Evolution Intelligent design/creationism Pseudoscience Skepticism/critical thinking

The Wedgie Document and the creationist challenge

i-e7a12c3d2598161273c9ed31d61fe694-ClassicInsolence.jpgWhile I am on vacation, I’m reprinting a number of “Classic Insolence” posts to keep the blog active while I’m gone. (It also has the salutory effect of allowing me to move some of my favorite posts from the old blog over to the new blog, and I’m guessing that quite a few of my readers have probably never seen many of these old posts.) These will appear at least twice a day while I’m gone (and that will probably leave some leftover for Christmas vacation, even). Enjoy, and please feel free to comment. I will be checking in from time to time when I have Internet access to see if the reaction to these old posts here on ScienceBlogs is any different from what it was when they originally appeared, and, blogging addict that I am, I’ll probably even put up fresh material once or twice.

Creationists have the Wedge Document. Now, thanks to The Commissar, one of my favorite conservative bloggers, a man after my own heart who leans right (albeit a bit farther right than I do) but doesn’t buy into the fundamentalism of the Christian right that has infested the Republican Party, we now have the Wedgie Document, a guide to arguing with creationists on the Internet.

One phenomenon The Commissar mentions that hit close to home is the “not a creationist” creationist, a phenomenon, I would point out, that is not limited to just one variety of crank. Back in my days on alt.revisionism, we had to deal with a similar sort of person, the “not a denier” Holocaust denier. We regulars could spot them right away. Usually, it would start with a newbie entering the newsgroup. They would then express innocent-sounding “doubts” about some aspect of the Holocaust or other. A little questioning would usually be all that it would take to reveal their true agenda and that their “doubts” came straight from the standard list of denier canards. I usually tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least initially, in case they were just someone ignorant about history who had stumbled onto neo-Nazi or Holocaust denier websites. I soon learned I was wasting my time and became a lot faster to realize that, when it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

I can well understand why Holocaust deniers would want to try to hide their true agendas or beliefs. Most people consider Holocaust deniers to be despicable–and rightly so–because it is virtually always anti-Semitism that drives their Holocaust denial. As I have said before, although I leave open the possibility that there is a Holocaust denier out there who isn’t either a neo-Nazi, an anti-Semite, or both, I have yet to encounter one. (Indeed, every Holocaust denier that I’ve ever encountered will, with a little questioning, reveal anti-Semitic and/or neo-Nazi sympathies.) On the other hand, I have a harder time understanding why creationists would go so far to deny that they are creationists. There is no real perjorative implication to being labeled a creationist in large swaths of the country, certainly nothing as bad as being labeled a Holocaust denier. Creationists tend to confuse religion with science, and they really only become a problem when they try to pressure gullible school boards to put the imprimatur of the state behind their beliefs and require their teaching in public schools. I suspect that their reluctance to reveal themselves is because, for some reason, creationists seem to crave the mantle and authority of science. They’re desperate to be taken seriously outside of the context of their religion, which is odd, given the contempt many of them seem to have for science. Such a desire will drive “intelligent design” creationist “luminaries” like William Dembski to say with a straight face during a CNN debate with Michael Shermer that “intelligent design” doesn’t require the “designer” to be God (and could even be aliens or some sort of Gaia-like intelligence). Of course, he will then turn around and say in essence to evangelical audiences that of course the “designer” must be God. Because they either know they are peddling religion or are too ignorant of science to realize that ID is not science, creationists can’t admit that ID is religion-based in secular settings. They realize that doing so would endanger their strategy to get ID taught in public school classrooms as an “alternative” to evolution by explicitly running afoul of the Establishment Clause.

So, if I may be so bold, I’d like to suggest to the Commissar another variety of ID creationist: the “my religious beliefs have nothing to do with my support of ID” variety, a variant of the “not a creationist” creationist. And, in The Commissar’s spirit of going on the attack, I’d like to adapt an earlier challenge to a different variety of crank. The next time you see an ID apologist claiming that religion or God has nothing to do with ID, lay this challenge on them:

Where are all the “intelligent design” advocates who are atheists (or even just agnostics)?

It’s a fair question. After all, how can ID advocates hope to be taken seriously if they all have such apparent biases, agendas and axes to grind? If, as its advocates claim, “intelligent design” is strictly about science, evidence, and experimentation and has nothing to do with a belief in God, then it is not unreasonable to expect that there should be some atheists out there who accept ID as science.

In a particularly telling contrast, there are plenty of “evolutionists” out there who believe in God, refuting the oft-voiced claim by some creationists that “evolution=atheism.” There is clearly no inherent conflict between belief in God and acceptance of the science of evolution. So, if ID is science, as its adherents claim, then why shouldn’t we also expect there to be some atheists out there who, without a belief in God (or any religious beliefs at all) have come to accept “intelligent design”?

So, then, if “intelligent design” is an intellectually honest scientific endeavor, where are the ID advocates who are atheists (or even agnostics)? You’d think that after many months of my looking for one, at least one ID advocate who is an atheist or agnostic would have come forward and said “Here I am!”

But, no. It appears that there just aren’t any such ID advocates around.

I plan on posting this challenge every so often. I encourage readers to do the same. Unfortunately, even though it should be, simply emphasizing and explaining the mountain of evidence for evolution and contrasting it with the zero credible scientific evidence for ID creationism isn’t enough. We have to frame the debate in its true terms: adherents of ID trying to have their religious views taught as science. And it’s not just any religion or even Christianity in general, but a small fundamentalist subset of Christians and other religions, including Muslims and Jews. Most mainstream religions accept evolution as settled science and as being in no conflict with their beliefs. That point needs to be hammered home again and again and again, and my little challenge is just one way of doing it. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I have no problem with religion or a belief in God, as long as it is not forced upon children in state-run schools. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what teaching creationism, whether of the ID variety or otherwise, in public schools would be.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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