“It’s a strange scientific revolution that seeks to establish its position in secondary school curricula before the research itself has been accomplished. But this obvious impediment is removed if the revolution is based on a redefinition of science rather than on new research.”1
America’s favorite Intelligent Design cranks are at it again. Admittedly, this most recent release from the DI is somewhat tame. It is, however, just the latest in an incredibly long line of deliberate misinformation being spouted by the leading propagandists of modern creationism (read: Intelligent Design). Today, they’re unhappy about a paper published by members of the National Center for Science Education. However, a quick examination of past and current tactics of the Discovery Institute and its predecessors quickly illuminates why those seemingly innocuous words the DI is so up in arms about really are troubling.
Creationism/ID proponents have thoroughly failed to get their ideology accepted by the scientific community. They may be intensely ignorant of how science works (that and willful disregard for the scientific method are the only conclusions that can be drawn based on their words and actions), but they seem to have at least come to the conclusion that it is unlikely their hypothesis will ever be viewed as scientifically viable. This would require creationism/ID to make hypotheses about the world around us that lent themselves to scientific experimentation and falsification. Since that’s not going to happen (because, as has been said before, intelligent design is not science), organizations like the Discovery Institute have been trying to force their dogma into schools through the backdoor represented by politics. Thankfully, the court system has held them back thus far. Creationism proper failed in 1987 in the Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard, while creationism repackaged (ID) was invalidated in 2005 via the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision. The overtly religious nature of creationism has kept it out of schools thus far, and it likely always will. The courts have dismissed the theory because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The scientific community, however, has rejected it because the theory is scientifically bankrupt. This is why the newest tactics of the ID movement and those seemingly innocent words referenced in the DI blog post really do pose a threat to scientific education.
The newest tactic being employed by the Discovery Institute and other creationism/ID proponents to weaken the teaching of evolutionary theory goes by several names. Most people have likely heard phrases such as teach the controversy, strengths and weaknesses, and/or academic freedom. The creationism/ID crowd has turned to this more subtle strategy after failing to coerce their ‘evolutionary alternative’ into public school classrooms. We’ll take the three terms in order. First, despite what the DI would like people to believe, there is no controversy. Greater than 99.9% of biological and geological scientists accept evolutionary theory. Second, evolutionary theory is not perfect. Competent science teachers explain this to their students. Past and present gaps in scientific knowledge are explored. Then questions are asked. How were these gaps filled? Did these new discoveries reconcile with evolution, or did they force a rethinking and adaptation of the theory? What about current gaps? What hypotheses have been posited to explain them? Teachers are not reprimanded for engaging their students in this way and therefore do not require the protection proposed in these laws. Lastly, academic freedom is a complete misnomer. The Discovery Institute is (purposefully) confusing academic freedom with academic standards. Standards are incompatible with complete freedom; a balance must always be reached. This balance, despite the continued protestations of creationism/ID proponents, involves teaching sound scientific theories based on evidence, such as evolution. But a term like academic freedom carries a lot of weight in America (these people are nothing if not PR savvy). The DI is counting on this cultural attitude to advance their goals.
These tactics and others employed by the Discovery Institute are part of the wedge strategy (for the original memo, click here). The document clarifies the Discovery Institute’s underlying goals, namely the defeat of scientific materialism (represented by evolution), reversal of the stifling materialist worldview, its replacement with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions, and the affirmation of the reality of God. They hope to accomplish these goals not by presenting creationsim/ID on its scientific merits, but by a broad social, political, and academic agenda. That’s why words like assess, analyze, evaluate, and critique are dangerous in the hands of these propagandists. When they insist that ID is concerned only with science and does not have any religious aims, purpose, or effect, they are lying. That’s why organizations like the NCSE fight the Discovery Institute. Because even positive words can turn sour in the hands of con artists and charlatans.
On a related note, visit Neurologica to read about the parallels between academic freedom laws and health care freedom laws (hint: both terms are deliberately and wildly misleading).