projects about teaching blog subdivided dean terry


August 30, 2005

Intelligent Design of Propaganda

A lot of people are coming out having to defend evolution from the propaganda campaign that is intelligent design. Confusion abounds. Daniel Dennett penned an NYT piece with several good points. intelligent design hypothesis has even been ventured as a rival explanation of any biological phenomenon. This might seem surprising to people who think that intelligent design competes directly with the hypothesis of non-intelligent design by natural selection. But saying, as intelligent design proponents do, "You haven't explained everything yet," is not a competing hypothesis. Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists. But intelligent design hasn't yet tried to explain anything.

Instead of spending more than $1 million a year on publishing books and articles for non-scientists and on other public relations efforts, the Discovery Institute should finance its own peer-reviewed electronic journal.

The sad truth is that you don't really need truth or evidence or studies or ethics or history on your side. You merely need a good marketing campaign.

I personally like the UFO analogy Dennett gives: that the idea that we are the results of ancient alien experiments being a more scientific idea than intelligent design. When I was an undergraduate at UNT I had an instructor who made paintings in homage of our supposed alien ancestors. It was so amusing I used flying saucer images in my drawings and paintings for several years afterward. I thought of them as symbols of projected meaning: we could use pretty much anything - might as well be an artifact of the cold war fears and 50's sci-fi.

Intelligent design, rather than a topic in a science class, should be a topic of a philosophy or theology or politics class, as Dennett suggests. Better yet, a class on persuasion, propaganda, and perception management. But that would go against the role of public K-12 education: to create dutiful workers and consumers. No wonder somewhere near 50% of Americans think the world is less than 10,000 years old. In Texas, about that same percentage failed to graduate from high school. Yeee Haaaw.

Evolution is no more a threat to Christianity than subatomic physics or the paintings of Picasso. The intelligent design folks have basically given up the territory already. You are saying that the basic presumptions of the scientific view of the world are correct. That the right way to spread and defend religion is through the methodology of science, rather than through faith.

Needing to "prove" anything religious is like claiming you need to have "faith" in the periodic table.

Religion and faith are not, to my understanding, about logic, reason or evidence. That is the realm of philosophy and science, respectively. The Bible doesn't say the real is rational and the rational is real, that was Hegel. And even most scientists don't exclusively believe that. Those that do commit the same error as the fundamentalists: they fail to understand that theirs is merely a way of describing certain aspects of experience. In other words, there are multiple ways of describing things (or as I like to say, frames for experience and possibilities for experience).

Science does not provide a value system. On the one hand it generates awe at the scale and grandeur of the universe but on the other it makes us feel insignificant. As if the world in our heads were but an insignificant blip on an insignificant speck in an indifferent, unimaginably huge universe. It doesn't really have anything to offer us in the way of personal purpose or meaning.

Evolution doesn't "disprove" Christianity. It has no interest in it. Maybe it should go both ways.

Posted by Dean Terry at August 30, 2005 12:24 AM




This month's book