Logo IMG
HOME > PAST ISSUE > Article Detail


Being Stalked by Intelligent Design

Scientists must stop ignoring "Intelligent Design"—religious prejudice disguised as intellectual freedom

Pat Shipman

"Science" by Assumption

The Intelligent Design movement is a deliberate campaign to undermine the teaching of science in America, and the evidence of this intent is brazenly posted on ID Web sites. The movement's founder and chief theorist, lawyer Phillip Johnson, and most of its advocates are fellows of the Center for Science and Culture at a conservative think tank called the Discovery Institute. The Center's publicly stated aims include:

challenging various aspects of neo-Darwinian theory; ... developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design; ... [and] encouraging schools to improve science education by teaching students more fully about the theory of evolution, including the theory's scientific weaknesses as well strengths [sic].

With these statements, the Center hides its true agenda behind a false claim that it is promoting intellectual freedom when, in fact, it is doing the opposite: stunting intellectual growth by encouraging students to believe that a scientific theory is the same as a philosophical assertion.

Intelligent Design is part of a calculated strategy that Johnson calls the "Wedge," referring to the tool used to split a solid object—in this case, the cornerstone of biological science. According to a document that appeared on the Discovery Institute's Web site in 1999, the goal of this plan is "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies." The document also makes sweeping, inaccurate claims such as "new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature." This statement is pure propaganda. (The document can still be found on the Discovery Institute's Web site by searching for "wedge," although it is now prefaced by 12 pages of insistent justification.)

In the ID lexicon, "scientific materialism"—the idea that the world around us can be explained without resorting to supernatural forces—is the enemy. ID advocates favor instead something they call "theistic realism," which "assumes that the universe and all its creatures were brought into existence for a purpose by God." The most revealing word in this statement is assumes. Scientists rely not on assumption but on evidence, and there is none for ID. Theistic realism and ID are statements of religious faith, which does not require evidence.

The Discovery Institute promotes Intelligent Design with a sophisticated scheme that floods the public with academic-sounding conferences, op-ed pieces (written by Fellows of the Institute who do not always identify themselves as such), press releases, media coverage, teacher-training seminars and materials, classes in the "defense and proof" of Christianity, audiotapes, books, and special briefings for members of Congress. The core of this strategy is to keep saying that evolutionary theory is controversial until—despite all the evidence to the contrary—people start believing it. As Johnson cynically told an interviewer:

[Y]ou have to have people that talk a lot about the issue and get it up front and take the punishment and take all the abuse, and then you get people used to talking about it. It becomes an issue they are used to hearing about, and you get a few more people and a few more, and then eventually you've legitimated it as a regular part of the academic discussion. And that's my goal: to legitimate the argument over evolution. . . . We're bound to win.

A special five-year goal of the Center is publishing 100 scientific or technical publications in support of ID, but here they have failed. Philosopher Barbara Forrest of Southeast Louisiana University, who has written extensively about the rise of the movement, searched the peer-reviewed scientific literature exhaustively and failed to find a single published paper in which scientific data support Intelligent Design.

comments powered by Disqus


Of Possible Interest

Letters to the Editors: The Truth about Models

Computing Science: Belles lettres Meets Big Data

Feature Article: Engines Powered by the Forces Between Atoms

Subscribe to American Scientist