are the ones where he justifies the USA’s use of torture.

Yes, unfair to say “well, look at these other terrible unrelated things this guy said!” in order to present an arguement against his stance on some issue. I’m not trying to do that. I am trying to point out, however, that even if you disagree with his politics, George Will has a MUCH better track record of thoughtfulness than does Cal Thomas.

I used to live in Berkeley, CA, and at the time thought that “Fundamentalism” was sort of straw man being used to obscure attacks on Christianity itself. Well, I was wrong. I was blinded by the fact that I lived in a location that is so politically extreme and one-sided. Now that I live in Nashville, TN, I have come to internalize that, yes, Christian Fundamentalism is real, powerful, and a threat to not only science, but also to my brand of Christianity.


Response to Rob Knop from a fellow Tennessean subscriber:

I learned to dismiss Cal Thomas when he blamed the child sex molestation scandal in the Catholic Church on the “free love” movement of the 60’s. Never mind that such things are not limited to the last three decades of the 20th century nor to the Catholic Church. He and Santorum (who connected Boston Liberalism to the same scandal) are birds of a feather. They need to do their homework.

A Niggle:

George Will is not a “neocon,” that is, a former liberal who now describes himself as conservative. David(?) Horowitz, and Irving Kristol are “neocons.”

Will, OTOH, is a conservative, and has pretty much always been one.

fusilier, who went door-to-door with Goldwater literature in 1964 James 2:24

When George Will worked on the staff of the U.S. Senate, it was for a relatively liberal senator from Colorado. Does that make him a neocon? Or was it so long ago that “neo” just doesn’t apply?

What about former Democrat-New-Deal-Liberal Ronald Reagan? Since he converted in the late Holocene, is that too long ago for him to be a neocon?

Ed Darrell Wrote: (Please, please, please let me get the tags right!!!)

When George Will worked on the staff of the U.S. Senate, it was for a relatively liberal senator from Colorado. Does that make him a neocon? Or was it so long ago that “neo” just doesn’t apply?

And the dates were…? My recollections of George Will as a conservative columnist date to the 1970’s, when Horowitz and Kristol still were doing their SDS or ADA thing.

What about former Democrat-New-Deal-Liberal Ronald Reagan? Since he converted in the late Holocene, is that too long ago for him to be a neocon?

“Paleocon” would do just fine, I think. As president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, he was, IINM, instrumental in exposing the Stalinist influences.

fusilier James 2:24

The term “neocon” doesn’t refer to liberals who become conservatives at all. It’s about a “new conservativism” that espouses a more global ideology (as opposed to the traditional isolationism in conservatism). So in addition to supporting economic globalism, they support international military ventures like Iraq if they perceive them to be in the U.S’s best [business] interests.

Neo-conservatism did, however, start off as “hawkish paleo-liberalism”. In other words, it began as liberals who upheld civil rights and the welfare state, yet wanted a more hawkish stance towards communism. It eventually morphed into what we see today, with most of its liberal roots gone, although neo-cons are still moderate on domestic issues. Or it’s more correct to say that they don’t really have a domestic agenda, just an extreme foreign policy agenda.

I agree that George Will shouldn’t be considered a neo-con. He is the very epitome of a paleo-con.

I would be interested in knowing who the one department chair among the 10 was who did not respond to Nightline, and why. Anyone have any ideas? Someone ducking for cover? University officials who are not helping in this mess need to be outed.

Yeah, but theocon vs. neocon has such a nice ring to it…

Nuts, I read somewhere that this was going to be on tuesday’s Nightline and I watched the show that night but it didn’t have anything about ID so I thought I watched on the wrong tuesday. Do they replay these ever, anywhere?

Nevermind, I see Jason Spaceman’s comment now. thanks.

George Will is not a “neocon,” that is, a former liberal who now describes himself as conservative.

That’s not the meaning of neocon. neocon is a political philosophy, not a description of someone’s personal political history. See, e.g.,[…]nited_States)

I agree that George Will shouldn’t be considered a neo-con. He is the very epitome of a paleo-con.

The fact that he opposed the invasion of Iraq is a pretty good clue.

I take it back; Will apparently did support the invasion, but later reconsidered. On the question of what sort of conservative he is, his article of May 2004 is relevant:[…]otFound=true … Ron Chernow’s magnificent new biography of Alexander Hamilton begins with these of his subject’s words: “I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be.” That is the core of conservatism.

Traditional conservatism. Nothing “neo” about it. This administration needs a dose of conservatism without the prefix.

Cal Thomas opposing George Will is like a hunk of Velveeta opposing a chainsaw.

There are a lot of tendencies floating around the right wing these days. Simple distinctions beween paleocons and neocons don’t yield a very satisfactory taxonomy. “Neocon,” for example, is pretty clearly a paraphyletic taxon. Some of the folks identified as neocons are indeed lapsed or Jack liberals, but the older stratum of the movement contains a lot of former Marxists–the hatred neocons sometimes express towards the liberal establishment of intellectuals and public servants echoes an ancient beef of Trotsky with what he called “the new class.” And what do you do with guys like Christopher Hitchens, who was literally a Trotskite before he became an adminstration supporter? His metamorphosis is not quite complete. He’s like a moth that just emerged from the pupa. His new exoskeleton is not completely hardened and he hasn’t finished inflating his wings. And then there is the whole Chicago lineage that connects back to Leo Strauss and, unfortunately, Carl Schmitt. For that matter, I’ve actually heard conservatives quote Foucault in favor of NAFTA. A lot of research remains to done in the systematics of political entomology.

Ah, once again a political science education actually counts for something at the Thumb.

George Will is a Libertarian Conservative. This is sometimes referred to as “Classical Liberalism,” even though the term “liberal” in this sense is quite different from the modern connotation of “liberal,” used to describe Democrats.

Will’s philosophy appears to be lower taxes, smaller government, and less governmental regulation, especially at the federal level. Neocons sometimes want smaller government with less regulation, but only in some areas and not, for instance, with military, law enforcement, or other executive powers. Neocons also favor a more active government in all areas, whereas Libertarians like Will prefer the adage “that which governs least governs best.”

With regards to civil liberties, similarly, Neocons and Libertarians diverge. Libertarians would prefer strict limitations on governmental powers of search and seizure consistent with the Fourth Amendment. Neocons would argue that we’re at war (note that Neocons are always at war with something) and we must sometimes compromise our liberties if we want to catch terrorists.

With regards to separation of powers and divided government, Libertarians see our tripartite system as being essential to preserving freedom, in that no one branch of government can truly act on its own. Neocons see separation of powers as a hindrance to their governing style, preferring to act through executive order and cabinet positions. The most important thing, from their point of view, is being able to act, swiftly when necessary, to defend the country.

With regards to church-state relations, Libertarians sound more like modern Liberals, in that they would usually prefer church and government separate. Neocons usually don’t care, except to the extent that token support for church institutions can get votes from the proles and keep them in power. Theocons, or religious-social conservatives, would of course prefer religion to have a larger role within the state.

Interestingly enough, throughout most of America’s history, most American religious groups have supported church-state separation not because of a lack of social conservatism, but because religion in America was historically broken up among hundreds of different religious denominations, and so there was no real guarantee that any one religious group would have any power. No one wanted to mix church and state if they weren’t sure that their religion would be the favored one. It is likely that the rise of mega-churches and a unified evangelical movement is most responsible for the current Theocon successes, but eventually I do think that factionalism will prevent them from ever gaining much power.

political entomology

“Death To the Fascist Insect That Preys Upon the Life of the People!”

My take on what makes a neocon is a kind of secular evangelism. According to some political sites (on the left), they come from two sources: “Scoop Jackson Democrats” - standard Democrats on domestic issues with a strong anti-communist foreign policy and “Trotskyites” - members of the far left that were particularly focused on worldwide revolutions and usually eschewed any of the cultural trappings of the left in the 60’s. This latter group never had much support, and Trotskyite or “Trot” was used pejoratively (back in the good ol’ days of late 60’s Berkeley) to describe someone on the left with a particular moralistic and secular evangelistic fervor. After their adoption of the Republican Party in the late 70’s and rise of Reagan, they focused on defeating the (supposed) power of the Soviet Union, which was ruled by the descendants of their old (literally) mortal enemy Stalin. The neocons during Reagan’s time were intent on building up the US militatily with Star Wars ABM’s etc. and totally missed the structural weaknesses and decline of the USSR that was evident to many analysts in the mid 80’s. Of course, they then claimed that they were the ones that drove the USSR into extinction. In the 90’s they became heavily aligned with the Likud Party in Israel and emphasized an aggressive (evangelical even) foreign policy - one that tries to export certain “American” values, democracy and free-markets. The alignment with Israel dovetailed strongly with Christian millenialism, and this alliance Christian evangelicals has now been manifested as part of the political support for anti-evolution policies.

Whaddya know, the DIMCD didn’t like the Nightline show.

See also reaction from other blogs on Technorati.

^^^^^^ sounds like he’s angry that Nightline went to, *gasp*, biologists to learn about biology.

That was one excellent Nightline! I loved the debate between Cal Thomas & George Will. This places the debate squarely where it needs to be, IMO: Within the conservative movement. The more creationists see that they’re hurting conservatism, the more some of them will be willing to drop the defensive reflex and give their Morton’s Demon a break.

The DI’s spokespeople have been amazingly coy lately, claiming in the press and on radio talkshows that they’re not at all motivated by any religious committments, and they don’t want ID to be taught, etc. It almost made me wonder why they even cared about the subject at all.

To preserve my sanity, I went to the Wayback Machine and compiled some of their more rumbustious statements from back when the CRSC first got started & put them on my site. They were refreshingly upfront & honest about what they were trying to accomplish.

Wow, that was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever watched the show in full before, but this might have converted me. They actually brought up the Wedge Document, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the media mention it before; probably because none of them do actual research into their stories.

George Will is not a “neocon,” that is, a former liberal who now describes himself as conservative.

Another nitpick — “neocon” is not “a former liberal who is now a conservative”. The “neocon” label applies to a specific political program as set out mostly by the Project for a New Amerikan Century (sorry for the mis-spelling), one that should scare the living hell out of everyone – especially people who are NOT Americans.

Check out:


eventually I do think that factionalism will prevent them from ever gaining much power.

It is already preventing them from any realistic chance of winning in Dover. Witness the power struggle between the Discovery Institute and the More Law Center over who are the “real IDers”.

That was the problem, from the beginning, with DI’s “Big Tent” strategy. It was doomed to failure, simply because the various fundies all hate each other more than they hate “evolutionists”.

But then, the DI’s entire approach was doomed from the start anyway, since it required that all the various religious nuts in their Big Tent stay silent, indefinitely, about the one thing they care most about in the world — their religious opinions. They can’t do it. They don’t WANT to do it. And that is now killing them in Dover.

As I’ve always said, creationuts have always been their own worst enemies. Let them talk long enough, and they shoot themselves in the head every single time. (shrug)

The Wedge-ites can rephrase their arguments any way they like. They can rename their movement anything they like. They will still be facing the very same problems, and those problems will still be just as fatal.

It’s why they will *never* win under any constitutional democracy. Their only chance to win is to DISMANTLE constitutional democracy. And if they try that … well … I comfort myself with the fact that, no matter HOW holy or divine they think they are, the fundies are not bulletproof.

If you thought Nightline did a good job of researching the subject instead of just presenting he said/she said journalism, please ccontact them to express your appreciation.

Nick Matzke said: “I may have to seek medical treatment if it doesn’t go away soon.”

You may have to take one of those “all natural” pills, the ones that mother gives you, that don’t do anything at all (apologies to Jefferson Airplane). Because you also have the likes of yours truly (to the right of Bush on some issues), Charles Krauthammer, and (as of 5 years ago at least) Dr. Laura, defending evolution. Face it, liberal or conservative, religious or not, most of those who understand evolution, accept it. Even the seemingly clueless conservative columnists who rave about ID are more “shock jock” than anything else.


Thanks again. It would be an interesting experiment to ask these questions on ID sites, cache the submission and replies (if any) and then record how long it takes before the questions are “disappeared.”



Been done. On Dembski’s site, these questions vanish within a couple of hours, and often within minutes. What I’d like is a site where the “disappeared” posts are all replicated in one place. As things stand, most of them are just lost, and those that were cached are reposted hither and yon.

Emma: “It almost made me wonder why they even cared about the subject at all”

Read the Wedge Strategy. They’ve lost the baton. Johnson, Dembski, Behe and friends can’t keep up with the movement’s speed. I’m thinking (and have posted on my blog) that the speed of takeup by the fundies is actually limiting the movement. That’s why DI are stepping away from the political side of it, as are some IDers - Bruce Gordon, for one (see my blog for the link).

Johnson has said it should be a slow thing, and that they shouldn’t see the results in their lifetimes. Perhaps, though, what’s gonna happen is ID will get thrown around now rather than later, which will have disasterous results for ID, since they’re shooting for a very slow-boil approach, which goes along with the whole ‘don’t talk about the Bible’ routine, for instance.

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