Over at The Austringer, Wes Elsberry has been engaging in a bit of debate with BeliefNet blogger David Opderbeck over Opderbeck's views on the Dover Intelligent Design case. The bulk of their disagreement seems to center on the appropriateness of Judge Jones' decision to rule that Intelligent Design is not a scientific concept. Opderbeck thinks Jones should have avoided the topic; Wesley disagrees.
This is long-familiar ground, of course. The Discovery Institute has been complaining that Jones should have stayed a long way away from the question of whether or not ID is science for years now - despite the fact that they themselves submitted an amicus brief in the Dover case that seems to ask Jones to address that topic. Given that the plaintiffs and defendants both asked the court to rule on whether or not ID was science, I think that Wesley is on much firmer footing than Opderbeck.
But that's not what I'm here to talk about right now.
When I was looking at Opderbeck's side of the argument, something he said about the Intelligent Design movement caught my eye - mostly because it seems to reflect a certain ignorance of the Intelligent Design movement as it actually exists:
I've come to believe that the misuse of ID theory by those Dover school board members reflects a common misuse of ID in the Church generally. In my experience, it's widely assumed by evangelical church-goers - contrary to the official statements of leaders in the ID movement - that ID supports belief in God, or more specifically supports young earth creationism, over and against evolution. Countless apologetics programs, websites, and publications designed for evangelicals respond to any suggestion that biological evolution may be true (or that direct creationism may be false) with a passing reference to Mike Behe and Bill Dembski. These would-be apologists are sometimes shocked to learn that many ID theorists accept common descent, which definitely is not compatible with special creationism (or sometimes they know better and conveniently fail to mention that fact in their presentations!).
The unfortunate reality, in my judgment, is that ID theory - or rather, a crude distillation of ID theory - has been reduced to a tool in the culture wars both inside and outside the Church. Whether the leaders of the ID movement intended for this to happen or not, Christian proponents of ID are using it just as they tried to employ "creation science" in the 1980s. Within the Church, this tends to remove ID from the realm of ideas that can be calmly and reasonably discussed, and places it instead into a "hot button" category.
It is not possible for Intelligent Design to be reduced to a tool in the culture wars for the simple reason that it has never been anything more than that. That fact is clearly apparent to anyone who has taken the time to give more than a cursory examination to the actual activities of the main Intelligent Design proponents - particularly those affiliated with the Discovery Institute.
Even if we completely disregard the infamous "Wedge Document" - which begins not with an analysis of the scientific strengths of Intelligent Design but with a denunciation of the social consequences of "materialism" - there is still ample evidence that Intelligent Design is less about investiganting reality than shaping people's perceptions of reality.
I realize that it's been years since I've updated this, but I think it's still extremely compelling evidence:
The Discovery Institute is and always has been the center of the ID movement. It's fellows have provided the public face of the movement, and conducted the bulk of the alleged research. When I took some time back in early 2006 to look at how the effort they put into public relations compared with the effort they put into science, the results were revealing:
Press Releases: 0.44/day
'Scientific' pubs: 0.0046/day
As I mentioned, those are old numbers, but I think they still tell the story well. At the height of the Intelligent Design movement, the Discovery Institute was pushing public relations materials at a rate that was two orders of magnitude greater than the rate at which they were pushing out material that they could claim as scientific support for their views.
That's not what you expect to see from people who are trying to do science, but it's exactly what you'd expect to see from people who are primarily focused on fighting the culture wars.