Let’s talk Intelligent Design

Do me a favor: before you read this, put down your paper, go to a computer and google the phrase "wedge strategy." Read the first item that comes up.

Done? Good. Now we can talk clearly about Intelligent Design.

Unless you live in a cave, you know that there’s a culture war going on.

On the particular battlefield of anti-evolution, the current entity in charge of the draft is the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Their latest assault against Darwin: an ideology called Intelligent Design.

As best anyone can tell, Intelligent Design (ID) claims that at an unspecified point in the past, an unspecified agent performed unspecified actions so that certain structures (many still unspecified, of course) might not have to evolve. Behind ID lies the arrogant notion that God somehow ought to conform to human conceptions of a "designer," and that somehow we are compelled — and able — to look for evidence of that design.

At best, ID points to open problems in Darwinian evolution and asks you to assume that they will never be solved (many have been, of course), or that a handful of problems somehow invalidates a grand, sweeping theory (the word "theory" here meaning an explanatory system, not a stupid hunch). At worst, ID aims to redraw the boundary lines of science so that they overlap with theology’s turf.

But as it stands, Intelligent Design is in no way a science: it makes no predictions and is therefore not testable. You’d think this would faze its proponents. But it doesn’t, because they know that Intelligent Design is not meant to be a scientific tool at all — it’s a political one.

In 1999 a Discovery Institute white paper called the Wedge Strategy (did you Google it?) leaked onto the Internet. The document outlines a twenty-year plan to "permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life" with Intelligent Design, and sections the campaign into ominously-named stages such as "Opinion-Making" and "Cultural Confrontation." Two primary ideological goals are listed: to "defeat scientific materialism" and to "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God."

Now never mind that neither of these two main goals actually requires the assimilation of God into science. The egregious blunder here is the conflation of science with philosophy: Discovery would have you believe that methodological naturalism (i.e. looking for a natural cause of that thunderstorm or brain tumor) inevitably leads to philosophical naturalism (i.e. saying that natural causes are all that exist).

But this is wrong-headed. The way to limit the influence of naturalism on philosophy is to staunchly refuse it access to other domains of human inquiry such as theology — in other words, exactly the opposite of what Discovery is now doing. We must more rigorously assert the limits of science, not clumsily muddle the boundaries.

Discovery will not win over many scientists with this sort of talk. But they may influence religion and further polarize culture insofar as they set up shop at campuses like SPU, and insofar as their religious audiences assume that ID is the only position compatible with religious faith.

Seattle Pacific has no formal relationship with this group, and I hope to God that this remains the case. But recently on campus a Discovery Fellow tried to link Darwin with Hitler, suggesting that Social Darwinism and eugenics are logical outcomes of Darwinian science. Likewise, recent talks by other Discovery associates under the "science and religion" heading have continued the boundary-muddling that aims to persuade you (as opposed to convince you) that taking Darwin seriously entails atheism and Nazism and moral relativism and isms ad nauseam.

Now I am certainly not advocating any censorship of this group. All the same, I would suggest that SPU give no more platform to Discovery than is demanded by the free interchange of ideas. Because the more this group finds reception on our campus, and the more Discovery becomes associated with SPU in the public eye, the greater liability it will be for the reputation of our graduates — especially those in the sciences — as they conduct job searches and navigate their careers.

Nor am I suggesting that you reject Intelligent Design outright. Poke it, prod it, take it to the lab. See if there’s anything there. But take care to eschew the sinister demagoguery that tends to accompany it.

Because "engaging the culture" does not mean going to war with it. It means interaction, exchange, dodging the drafters on both sides. The Generals in this war are not nearly as concerned with the troops as they are with decimating their opponent ideologies.

A popular anti-war mantra in the sixties asked, "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" I propose that we apply this to culture and find out: let’s sidestep the wedge.

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Title: Let’s talk Intelligent Design | Author: James Williams | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2005-05-25 | Internal ID: 4557