09 October 2005

It really does matter if it's right.

I just read, for the second time, an article by Doug Kern that's available at Tech Central Station. After my blood pressure came back down a bit, the article got me to thinking. The tone of the piece is annoying and condescending, and there is far more in it that is wrong than is right, but it illustrates a number of the political problems that we face all too well.

The title of the article is, "Why Intelligent Design is Going to Win." The thesis statement is short and simple: "Intelligent Design theory is destined to supplant Darwinism as the primary scientific explanation for the origin of human life. ID will be taught in public schools as a matter of course."

The first flaw, of many, in the article is in this thesis statement. One thing which, I think people frequently fail to fully understand is that the current battle over Intelligent Design has absolutely nothing to do with anything other than getting ID taught in public schools. It certainly has nothing to do with the actual validity of the "theory". It has still less to do with what the primary scientific explanation for the origin of human life will be. Intelligent Design could be force fed down the throat of every American schoolchild for the next century, but that will not make it the primary scientific explanation for the origin of human life. Scientists will continue to study evolution, until such time as evolutionary theory is supplanted by another scientific theory. That will happen only if empirical, scientifically testable hypotheses are presented, tested, and if they pass repeated tests.

Allow me to be clear on one point here: I am not arguing that teaching Intelligent Design to every child in every school in America would accomplish nothing. If I believed that, I'd be pretty damn silly to be arguing about it. Actually, I think that teaching Intelligent Design in the public schools would accomplish a large number of things. It would, for starters, prove that if you try hard enough, you really can obfuscate your way around the constitution. It will also serve to put a set of religious beliefs into the public school classroom - beliefs that run counter to my own - and force me to pay to have those beliefs taught to my children. It will further reduce the already pitiful level of scientific literacy in our country. It will accelerate a brain drain that is already taking place, and it will serve to hasten the country's slide from first-world status. That's just some of what teaching Intelligent Design will accomplish.

Kern goes on to present the reasons that he believes that Intelligent Design will one day rule the country:
ID will win because it's a religion-friendly, conservative-friendly, red-state kind of theory
Please note that this may be true, but it says absolutely nothing about the scientific merits of Intelligent Design. I hope it isn't true, but I am afraid that it is.

Kern gives some reasons to justify this statement:
The most vocal non-scientist proponents of ID are those delightfully fertile Catholics, Evangelicals, and similarly right-leaning middle-class college-educated folk -- the kind whose children will inherit the country. Eventually, the social right will have the sheer manpower to teach ID wherever they please.
That was one of the statements that had me almost literally seeing red. The founders of our nation shed blood to establish a society founded, in part, on the principle that the government should not be used as a tool to advance religion. Kern apparently believes that once they have enough people, the religious right can ignore that, and push religious beliefs on the remaining minority - despite the fact that we have a constitution specifically to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. What's worse is that this jackass doesn't seem to find anything wrong with that position.

Kern goes on:
Belief in ID does nothing to make believers less capable in science or engineering. No geek in the world will find his computer mojo diminished because of his opinions on irreducible complexity. To the contrary: ID might make biology and the natural sciences more appealing to believers who might otherwise find science to be too far removed from God's presence.
Actually, belief in ID does make you less capable in biology. That's the result of the whole "evolution is the core concept that unites biology" thing. Another article, this one on Jeb Bush and ID, makes the point quite nicely:
University science professors and a national group that had concerns about how science curriculum was rewritten in Minnesota say it's ironic that Florida would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to woo The Scripps Research Institute to the state, yet hire a top educator who does not accept Darwinian evolution — something Scripps scientists say they prove every day in their experiments.

Not satisfied with the hole he's dug for himself, Kern goes on to provide more of the reasons that he thinks ID will win: "2) ID will win because the pro-Darwin crowd is acting like a bunch of losers." Well, I guess that's as good as any to throw out the cornerstone of biology - the people who support it act like losers. Kerns continues:
Vitriol, condescension, and endless accusations of bad faith all characterize far too much of the standard pro-Darwinian response to criticism.
Vitriol is common, and it is becomming more common. It would be nice if we could all maintain our composure as nicely as Douggie "they're acting like losers" Kerns does, but it can be hard sometimes. This is especially true for scientists in the face of the continuing creationist assault. We spend hours working in the field and lab for every minute that they spend spewing out their nonsense to non-scientific audiences. Keeping cool becomes increasingly difficult under the circumstances. There are also frequent accusations of bad faith. That's because the creationists frequently display bad faith. Don't just take my word for that. Go look at the trial transcripts from this week, where numerous witnesses document the efforts that the Dover school board made to add creationism to the curriculum, before settling on the current ID maneuver. Then look at the way that they keep claiming that their motives were entirely secular. Look at the Meyer affair. Or the Leonard affair. Or at any number of other incidents through the years.

Here, though, we again find one of the more frustrating realities that we are faced with. We are dealing with opponents who will make inaccurate, misleading, and dishonest claims, and then claim that we are whiners when we point that out. It must be nice to argue without having to worry about your scruples acting up. I really should try it someday.

Kerns continues:
A reasonable observer might note that many ID advocates appear exceptionally well-educated, reasonable, and articulate; they might also note that ID advocates have pointed out many problems with the Darwinist catechism that even pro-Darwin scientists have been known to concede, when they think the Jesus-kissing crowd isn't listening.
Back in the good old days of usenet, this sort of thing used to be called the "lurkers support me in email" argument. Making a blanket statement about things that go on behind the scenes, without providing evidence to support any of it, is a common strategy. It's not a particularly honest strategy, but it is common. To the best of my own knowledge, as someone who has put a hell of a lot of time into both dealing with creationist lunacy and into studying evolution, the Intelligent Design folks have not made a single contribution to the field in any way - and that includes pointing out substantive problems with evolution.

The next reason that he gives is my favorite: "ID will win because it can be reconciled with any advance that takes place in biology, whereas Darwinism cannot yield even an inch of ground to ID."

Isn't it a wonderful argument? What he's saying boils down to this: ID will win because it can't possibly be refuted. To a lawyer like Kerns, that's a fantastic strength in an argument. To a scientist, that's proof that an argument is completely non-scientific in nature. Lest you think that I am somehow misrepresenting Kerns, here's the rest of this argument:
So you've discovered the missing link? Proven that viruses distribute super-complex DNA proteins? Shown that fractals can produce evolution-friendly three-dimensional shapes? It doesn't matter. To the ID mind, you're just pushing the question further down the road. How was the missing link designed? What is the origin of the viruses? Who designed the fractals? ID has already made its peace with natural selection and the irrefutable aspects of Darwinism. By contrast, Darwinism cannot accept even the slightest possibility that it has failed to explain any significant dimension of evolution. It must dogmatically insist that it will resolve all of its ambiguities and shortcomings -- even the ones that have lingered since the beginning of Darwinism. The entire edifice of Darwinian theory comes crashing down with even a single credible demonstration of design in any living thing. Can science really plug a finger into every hole in the Darwinian dyke for the next fifty years?
I really wish I could give this to the judge in the Dover case. This sums up, better than anything else that I have seen, the scientific principles involved. Evolution is a scientific theory. It has been subjected to tests, it is being subjected to tests, and it will continue to be subjected to tests. It stands a very real chance of failing some of these. It might, conceivably, be shown to be wrong. If it is, we will have to replace it with a better explanation, and that new explanation will have to be tested, retested, and tested again. If it fails, it will have to be replaced with a better explanation, and the process will continue. That is how knowledge advances. Intelligent Design, on the other hand, cannot be subjected to tests. It cannot be proven wrong ever, under any circumstances. It will be an explanation that cannot be replaced. That is how knowledge stands still.

Kerns has a couple of more reasons for his belief, relating to a perceived need to change the way science works in order to accommodate information theory (he seems to be blissfully unaware that information theory is doing just fine as things are) and the ability of humans to perceive design. (He argues that just because we are hardwired to detect design doesn't mean that design isn't there.) In the interests of getting a decent night's sleep, I'm going to slide past those and move on to his conclusion:
The only remaining question is whether Darwinism will exit gracefully, or whether it will go down biting, screaming, censoring, and denouncing to the bitter end.

It's tempting to let the nation go to hell in its own, uniquely American way, but I can't. For some strange reason, I think that it is important for us to give our children the best education that we can. In my mind, a twisted, unrecognizably distorted view of science doesn't begin to enter that picture. Mr. Kern might hope that we will go gently, but that will not happen. Intelligent Design is bad science, it is worse theology, and it is built on a foundation of dishonesty. The entire world could embrace it, but that wouldn't change those basic facts.

Not one of the reasons that Kerns gave to support his belief in the inevitable success of Intelligent Design has anything to do with the question of whether or not Intelligent Design is correct, or even whether it is scientific. To a certain degree, this makes sense. The battle over ID is not a scientific one, but a political struggle. Sadly, whether or not a position is right or wrong has become totally irrelevant to modern politics. Perception, spin, and how to manipulate popular opinion matter. Truth is meaningless.

I am not a politician. I am a scientist. Like most scientists, I believe that reality matters. Truth matters. Science matters. This may place me at odds with politicians. It may not endear me to Kerns and his ilk. It may not make me popular. None of that matters. I will not "go gracefully." I will stand up for what I know is right. To teach Intelligent Design is to lie to our children. That is wrong, and it does matter.

27 Comments:

Blogger Ken Anderson said...

Keep up the good fight!

I, for one, support you and the work that everyone at the Panda's Thumb is doing.

I'm a professor in a computer science department so I only have a basic understanding of evolution, but I use what I read here and at the Panda's Thumb (as well as having read books by Dawkins) to put out the word against ID whenever it comes up in conversation.

So, you are not alone and we will definitely NOT go quietly!

Take care,

Ken

12:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pseudointellectual arrogance of IDiots is astounding. Nevertheless, theory of evolution has one great advantage over the vacuous "ID theory" (not a theory at all), even though it is indeed supported by lots of yahoos. It is demonstrably factual.

ID core is indeed unfalsifiable, but the "shell" of false "scientific" and philosophical arguments, designed to protect it, can be shown to be false by the scientists and philosophers of science. It has been accomplished in many books and articles, and it may yet be accomplished in Dover.

Yahoos don't have big chances of proving that ID is scientific in court, but they can try to force religion in general back into schools. But that is another topic.

12:57 AM  
Anonymous DrFrank said...

This is how losers act just before they lose: arrogant, self-satisfied, too important to be bothered with substantive refutation, and disdainful of their own faults
Too important to be bothered with substantive refutation?! Douggy, you’re a liar. That’s not an insult, that’s just plain fact. Either that, or you must be a p*ss poor lawyer with research skills that non-existent.

Googling both "irreducible complexity" and "complex specified information" comes up with plenty of thorough refutations of these worthless concepts in the first few matches.

1:10 AM  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

I've wondered if that piece isn't a demonstration of the desperation of ID advocates, the delusion before the collapse.

Reverse the names. If one inserts "intelligent design" for "evolution," and also the reverse, one gets a fair assessment of ID, a religious concept driven solely by animus to another idea, an idea that cannot withstand any scrutiny of any sort, an idea held up solely by the stubborn refusal to accept that the idea is dead science, an idea promoted in the face of demonstrable harms of such actions.

Lawyers need to have a better grasp of reality than that.

1:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm slightly curious as to why the corporate paymasters behind TCS are allowing these idiotic ID pieces to run. OK, so it's not exactly a credible source of science, but this kind of thing doesn't do the Exxon-Mobils of the world any favours at all. ID's form of anti-science doesn't serve any corporate purpose that I can discern, and promoting it seriously tarnishes the credibility of all the other articles on the site.

Ginger Yellow

1:51 AM  
Blogger Raven Travillian said...

What Ed said. A theory that explains everything explains nothing. The power of the scientific method lies in its ability to determine correct and incorrect explanations, and that's something we need to be demonstrating to non-scientists every chance we can.

"Can science really plug a finger into every hole in the Darwinian dyke[sic] for the next fifty years?"

Normally, spelling flames are beneath me; on the other hand, if Doug is going to publicly advocate force majeure as a teaching basis, he's made himself fair game for criticism. So I'll just observe that Doug is every bit as good at spelling as at science, and that's the best homonymy error (or Freudian slip?) I've seen in a while :).

2:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"So I'll just observe that Doug is every bit as good at spelling as at science, and that's the best homonymy error (or Freudian slip?) I've seen in a while :)."

Eh? Admittedly I can't be certain for American English, but in British at least the two words have the same spelling.

3:54 AM  
Blogger Hari Narayan Singh said...

Don't worry about the fundies out-breeding us. They have always had more kids than us, and yet the country's religiosity has risen and fallen periodically.

Besides, the author of the TCS article is forgetting that our native population is in negative growth, and that the issue of the future will not be evolution versus ID, but English versus Spanish.

3:59 AM  
Anonymous Adam Ierymenko said...

I just posted a blog entry on this over here. Thought some of you would find it interesting.

4:50 AM  
Blogger Raven Travillian said...

"Eh? Admittedly I can't be certain for American English, but in British at least the two words have the same spelling."

Ah, I was not aware of that. Perhaps I owe Doug a semi-apology, at least if he was writing in UK English. In American English, spelling clearly differentiates meaning.

Just a silly joke, anyway. The truly important point is his idea that science is decided and enforced by majority opinion. In that, he and the Inquisition have common cause--but eppur si muove, Doug. Even the Catholic Church had to eventually yield to reality.

5:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No surprise there. I mean this IS Tech Central Station we're talking about.

5:16 AM  
Anonymous Ian H Spedding said...

Douglas Kern is a lawyer and TCS contributor

That says it all, I think.

When you have biologists writing things like that then you might have something to worry about.

Kern is doing what lawyers are trained to do - grandstanding to a potential jury. And this is about politics and public relations not science.

When dealing with this sort of polemic you should bear in mind the military dictum of never fighting a battle on ground of the enemy's choosing.

You don't counter the Kern's of this world by letting them put you on the defensive about science. Of course, it's a good idea to have prepared some snappy retorts to the standard ID criticisms of biology but they're only a last resort.

What you do is ask: "So ID is going to replace evolution is it? With what? There may be a few gaps in the theory of evolution but at that's nothing compared to the gaping black hole where the theory of Intelligent Design should be."

"And who's pushing ID - biologists? Nope, it's lawyers like Mr Kern, or accountants or vets or engineers or dentists. Competent in their own fields, no doubt, but not the sort of people you'd ask for an expert opinion about biology. If you have a toothache, you don't ask your plumber what's wrong. Don't believe me? Go and look at the list on the Discovery Institute site. There's around 80 with relevant expertise on the list there - against a biological community of 800,000 who know they're flat out wrong."

"If Mr Kern knows so much about biology and Intelligent Design, why isn't he down there in Harrisburg? Could it be that it would be a lot harder to make his case on the stand and under oath? It's easy blustering away in a column. That way you're not going to face someone dismantling your arguments piece by piece in public."

If all evolution has to face are the likes of Douglas Kern then there is little to worry about. That is not to say that he can be ignored. You should be prepared to respond to his attacks along the lines I have suggested. But the fact remains his case lacks substance. The body of evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming and in any fair and open forum - such as a court - that should be enough to carry the day.

5:30 AM  
Blogger Doctor Free-Ride, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for working through such a careful response to this astounding essay. We should be helping you pay for your hypertension meds!

Am I imagining it, or is the subtext here really, "We don't actually care whether it's good science"? The idea that sheer numbers (of people inclined toward ID for religious reasons) will settle the matter seems to be a rejection of the idea that there could be independent facts one could appeal to when chossing between competing theories. Who knew that the religious folks would embrace postmodernism?

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It must be nice to argue without having to worry about your scruples acting up. I really should try it someday."

I will bet you anything that you would be unable to try it simply because you have scruples.

7:28 AM  
Anonymous bm said...

anonymous said: "ID's form of anti-science doesn't serve any corporate purpose that I can discern, and promoting it seriously tarnishes the credibility of all the other articles on the site."

It does serve a purpose: Right now, the theocrats are part of the right-wing coalition that's currently in power. If the fundamentalists lose their fervor and stop streaming to the polls, then the GOP will fall out of power, and the corporate giveaways will stop flowing. It's in TCS's interest to feed the GOP base, and supporting ID is part of that.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Antti Rasinen said...

This lurker supports you in the comments.

=)

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ID has already made its peace with natural selection and the irrefutable aspects of Darwinism. By contrast, Darwinism cannot accept even the slightest possibility that it has failed to explain any significant dimension of evolution.

That's a rather odd argument. It's pretty common to hear creationists/IDers/etc say that evolution is non-falsifiable. (When people make that claim, I know they don't understand evolution very well.) Being non-falsifiable is bad - the mark of a philosophy or belief, not science. Now, we have someone saying that evolution is falsifiable, ID is not -- but claiming the backwards idea that being non-falsifiable is good. I guess they want it both ways.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Arne Langsetmo said...

Great article, but missing one thing: The implicit assumption that there are only two choices: evolution or ID. I know you cover this in the explanation about other theories supplanting evolution should it be shown to come up short, but it needs to be pointed out more explicitly that Kern's unstated assumption is that our choices are "evolution or ID"; that ID is "everything that is not evolution". Sure, there may be holes in evolutionary theory, but that hardly means that we have to stuff the non-theory of ID into each and evey one of these holes. But that is what is implied by Kern's claim that evolution can't allow ID in at all, and this is a misconception that needs to be addressed and dispensed with for the nonsense that it is explicitly. The theory of evoluion allows for all kinds of stuff to fill in around the edges and to expand on the power of evolutionary explanations. In fact, it does. What it doesn't do is allow for non-theories, "Gwad'O'Da'Gaps" type arguments, etc., to purportedly "explain" those things that it doesn't sufficiently address. But that's not a property of evolution, it's a property of scientific inquiry. Evolution is perfectly willing to accept alternatives for specific phenomena ... real scientific explanations, testable ones. And evolution won't fall because of such. It's just that ID is no such thing, far from being the only possible such thing.

Cheers,

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey,

It must be nice to just be a biologist. I'm a biological anthropologist, so we're the ones creationists are really after. I mean, when they come to campus to start burning evolutionists at the stake, it's going to be those of us who teach human evolution burned first.

This assault on science and the downgrading of the American education system will not stop at the local level. IDers will turn their sights to universities next.

I for one do not want my curriculum dictated by right-wing creationists. It just might damage my ability to educate students in the field, and produce successful scientists. Hmm...Go figure.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice piece. Dissects that rather intellectually deficient article quite nicely.

Pretty sad when the only argument that can be mustered on behalf of ID's success by Kern is not that ID is right, but that it'll win a popularity contest.

The sad part about it is that at least in the arena of public education, he might be right on that score. Have we really gotten to the point in this country where science is determined by popular vote? Maybe we can have the scientific version of American Idol where everyone can phone in their votes for which theory of gravitation they like the best.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the article:

"Kerns continues:
A reasonable observer might note that many ID advocates appear exceptionally well-educated, reasonable, and articulate; they might also note that ID advocates have pointed out many problems with the Darwinist catechism that even pro-Darwin scientists have been known to concede, when they think the Jesus-kissing crowd isn't listening.
Back in the good old days of usenet, this sort of thing used to be called the "lurkers support me in email" argument. Making a blanket statement about things that go on behind the scenes, without providing evidence to support any of it, is a common strategy."

Actually, I think what he's referring to is all those out of context quotes from the scientific literature. They actually defend the practice of quote mining by accusing scientists of "conceding problems with Darwinian evolution" when writing technical papers back and forth to one another, but lying to "Jesus-kissers" about it.

So if, for example, you say the Cambrian explosion is an interesting paradox in a paper, then that will be spun as an example of you "pointing out a problem with the Darwinist catechism when they think the Jesus-kissing crowd isn't listening." If you later clarify that your remarks were never meant to imply evolution is unable to account for the paradox, then clearly you are just switching your position to avoid admitting your uncertainty to ID/creationists.

Such is the thinking of such people.

2:41 PM  
Blogger Karl said...

I've also blogged on this post, here.

One major point:
"And not one word about 'it's right'. His arguments boil down to one argument: 'ID/IOT [Intelligent Design / Intelligent Origin Theory] will win because so many people want it to be true.'"

9:11 PM  
Blogger Joolya said...

Good post!
The IDers share a common tactic with the rest of the dogmatic right-wing that I think we need to keep calling attention to, namely: they project their own behavior, rhetoric, and vocabulary onto their opponents in order to discredit them. Darwinist CATECHISM is a prime example. As is "Vitriol, condescension, and endless accusations of bad faith all characterize far too much of the standard pro-Darwinian response to criticism."
Please, everyone, call them out on this blatant hypocrisy at every opportunity!

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

~~~Ginger Yellow said...
I'm slightly curious as to why the corporate paymasters behind TCS are allowing these idiotic ID pieces to run. OK, so it's not exactly a credible source of science, but this kind of thing doesn't do the Exxon-Mobils of the world any favours at all. ID's form of anti-science doesn't serve any corporate purpose that I can discern, and promoting it seriously tarnishes the credibility of all the other articles on the site.~~~

HOPE THIS PIECE ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS

COURTESY OF NEW SCIENTIST; I QUOTE
"
Special report: Fundamentalism

Enemy at the gates

The campaign against science is well funded and meticulously organised. No wonder it is already winning battles, says Mike Holderness

www.newscientist.com 8 October 2005|NewScientist|47-49

THEIR aim is to destroy science. They seek “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies”. Who are they? The words come from a think tank called the Centre for the Renewal of Science and Culture (CSC) in Seattle. But they reflect the ideology of a much wider network of funding foundations and lobby groups dedicated to overthrowing “scientific materialism”.

Science has always been good at making enemies; it’s an occupational hazard of success. But never before has the enemy been son devious and dangerous. These plans to reverse the march of science come not from a group of backward zealots, but from an orchestrated, clever, and well-funded campaign. Whether or not scientist relishes the prospect, they have a fight in their hands.

“If intelligent design is just the thin end of the wedge, what’s coming next?”

Any serious attempt to understand the campaign to understand the campaign against science starts with a manifesto entitled “The Wedge Strategy”, which was leaked from CSC’s parent organisation, the Discovery Institute, when CSC was founded in 1996. The document sets out a method fir undermining secular scientific thinking. “If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree,” the document says, “our strategy is intended to function as a wedge that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points.”

One of the leading exponents of the strategy is William Dembski, a professor of theology and science at the Southern Baptists Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. In 2003, he gave a series of lectures decrying the power of science over faith. Science, he said, “has a track record of taking young Christians and derailing them when they go to the academy and they lose their faith”. He has vowed that the undermining of faith “is going to stop”.

The weak point in the trunk, according to Dembski, is Darwinian evolution, and the wedge that will split it asunder is the concept known as intelligent design. ID is founded on the proposition that the evolution of complex structures, from the flagellum that propels many bacteria to the human eye, is mathematically impossible and can only be explained by invoking a designer. Cunningly, this open gambit in the battle for minds doesn’t even play by the rules of fundamentalism: no holy book explicitly mentions the mathematics of complexity, let alone the rules on its correct application. Indeed, the strategic value of ID is its claim to be rooted in the straightforward scientific process of a free exchange of ideas.

Dembski is working to dismantle science’s foundations block by block, starting with evolution. “ID is going to clear the ground of this suffocating naturalistic theology,” he says, and it has already made huge headway in the U.S. Dembski gleefully points to the opinion polls which he claims show that just 7 to 10 percent of Americans hold with Darwinism.

“New world order”

If ID is just the thin end of the wedge, what’s coming next? According to the document, nothing less than a new world order in science, built around a faith-based form of reasoning. “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist world view, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions,” it says.

No one should be in any doubt that this is a serious goal. At least one of the Discovery Institute’s senior fellows thinks progress is impossible without new, faith-based science. In a 1999 article in the Wall Street Journal, George Gilder wrote that belief is “entirely essential to human achievement”. And he left no doubt where he was coming from. “What the nation needs is a renewal of the faith that sustained our forefathers at a similar time of change and opportunity on the frontiers of 19th-century America… Our previous accomplishments as a nation were based on faith, the faith of our fathers, the belief in things hope for an unseen.” Therefore, he suggests, faith must be put in charge. “An economy of ideas and innovations ultimately means an economy ruled by spirit and faith,” Gilder concluded.

One of the fruits of a faith-based approach to science will be a dismissal of what Gilder calls the “chimeras of popular ‘science’ ”: ideas such as global warming, pollution problems and ozone depletion. And that, unsurprisingly, has political ramifications, including climate-change denials and the pursuit of ruthless free-market economics.

The Discovery Institute is not alone in aggressively promoting such views. It is backed by organisations that also support many other think tanks with fundamentalist ideologies.

The Discovery Institute would not divulge information about its funding sources to New Scientist, but it is possible to trace some of them through watchdog websites such as www.meditransparency.org and www.sourcewacth.org . In 2003 for instance, the Pittsburgh -based Carthage Foundation made a donation of $40,000 for “project support”, according to mediatransparency.org. Other recipients of Carthage money include the Free Congress Foundation (FCF), a Washington-based institution with the mission of returning the US to a Judaeo-Christian culture. The FCF, which received 10 million from the Carthage Foundation between 1985-2003, argues that the Ten Commandments should be posted in schools and courtrooms.

The most generous of the Discovery Institute’s donors to date is philanthropist Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, who in 1999 pledged $1.5 million. Ahmanson also funds the Waashington-based American Anglican Council (AAC), whose vice president is Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute. The AAC’s most visible recent campaign was agsint the ordination of homosexual clergy in the wake of controversy surrounding the appointment of openly gay canon Gene Robison as Bishop of New Hampshire. Ahmanson also made donations to the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), whose focus is on socially conservative intervention in the influential and rich Episcopalian Church, and in the United Methodists, to which George W. Bush belongs.

“Discrediting Kyoto”

An internal strategy document leaked in 2003 from the IRD to a church activists (who prefers not to be named) identifies its third priority, after issues of sexuality and the plight of Christians in Cuba and elsewhere, as discrediting “liberal legislation that relies on the Kyoto accords and ‘unproven apocalyptic suppositions’ ”.

Ahmanson has other figures in the climate-change-denial pie. He has also donated to the George C. Marshall Institute, which shares many of its board of directors with the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP). Founded with the support of the Korean cult leader Syung Moon, SEPP is one of the most vociferous campaigners against climate action in the U.S. And his influence now extends to the U.K: in January, Robert May, president of the Royal Society, warned that the George C. Marshall Institute had teamed up with a climate-change-sceptic group in the U.K., called The Scientific Alliance, to publish a document entitled “Climate Issues and Questions”, which serves as an important information source for many lay climate-change-deniers.

It is clear that the anti-secular movement has science in its sights. But should reasoning people fear for the future? So far, their victories have been modest. With a diverse range of allies, (1) they obtained a ban on U.S. Federal funding for almost all stem-cell research. (2) But they wasted about $400,000 on a failed bid to oppose California’s support for such science. (3) They have also failed in their attempts to get ID formally taught in U.S. public schools.

David King, chief scientific adviser to the British government, says he is not overtly worried. “What influence do they really have?” he asks. Barbara Forrest, professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and a vocal critic of institutionalised creationism, concurs. “They are no threat to science at all,” she says. “They’ve had no effect on the way science is done – they don’t do any science themselves.”

But Forrest and King may have misunderstood the opposition strategy. Dembski talks not of political or scientific successes, he is under no illusion that he can change mainstream sciencetific opinion. He talks only of “cultural engagement” and claims that the fact that science is biting back – as in Forrest’s book Creationism’s Trojan Horse – “is itself confirmation that something important is going on”. Indeed, almost all the debates that Dembski’s people have stirred up use the “no smoke without fire” principle and raise the idea that science has something to hide. And for its slow-burning campaign against science, that’s all the “wedge” strategists need.

Sometime in the past few years, those who question the findings of mainstream science ceased to be laughable luddites and, to a significant number of people, became an accepted voice in public debate about science. And when that voice’s opinion is not only accepted, but also suits voter’s (American) prejudices, Dembski’s handiwork has reached its intended goal. As veteran liberal broadcaster Bill Moyers said when accepting the Global Environmental Citizen Award at Harvard Medical School: “The delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress,”.

The campaign to stop science has scored significant grounds. If you’re a fan of reason, you have good reason to be concerned.

" END QUOTE

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Tony Pecoraro said...

I love the article. Not only does it disect Kern's argument, but it also disembowles every AEI (Anti-Evolution-Idea) that I have ever heard of, read, or listened to with my own ears in the past 6 years. I would just like to point out that I am a fifteen year old high school student and your efforts are not lost on me, nor my peers. The vast majority of students at my school are pro-evolution, and are strictly against any AEI's getting precious education time in any school across the globe. I love the fight that our nations legitimate scientists are putting up to preserve religious freedom and correct education in our nation, and may history recognize anyone who supports this cause to be the champions of science and public education. I know that a large magority of my peers, including me, aspire to be anyone who can assist in this effort. Your time and tenacity are very much apprieciated.

5:29 AM  
Anonymous Taryn Ordeninski said...

Hi, I am also a high school student like Tony, and I can also say that I apprectiate the effort made by true scientists like the writer of this blog. I can safley say that whatever the amount of sleep he lost was worth bringing this situation to light.

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Lee said...

My greatest respects go to you and the other scientists fighting against ID. There are few things more precious than the truth. Defending our best path towards it - science - is surely an act of the highest nobility.

Thank you.

8:58 AM  

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