Wednesday, June 01, 2005

By their fruits: on Intelligent Design creationism

I spent quite some time on an email this morning, and I am rather pleased with it, so I will post it here as well.

On a mailing list I participate in, I had observed that not only is ID bad science, it seems like bad religion, too, based how how often people bear false witness in its name. Another member of the list asked me to clarify, so my response follows.

Subject: Re: Intelligent design film at Smithsonian Institution

Mary wrote:

>> But it strikes me as bad religion as well, with all of the "bearing
>> false witness" aspects we see repeated over and over again by its
>> proponents.
> Hey Raven, could you expound a bit on this? I don't quite get what
> you mean, and I'd love to!

Hi, Mary--

Sure, I'd be glad to explain what I mean. I'll keep it as brief as I can,
however, as although it comes out of discussing science, my own ethics are starting to get a little far afield of the list. But it is a little too complex to sum up in a sound bite, so I am afraid it is necessarily rather long.

Basically, my starting point is Matthew 7:15-20, below in the King
James Version
for reference.

(Mat 7:15) Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's
clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (16) Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? (17) Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (19) Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (20) Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. [often more familiarly paraphrased in modern versions as "by their works shall ye know them."

So from that starting point, I am proceeding from the assumption that, no matter how noble the words someone or something uses to describe itself, if the actions contradict the words, then you have to look at the actions rather than the rhetoric to know what's really going on.

If an organization or a movement or people consistently claim to be on the side of the angels (literally!), yet they continually lie and cheat to attain their goals, then I have to wonder whether the entity in question is as pure as they say they are. And the multiple examples of misrepresentation on the part of the ID movement and creationism lead me to conclude that it is not about science or religion or morality, but rather an attempt to use any means to grab political power.

Just a few examples to ground the theory in practice, as this is already becoming quite long:

1) ID claims to be science, yet they refuse to participate in the
scientific process of research and peer-review. They purchase venues (such as renting the Smithsonian auditorium) for their ideas, present them to carefully-screened audiences, and then publicize how they "debated the evolutionists" and won. Notice how the invitation was designed to make it look like the Smithsonian was the driving force behind the event. Yet the Smithsonian has since made a statement disavowing any endorsement of the film, but agreeing to uphold the commitment they made: here.

The SI was never an enthusiastic participant, even before the disavowal, and the invitation is clearly intended to create the wrong impression.

2) In private, to funder/donor audiences, they are very clear about their religious purpose; in the courts/newspapers/web pages/press releases, they are studiously quiet on the subject to avoid the establishment clause of the Constitution. Having separate stories for separate audiences is not usually a good sign of integrity.

3) They depict "evolutionists" as having no morals--equating accepting natural selection as the slippery slope to murder. That's a clear case of bearing false witness against a very dedicated group of people, who often make great sacrifices for their work, which they believe will help people.

4) They recycle the same old canards, long after they are debunked--not responding to criticism, but just moving on to audiences who don't have the technical sophistication to tease apart the details. They still use the "evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics" argument, for example, decades after it has been responded to. (Babies and snowflakes also violate the second law, as they interpret it [wrongly], but they never mention that inconvenient fact [kudos to PZ Myers at Pharyngula for a great set of counterexamples!]). Not facing critics head-on and debating them, but just moving on to a new audience, and claiming the arguments aren't addressed because the evolutionists are "afraid" of a debate is not the scientific process, to say the least.

There are many more examples, but this is getting afield of the purpose of the list, and the ones above are plenty representative of the ID/creationist movements repeated instances of "false witness" for my taste. If anyone is interested in more instances, I'll post URLs for your information. To bring this back around to science writing, I'll just point out that I consider conducting, writing, and teaching good science to be my calling, in order to counter a lot of bad information both passively and actively disseminated.

I hope that helps unpack what I meant :). Best regards,



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