Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Discovery Institute, Free Republic Pimp Intelligent Design, Attack Their Own Strawmen

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

Free Republic and Discovery Institute are using the same words to attack their own strawman --a so-called "Wedge Document" exposing the tactics of Intelligent Design partisans. "A giant urban legend", they call it. They flatter themselves. I only heard about it on their websites in which the same article is run word for word. No one on the "left"would have written it and even the Freep says the Discovery Institute is the culprit.

A better word than giant is "conservative circle jerk"! What's typical of this camp fire coziness is the mutual satisfaction both conservative entities hope to get by blaming others for their idiocy.

All is done in the name of their search for absolute knowledge, a fool's errand if there ever was one. Warning: don't be fooled by the link on Freep that says "Evolution News". It goes straight to a Discovery Institute shill site, a "front" that has nothing to do with real or scientific theories about evolution. It's a typical right wing bait and switch.

Some background on this farce. Not too long ago a so-called "Wedge Document" outlined a plan by Intelligent Design (ID) proponents to subvert American education, science and the humanities. The document was roundly disowned by the right wing even though the document outlined a campaign that ID proponents had, in fact, embarked upon. Free Republic themselves attribute the document to the Discovery Institute which had apparently eschewed it only to recant later when pinned down. Now --both sites blame the left! But for what? No one on the left wrote it and Freep still attributes the document to Discovery. But the left is supposed to have fallen for it!! Stop me, my sides are hurting!

It is fair to characterize Intelligent Design [ID] itself as nothing more than a public relations campaign.
In 1999 someone posted on the internet an early fundraising proposal for discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Dubbed the “Wedge Document,” this proposal soon took on a life of its own, popping up in all sorts of places and eventually spawning what can only be called a giant urban legend. Among true-believers on the Darwinist fringe the document came to be viewed as evidence for a secret conspiracy to fuse religion with science and impose a theocracy. These claims were so outlandish that for a long time we simply ignored them. But because some credulous Darwinists seem willing to believe almost anything, we decided we should set the record straight.

--Free Republic: Discovery Institute's “Wedge Document”: How Darwinist Paranoia Fueled an Urban Legend

I have news for "Free Republic". Telling me what I already know does not refute me. Repeating what so-called "Darwinists" know about the ID movement hardly amounts to a broadside. The freeper site, in fact, borrows its post verbatim from the discovery Institute (or is the other way 'round?). I can hardly call the freepers unbiased. At last, the only refutation of what were, in fact, ID tactics amounts to mere labeling, name-calling, typical of the ilk. If the "Wedge Document" is an "Urban Legend" it is only so among the stooges of the right wing, the circle jerk, the closed loop of equally closed minds. Until I stumbled upon the pair of them, I had never heard of the damn thing!

The discovery of "Wedge Document" itself means that someone created it even as the ID movement discredited itself. The ID movement has always been a mere PR campaign, perhaps the very campaign described and revealed by the "Wedge Document". That it might have been created to discredit one side or the other simply doesn't matter. Even before it was discovered, there was every reason to suppose that a subversive, anti-science sub-culture was overtly out to subvert the pursuit of truth itself anyway. The "Wedge Document" simply makes no difference one way or the other. ID is still creationism in fancy dress using big words.

That is the crux of it. ID proponents are all about content and ideology. The pursuit of truth, by contrast, is all about method and reason.
The Wedge Document is an internal memorandum from the discovery Institute (the leading proponent of Intelligent Designer "Theory") that was leaked to the Internet in 1999. The discovery Institute later admitted to its authenticity. Since then, discovery Institute hasn't talked very much about the document, or the strategy it outlines. The reason is crushingly obvious, since the Wedge Document makes it readily apparent that the discovery Institute is flat-out lying to us when it claims that its Intelligent Designer campaign is concerned only with science and does not have any religious aims, purpose or effect.

--Lenny Frank re: The "Wedge Document" [document reprinted on Frank's site]

Frank is entitled to his opinion. It is at least as good as the various opinions of the Discovery Institute and that's not saying much. Frank states that Discovery owned up to the document. But who cares? A movement is what a movement does and the tactics and methods of ID are the real issue. Those methods are precisely what makes ID not science.
...we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a "wedge" that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the "thin edge of the wedge," was Phillip Johnson's critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe's highly successful Darwin's Black Box followed Johnson's work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

--The Wedge Document

The "Wedge Document" reads like a right wing strategy paper.
  1. A major public debate between design theorists and Darwinists (by 2003)
  2. Thirty published books on design and its cultural implications (sex, gender issues, medicine, law, and religion)
  3. One hundred scientific, academic and technical articles by our fellows

  4. Significant coverage in national media:
    • Cover story on major news magazine such as Time or Newsweek

    • PBS show such as Nova treating design theory fairly
    • Regular press coverage on developments in design theory
    • Favorable op-ed pieces and columns on the design movement by 3rd party media
  5. Spiritual & cultural renewal:
    • Mainline renewal movements begin to appropriate insights from design theory, and to repudiate theologies influenced by materialism
    • Major Christian denomination(s) defend(s) traditional doctrine of creation & repudiate(s)
    • Darwinism Seminaries increasingly recognize & repudiate naturalistic presuppositions
    • Positive uptake in public opinion polls on issues such as sexuality, abortion and belief in God
    • Ten states begin to rectify ideological imbalance in their science curricula & include design theory
  6. Scientific achievements:
    • An active design movement in Israel, the UK and other influential countries outside the US
    • Ten CRSC Fellows teaching at major universities
    • Two universities where design theory has become the dominant view
    • Design becomes a key concept in the social sciences Legal reform movements base legislative proposals on design theory
ACTVITIESResearch Fellowship Program (for writing and publishing) (2) Front line research funding at the "pressure points" (e.g., Daul Chien's Chengjiang Cambrian Fossil Find in paleontology, and Doug Axe's research laboratory in molecular biology)(3) Teacher training (4) Academic Conferences (5) Opinion-maker Events & Conferences (6) Alliance-building, recruitment of future scientists and leaders, and strategic partnerships with think tanks, social advocacy groups, educational organizations and institutions, churches, religious groups, foundations and media outlets (7) Apologetics seminars and public speaking (8) Op-ed and popular writing (9) Documentaries and other media productions (10) Academic debates (11) Fund Raising and Development (12) General Administrative support
This is not the way science is conducted. Science does not hire PR firms, recently called "think tanks" for PR reasons. Science does not try to sell you on relativity, evolution, quantum physics or string theory. Science is ever self-correcting. Science is not an ideology, it is a method and a process. Science is not a set of shibboleths to which you must pay obeisance or pledge allegiance. Science cannot, by definition, ever become a cult, a religion or an entrenched ideology. What might be a working hypothesis today may be disproved tomorrow. Intelligent Design is "creationism" written with jargon. It is hardly intelligent, considerably ideological, and most certainly disingenuous. It is defined by its "content", a dogma sold politically. It is not and cannot be science. The "Wedge Document" proves, forever, the un-scientific nature of "Intelligent Design".

The Wedge Document is at odds with ethics based upon the pursuit of truth. In the empiricist tradition, at the very core of America's founding, we inherit a methodology, an ongoing activity by which verifiable truths may be discovered and weighed according to the evidence. Those who carry this banner include John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison. Among the more recent, less popularly known philosophers are A.J. Ayer and a panoply of logical positivists who value the quest itself as opposed to a pre-conceived end result.

Not content to write for academia and other philosophers, Bertrand Russell would reach a wider public with The Problems of Philosophy (1912) and, his nobel prize winning, A History of Western Philosophy (1945), in which Russell explores the idea that western civilization is essentially Greek civilization. Russell did not arbitrarily separate education from the pressing issues of the day; rather, he linked progress in education with social progress in general. He is famous for debunking fallacy, propaganda, and, most memorably, superstition and religion. He thought widespread superstition to have unwelcome social consequences. It is tragic that American society did not take to heart Russell`s simple admonition:
I wish to propose for the reader's favorable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.
That simple doctrine might have replaced political ideologies of all sorts in America. Language, Truth and Logic by A.J. Ayer should be required reading in American high schools. It is the defining explanation of the "verifiability criterion of meaning" --the cornerstone of logical positivism.

Ayer identifies the characteristics of "significant propositions" -- propositions which purport to contain real and meaningful information about the world i.e, verifiable information. It is the ability to state, at least in theory, the conditions under which a proposition may be shown to be either true or false. In a world in which no one has a monopoly on truth but many are willing to pervert it, it is essential that we think clearly about what can be proven and what is just meaningless bunkum.

Ayer's "Logical Positivism" is seen by many to be lacking the "human touch", thought by some to be untenable from a practical standpoint, "Godless" by various ideologies. It is, in fact, the logical basis of empiricism, the antidote to ideology.

In the work of Jacob Bronowski we find a critique of "logical positivism", a critique that saves it from itself. In his Science and Human Values, Bronowski points out a social injunction implied in Ayer's analytical methods, It takes the following form:
"We ought to act in such a way that what is true can be verified to be so."
In the activity of pure science, there is, then, an ethic. Bronowski writes even more convincingly about verification, culture and civilization than about symbols and formal systems.
This is the act of creation, in which an original thought is born, and it is the same act in original science and original art. But it is not therefore the monopoly of the man who wrote the poem or who made the discovery. On the contrary, I believe this view of the creative act to be right because it alone gives a meaning to the act of appreciation.


'The society of scientists is simple because it has a directing purpose: to explore the truth. Nevertheless, it has to solve the problem of every society, which is to find a compromise between man and men. It must encourage the single scientist to be independent, and the body of scientists to be tolerant. From these basic conditions, which form the prime values, there follows step by step a range of values: dissent, freedom of thought and speech, justice, honour, human dignity and self-respect.'

--J. Brownowski, Science and Human Values, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965, p. 11.

Bronowski's critique derives an ethic from the practice of science, an ethic based upon what science does, not what scientists themselves believe. Bronowski places the foundations of Western Civilization upon an existentialist affirmation --a single value, the pursuit of truth itself. This value is not itself subject to proof. It is chosen. It is an existential choice, one that Jean-Paul Sartre himself might have made. It was Sartre, after all, who summed it up: "A man is nothing else but what he makes of himself". Eariler, Voltaire: "I have no name but the name that I have made for myself". And with that, we come full circle to Bertrand Russell's belief that the discipline he found in Ancient Greece --the pure pursuit of truth --is at the very foundations of our culture.

I found another take on Bronowski and Clark. It is from the nationally syndicated Engines of Our Ingenuity hosted by my good friened, Dr. John Lienhard of The University of Houston's College of Engineering.
Clark and Bronowski converge on hope, they converge on belief, they converge on the pervasive unity of the human species. Of course both are wary. In the end, Bronowski says,
We are all afraid ... That is the nature of the human imagination. Yet [we have] gone forward. ...
And a worried Kenneth Clark, facing the social upheaval of the late '60s, says (as much to himself as to us),
... civilization has been a series of rebirths. Surely this should give us confidence in ourselves.
They both clearly assert our capacity for saving ourselves. They realize that technology, science, and the other arts have always converged upon our problems. And they surely remain our only real hope in troubled times.

-Dr. John Lienhard, Engines of Our Ingenuity, No. 1880: Clark and Bronowski

Bronowski, who understood science as well as art, wrote a perfect synthesis of both sides of the human brain, this perfect description of the cultural role that is often played by science. He embraces its contradiction and transcends it in another paradigm. At a time when modern philosophy had consigned human values to the realm of meaninglessness, Bronowski, conjoined them in a supreme act of creativity.

Bronowski is best known for his monumental Ascent of Man, a series that he wrote and hosted for the BBC. In thirteen episodes, Bronowski traced the evolution of human society. Many characterize this monumental achievement as refuting Kenneth Clark's earlier Civilization series. That criticism misunderstand both Bronowski and Clark. I prefer to think of both efforts as book ends on a single shelf.

Despite fallacious assertions by the Wedge Document amid even more absurd behavior by the likes of Free Republic and the Discovery Institute, it has fallen to secular minds to advance the spirit of inquiry. It is during those times in which we lose confidence in our progress that humankind seems eager to seek out comforting or religious ideologies. Russell, who connected broad departures from ancient priesthoods originating in Greece with the emerging spirit of science taking shape over centuries of European history, also saw in an anti-democratic authoritarianism a persistent threat which would in his lifetime result in fascism and Nazism.
"There is over a large part of the earth's surface something not unlike a reversion to the ancient Egyptian system of divine kingship, controlled by a new priestly caste. Although this tendency has not gone so far in the West as it has in the east, it has, nevertheless, gone to lengths which would have astonished the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries both in England and in America. Individual initiative is hemmed in either by the state or by powerful corporations, and there is a great danger lest this should produce, as in ancient Rome, a kind of listlessness and fatalism that is disastrous to vigorous life.

I am constantly receiving letters saying: 'I see that the world is in a bad state, but what can one humble person do? Life and property are at the mercy of a few individuals who have the decision as to peace or war. Economic activities on any large scale are determined by those who govern either the state or the large corporations. Even where there is nominally democracy, the part which one citizen can obtain in controlling policy is usually infinitesimal. Is it not perhaps better in such circumstances to forget public affairs and get as much enjoyment by the way as the times permit?' I find such letters very difficult to answer, and I am sure that the state of mind which leads to their being written is very inimical to a healthy social life.

As a result of mere size, government becomes increasingly remote from the governed and tends, even in a democracy, to have an independent life of its own. I do not profess to know how to cure this evil completely, but I think it is very important to recognize its existence and to search for ways of diminishing its magnitude."

-Bertrand Russell, Authority and the Individual, p. 18-19:
The most moving moment in the Ascent of Man occurred in an episode entitled: 'Knowledge or Certainty'. In it, Bronowski visited Auschwitz where many members of his family had died.

We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.

Jacob Bronowski,"Ascent of Man"

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