Intelligent Design Creationism

by tristero

Barbara Forrest, whose testimony was crucial in the Kitzmiller case, and whose Creationism's Trojan Horse is the go-to book about the "Intelligent Design" creationism movement, has written a new position paper for the Center of Inquiry called Understanding The Intelligent Design Creationist Movement. It is well worth reading. It summarizes the numerous legal and scientific problems with ID creationism and also discusses how it's being funded, by huge donations from wealthy backers associated with some of the most extreme organizations on the religious Right. Here is her conclusion:
As this paper demonstrates, the ID movement is nothing more than barely camouflaged creationism. Seeking to convince the public that ID is something different, ID proponents avoid open debate on the least defensible elements of earlier creationism such as the young age of the earth and “flood geology” based on the biblical story of Noah’s flood. Their attempt to manufacture a “scientific” controversy and their sanitizing of ID terminology reflect their effort to tailor their strategy to the current legal landscape and to the current attitudes of the American public. Hoping to appeal to Americans’ instinctive notions of fairness, which would allow “both sides” to be heard, ID creationists have tried to exploit this alleged scientific controversy by pushing public schools to “teach the controversy” or “teach the full range of scientific views.” However, the only real controversy is the one that the ID creationists have fabricated for the precise purpose of advancing their agenda. There is no legitimate scientific debate between ID and evolution, and there is no controversy within the scientific community concerning the status of evolutionary theory. Accordingly, we recommend that educators, local and state boards of education, and all responsible government officials at every level reject any attempt to insert ID into the classroom, whether by expressly teaching ID or by more subtle means, such as “disclaimers” read in biology classes, stickers placed in biology textbooks, or euphemistic proposals to teach the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution,” etc. Because ID is a religious belief, allowing it to be inserted into the public school science classroom violates the constitutionally protected separation of church and state. Just as significantly, introducing ID into the classroom is detrimental to the teaching of real science. The methodology of modern science has consistently produced notable scientific achievements for more than three centuries. To ensure that American scientific progress continues—especially if American students are to contribute to it as scientists—we must ensure that our children have a proper understanding of science.

We should not exaggerate the threat posed by the ID creationist movement. As the Kitzmiller case and ID’s defeats in Kansas and Ohio have demonstrated, concerned scientists and laypersons—with the law and good science on their side—can protect both the Constitution and science education (Forrest and Gross, 2007a, 318-21). But we certainly must not discount this threat. Given the strong anti-Enlightenment sentiments of ID proponents and their alliances with other groups, some of which are extremist, ID poses a danger to constitutional government and, by extension, to a free, open society. ID proponents and their Religious Right allies promote a distorted understanding of secularism, presenting it as synonymous with atheism and antireligious animosity. However, contrary to this misconception, “secular,” properly understood, merely means “not religious” rather than “anti-religious.” In the same vein, criticism of ID as a religious belief rather than a scientific theory is not criticism of religion per se. To reject secularism as the Religious Right does, based on their distortion of its meaning, is to reject one of the First Amendment’s most important protections: the right to live and work without being constrained by religious doctrines not of one’s choosing; and to worship, or not worship, as suits one’s conscience. This right implies the attendant obligation to refrain from requiring that others be constrained by one’s personal religious preferences (Forrest, 2004). Yet ID creationists, as well as the Religious Right generally, seek to convert their personal religious commitments into public policy. In their minds, merely refraining from including creationism and other examples of their favored views in public school classrooms constitutes active discrimination against religious people. This position is not only illogical, but it is not shared by the vast majority of Americans, who understand that the strongest protection for people of faith lies precisely in maintaining government neutrality with respect to matters of religion. Only when the government refuses to promote or endorse religious beliefs (or antireligious beliefs) can we achieve the freedom necessary for both religion and civic friendship to flourish and for rational inquiry to guide the development of public policy. Yet this is precisely what ID proponents are unwilling to countenance. While they benefit from living in a secular democracy, they would use its gifts of free expression and personal freedom to force American culture, science, and education backward into a pre-modern era.

Civic friendship means, at the very least, being reasonable enough and respectful enough of one’s fellow citizens to trust that they can be good people—good neighbors—without adopting one’s own religious views, or perhaps without any religious views at all. The hope of civic friendship is among the central legacies of the Enlightenment, along with tolerance of religious diversity and the confidence that embracing modern science and rational inquiry does not destroy, but rather strengthens, the moral bearings of one’s fellow citizens. In “Public Reason and Democracy: The Place of Science in Maintaining Civic Friendship,” political scientist Steven M. DeLue expresses this hope beautifully (DeLue, 2005, 26, 38-39):
The . . . Enlightenment embodied the hope of establishing governments that freed people from superstition and tradition, so that people could use reason and science to generate knowledge useful in improving society. . . . . . . [S]ince the Enlightenment, our modern world has been characterized by a public culture, which holds as primary beliefs the . . . views that rational intelligence must be used both to make it possible for science to produce knowledge and to ensure that this knowledge serves only humane purposes. Moreover, it is understood that society can achieve these goals, and attain the flourishing that results, only when it allows intellectual autonomy to manifest itself fully across the social and the public realms. Thus, attaining the degree of civic friendship needed to maintain the stability of a liberal democracy . . . depends on the extent to which science is understood as necessary for progress in all dimensions of life. When this understanding is strong, then there would be an overwhelming respect for the public culture of civic friendship that sustains autonomy and its associated virtues—freedom, critical thinking, intellectual pluralism, and the civic virtue of toleration.
To give some indication of the cartoonish nature of ID creationist discourse - notwithstanding the fact that they are dead serious - by all means go on over to PZ Myers place and take a gander at what Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon has to say about the mind and the brain. I must confess that after reading what he wrote, I wouldn't permit him to prescribe a band-aid for me, let alone operate on my brain.