March 14, 2005

What do ID advocates want?

In an earlier posting, I spoke about how those who view Darwin's ideas as evil see it as the source of the alleged decline in morality. But on the surface, so-called "intelligent design" (or ID) seems to accept much of evolutionary ideas, reserving the actions of a "designer" for just a very few (five, actually) instances of alleged "irreducible complexity" that occur at the microbiological level.

This hardly seems like a major attack on Darwin since, on the surface, it seems to leave unchallenged almost all of the major ideas of the Darwinian structure such as the non-constancy of species (the basic theory of evolution), the descent of all organisms from common ancestors (branching evolution), the gradualness of evolution (no discontinuities), the multiplication of species, and natural selection.

So where does ID fit into this attack on evolution? It's role is explicitly outlined in the document that has been labeled the "Wedge Strategy" or the "Wedge Document put out in 1999 by the Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture (now called the Center for Science and Culture) of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which is the well-funded "think-tank" that funds and supports the work of creationists.

In the document it becomes clear that intelligent design is seen as kind of the shock troops that establish the beachhead on the fields of science, prior to the rest of the creationist army coming behind and occupying the entire landscape.

Here is an extended passage from the introduction of the document that outlines the issues as seen by them:

"The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West's greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.
Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art.
The cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were devastating. Materialists denied the existence of objective moral standards, claiming that environment dictates our behavior and beliefs. Such moral relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology and sociology.
Materialists also undermined personal responsibility by asserting that human thoughts and behaviors are dictated by our biology and environment. The results can be seen in modern approaches to criminal justice, product liability, and welfare. In the materialist scheme of things, everyone is a victim and no one can be held accountable for his or her actions.
Finally, materialism spawned a virulent strain of utopianism. Thinking they could engineer the perfect society through the application of scientific knowledge, materialist reformers advocated coercive government programs that falsely promised to create heaven on earth.
Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies."

A little later in the document one comes across the 'Governing Goals' of the movement, which are:

  • "To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
  • To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

So there you have it. In a nutshell, the argument is:

  1. The greatest achievements of Western civilization are largely due to the idea that human beings were created in God's image.
  2. Things were just peachy until a little over one hundred years ago.
  3. Then Darwin, Marx, and Freud dethroned this idea and instead introduced materialist ideas that spread into all areas of science and culture.
  4. Everything pretty much fell apart after that.
  5. If things are to improve, 'scientific materialism' needs to be defeated and God has to be accepted as the creator of nature and human beings.

This is a pretty sweeping line of reasoning. Such broad-brush analyses of society are inherently suspect since the way societies function and form is highly complex and claiming all the good for one belief structure and all the bad for the opposing side is to oversimplify on a massive scale.

I discussed in the previous posting some of the problems with this kind of reasoning.

But what is clear is that the ultimate goal of this movement is to eliminate "scientific materialism" and bring back God into all areas of life. Getting ID into the science curriculum is just the first step, hence the name "wedge" strategy.

This is the first of a series on this topic. I will look more closely into what "scientific materialism" is and the implications of this strategy in future postings.


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Randy Barnett has pointed out at the Volokh Conspiracy that an op/ed you wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer alleging an urban myth was the product of either purposeful deceit or incompetent research on your part.

How do you respond to the allegations?
FYI, Barnett is also now reviewing another allegation you made in an op/ed denying the truth of another story about a liberal college professor. What should your readers know about what Barnett is going to find out?

Posted by Hard Questions on March 14, 2005 11:26 AM

# Everything pretty much fell apart after that.

I completely agree. Which is why, as moronic as intelligent design is, I don't feel too threatened by it. In whatever battles evolutionary science and religion have fought, religion has lost. In some ways, the apocalyptic prophets are right: it really is The End. The backlash we've seen in this argument (and others) is merely rigor mortis setting in.

And, to commenter #1: send it via email. I love the Volokh Conspiracy and everything, but this thread isn't the place. :)

Posted by Brian Moore on March 16, 2005 12:36 AM

In your post you said:

"This is a pretty sweeping line of reasoning. Such broad-brush analyses of society are inherently suspect since the way societies function and form is highly complex and claiming all the good for one belief structure and all the bad for the opposing side is to oversimplify on a massive scale."

While I agree its not difficult to understand where this logic comes from. We're dealing with Christianity here, at its heart its a story, an explanation of good against evil. In this way simplifying society and reality into good and evil isn't just possible it's almost necessary.

Additionally while formation of societies is highly complex this line of reasoning doesn't seem to hold weight with people who do believe in God. Complexity doesn't matter, it's God! It all comes back to that single argument, physical impossibility? Nope, nothings impossible, it's God! Wholly unreasonable? Doesn't matter, it's God!

In the end I don't see how you can reach a single conclusion because each argument branched off in nearly opposite directions from the beginning. Everyone is working from totally different and nearly (possibly completely?) incompatible value systems. Oh well, at least it keeps us busy.

Posted by Cory Kates on March 19, 2005 02:32 AM