ID Moving On in Fighting the Culture War

A reflection on the ID movement

So where is the ID movement going now in this post-Dover, post-Kansas world?

Well, it seems to me that they are giving up on trying to seriously sell ID as science. Instead, they are forging full-steam ahead with their cultural “war of the worldviews” agenda, pitting materialism and atheism (as represented by science) against religious belief (as represented by their particular flavor of fundamentalist Christianity.)

Let’s take a quick look at what they are up to:

  1. Jonathan Wells’ new Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. As Burt Humburg points out in his review of Chapter 1, “Wars and Rumors”,

Wells uses such dramatic quotations and general martial language because the struggle between “intelligent design” and science is very much a culture war, at least to him and other creationists. In order to advance his thesis, Wells has to convey the idea that “Darwinism” pits itself against traditional Christianity: to allow pupils to learn it is to give them up to atheism, decadence, liberalism and to lose the culture war.

Just a year or so ago Wells was supposedly working on a book that would show that genetics is not in fact what drives development, but instead he has now relegated himself to defending “traditional Christianity” against the attacks of Godless science by writing a popularized rehash of creationist arguments and claims.

  1. William Dembski has sunk to working at a seminary which declares that ID is based on Biblical principles, to running a blog with culture warrior Denyse O’Leary, and to taking full credit for helping Ann Coulter with her terrible mishmash of criticisms of evolution in her equally terrible book “Godless” (a book on the cutting edge of the cultural and political worldview wars.)

  2. Dr. D. James Kennedy’s upcoming show “Darwin’s Deadly Legacy: The Chilling Impact of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.” ‘Nuf said about this one.

  3. The recent Intelligent Design DDD6 roadshow in Kansas, in which John Calvert et al hammered home the theme that teaching materialistic science and unguided evolution would lead children to atheism. See here for a succinct summary of this thesis.

  4. The recent publication of the premier issue of the magazine Salvo. See here, and especially the Intro link. The Editorial Board is a Who’s Who from the Discovery Institute - Johnson, Dembski, Meyer, Beckwith, West, Nelson, Moreland, Richards and others. Despite their disclaimer that “Salvo does not advocate gratuitous violence in any form,” a militaristic theme runs throughout the magazine. Here’s a succinct summary of the real issues at stake, according to the Introduction by editor Richard Moselle:

America is involved in a massive culture war, the intensity of which increases daily. … There’s probably no aspect of comtemporary American life that’s not affected in some way by the deep cultural chasm that currently divides our country.

The division itself can be attributed to two competing worldviews. On the one hand, you have the Judeo-Christian tradition and its belief in absolute truth, this idea that the universe has a purpose and a destiny, that it’s governed by order and logic, and that it is humans - creatures especially blessed with the capacity to discern and choose - who bear the burdon of locating this purpose and letting it dictate the manner in which they live their lives.

Opposed to this perspective is that of the naturalist, the conviction that the material world, which emerged on its own by chance and without reason, represents the only reality in existence - one that’s driven entirely by the struggle to survive and is subject to no real order apart from that struggle. According to this worldview, truth is relative, and the only absolute, though even it is culturally constricted and so is not in any way binding, is the decided “evil” of imposing your version of truth on someone else. …

The worldview that so clearly has things right, the one that makes the most sense logically and that has the most evidence on its side - the worldview that actually works - is also the one losing the fight for the public imagination. Through trickery and deceit, myths and misinformation, naturalism is gradually supplanting Judeo-Christianity (or what might be called super-naturalism) as the dominant American ideology, thereby unleashing all manner of cultural madness.

Well there you have it, I think: the real issues at hand. The enemy is the philosophy of naturalism, which is winning the public imagination through “trickery and deceit, myths and misinformation,… thereby unleashing all manner of cultural madness.” The remedy, of course, is the “the worldview that actually works” - Judeo-Christian supernaturalism.

Notice that there is nothing new here since the Wedge document was written a decade ago:

Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

However, the tactics have changed. Actually developing an alternative science of Intelligent Design has failed miserably - they haven’t really even tried. Legislating design via laws, state science standards or local school policies has failed. At this point, the new tactic seems to be escalate the divisive culture war.

This post was stimulated by a conversation I had with a reporter yesterday who, after I made the points described here, asked me “So is this good for science?”

My answer was “Yes, sort of, but really, no”

On the one hand, it would be a relief if these direct attacks on science and public science education would quiet down. No one really needs to take the time any more to seriously address “complex specified information”, “irreducible complexity,” or any of the other unworkable psuedoscience concepts offered by ID.

But really, the culture war approach, while more honest, is also more dangerous. The ID advocates will continue talking to their target audiences as if design were true and evolution were false, and as if believing in design and rejecting evolution is the only position compatible with their religious beliefs - and their target audiences will be glad to uncritically accept this. By dropping the pretenses about the purely scientific aspects of ID, ID advocates will in fact be able to mobilize their target audiences much more effectively. As the Salvo quote implies, the battle here is for the “public imagination” about these worldview issues. Separating ID from the cultural issues in order to attack science and education hasn’t worked, so now it’s time to abandon that tactic and go all out in arousing people to join up for the “us against them” war of the worldviews battle.

This approach is dangerous to American society because it’s Wedgey divisiveness, its self-righteousness (“the only worldview that works”) and its vilification of all other perspectives is antithetical to the fundamental need for our society to have room for a broad spectrum of cultural and religious perspectives. The approach these ID culture warriors are taking, if successful, would likely lead to the same type of destructive fragmentation that we see in other countries where religious fundamentalism is ascendent.

So how should we respond?

The problem here is that an easy way to respond would be to say, “OK, let’s duke it out - let’s get it on with this culture war.” But such a response would be wrong, and would let them win irrespective of further events. If they are allowed to make this a simple black-and-white God vs. no-God battle, they will have the public imagination on their side. If they are allowed to frame the issues and we respond within their framework, then we are forced to tacitly accept the underlying assumptions by which they make this an either-or issue in the first place.

So my suggestion is that we refuse to go to war. We have have done a good job at some levels of resisting their attempts to distort science and misuse science education, but we need to do an equally good job of resisting their attempts to distort religious, cultural and political issues. To do this effectively, we need to avoid their divisive approach and the polarization it produces. We can argue civilly and persuasively for tolerance and diversity in a secular society without acceding to their misrepesentations of such a position.

Let’s get these social and cultural issues out on the table and work on them. This is not about science and never has been. Perhaps now ID can just die away, and we can focus on the real issues.