Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott write in a Scientific American article dated today,
Creationists who want religious ideas taught as scientific fact in public schools continue to adapt to courtroom defeats by hiding their true aims under ever changing guises
Such is the expected stance from leaders of the National Center for Science Education, which would be more aptly named the National Center for Serving up Evolution. The burden of their message is this: Creationism hasn’t changed in any way since the 1920s. It has only “thinly disguised” itself “with a fake mustache.” Intelligent Design is creationism; creationism (today) is Intelligent Design.
Conspiracies can be so scintillating, and a conspiracy is what Branch and Scott see here. They see conspiracy behind the recent Louisiana legislation on science education, which was designed to
“create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied,” which includes providing “support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied.”
First asking “what’s not to like” about that, Branch and Scott go on to see dark things in it indeed:
[L]urking in the background of the law is creationism, the rejection of a scientific explanation of the history of life in favor of a supernatural account involving a personal creator. Indeed, to mutate Dobzhansky’s dictum, nothing about the Louisiana law makes sense except in the light of creationism.
Most of the rest of the article is about creationism lurking everywhere.
Rhetoric is a blunt weapon, and in many cases, the blunter the better. A clear, sharp definition of the terms used here would not have served Branch and Scott’s purpose at all. What is creationism? They don’t say (but it’s lurking everywhere!). What is it about creationism that’s so awful? They’re more clear on that: it disputes evolution, and it proposes the possibility of a Creator. (Watch out! It’s after you!) In the end it’s going to get you:
Moreover, it is a dangerous lie…. Students who are not given the chance to acquire a proper understanding of evolution will not achieve a basic level of scientific literacy. And scientific literacy will be indispensable for workers, consumers and policymakers in a future dominated by medical, biotechnological and environmental concerns. (Emphasis added.)
Let me note in passing the lie (shall I call it a dangerous lie?) contained there. There are no responsible spokespersons or leaders in the Intelligent Design movement who want to deny anyone a chance to acquire a proper understanding of evolution. I’ve been urging my own son and daughter to learn it better than their classmates. But oh! there’s an awful risk–the risk that some might not believe! It cannot be worth taking, can it? There may be advantages, yes, in students learning “critical thinking skills” and “logical analysis,” and the ability to “understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories.” But stand that up against the possibility that they might not believe everything about evolution, and those advantages begin to look pretty small. Critical thinking and analytical understanding are okay in their own way, but belief in evolution (not just knowledge, but unquestioning, unblinking, unchallenged belief) is more important by far. Yes, sir, that’s how we keep science advancing! Make sure everybody believes everything the prior generation believed, and make sure they never hear about any dissent!
After all, as Branch and Scott assure us, “Allowing teachers to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution is clearly beyond the pale.” Really, now. It’s bad, sick, immoral, and unconscionable! Well, my, my! It certainly wouldn’t do to reveal that where textbooks say such-and-such “could have” or “might have” happened to bring about the first life, what they really mean is “nobody in the whole world has the vaguest trace of an idea how the first life originated, or could even possibly have done so just by natural means.” That would be instilling “unwarranted doubts,” wouldn’t it?
But I’m letting myself get sidetracked here. What I really want to know is how Branch and Scott define “creationism.” If we’re going to drive a whole world’s education policy by reference to such a dangerous concept, we ought to know what the concept is and what’s dangerous about it. Creationism was once a pretty useful word, a word that actually had a reliable and useful definition. It stood for a full constellation of ideas, including:
Now if Intelligent Design is creationism in disguise, it is quite an effective disguise indeed. But then a good conspiracy theorist can always see through these things. See how perceptive they are: they’re wise enough to see that Intelligent Design is really creationism, even though ID specifically rejects or at least sets to the side every one of these five creationist tenets.
I’m a Christian; I believe in the truth of Genesis. I hold to Item 1 on the above list, yet I know that some ID proponents do not. I do not hold to a young-earth interpretation of Genesis or of nature, however. I think the fossils are best explained by gradual processes. My interpretation of Genesis, tentatively and non-dogmatically, is more along the lines of the Framework theory, which takes some of Genesis 1 and 2 to have a figurative rather than a plain literal intent. And with regard to #5, my mind is open; I don’t claim to know. I believe in Creation: does that make me a creationist? Not by its usual definition.
>Could creationism’s definition be broadened to include people like me? Certainly! You could say a creationist is any person who believes that God created, without respect to the methods, timelines, or processes involved. But then, if we’re going to be honest with it, we also need to be honest with how we employ the term rhetorically. You see, there’s a reason, other than conspiracy theorizing, that Branch and Scott (and Pennock and Gross and others) keep harping on that “creationism” term. It’s because the scientific evidence lines up so strongly against young earth theories, catastrophism, and so on. Creationism (as in the 5-point definition above) has been discredited; its reputation is poor.
ID and creationism have two things in common, conceptually: they both challenge evolutionism, and they both challenge scientific materialism. In both senses they challenge the reigning dogma. How convenient it is for these defenders of dogma to attach ID to an old, discredited idea; even though the new idea shares little if anything in common with the specific areas in which the old one has been found wanting.
Never mind that a few facts get distorted along the way; never mind that the whole of Intelligent Design is being misrepresented and distorted in the process.
Conspiracy hunters who distort reality to that extent usually get labeled as kooks. They’re in the majority this time, so that protects them from disreputable branding. Being in the majority doesn’t make them right, though. Creationism in its rhetorically useful (for evolutionists) form, the form in which they want you to think of it, is not Intelligent Design; and ID is not creationism of that sort.
A final note as I close. I’ve said this often, and I’ll repeat it yet one more time. I’m probably undercutting ID’s own best strategy by pointing any of this out. As long as ID opponents fight a form of ID that doesn’t exist in reality, they’re not even in touch with the real battle. Branch and Scott are off fighting a war of their own imagining. Maybe I shouldn’t point that out to them; but then, if they ever did come over and address what ID really is, things might actually get a lot more interesting, and a lot more productive besides.
“Engaging … exhilarating! … This might be the most surprising and refreshing book you’ll read this year.” — Lee Strobel
Too Good To Be False is coming out soon! Sign up here for updates on the book and the blog, and receive a free preview chapter!