The evolution of creationism
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Subject: The evolution of creationism
Date: Sun, 18 Nov 2007 20:25:28 -0500
The evolution of creationism
After their notorious legal defeat, intelligent design
proponents are resurfacing with insidious new assaults
By Gordy Slack
Nov. 13, 2007 | Two years ago, Pennsylvania federal
Judge John Jones III handed down a stunning decision
that many said would take down the intelligent design
movement. But American creationism doesn't die. It just
Decades earlier, when the courts deemed creation science
-- proto intelligent design -- a religious view and not
constitutionally teachable as science in public schools,
it adapted by cutting God off its letterhead and calling
itself "intelligent design." The argument for I.D., and
for "scientific creation theory" before it, is that
evolution isn't up to the task of accounting for life.
Given biology's complexity, and natural selection's
inability to explain it, I.D. thinking goes, life must
be designed by a, well, designer. I.D.ers skirted any
mention of God, hoping to avoid getting snagged on the
First Amendment's prohibition against promoting religion
by arguing that I.D. was just a young and outlying
In the Pennsylvania case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, Judge
Jones ruled that if you want to teach intelligent design
in science class, first you have to show that it is a
distinct species from its earlier, creationist form, not
just a modified type. You've got to show us the science
part, he said. Besides, Jones declared, your intelligent
designer is obviously God.
The six-week trial -- the focus of a Nova documentary,
"Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial," airing Nov.
13 -- addressed a host of heady questions. What is
science and how does it work? Can evolution account for
the diversity of life we see on earth? What is religion?
Can science say anything about the existence of a
creator and still be science? It also examined the
motivations of a local school board that tried to
smuggle creationism into its high school biology
curriculum. The judge's decision -- that I.D. was not
science and that the school board was trying to promote
its members' own religious views -- was followed by a
short period of shock from the I.D. community.
But like bacteria adapting to antibiotics, creationism
has slimmed down once again, this time shedding even a
mention of an intelligent designer. A new textbook put
out by the Discovery Institute, the Seattle think tank
that promotes I.D., doesn't even have the words
"intelligent design" in its index. Instead of pushing
I.D. explicitly, "Explore Evolution: The Arguments for
and Against Darwinism," promoted as a high school- or
college-level biology text, "teaches the controversy."
Teach the controversy is the new mantra of the I.D.
"We want to teach more about evolution," says Discovery
Institute's Casey Luskin, "not less." The "more" they
want to teach, of course, is what they see as
evolution's shortcomings, leaving an ecological niche
that will then be filled by intelligent design.
But not all creationists have embraced the strategy.
Many responded to the Dover trial by coming out of
I.D.'s big tent, which once gave shelter to young earth
creationists, old earthers, academics interested in
I.D.'s hypotheses, and anyone who wanted to promote a
Christian-compatible view of science. Judge Jones'
decision was like a lightning strike on the big top,
sending many of the constituents running home through
the rain. Creationist groups like Answers in Genesis,
the Institute for Creation Research, and Reasons to
Believe are now attacking I.D. for not having the guts
to call its designer God or to be explicit about such
key questions as the age of the world. (Answers in
Genesis' answer: about 6,000 years.)
Perhaps not surprisingly, the I.D.ers have adopted a
persecution complex. "After Dover," Luskin says,
"there's been an increase in the boldness of Darwinists
who persecute I.D. proponents: researchers, teachers and
students. The debate in the academy has intensified
radically," he says. "It's just a lot more political."
He points to Guillermo Gonzalez, a physicist at Iowa
State who failed to get tenure, allegedly because he is
an advocate of I.D., and Richard Sternberg, a scientist
at the National Institutes of Health who was "attacked"
for publishing an article by Stephen Meyer, a proponent
of intelligent design, in a peer-review journal
Evolutionary biologists respond that hiring a biologist
who doesn't accept evolution is like hiring a
mathematician who doesn't accept multiplication. That
oversimplifies, but for better or worse, the battle has
intensified and come out more into the open.
Recently, long retired chemist Homer Jacobson retracted
a paper titled "Information, Reproduction and the Origin
of Life," which he'd published in the journal American
Scientist 52 years ago. Upon Googling himself, the 84-
year-old Jacobson found that his old paper was often
cited by creationists as evidence of the implausibility
of life emerging from the prebiotic soup found on early
Earth. Jacobson noticed some errors in his paper (it was
a half-century old!) and, in order to keep neo-
creationists from engaging in "malignant denunciations
of Darwin," he wrote a letter of retraction to the
journal. Retraction of a scientific paper is rare, and
doing it for political reasons is rarer still. The act
provoked accusations of "historical revisionism" from
Discovery Institute senior fellow William Dembski.
Following the Dover decision, some I.D.ers became more
timid, or at least more evasive. John Angus Campbell, a
Discovery Institute fellow and coauthor of a book about
teaching I.D. in the schools, ran for a school board
seat in Mason County, Wash., last week. During his
campaign, he intentionally left his middle name out of
his election materials and failed to mention his
affiliation with the Discovery Institute. The camouflage
strategy worked and he was elected.
I.D. will also be striking back in "Expelled: No
Intelligence Allowed," a pro-I.D. documentary, to be
released in February. Featuring conservative writer and
political commentator Ben Stein, it portrays I.D.
proponents as a group of iconoclastic firebrand
scientists with the guts to go after the dogmatic
Darwinists who have, the I.D.ers say, grown lazy and
corrupt sitting atop a monopolistic theory with zero
tolerance for dissent, within or outside of their ranks.
Stein told the New York Times that Darwin may well have
been onto something with his theory of evolution, but
that it is isn't up to explaining the origins and
diversity of life on its own. Plus, he thinks Darwinism
leads to racism and genocide. If Stein had his way, he
said, the documentary would have been called "From
Darwin to Hitler."
No, the battle between creationism and evolution is
hardly over. The true believers in intelligent design
and other forms of creationism aren't about to lay down
their worldview for a federal judge or anyone else. And
polls show that about half of America is on their side.
"Evolution remains under attack," says Eugenie Scott, an
anthropologist and a director of the National Center for
Science Education, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching
evolution in public schools. "If creationists have their
way, teachers will eventually just stop teaching
evolution. It'll just be too much trouble. And
generations of students will continue to grow up
ignorant of basic scientific realities."
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