Monday, September 13, 2010

A Wizard Did It: Creationism's Trojan Horse

If you're at all curious about the discussions of Intelligent Design vs. Creationism, check out "Creationism's Trojan Horse" by Barbara Forrest.

The main points of the book are as follows:

  1. "Intelligent Design" is a public relations movement as opposed to a scientific one.
  2. "Intelligent Design" is a fundamentally religious and philisophical position, not a scientific one;
  3. ...and that's the point. It is aimed at bamboozling and convincing non-specialists, designed to sabotage the teaching of evolution for religious reasons.
  4. The research isn't enough to change the mind or convince a single scientist or create new fields of research or testable hypothesis, but rather, is all designed to use public relations to sabotage and subvert the normal process of science.
  5. When having a dialogue with science, creationists and IDers create a "heads-I-win/tails-you-lose" scenario. If they are ignored by scientists, they yell about how science is unable to respond to their "A Wizard Did It" claims, and when scientists give their books criticism, they trumpet that science is finally giving them some attention.

The book often trotted out as Intelligent Design playing science with the big boys, their heaviest hitter, would be Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box. For those that haven't read it, the jist of his book is that there are some biological structures so complicated that if you remove one part, it stops working and thus, according to Behe, couldn't have evolved, like the bacterial flagellum "motor." It's essentially a rehash of the old rejected creationist argument that something like the eye couldn't have evolved on its own because it needs to be in its current form to work.

Behe in particular I always found especially silly. Consider that his book was written in 1996. I entered college in 2004, where I took Molecular Biology and Organic Chemistry. Since 1996, Genomics (the science of protein structure) has made wild contributions to evolutionary biology. Almost all the points Behe brings up in his 1996 book have since been explained (with satisfactory and more importantly, testable explanations), like the development of blood clotting and yes, even the flagellum motor.

That seems to be the Creationist/ID response to science: seize on an area that nobody knows much about and then say "A Wizard Did It." This is what happened when Creationists seized on the so-called "Cambrian Fossil Explosion," about the "sudden" and "unexplained" development of life in the early Cambrian. Since very few fossils exist from that period, there were a lot of gaps in our knowledge. Since the Creationists made that claim, new fossils have revealed what truly happened: slow leaps instead of a sudden explosion. But that's no big deal to these guys: move on to the next gap, which can easily be explained by A Wizard Did It. The genius here is that there will always be huge gaps in knowledge, which is the whole point of science. Let's be honest here: these folk don't really care about science. Not really.

The point of the book is this: "Intelligent Design" is creationism rebranded and not a true scientific position. There is zero real scientific controversy about evolution and natural selection, and the aim of the Intelligent Design movement is an end-run around science to directly influence public opinion among non-scientists and non-specialists by creating an ambiguity as to which theory is correct among laymen, an ambiguity that just doesn't exist. This, incidentally, is the tactic of choice among global warming deniers: insist that scientists aren't sure so you can just pick any theory you like. Tragically, it takes some extra type of self-deleusion to deny physical reality.

Incidentally, here's Kenneth Miller, a deeply religious Christian as well as a cellular biologist, and his instructive lecture that takes down Intelligent Design. The video is a little long but worth watching in its entirety as a companion to the book.

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