Skip to comments.How Intelligent Design Hurts Conservatives (By making us look like crackpots)
Posted on 08/18/2005 5:17:34 PM PDT by curiosity
The appeal of "intelligent design" to the American right is obvious. For religious conservatives, the theory promises to uncover God's fingerprints on the building blocks of life. For conservative intellectuals in general, it offers hope that Darwinism will yet join Marxism and Freudianism in the dustbin of pseudoscience. And for politicians like George W. Bush, there's little to be lost in expressing a skepticism about evolution that's shared by millions.
In the long run, though, intelligent design will probably prove a political boon to liberals, and a poisoned chalice for conservatives. Like the evolution wars in the early part of the last century, the design debate offers liberals the opportunity to portray every scientific battle--today, stem-cell research, "therapeutic" cloning, and end-of-life issues; tomorrow, perhaps, large-scale genetic engineering--as a face-off between scientific rigor and religious fundamentalism. There's already a public perception, nurtured by the media and by scientists themselves, that conservatives oppose the "scientific" position on most bioethical issues. Once intelligent design runs out of steam, leaving its conservative defenders marooned in a dinner-theater version of Inherit the Wind, this liberal advantage is likely to swell considerably.
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.
And unless George W. Bush imposes intelligent design on American schools by fiat and orders the scientific establishment to recant its support for Darwin, intelligent design will eventually collapse--like other assaults on evolution that failed to offer an alternative--under the weight of its own overreaching.
If liberals play their cards right, this collapse could provide them with a powerful rhetorical bludgeon. Take the stem-cell debate, where the great questions are moral, not scientific--whether embryonic human life should be created and destroyed to prolong adult human life. Liberals might win that argument on the merits, but it's by no means a sure thing. The conservative embrace of intelligent design, however, reshapes the ideological battlefield. It helps liberals cast the debate as an argument about science, rather than morality, and paint their enemies as a collection of book-burning, Galileo-silencing fanatics.
This would be the liberal line of argument anyway, even without the controversy surrounding intelligent design. "The president is trapped between religion and science over stem cells," declared a Newsweek cover story last year; "Religion shouldn't undercut new science," the San Francisco Chronicle insisted; "Leadership in 'therapeutic cloning' has shifted abroad," the New York Times warned, because American scientists have been "hamstrung" by "religious opposition"--and so on and so forth. But liberalism's science-versus-religion rhetoric is only likely to grow more effective if conservatives continue to play into the stereotype by lining up to take potshots at Darwin.
Already, savvy liberal pundits are linking bioethics to the intelligent design debate. "In a world where Koreans are cloning dogs," Slate's Jacob Weisberg wrote last week, "can the U.S. afford--ethically or economically--to raise our children on fraudulent biology?" (Message: If you're for Darwin, you're automatically for unfettered cloning research.) Or again, this week's TNR makes the pretty-much-airtight "case against intelligent design"; last week, the magazine called opponents of embryo-destroying stem cell research "flat-earthers." The suggested parallel is obvious: "Science" is on the side of evolution and on the side of embryo-killing.
Maureen Dowd, in her inimitable way, summed up the liberal argument earlier this year:
Exploiting God for political ends has set off powerful, scary forces in America: a retreat on teaching evolution, most recently in Kansas; fights over sex education . . . a demonizing of gays; and a fear of stem cell research, which could lead to more of a "culture of life" than keeping one vegetative woman hooked up to a feeding tube.
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. And this formula can be applied to every new bioethical dilemma that comes down the pike. Earlier this year, for instance, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued ethical guidelines for research cloning, which blessed the creation of human-animal "chimeras"--animals seeded with human cells. New York Times reporter Nicholas Wade, writing on the guidelines, declared that popular repugnance at the idea of such creatures is based on "the pre-Darwinian notion that species are fixed and penalties [for cross-breeding] are severe." In other words, if you're opposed to creating pig-men--carefully, of course, with safeguards in place (the NAS guidelines suggested that chimeric animals be forbidden from mating)--you're probably stuck back in the pre-Darwinian ooze with Bishop Wilberforce and William Jennings Bryan.
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.
Which is why however useful intelligent design may be as a rhetorical ploy, liberals eager to claim the mantle of science in the bioethics battle should beware. The left often thinks of modern science as a child of liberalism, but if anything, the reverse is true. And what scientific thought helped to forge--the belief that all human beings are equal--scientific thought can undermine as well. Conservatives may be wrong about evolution, but they aren't necessarily wrong about the dangers of using Darwin, or the National Academy of Sciences, as a guide to political and moral order.
I especially enjoyed your review of Ebert.
Question: Chaos? Is that the French film being referred to?
I don't think it's French. here is his original review of the movie.
I see a lot of rhetorical and philosophical hanky panky on both sides, and some of it seems to be even unwitting. I imagine if this get thrust into public scrutiny this will come to the fore and the whole argument will shift completely. You evos might be surprised at the outcome and who you end up arguing against.
My background is in Mathematics and Philosophy, and from that viewpoint, I find much of the claims of much of what we call "science" on today's campuses do have some dubious value, and built on some methodologically unsound footings.
Good thoughts. The true hard sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.) are rigorously testable in ways that evolutionary biology is not. Fossil evidence can be examined to improve the soundness of one's guesses about what happened in the past, but they are still educated guesses.
Other 'soft' sciences like archaeology & anthropology allow for -- necessitate, even -- the assessment of 'intelligent design' to differentiate man-made artifacts (tools and such) from naturally occurring features, so it's not as though such an idea is completely alien to science.
I've come to the realisation that mordo isn't exactly altogether sane. Attempting rational discussion with the totally irrational is pointless.
OK I will find out about it. There is another film called Chaos (French) and I have heard it is excellent.
Your version does NOT accurately translate what the original actually says.
So the Hebrew Bible I linked to and their translation is wrong?
I read that and stopped reading.
Dimensio replied: Every explanation in science is theory, always subject to change. There is nothing in science greater than theory.
The only folks who seem to "lose site [sic] that they are theories - not dogma..." are the CS/ID folks.
They accuse evolutionists of teaching theories as if that is a negative. They refuse to learn how science works, even when corrected (as Dimensio does here), because then they would have less to argue against.
Can you say "straw man" boys and girls? I knew you could!
Dimensio: "There is nothing in science greater than theory."
Except maybe experimental evidence?? There are certain things that are observational and should be identified as fact. Certainly this is a part of science that many pure Darwinists have forgotten. Seems they have misrepresented the theory as experimental evidence.
I am not necessarily endorsing ID but certainly we need to be spending more time on the investigation of alternate theories since many of the essential elements of Macro evolution are still lacking. Most aspects of this theory are still inferred.
Some have condemned the ID folks saying they are against science. That the proponents of ID will just throw their hands up at some point and say "we're done, no more study required because we have the answer". This is hogwash since the very foundations of science came about by men who desired to better understand God's creation. Personally, I think a view of science that is God centered would tend to motivate us further since most all God-fearing individuals realize we can never completely understand God nor His creation completely. I expect that some scientists presume a day will come where study will end because they have discovered it all! The very fact that we cannot and will not "figure it all out" is probably evidence in itself there is a creator. The created can never surpass or equal the creator.
Much of science is observational and hence we don't necessarily need to reproduce an event to describe how it occured or the results. For example, just because we can't create a chromosome doesn't mean we cannot distinguish the different types. This is why I think both sides of this debate are scientific. Granted, both sides use deception and bad science along the way but that does not mean they are not valid approaches to scientifically examine the existence of life as we now know it.