The New Republic: How intelligent design hurts conservatives

| 36 Comments

More cracks are starting to show.

In How Intelligent Design Hurts Conservatives (By making us look like crackpots) published in The New Republic on 8/16/05, Ross Douthat argues that Intelligent Design will hurt the conservatives.

In short, the scientific vacuity will catch up with the religious and political motivated arguments and back fire.

And intelligent design will run out of steam–a victim of its own grand ambitions. What began as a critique of Darwinian theory, pointing out aspects of biological life that modification-through-natural-selection has difficulty explaining, is now foolishly proposed as an alternative to Darwinism. On this front, intelligent design fails conspicuously–as even defenders like Rick Santorum are beginning to realize–because it can’t offer a consistent, coherent, and testable story of how life developed. The “design inference” is a philosophical point, not a scientific theory: Even if the existence of a designer is a reasonable inference to draw from the complexity of, say, a bacterial flagellum, one would still need to explain how the flagellum moved from design to actuality.

Intelligent Design is becoming its own scientific enemy, as it, in its attempts to disprove Darwinian theory, resorts to poorly written papers, unsupported scientific assertions and outright misunderstanding of scientific issues. Only by ‘quote mining’ can ID attempt to create an impression that there is a controversy over Darwinian theory beyond the relative importance of various mechanisms.

We have seen how this leads to poor arguments about the Cambrian explosion, but even more extensively in the total lack of any novel, scientific insight born out of the intelligent design perspective.

36 Comments

Duh!

However, the interesting (and more worrying) thing will be to see how these self-described “conservatives” (very few of whom I would credit with such a mild, reasonable name, considering the goals they openly describe and the completely unethical methods many actually enjoy employing) will placate the Xian lunatics and fanatics (where the two may differ) whose money and votes they (smugly and cynically) exploit.

The comments at the bottom of the article are hilarious!

I agree, the comments are illuminating. They show that lots of religious conservatives see ID as just essential christianity. Which doesn’t surprise me a bit, that’s what I expect to see.

I am “mostly conservative”, but one who has little patience with most fellow conservatives in politics and the media. But this can go either way. Pro-science conservatives, like John Marburger, George Will and Charles Krauthammer, have not been letting their anti-science, fundamentalist and otherwise postmodern counterparts go unanswered.

As the real secrets of ID (its scientific vacuity, not its religious motivation) get slowly revealed to a wider audience, look for more conservatives to speak out against it - just like those 7000+ members of Christian clergy.

Illuminated cockroach.

Shine a light on the little critters and they scatter like nobody’s business.

As long as the Discovery Institute could remain in the shadows and control the agenda, they moved along with their own business.

But, in the light of scrutiny, look at the result: pulling back on ID, satisfied to “teach the weakness”, backing away from Dover, backing away from young earth creationists.

Look what they’re stuck with: Dembski and Behe, both of whom have no credibility, and no sunscreen.

In essence, scattering like nobody’s business.

I used to be more conservative. One thing that pushed me away was watching educated conservatives, who knew better, whip up their followers with things like evolution, or claims that god has been somehow illegalized from public.

One tactic conservatives used to get their current power is, they endlessly hammer on examples of the far left wing saying something crazy, but they represent it as mainstream liberalism. When something happens like Ted Rall saying kids got killed in Iraq because they were “stupid enough to enlist” (http://www.ucomics.com/rallcom/), your Rush Limbaugh types will endlessly talk about how “liberals” think that. “Ward Churchill said…” gets changed to “The liberals said…” and eventually, you get a group of people with a reflexive hatred of liberals. A lot of the conservatives I knew didn’t want to vote for Bush last year, but having been conditioned that liberals are all postmodern communists who hate white people, jesus, and men, and love taxes and terrorists, couldn’t imagine voting for Kerry.

Comment #45187

Posted by bill on August 27, 2005 07:41 PM (e) (s)

Illuminated cockroach.

Shine a light on the little critters and they scatter like nobody’s business.

As long as the Discovery Institute could remain in the shadows and control the agenda, they moved along with their own business.

Apparently they failed to realize, 20 years ago when they began the ID ruse, that their sophisticates weren’t going to get to control the eventual court challenge. It should have occurred to them that down the line, their side would be in the hands of zealous christian creationists on a school board, who wouldn’t know to begin the whole process with a disciplined secular presentation.

Two decades, and millions of dollars later, Bill Buckingham says Let’s take a stand for Jesus! and the beginning of the end…um…begins.

Oh, yes, Steve, if the Dover case goes up to the Supreme Court, ID is toast. Hopefully, that will give education another 20 years or so.

The Discovery Inst. can be loud, but in the end they have nothing to offer and that will become evident. Too bad compensation for all they trouble the DI has caused can’t be recovered.

It might only be a few-year reprieve this time, but I’m optimistic. There are a lot of young naifs, such as those in IDEA clubs, who are about to watch Behe, Dembski, Meyer and company get burned. The Dover obliteration might take a lot of wind out of their sails.

I think they’ll understand the futility of another name change. They’ll understand that in a renamed movement, anyone who advocated ID will be tainted, just as the Scientific Creationists were after 1987. The idea of starting all over, with all new people, only to probably suffer the same fate again, just won’t be appetizing. There won’t be any “Intelligent Evolution” movement, in part because Dembski’s name is already on it. I think they will try a new course of action. Either a constitutional amendment, or a bigger push for home schooling / private christian schools.

What I think will happen is:

* The issue will be quietly dropped from the official table

* Teachers will be asked, mostly by parents, to skip the chapter on evolution

* Teenagers will not pay much attention to HS biology, unless they care for it

* Kids who are made to go to fundie church will be indoctrinated properly in sunday school.

To Steve: That is interesting for you to note how many conservatives have demonized “liberals” (I put it in quotes because after all the deliberate obfuscation, the term has lost all meaning). But I have to note, I didn’t want to vote for Kerry either, but I certainly couldn’t imagine voting for Bush.

To Steve, Frank and everyone: It seems “conservative” has lost some of its meaning as well, although I am young enough that I don’t recall a time when that political dichotomy was ever very informative.

Irregardless of all that, I think the cause of protecting science education, on which we all seem to of homogeneous mindsets, will not be served by painting this as a liberal/conservative issue. So much of the present “conservative” political ideology is predicated on a persecution complex anyways, if they see it as an attack on their political persuasion they are more likely to fight for it. But really, it’s just about science and empiricism, which are values most of us can agree on.

But really, it’s just about science and empiricism, which are values most of us can agree on.

But it isn’t though, because with your US political system (as with our UK one) you don’t get to vote on issues. You have to vote for a party and then the party does whatever it wanted to anyway. As a whole, the parties won’t represent your views. So (assuming they expressed these views) you’ll probably already have voted for a party with which you substantially disagree. Even noticing that the party has consistently lied about what it’s going to do doesn’t help much because you can’t vote for anyone honest. Either they don’t exist or they won’t get selected by the parties because they are too honest to be trusted to put out the required lies.

Apparently they failed to realize, 20 years ago when they began the ID ruse, that their sophisticates weren’t going to get to control the eventual court challenge. It should have occurred to them that down the line, their side would be in the hands of zealous christian creationists on a school board, who wouldn’t know to begin the whole process with a disciplined secular presentation.

Two decades, and millions of dollars later, Bill Buckingham says Let’s take a stand for Jesus! and the beginning of the end…um…begins.

Hmmphh. Any idiot should have been able to see the fatal flaw with the ID strategy right from the beginning. The entire “Wedge” strategy depends, for its very existence, on having a bunch of religious nuts keep silent, indefinitely, about the one thing that they care most about in the whole world — their religious opinions.

As the DI’s own Wedge Document shortly demonstrated, they can’t do it. They don’t WANT to do it. It’s an impossible task for them.

After ID dies in Dover, Dembski and his sycophants can re-name it “Intelligent Evolution” or whatever else they want to do. The simple single fatal flaw still remains. It is simply impossible to turn religious preaching into anything other than religious preaching, especially when the only thing its followers want to do is … well … preach. (shrug)

kay Wrote:

* Teenagers will not pay much attention to HS biology, unless they care for it

Unfortunately that will probably be the key outcome. Little change, just as in the “creation/evolution” poll results over the last 23 years. Although anti-evolution is very visible due to the “train wreck” of religious and political implications, it is just one symptom of what chemist Allen J. Bard in 1996 called “anti-science cancer.” I reluctantly have to agree with Anthony Perez Miller who said that more science education will not make much difference. This battle is fought in the media, and sadly, anti-evolutionists are more aware, and thus better prepared, than we are. So far, that is.

what has baffled me is how the Republican party has let itself become boxed into a position where it seems that it will have to attack one of its historical concepts, laissez faire economics, because of it’s similarity to natural selection. Darwin readily admitted his indebtedness to Adam Smith. When each individual small businessman/organism is permitted to work for his own economic/reproductive advantage unfettered by controls from above (intrusive government/god), then as an unintended side consequence of this activity the production of the most ordered economy/ecology will occur with maximal benefit to all.

Any time you try to show them another example of where an algorithm produces ‘design’, the IDers look for the nearest human, and claim he’s doing it. If you mention computer algorithms, they say it came from the programmer. In your capitalism example, they’ll say it’s the people buying and selling.

You can lead an IDer to algorithms, but you can’t make him understand emergent phenomena.

I have to agree with some of my fellow posters, the comments at the end of ther linked article are one heck of a read. The best, IMO, was a resposne to a comment about how more and more scientists are falling in line with the ID movement - Did we all get phone slammed without knowing it? Made for an amusing Sunday morning - thanks

Comment #45212

Posted by sanjait on August 28, 2005 01:42 AM (e) (s)

To Steve: That is interesting for you to note how many conservatives have demonized “liberals” (I put it in quotes because after all the deliberate obfuscation, the term has lost all meaning). But I have to note, I didn’t want to vote for Kerry either, but I certainly couldn’t imagine voting for Bush.

It’s a bit of a preoccupation, because growing up in the rural south, I watched it happen, from the emergence of Limbaugh around 1990, WorldNetDaily, regnery publishing, etc.There are millions of people out there who have, in the last 15 years, absorbed thousands of hours of propaganda that liberals are anti-white, anti-male, anti-america, anti-christian, pro-gay, anti-capitalism etc. Millions of people who were middle-of-the-road are now reflexively resistant to anything liberal. I’m more or less liberal of the classical, human rights sense, as opposed to the modern, more socialist, sense (Left/Libertarian, instead of Left/Authoritarian, on the two-axis scale). When I read Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, and the New Republic, when these guys talk about strategy, I don’t see that they are aware of the extent to which they’ve been demonized to many, many people. And the fact that the Dems are composed of a heterogeneous mix of groups with no clear underlying philosophy, prevents them from coherently opposing that message. In case you disagree with that last point, think of this thought experiment: can you find books which most conservatives would consider foundational to their philosophy? Sure. The bible (1), Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”, Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom”. What about for liberals? I haven’t been able to think of a single book which outlines a philosophy or an outlook which a strong majority of liberals would agree to. Maybe someone here can.

************************************************** (1) When I’ve posted something like this in other places, I always get at least one clueless person responding “Aha, but they don’t really follow the bible, they’re hipocrites, so you’re wrong”. No, it doesn’t matter if they’re hypocrites, the point is they believe it, and they believe it about each other, and that gives them a touchstone, and a cohesion, and an automatic frame for lots of issues.

a single book which outlines a philosophy or an outlook which a strong majority of liberals would agree to

If you’ll accept a trilogy in 5 parts ;-) then Douglas Adams’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has something of a following and might fit the bill. Quoting from it provides humorous examples for many issues and doing so in (near) unison provides group cohesion. Almost as much as Monty Python’s infamous parrot sketch (or the not quite so well known argument sketch).

I haven’t been able to think of a single book which outlines a philosophy or an outlook which a strong majority of liberals would agree to. Maybe someone here can.

“Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” ?

Or maybe “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot; And Other Observations”.

:>

what has baffled me is how the Republican party has let itself become boxed into a position where it seems that it will have to attack one of its historical concepts, laissez faire economics, because of it’s similarity to natural selection.

Worse than that, the Republicrats are now aping the *Leninists*, by declaring as a matter of policy that the responsibility for religious instruction should be taken OUT of the hands of the parents and family, and placed in the hands of employees of the state-run school system.

Sounds pretty Communistic to me.

what has baffled me is how the Republican party has let itself become boxed into a position

Here’s the thing: We can tut-tut all we like about how this is not a liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat debate, and how counterproductive it is to let it be cast, or facilitate its casting, in those terms. And I agree with all that.

But what do you do when one political party (that shall remain nameless) essentially adopts ID as its party line? Anything you say about it automatically becomes a partisan statement, no matter how carefully you attempt to explain that it’s not.

The comments listed after the article that is the focus of this post illustrate my point more resoundingly than I can ever hope to.

Comment #45292

Posted by ‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank on August 28, 2005 01:40 PM (e) (s)

I haven’t been able to think of a single book which outlines a philosophy or an outlook which a strong majority of liberals would agree to. Maybe someone here can.

“Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” ?

Or maybe “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot; And Other Observations”.

Yes, many of us would agree with the statements in those books, but a useful and broad philisophical foundation they’re not.

If you’ll accept a trilogy in 5 parts ;-) then Douglas Adams’s Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has something of a following and might fit the bill.

I love H2G2, and have the leather-bound collection, but nope.

Russell said: “But what do you do when one political party (that shall remain nameless) essentially adopts ID as its party line?” (Sorry, at this time I still have no idea how to use kwickXML)

It may be true that Republicans are quietly adopting ID, or at least some of them, including the leadership. But while I would take some joy watching Democrats hammer them with this issue, I don’t see it as a pure conservative one. That is, there is no consensus on the issue from self-proclaimed conservatives. Those comments on the Free Republic website bear this out. That site is about as right wing as you can get, and among all the delusional posts supporting ID and claiming that even atheist scientists are now embracing it en masse, there are also many who don’t buy it at all. I’m guessing these are native FReepers, because most other people would not even bother posting in such a hostile and syncophantic place. Yet, even there they have honest debate on this issue.

Terri Schiavo, sex education, stem cell research–on any issue that remotely touches on science, a GOP that’s obsessed with downing Darwin will be easily tagged as medieval, reactionary, theocratic.

Hey, if the shoe fits .…

The GOP certainly aren’t the party of fiscal responsibility, they have exceeded the Democrats in “foreign adventures” by any measure of bodies or national treasure, and with the Federal snooping into your book reading and bedroom, the GOP sure ain’t the party of limited government.

Unless that is if you are a mining, logging or grazing interest, petrochemical industrialist, or bagman for the gambling “industry.”

Yeah , well , then sure…

So, can the Republican elites and power munchers salvage their party from the Religious Right Jahiad? I doubt it.

There’s an odd reversal-of-roles at work here. In the past, it was often the right that tried to draw societal implications from Darwinism, and the left that stood against them. And for understandable reasons: When people draw political conclusions from Darwin’s theory, they’re nearly always inegalitarian conclusions. Hence social Darwinism, hence scientific racism, hence eugenics.

That says a lot about the right, whether it supports Darwin’s theory or not.

Maybe one day New Republic will acknowledge how it’s the “conservatives” who are hurting the conservatives. By “conservatives” I mean the theocratic/neo-con factions which have taken over the Republican Party (and no small part of that other one) to promote an agenda of lies, theft, and violent adventurism; by just-plain conservatives I mean those who support tradition, integrity, and prudence.

The latter have been stampeded into supporting a regime which is clearly the dominant force for change in American society, uprooting traditions in a way that Timothy Leary & Abbie Hoffman never dreamed of. Values such as honesty, hard work, financial discipline, and a cautious foreign policy have been shot, stuffed, and mounted on floats for the Bush parade: anyone hoping to find a political expression for them has few options left but disillusionment or increasingly desperate denial.

“New Republicans” may need to ponder how the fraud of Inelegant Design is a fractal subset of the attempt to rule by hysteria & misdirection that the right wing has developed in a sequence dating (at least) from Nixon to Reagan’s handlers to Newt Gingrich to Karl Rove and his wannabe successors.

It would be naive to predict that such an ideological hollowing-out will cause the self-defeat of this dictatorial movement. Emotionalism & manipulated perception have grabbed the reins in the US, and when have hypocrisy and intellectual incoherence by themselves ever stopped a political juggernaut? Yet, however things work out (or fail to), the conservatism of Norman Rockwell, Dwight Eisenhower, et al, is already a trodden-into-the-mud casualty of the demagoguery of those who call themselves “conservatives”.

I have been reading through various posts on “the controversy” as a learning tool for debating against it. This is my first post. Great site. Keep of the good work.

Steve’s post interested me greatly.

Steve Wrote:

What about for liberals? I haven’t been able to think of a single book which outlines a philosophy or an outlook which a strong majority of liberals would agree to. Maybe someone here can.

Steve, I have spent the last 25+ years recovering from catholicism. The book which spoke to me the most, but maybe not “liberal”, is Heinlein’s “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”. “Notebooks” is a set of quotes which were used as an interlude to the book “Time Enough for Love”. Written in the 1973. I call it my “guide book for life”.

There are numerous quotes on life, politics, sex, love, nature, etc. Several are relevant to this thread. In no particular order:

1. What are the facts? Again and again and again - what are the facts? Shun whishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what the stars fortell, avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never minde the unguessable “verdict of history”, - what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot in an unknown future, facts are your single clue. Get the facts! 2. The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with its credibility. And vice versa. 3. A zygote ia a gamete’s way of producing more gamets. This may be the purpose of the universe. 4. The shamans are foreever yacking about their snake-oil miracles. I prefer the Real McCoy - a pregnant woman. 5. A touchstone to determine the actual worth of an “intellectual” - find out how he feels about ID. 6. Never underestimate the power of human stupidity. 7. The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning, while those other subjects merely require scholarship. 8. Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house. 9. Expertise in one field does not carry over into other fields. Butt experts often think so. 10. Freedon begins when you tell Mrs. Grundy to go fly a kite.

And I will conlude with:

“Political tages - such as royalist, coummunist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”

RTS

I haven’t been able to think of a single book which outlines a philosophy or an outlook which a strong majority of liberals would agree to. Maybe someone here can.

“On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill. “A Theory of Justice” by John Rawls.

The book which spoke to me the most, but maybe not “liberal”, is Heinlein’s…

Philosophy from Heinlein. I cannot understand, I am only an egg.

Pierce R. Butler Wrote:

Maybe one day New Republic will acknowledge how it’s the “conservatives” who are hurting the conservatives. By “conservatives” I mean the theocratic/neo-con factions which have taken over the Republican Party (and no small part of that other one) to promote an agenda of lies, theft, and violent adventurism…

Be warned, you may encounter some strong adherents of the time-tested* practice of “shooting the messenger” here. It’s an ancient practice, and just as effective as it ever was.

* It failed all those tests.

Rawls is the only one I could come up with as even a potential answer. But it’s not a good answer because most liberals don’t know what it says. I haven’t read it, but my liberal friend Amy has, and she says it’s problematic. Anyway I think my point has been demonstrated.

In my view, this incoherence is a huge problem for us.

But it’s not a good answer because most liberals don’t know what it says.

Most conservatives don’t know what Rand or Hayek say, either. You’ve moved the goal posts, from what most people would agree with, to what they are familiar with.

In my view, this incoherence is a huge problem for us.

The relevant lack of coherence is in political strategy; there’s no liberal equivalent of Grover Norquist issuing talking points every Wednesday.

I would say most conservatives have some familiarity with The Bible and Ayn Rand, though not usually Hayek, with whom they would agree. But a lot of them are familiar with Hayek, he has had some popularity in the past, being presented in Reader’s Digest and such. Even I know what’s in the Bible and Rand and Hayek, and I don’t know what’s in On Liberty and the Rawls book, and I’m liberal.

Obviously we have no coherent political strategy. My point is I suspect that’s at least partly a result of having such a heterogeneous group. There are many ways to illustrate the conservatives’ philisophical coherence, the book example is just one. The examples show that the conservatives are more unified in their beliefs and this helps create a unified message. The only area where liberals are as unified is the environment. A lot of the things which unified us in the past, like Civil Rights, have largely gone away. I want some fresh thinking in the liberal side. I like Howard Dean. He doesn’t just repeat the usual uninspiring technocratic boilerplate. Perhaps someone like him will assert a set of values which rallies people, and from which policy can naturally flow.

I would say most conservatives have some familiarity with The Bible and Ayn Rand

After I write “You’ve moved the goal posts, from what most people would agree with, to what they are familiar with.”, I wouldn’t expect you to go on talking about what people are familiar with.

There are many ways to illustrate the conservatives’ philisophical coherence, the book example is just one.

If you were to actually interview all the millions of Americans who self-identify as conservatives, not only would most of them not know of Rand or Hayek, but I suspect that most would not agree with their views. Poll after poll shows that, despite people’s political affiliations, the majority of self-identified conservative have generally liberal policy preferences in the areas of economics and social planning policy, and are in fact shocked about many of the details of the Bush admin policies. And the libertarian conservatives and fundamentalist conservatives have very different views on personal liberties, to name just one area of non-coherence.

The only area where liberals are as unified is the environment.

Then how is “liberal” distinguished from “environmentalist”? This statement is self-refuting. Wikipedia offers these:

* Support for government social programs such as welfare, medical care, unemployment benefits, and retirement programs. * Support for increased funding for public education. * Support for trade unions, teachers’ unions, and government protections for organized labor. * Regulation of business - OSHA, against child labor, monopolistic practices, etc. * Support for civil rights (examples): o Support laws against discrimination based on gender, race, age, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. o Support laws guaranteeing rights of women and minorities, particularly racial and religious minorities, the disabled, and homosexuals. o Support for such programs as affirmative action and transitional multi-lingual educational programs for children whose first language is not English. o Support broad voting rights. o Support for the legality of abortion. * Support for strong environmental regulations. * Support for public transit. * Support for minimum wage requirements. * Support for government funding to alternative energy research. * Opposition to the death penalty. * Some further support for animal rights — as an issue of ethical human behavior. * Support for gun control. * Support for a progressive tax system.

Perhaps someone like him will assert a set of values which rallies people, and from which policy can naturally flow.

See George Lakoff’s “Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think”.

“I haven’t been able to think of a single book which outlines a philosophy or an outlook which a strong majority of liberals would agree to. Maybe someone here can.”

It is not a book, but look at the “Declaration of the Rights of Man”

http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/rightsof.htm

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on August 27, 2005 5:49 PM.

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