on Sand: The Collapsing Creationist Tower
Meeting Minutes for May
25, 2005; #186
this topic on the Freethought Message Board
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Our first meeting at the new location will be on
October 12. Edwin Kagan will present Baubles of Blasphemy. Kagan
is a Constitutional attorney, author of Baubles of Blasphemy and
Founder of Camp Quest-- a secular summer camp with science and
critical thinking emphasis along with traditional camping experiences.
This meeting presentation was our first Don Hansen
Memorial Lecture, commemorating the late Donald Hansen, our first
Freethought Award recipient, co-founder of our organization and
exemplar of Humanistic sensibilities. Some of Don's family members
were present for this meeting, including Vicki, Anne and Bruce,
and we were very pleased to see them.
The topic for this evening was: Built on Sand; The
Collapsing Creationist Tower. It was presented by special guest
speaker, Robert Pennock, Professor of Science and Philosophy at
MSU and author of Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics;
Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives and The
Tower of Babel; The Evidence Against the New Creationism.
Robert T. Pennock is Associate Professor at Michigan
State University, where he is on the faculty of the Lyman Briggs
School of Science, the Philosophy Department, and the Department
of Computer Science, as well as the Center for Ethics and Humanities
in Life Sciences, and the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavioral
graduate program. He graduated with Honors in Biology/Philosophy
from Earlham College and received his PhD in History and Philosophy
of Science from the University of Pittsburgh. He has received
two Mellon Foundation Fellowships, a National Endowment for the
Humanities Fellowship, and a N.S.F./N.E.H. Fellowship. He won
the Michael R. Bennett prize, and an Apple for the the Teacher
His book, Tower of Babel (mentioned above), critiques
attacks by advocates of (oxymoron) creation-science and intelligent
design theory (IDT), which is not a scientific theory and its
agent, the Intelligent Designer, is the God of the biblical Genesis
divine fiat creation tales. The IDT crowd attempts to discount
the evidential basis of evolution, while providing no scientific
alternative construct, let alone scientific theory. Tower of Babel
has been highly and positively reviewed; the New York Review of
Books called it: the best book on creationism in all its guises.
Pennock's Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics is considered
the most comprehensive source book on the topic.
Dr. Pennock's work on artificial life and evolutionary
computation has been featured in over 50 publications, including
a recent cover story in Discover. He speaks regularly around the
country on issues of science and values, and was named a national
Distinguished Lecturer by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.
He is currently working on a book that examines how Darwinian
evolution, as an abstract theoretical model, can be applied in
practical applications beyond biology. Examples of this are being
done in aeronautical and other design work, where random changes
produce different success outcomes. Those that bestow a benefit
upon the design subject are preserved, mimicking the blind forces
in Darwinian natural selection that generate modifications that
provide a better fit for the organism or item into an environmental
niche, without foresight of outcomes or intelligent drivers toward
any end result. As has been noted by others: biological evolution
creates only immediate adaptations for local environments, rather
than foresight toward some future benefit.
Dr. Gregory Forbes introduced our distinguished
guest, also mentioning that the Freethought Association Canoe
Trip that he is coordinating had to be moved to July, due to scheduling
conflicts (Dr. Forbes will be in Costa Rica at the time of the
original June date for the get together). More information to
follow on specifics for this Pere Marquette River event. Both
Dr. Forbes and Dr. Pennock are deeply involved in the Michigan
Citizens for Science ( www.michigancitizensforscience.org <http://www.michigancitizensforscience.org/>
) and they encouraged our membership to likewise become involved.
The byline of the organization is: Protecting science education
for our children. The current web page articles include topics
on the Gull Lake (MI) encroachment of IDT into the science curriculum,
the 11th circuit court's decision on the Cobb County ruling, and
the recent Kansas hearings regarding IDT.
IDT ironically evolved out of the older creation-science
(a creationist oxymoron set up to contrast with the unnecessarily
redundant evolution-science; the former not having anything to
do with science and its methods, while the latter is like saying
egg omelette or tuna fish) strategy to foist a single creation
fable into science classes. The most famous case to demolish their
former strategy came from a decision by Arkansas federal judge,
William Overton, who noted, among other salient points, that science
had essential characteristics, including that it is has to be
both guided and explanatory by reference to natural law; it has
to be testable against the empirical world; its conclusions are
tentative; and it is falsifiable. Since what creationists represented
was clearly an Establishment Clause violation, of insinuating
a wholly religious concept into a subject area (science) that
it meets none of the requirements for, something new had to be
created by the creationists. This became Intelligent Design Theory.
While having, again, none of the components of science—certainly
nothing to qualify it as a theory in the scientific use of the
word (as we understand germ, heliocentric, and gravitational theory—powerful,
unifying, explanatory models), IDT kidnapped some of the language
of science, along with a thin veneer of its imprimatur, while
carefully side-stepping the mentioning of God per se.
Instead, IDT references an Intelligent Designer
as its causal force, while postulating no mechanisms involved
in the creation process and while not explaining any of the scientific
data that has been gathered by real science for speciation, continental
drift, factors of isolation on breeding populations, vestigial
as well as homologous organs, transitional fossils, molecular
biology, sexual selection, etc., etc. For IDT advocates it is
merely a matter of: The ID did it---somehow--no need for any investigation,
making predictions or the hard work of research, formulating hypotheses,
etc. No need even for naturalism or a look-see into the material
world, its mechanisms and laws.
Unfortunately for solid instruction in science,
the subterfuge of IDT gained ground where a more direct creationist
frontal assault (transforming biology courses into the study of
Genesis) failed in court cases. Finally, the creationists had
a concept, that, for the uninformed, sounded like an alternative
scientific theory. It became a fairness issue for many Americans
or even a cherished capitalistic construct—letting competing
theories fight it out, and the victor in the educational market
would prevail to be taught in science classes. But science is
not a popularity contest and the veracity of its results are not
dependent upon how many adherents there are for a pet concept.
At one time, geocentricism had a virtual lock on
how our local planetary and star system was viewed. We used to
regard flies as being spontaneously generated from fecal matter.
Everyone knew this! The problem was, once scientific investigation
was performed on these and countless other matters, these erroneous
notions were felled. Just as it takes a diamond to cut diamonds,
it takes better scientific understanding to generate a clearer
window into the natural world and to knock down impoverished former
scientific paradigms. As a side note on this, while scientific
views have been shattered when newer, better information had been
accumulated, no scientific theory has ever been overturned. They
have been refined and added to, but not usurped, or found lacking
as potent explanatory models. This is why it is so cursed a thing
that creationists do when they pronounce the word theory as only
a hunch or as one among many competing scientific theories regarding
a certain problem. So far, no creationist “research”--none
of their copious writings—none of their claims, has made
even a single slight contribution to our comprehension of the
natural world, let alone provided anything like a scientific alternative
to evolutionary theory.
IDT, postulating a supernatural agent, can only
pertain to concepts regarding the supernatural. For natural world
understandings, we need to focus on natural laws and mechanisms.
Since ID used supernatural means for divine fiat creation, then
it is outside the bounds of science and therefore should not be
taught in science classes. If ID employed, however, natural means
such as chemical bonding and self organization principles, then
it is indistinguishable from nature and natural processes and
no supernatural agent is called for! As we continue to understand
more and more about how the natural world works, the gaps inexorably
shrink that the ID controls through mysterious supernatural means.
Rather than have God master of an ever-constricting sphere of
influence, it might be better to have It reign over the boundless
vistas of the supernatural realm. While this realm can never be
shown to exist, at least science can never evict its superintending
entity from it.
Science cannot be done by invoking miracles or deities
whenever the natural subject under investigation proves daunting
in wresting information from it. What sort of science is it that
IDT proponents wish for? Saying ID/God did it, using means that
are incomprehensible to humans is anathema to the methodology
of science, though perfectly acceptable for one's personal religious
By avoiding the Constitutional minefield of calling
the Intelligent Designer God, the ID Creationists inadvertently
provide an avenue for all manner of heretical intelligences to
flow into their construct. If they won't specify their favored
Designer as the biblical God, then how can they say it is not
the Raelian race or some extraterrestrials from Vega? ID becomes
ET. Why not? As Michael Shermer contended in a recent book (Science
Friction): What we are really talking about here is not a scientific
problem in the study of the origins of life; it is a religious
problem in dealing with the findings of science.
Creationists mostly accept so-called micro-evolution,
since they are innocent of the understanding of species and feel
that the created kind (their word) is not violated by small modifications
to the organism (changes in the beak of the finch or the neck
of a giraffe, as examples). But then why is it that if they accept
natural selection's role in transformations in sub-species, they
cannot allow for its role in macro-evolution—speciation?
And if their Intelligent Designer created species, then why was
it powerless to work upon subspecies? Even the darling of IDT,
Michael Behe, has had to focus on micro-evolution to try to find
gaps in our scientific knowledge, since the macroscopic world's
gaps are mostly filled in. He and his ilk are chasing science,
not leading it. This is especially true when you consider that
as science has refined its testing, gathered more data and done
more research, scientists were the ones who discovered initial
problems—not creationists (of any stripe) and it was scientists
who tackled those problems and provided resolution. Science cannot
accept untestable, mystical means to account for problems, gaps
Pennock noted in his book Tower of Babel, that Behe-
when he asserts his now famous irreducible complexity argument,
is really doing the old bait and switch. He argues ideas that
are true enough out of context, in isolation and by definition—his
definitions—but ones that do not hold up or are not proved
through empirical evidence. Whether Behe knows better or not—he
is, after all, a biochemist-- he limits his arguments to ones
involving fully formed organic parts for one specific function
in modern conditions. Indeed, if one took a crow and severed its
wings from it, it would cease to be functional as a flying “kind”
of animal—(I'm not sure what creationists do with aquatic
birds and flightless terrestrial birds who span biblical kinds
by being both swimming and flying kinds simultaneously, or being
a representative of a flying kind but which cannot fly, respectively).
However, evolution does not work from a top down approach and
it is a lot more interesting than that. Organic structures that
served one function at one time and under certain environmental
conditions, can be pressed into very different uses at another
time in evolutionary development and under the influence of new
environmental pressures. Others have multi-functions, where adaptation
is expressed via survival pressures in changing environments--
whatever function is most suited for survival of that organism
gets expressed most strongly; others might be expressed at a future
time in the organism's evolutionary history, with slight modifications
to the structure—not the wholesale addition of fully-formed
parts out of nowhere. Half-wings were not poorly developed wings
but well developed something elses.
Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne explained in
a rebuttal to Behe, that biochemical pathways supposedly impossible
to come about without an ID did not evolve by sequential additions
of steps to pathways that became functional only at the end—instead
they have been rigged up with pieces co-opted from other pathways,
duplicated genes, and early multi-functional enzymes. Behe evokes
blood clotting as one of his famous examples of something that
evolutionary processes cannot explain (all of his supposedly challenging
models have been thoroughly demolished by naturalistic scientists.)
Coyne shows that in fact thrombin is one of the key proteins in
blood clotting but also acts in cell division and is related to
the digestive enzyme trypsin. Natural selection does not create
forms out of a warehouse of parts, all awaiting a master Craftsman
to assemble them into a single use, whole, for all time.
To cast all of life as the product of an All-powerful
Designer is to recast the Designer as a bit of a putterer, tinkering
away in some tool shed, cobbling together far-from perfect products,
fraught with design flaws that no human designer, using foresight
and an optimizing strategy, would ever engineer. Because organisms
have evolved to fit into their environmental niches, with the
most successful ones passing on genes for an ever better fit--
life superficially looks well designed. But a more than cursory
investigation shows that the Earth's biota was formed from what
worked well enough, or in some cases extraordinarily well for
one purpose but in different conditions only well enough to bestow
a slight advantage to the organism, leaving a myriad of outcomes
that show no design by a superior intelligence—whether ET
or ID. Evolution is blind and has no future goal or direction.
There is no selection pressure for perfection, so many structures
that are ill-designed but serve the organism adequately, pass
under the radar of natural selection; natural selection not being
granted the powers of omniscience.
Per the topic title of Dr. Pennock's presentation,
he came before us not to tear down the various modalities of creationism,
including IDC/IDT, but instead to suggest that its tower was already
falling, built- as it is, metaphorically- on a foundation of sand.
He has found that in the last four or five years, he no longer
has to answer the same questions all the time and there are signs
all around that the challenges IDT used to present are fading.
He said that the problems for those who advocate strong science
instruction are not ones so much anymore matters of scientific
debate but instead ones of politics and social agendas.
He discussed how IDT proponents have infiltrated
school boards and framed the issue as one that should be part
of a public debate ,or of letting the students choose which “theory”
they prefer. As mentioned earlier, science is not a majority-consent
enterprise; if 90% of students believed that the Earth had a watery
dome of a firmament over it, or that lightning was the result
of bolts hurled from the arm of a deity, this would still not
make it fit for modern science standards in education. Another
tactic is to make the issue part of the Culture Wars. Evolution
is connected by creationists with everything from homosexuality
to divorce; armed killing sprees to abortion. Theirs is a highly
dichotomous view: black and white/ good versus evil. Satan is
with the humanists and naturalistic sciences, while Christianity
(not just belief in a Higher Power) is on the team characterized
by virtue and family values.
Creationists often try to put on a show of being
in a united front, with all of them in agreement over the tenets
of their belief system. However, as Dr. Pennock showed, there
are many species of creationist, ranging from geocentrists and
flat- Earth types, as well as the YECs (young Earth creationists)
to OECs (those accepting an older Earth) to Theological Evolutionists,
Gap creationists, Progressive creationists, and Evolutionary creationists
. The Young Earthers are mostly Bible literalists, seeing the
Earth formed within the last 6,000-10,000 years, Adam and Eve
as literal first humans, and all life made by God basically in
their present form from the beginning, and all the rest of the
Genesis-as-fact mentality. Every geological formation can be explained
for them by the the Deluge that Noah navigated. Dr. Pennock mentioned
at this point that a creationist museum opened up where there
had been a natural history one, so the new proprietors took the
dinosaur displays and put plastic mannequins around them, or even
riding them! Flintstones- redux.
The Old Earth variety have at least a modicum of
understanding of geological time. They can get around biblical
time frames by asserting that the days of creation refer to ages.
I've personally often wondered how they know when to shift temporal
gears—are the 40 days and nights of the Flood 40 epochs?
Some of this ilk even like the Big Bang theory since is resonates
well for them with the Creator bringing everything into being
in a burst of potent creative force. These two (YEC and OEC) brands
of creationists alone disagree more with each other than they
do with evolutionary biologists! So much for their unity. Under
their new banner of neo-creationists, with the scientific sounding
IDT logo, many disparate groups attempt to assemble to do battle
against the common enemy (secularists and naturalists). This makes
for strange bedfellows since even YECs are using the sword and
shield of IDT (even though they disagree with almost every aspect
of it, except for the existence of a creating supernatural being).
The IDC/IDT leadership draw upon the strength in numbers from
having so many otherwise oppositional groups under one banner
to defeat a common foe, figuring that they will tackle the divisive
aspects of their various contrary beliefs at some later time,
after the war is won.
The proponents of IDT are nothing if not prolific;
even if their work is not sufficiently scientifically based to
appear in peer reviewed journals of science or contribute anything
to the knowledge base of humankind about the natural world. Some
of those writing articles and books on IDT are Stephen Meyer,
Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe, Jonathon Wells
and Paul Nelson. Meyer's writings on the design inference, as
with the writings of many of his cohorts, is really nothing more
than warmed over Rev. Paley (of the watchmaker argument), summed
up briefly as: if you see a watch, unlike a stone, you infer it
is designed by an intelligence, assembled as it is by well formed
parts designed to work together in synchrony. By the same token,
Paley inferred, if you see a complex organism it too must be designed
purposefully by an Intelligence. Not only have modern creationists
not contributed a thing to modern science but they have not even
improved on their arguments or added anything of significance
in some 200 years. Science itself, being only about twice as old,
has brought us a staggering cornucopia of knowledge and fruitful
William Dembski's stab at the issue is focused mostly
on the conservation of information, which along with a called
upon explanatory filter (see they DO sound scientific!), infers
design in biological entities. While he sees his argument as being
ruinous of evolution, it actually is irrelevant to it, even if
it had other merits; however its formulation is flawed to begin
with. Information in the natural world is transferred via DNA—that
is, by natural processes. DNA itself has all the hallmarks of
contingent evolution and messy naturalistic history. Biologist
Kenneth Miller talks of the genome resembling nothing so much
as a “...hodgepodge of borrowed, copied, mutated, and discarded
sequences and commands that have been cobbled together by millions
of years of trial and error against the relentless test of survival.
It works, and works brilliantly, not because of intelligent design
but because of the great blind power of natural selection to innovate,
to test, and to discard what fails in favor of what succeeds.”
In the Culture War, Phillip Johnson also smears
on the war paint liberally. A professor of law, he relies more
on legalistic persuasive techniques than in scientific arguments.
Dr. Pennock pointed out his role in creating the Wedge strategy.
The idea being that if creationists, via IDT or whatever means,
can get the thin edge of their agenda into any perceived cracks
in the log of naturalism (or Darwinism), they are more likely
to insinuate more of it in, until they blow naturalistic evolution
asunder with the rest of the metaphoric wedge. Because Johnson
makes no scientific pretensions and uses none of the pedagogy
or concepts of science, he is more inclined to openly refer to
his strategy's purpose as to undermine secularism and to bring
the gospel to the masses. Jonathon Wells, too, is quite forthcoming
in his public declarations of intent, saying on one occasion that
through prayers he was convinced that he should devote his life
to destroying Darwinism. Wells is a follower of Rev. Moon.
Since none of the IDC proponents have anything to
offer to our understanding of the natural world, what they do
instead is attempt to find weaknesses in evolutionary theory.
They have no positive evidence to offer for their own position,
just negative arguments, and asking How -do- you- explain questions
endlessly. That most of their questions have been well answered
matters not to them. The purpose of asking the questions is to
plant doubt in the minds of their flocks. They can reduce their
talking points to sound bites rather than scientific discourse,
so it is easier to digest for the majority who haven't a solid
grounding in evolutionary biology.
IDT appeals to many who are educated, in contrast
to the more simplistic forms of creationism that almost rejoice
in glorious ignorance. For many who are educated but wish to maintain
the faith they had in their childhood, they turn to what they
deem lend rationalistic and scientific support for their faith.
They bolster their beliefs by sounds-like-science arguments. In
a study that polled people on the basis for their belief in God,
most stated things like the apparent good design in the world
and other rationale. When asked, however, why they think others
believe in God, they attributed it to the comfort it provided,
or feeling good in fellowship. In other words, they saw emotionalism
in others and rationalism in themselves.
Behind the scenes, the IDT leadership are more honest.
In public they declare the controversies are matters for scientific
debates and that evolution is a theory in crisis or that it is
a failure, while promoting their version positively. But their
strategy is laid out clearly when they are out of the spotlight.
Dr. Pennock noted how the real world is far from the polarized
construct that the ID Creationists present. Former US President,
Jimmy Carter, a born again Southern Christian, (whom Pennock did
not mention in this presentation) spoke of how he had no problem
reconciling his deep faith with his training as an engineer and
scientist, and as a professor at Emory University. After talking
about the compatibility of Christian belief with proven facts
in the sciences, he said that there is no need to teach that stars
can fall out of the sky and land on a flat Earth in order to defend
religious faith. The late Pope, John Paul II, told a billion Catholics
that essentially evolution happened. God still had an item left
on His to-do list, however; that business of ensoulment for the
evolved primate that would be called human.
In a 2001 Gallup poll, 37 percent of those polled
believed in a God-guided evolution; another reconciliation between
religious belief and a scientific theory. Not as many people as
the IDC people would propose, are convinced that evolution must
equate to godlessness. Some say God could choose to create through
natural selection. Interestingly, Benjamin Warfield, who produced
and distributed the pamphlets entitled: The Fundamentals, which
would be used as the basis for Christian Fundamentalism, had no
problem with evolution. One person Pennock quoted said that yes,
evolution is godless—but then so is the work of the plumber.
Not everything that the faithful person cherishes or enjoys must
be suffused with religion to be of use or value.
Further support for Dr. Pennock's assertion that
the castle of creationism is crumbling came from what he reported
of the less than encouraging feedback that IDC luminaries themselves
were getting from their own flocks. Phillip Johnson, as one example,
has to desperately exhort his congregation into feeling the passion
of what is at stake—making such inflammatory remarks as:
This is about whether God is real or imaginary!! Still even his
believer audiences are not terribly impressed with the rhetoric
these days, according to Pennock. Johnson purportedly claimed
that he is sometimes dismissed out of hand by Christian denominations.
William Dembski (author of Darwin's Black Box, and
other such works) has been dismayed at the cool reception he has
been given by the theological community. It may be telling that
those among the IDT leadership who are supposedly providing a
scientific alternative to evolution, make their cases primarily
to religious gatherings or religious publications rather than
presentations to the scientific community itself. One would think
that if a scientist had evidence in support of something that
would overturn one of the most powerful theories in science, s/he
would not head to a church first to make his/her case. Imagine
this headline: Scientist disproves Copernicus in lecture held
at the Hooterville Baptist Church. Professor Pennock said that
Dembski is now only taken seriously as a political threat.
The President of the Institute for Religion in an
Age of Science, which is a pro-religion organization, issued a
warning that IDT is a threat to education and democracy. Another
religious organization declared the Wedge strategy to represent
totalitarian religious thought. Another stated that ID is an apologetic
for Christians, to give hope, but that it has none to deliver.
Abandon ID, yet another blared, as fool's gold. There have been
notable negative eruptions from Christian colleges too when speakers
from the IDT camp are to hold forth at these religious institutions.
Some evangelicals eschew IDT speakers and say that they can accept
the evidence for evolution from an evangelical standpoint. Many
people realize that the whole point of faith is belief in things
not shown via empirical evidence, and that, for them, insinuating
the beam of light from scientific investigation, is is violative
of their deep personal faith.
However, even if their influence is waning in theological
circles (and of course it carries no freight in scientific ones),
politically, they still exert some power. The reason is that politicians
respond to polls and when a recent Gallup poll shows that about
47% of the American population agrees with the YEC belief system
and that this statistic has changed very little in the last 20-25
years, it gets their attention. Kissing babies and stating one's
profound faith in God wins the hearts of the masses. Tom DeLay
could unabashedly attribute the Columbine shootings on godless
evolution, saying that when youths believe they came from animals
and slime they will act accordingly.
As alluded to earlier, fairness is a big issue for
Americans, so when IDT is presented as a merited scientific theory
that is not getting a fair hearing, blocked by the scientific
elite, then people rally to include IDT at least along with evolution.
It is sort of like when people are asked whether they think the
Ten Commandments should be placed in public institutions—courthouses,
schools, etc.--they generally think that is a swell idea. When
asked to recite what is contained in it, they almost invariably
mention the stealing, killing prohibitions. When the ones commanding
the worship of one god, or put women in the category of chattel
possessions along with slaves and other property, etc., then they
will often reconsider. On the surface, IDT seems benign to many.
A whopping 68% of Americans polled think it is just dandy to teach
IDT along with evolution.
40% even say that Creationist views should be taught
instead of (!) evolution. Politicians, when seeing these statistics
are not looking to buck the majority opinion, especially if they
want to be re-elected. George W. Bush believes it should be about
local control, whether IDT is taught or not. He also stated that
he believes children ought to be exposed to different ideas—which
sounds reasonable until one places it in its context of allowing
IDT along with evolution in the science classroom. As Dr. Pennock
said, it is not just about Kansas anymore. Many states are considering
IDT, some even getting textbooks (such as Of Pandas and People)
from IDC sources and other support. They range the spectrum in
various schools from pushing IDT only to a blending of the two,
to warning labels affixed to biology textbooks that regard evolution
to any extent. Frighteningly, in Michigan in '03 there was a push
for changing the science curriculum to include IDT with a statement
referring to the purposeful intelligent design of a Creator! Of
course, being based in Michigan, our group has become fairly aware
of the Gull Lake situation.
Alabama had a disclaimer on their textbooks that
evolution was a controversial theory some scientists present as
a scientific explanation for life's origin... and is only a theory
not a fact. Another statement held that macro-evolution had never
been observed, so the inference was to treat the subject with
a grain of salt. Since the teaching of biological evolution is
challenged so powerfully, fewer students are armed with the information
necessary to see through the warnings and disclaimers. Just teaching
what constitutes a SCIENTIFIC theory and basic science methodology
would go a long way in helping youth to not fall prey to the IDC
rhetoric. In Pennsylvania (Dover) students were warned about the
putative gaps and problems of evolutionary theory, and that, of
course, it is “just a theory.” Another disclaimer
actually stated that theory is not fact.
Still, there is room for tentative encouragement.
Many are backing away from embracing the IDT agenda. Dr. Pennock
quipped that in Georgia, schools had to add and remove their disclaimer
warning labels so many times, that they should simply put them
on Post-It notes. The creationist Discovery Institute (when was
it again that they made any scientific discoveries?) does not
even want the label IDT used in public hearings since they are
well known for their narrow sectarian views and it has become
an embarrassment. They realize that when they present their case
for alternative science instruction from their obviously religious
and anti-science stance, their case will be lost.
The old idea was to get IDT in by stealth or through
the back door. Now, Pennock said, it is more like smuggling it
in through the basement. Just as calling God an Intelligent Designer
as a ploy to sidestep Constitutional Church / State separation
issues, lets in the ET people--getting so-called alternative theories
(that are religiously- based) into public schools only serves
to encourage other non-Christian groups to want to promulgate
their own creation stories and religious mythologies in science
classes. Other groups realizing that schools no longer need to
teach good science anymore, are becoming more insistent on getting
their own non-scientific (whether technically religious or not)
beliefs into the curriculum. IDC proponents are starting to realize
this problem for their agenda.
While the US president is more than happy to pander
to the Religious Right, his own science spokesman (John Marburger)
has declared that he does not regard IDT as a scientific topic.
Dr. Pennock spoke of other former IDT proponents
who have about faced in part or in entirety. Michael Denton (of
the evolution being a theory in crisis claim) used to reject the
core thesis of common descent but now accepts this. Natural laws
can produce complexity, he now believes. Ironically, he was the
one who served a major springboard for other IDT people in getting
public attention and having their claims taken seriously.
Behe (who is gleefully quoted by YECs even though
he was never in their camp) notes that IDT has many who are sympathetic
to their claims but few workers; allowing that there are really
only the same five or six core people as they have always had,
doing the work on behalf of IDT. They have made no significant
gains in leadership, or those working in the trenches, over the
years. Others have seen former staunch supporters backing away.
Other former allies have called IDT repetitive, imprecise and
immodest in its claims and otherwise very unsatisfactory. Perhaps
some of this waning of excitement in IDT stems from the fact that,
unlike scientific research, IDT does no investigation, collects
no data, makes no hypothesis based on data, does no testing and,
most importantly, generates no new findings and no new testable
claims. Nothing new or interesting emanates from them, in other
Religious institutions, too, are drawing from the
same material and are slow to add fresh insights or interpretations,
but since they are unabashedly religious, with no pretense to
science, they can draw upon the appetite for the majority of people
for spiritual enlightenment. IDT, being political, trying to be
scientific and with a religious agenda tries for too much while
achieving too little, and satisfying too few potential adherents
over the long haul.
Many see (according to Dr. Pennock) the debate going
around in tiresome circles. The Wedge metaphor which once ignited
the cause is now seen as having outlived its usefulness. For many
former supporters it has become a liability. Creation-science
as a strategy has dwindled and has been seen for what it is. Now
Dr. Pennock sees the same fate befalling IDT. Many theologians
consider IDT to not only not be science, but to be bad theology
We have to eternally vigilant and get politicians
to realize the importance of good science for our future and the
critical role science plays in our modern world. In making evolution
controversial, Dr. Pennock believes that IDC proponents lent it
the allure of forbidden fruit, so actually more young people are
becoming interested in it.
As alluded to above—evolution isn't just something
that happened in the past. It isn't about doctrines from a certain
time—it is, instead part of life. The frequency of newspaper
and magazine articles and even cover stories about new finds,
awesome discoveries and exciting new perspectives on life's story
and evolution is at a high level now. Where IDT has only negative
assaults to make upon evolution, the science itself continues
to grow and tell us more. While it has never been a theory in
crisis, it is now more robust than ever; every finding from various
fields of science unite to tell a tale of humanity, our Earth
and our universe that is more wondrous than any tribal creation
fable could ever hope to be.
Evolution also has practical applications! Ones
that touch every one of us potentially. The techniques of harnessing
Darwinian natural selection are being used in technologies to
shape mechanical forms, run routines and create improved items,
all while creating beauty and complexity. This was mentioned at
the top of this summary, so I'll turn instead to another application
Dr. Pennock mentioned regarding applied evolution: genetic algorithms.
Darwin's mechanism is now used to let software evolve and Google
Labs announces, in recruitment advertising, the importance of
understanding evolution as applied in technology. Everything from
computer chip to drug design can be and is being done using evolutionary
principles. In virtual worlds, neural networks of artificial evolution
are seen creating beings that start off simple and clumsy but
slowly evolve to increasing complexity and gracefulness. Beings
begin by randomly acting. Then environmental pressures are introduced—friction,
gravity, wind resistance, terrain changes, etc. The movements
that give the artificial being more success are preserved and
replicated so that each successive generation is better adapted—all
without intervention from designers or other intelligences. Even
the programs themselves will evolve. To sum up: Evolution passes
the most basic test—it works!
There are fields of study where knowledge of evolution
is essential traditionally, such as medicine, genetics, zoology,
biology, etc., etc. But now, more and more, there are technological
and engineering and other fields that will require one to be competent
in basic evolutionary theory just to be a viable candidate for
employment. Americans who are the most religious of industrialized
society people on the one hand, are also enamored with ways to
make money, on the other. Evolution will play an increasing role
in top, cutting- edge careers. Dr. Pennock ended his presentation,
before the Question & Answer portion, by alluding to Kansas
again, and saying that the Culture Wars should not be fought in
the schools. Remember what Dorothy learned in The Wizard of Oz:
There's no place like home---to teach religious values and ideas.
One audience member asked our special guest speaker
why modern genetics had not done in IDT. Pennock responded that
creationists stake so much on their beliefs—seeing it as
giving them purpose in life, a basis for morality, dealing with
the very veracity of God, and so on. This is not something that
is easily overturned by new findings in scientific research, no
matter how significant. There was discussion that all that some
children are taught about evolution is that it is evil and a lie.
This does not prepare them well for college when they encounter
evolutionary concepts for the first time and are handicapped by
their ignorance of it.
Dr. Pennock updated us, in the Q&A portion,
over pending school board elections, and the results of others
regarding the teaching of IDT. We discussed the strong support
that the Christian Reconstructionists (those who believe in biblical
laws including stoning to death adulterers and disobedient children,
etc.) provide to the Discovery Institute.
We talked about how a vituperative approach to creationists
is one that is ill advised. Dr. Pennock reminded us that while
the IDT leadership is manipulative and disingenuous in their schemes,
the bulk of believers in creationism are often good people who
are misled and who desperately want to believe; it isn't about
politics or control for them. The majority of people say the issue
isn't one of science versus religion, but the extreme fringes
have a polarizing effect. If one keeps in mind the Law of Large
Numbers one can realize that even something with odds at a million
to one of occurring to someone in America will happen 250 times
in our country on average. Out of this number the most sensational
will be reported on, and since there are reports occurring throughout
the country (even though vanishingly small compared to our population)
it will seem like it is happening all over, with great frequency–everywhere!
If it is a societal ill, and in these times of 24 hour sensationalized
news, people are more prey to believing we are going to hell in
a hand basket. In such a climate, people clutch ever more firmly
their religious faith and are more prone to making erroneous connections
between naturalistic mechanisms and impending societal collapse.
We talked about issues of emphasis in evolution
education, looking at other components including the role of sexual
selection in addition to natural selection. We also discussed
the power of exponential growth and Malthusian ideas as fitted
to evolutionary mechanisms regarding competition and survival.
We also talked more about how evolution programs can run at great
speeds so that one can observe evolution in action before one's
eyes. An NSF grant is in place to use this exciting type of program
to do science—that is make predictions, consider variables,
make hypotheses and test results while seeing the outcomes arise
Another person commented on how people are led to
link morality with biblical mandates and how sorry this link can
be when put into practice. Since the ones most indoctrinated into
Bible literalism and black and white / good and evil thinking
are also ones who are the most dissuaded from investigating scientific
findings, they are unlikely to see the wonders of the real world
and the beauty of critical thinking and natural investigations
into the world around them.
While Dr. Pennock sees the IDT structure ultimately
collapsing on its foundation of sand, he cautioned that we cannot
rest easy; we must be eternally vigilant and proactive. We must
become more involved not only in science but in politics. We must
show that ethics is not based on a outside supernatural entity
in an ethereal realm but is generated by and for natural beings
in real world situations. We must seek to assuage the worries
of creationists that all is lost if they adopt a more naturalistic
tolerance and interest. No anarchy will ensue if good science
There is much work to be done in building a new
secular edifice from out of the crumbling ruin where the tower
of creationism had once stood tall.
Secretary (and unofficial eye candy) Charles LaRue.
Freethought Association of West Michigan provides a community
for freethinkers to explore ideas from a rational, critical and