THE GREAT FINALE:
Re: John Derbyshire’s letter (under “Conservative ID”) in Reader Mail’s Derbyshire and Darwin:
I don’t suppose your readers want these exchanges to go on forever, so I shall limit myself here to Tom Bethell’s point about creationism and Intelligent Design, and then sign off. The exchanges we should otherwise inevitably descend into can be found all over the Internet, and don’t need duplicating in your letters columns.
Intelligent Design is creationism. This has been proved to courtroom standards of evidence. It is, in any case, transparently obvious a priori.
If a group of creationists were to hire me as an independent consultant, and say to me: “Look, we’ve got a problem with getting our doctrines taught in public schools. Every time we try it, there’s a court case, and we lose on church-state grounds. Can you give our doctrines a makeover, stripping out all references to God and the Bible, giving it all a scientific-sounding gloss, so that just one time, somewhere, we might have a shot at winning one of those cases?” Given that commission, Intelligent Design is exactly what I would come up with. It is what the creationists did come up with.
Who is the designer? If he’s part of the natural world, he needs to be more intelligent than the things he’s designing. But then who designed him? You get an infinite regress. The only way out of that infinite regress is to invoke some force outside the natural world. Ergo, Intelligent Design is supernaturalist. Q.E.D.
And I can’t see why the makeover was necessary. Personally, I consider myself sentimentally well-disposed towards Christianity, and by no means ill-disposed towards pseudoscience, as a form of entertainment. Martin Gardner’s Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science has been a favorite on my bookshelf for decades, going back to my schooldays in Britain (where it stood next to Patrick Moore’s Can You Speak Venusian? another favorite compendium of quackery). I often browse in it for idle amusement.
Not only do I not object to pseudoscience, I don’t even object if people want to teach it to kids. Heck, it’s a free country. What I object to, and what a great many other citizens — including many conservatives — object to, is creationists trying to get pseudoscience taught on the taxpayer’s dollar.
As a conservative myself, I have issues with the public school system, though they are not the same issues as yours. I favor educational diversity. Go set up your own schools and teach Intelligent Design, or the Hollow Earth Theory, or Homeopathic Medicine. Heaven knows, you have enough money. Or get behind the home-schooling movement, where you might make real progress in promoting your cult. (I think in fact you have.) Good luck to you! Just keep your hands off my wallet.
The science taught in public schools should be consensus science, the science most working scientists believe in. What’s the alternative? To teach everything that has a following somewhere? Public-school parents don’t want that; and in any case, such a program could not be fitted into a school curriculum. Don’t you understand? Even a parent who knew or cared nothing about creationism could validly object to its being taught in the public schools for fear of what might follow in through the door thus opened. If creationism can be taught, why not Astrology? Why not phrenology? Why not 19th-century race science? Why not, Mr. Bethell?
And what is the case against teaching consensus science? That it might turn out to be wrong? So it might; but if we are to teach any science at all, let it be the science that is most widely accepted among actual scientists, who presumably know something about their disciplines. At the AEI conference you mentioned, someone from the audience asked me whether, had I been around in the 12th century, I would have wanted Ptolemaic astronomy taught. I replied that of course I would, since it was the best theory available; and added, as gently as I could, that it would have been somewhat impractical to teach Newtonian astronomy since Newton had not yet been born.
I actually think Intelligent Design has been a disaster for creationism. You have tied yourselves in knots with the effort to promote creationism while never mentioning those lawsuit-losing essentials of creationism. I can’t pretend to wish you well, but if I did, I think I would say: “For goodness’ sake dump all this gibberish about ‘complexity’ — specified, irreducible, or whatever — and get back to basic Bible creationism. It has far more appeal, and you will speak more plainly, with more authority.”
(Though what I think will actually happen — I see signs of it already — is that the creationists will soon dump paleontology altogether and head over to Consciousness Studies, where the pickings are richer.)
As to Bethell’s assurances that “Darwinism” will be overthrown any day now, and that working biologists, botanists, zoologists, geneticists, paleontologists, paleoanthropologists, neuroscientists, and medical researchers all around the world will all simultaneously smack themselves on their foreheads and shout out in unison: “Of course! How blind we have been! Those folk at the Discovery Institute have been right all along!” — well, I have been hearing that for close to twenty years. Is there the faintest sign that any such thing is about to happen? Really, Mr. Bethell? Of the thousands of research departments in the above-mentioned disciplines around the world, has even one swung into the creationist camp, or shown any sign whatever of doing so? Names, please.
I mingle with working scientists a fair amount, and the main difference I have noticed in their attitudes to creationism this past few years has been that their amused indifference is now tinged with disgust at the underhand tactics of the creationists, illustrated for example in the story of the 1999 Kunming conference (told in Creationism’s Trojan Horse, p. 61 ff.)
Creationists need to drop the pseudoscientific flapdoodle and get back to the Bible. They won’t win any court cases that way; but then, they aren’t winning any anyway, and their souls will be much cleaner, and their brows less furrowed, if they just go back to Genesis and preach the Word. Which is what, in any case, most of their follows have supposed them to be doing all along.
— John Derbyshire
Huntington, New York