is the intelligent design movement fading?

December 7, 2011

sad trex

Obviously, creationism is alive and well and will be with us for the foreseeable future in all of its permutations, fed by our desire to feel special and taken care of for all eternity by a wise someone or something rather than simply be abandoned to our fates in a vast, uncaring cosmos. But what about intelligent design, creationism with an academic veneer and centered around a very deliberately and insistently unnamed, yet for some odd reason always singular, creator, replete with technobabble about complexity, order, and design? Is it just me or have the ID think tanks been rather quiet as of late, eclipsed by their unabashedly religious counterparts in school board meetings and creating their own versions of science based on biblical fundamentalism, not cherry-picked data about fossils or grandiose attempts at information theory which flame out in an instant, but come across as very educated and well researched to non-experts at first glance? Has ID basically done all it can do in the spotlight and will we see it fade into the background, a shadow of itself in its brief heyday?

The modern ID movement was founded by Christian Evangelicals on a mission and based on the hysterical premise that teaching evolution was responsible for every social ill in the world today. Since evolution is a real science and religion has been legally kept out of public schooling by the Establishment Clause, they couldn’t simply barge into a classroom with a war cry of “repent you little heathens!” So instead, they decided that with enough money and media attention, they could challenge the theory of evolution with highly technical minutia and force school boards to teach the controversy they created. But it was never really a satisfactory approach since it was so flimsily veiled. When writing about the Discovery Institute’s efforts in the field, I constantly kept asking why their unnamed designer had to be singular and could never be pinpointed or named. Yes, I know it’s a rhetorical question, but it illustrates the problem both sides of the aisle had with ID. On the secular side, we were wondering why Behe, Dembski, or Luskin would never just say what they meant even though they’d made it pretty much transparent that by designer they really mean the Abrahamic deity. On the religious side, their supporters also wondered why they couldn’t just come out and tell those evolutionists that God made us all in his image and we were sinning by not allowing their proselytizing in science classes.

For a time it was an acceptable compromise and creationists seemed to be willing to back ID to at least get a beachhead into public schools. However, when the movement lost its legal challenges to evolution, had the assertions of its prized fellow dismantled by biologists, saw its top expert having to recant for daring to say that the Earth is older than 6,000 years to keep his job without making a peep, though they poured millions into a sham of a documentary which alleged that only those evil Nazi-like evolutionists make scientists swear an oath to a specific ideology (while oddly still employing Behe), and got exactly nowhere with school boards not staffed by those on the extreme right, it definitely lost its former luster. Even the Templeton Foundation, which once funded the Discovery Institute, changed course and gave $1.5 million to a biologist who argued against the Institute’s pseudoscientific assertions. Sneaking through the back door didn’t work, so why hide behind the mock academise and forced secular vagueness? Considering that your prototypical I-don’t-know- ergo-God argument is hardly new and the hatefully erroneous notion that Hitler was tied at the ideological hip to Darwin had already been percolating around creationist literature long before DI got the idea to make it its supposed argumentative trump card, intelligent design brought very few new ideas with it. Considering its purpose, however, there wasn’t exactly much from which to draw new concepts.

What few arguments it did have were easily and quickly refuted by simply applying a bit of high school biology to the proclamations and giving its fellows a little help with statistics, so what creationists got out of ID was an impotent mess to put it bluntly. Under the ID shield they couldn’t talk about their deity or their religion, they had very little room to maneuver in court cases, their arguments were the same old creationist canards excised of any outwardly religious elements and partially updated with modern technobabble, and their main attack was not a series of phenomenal new discoveries, but one long Godwin followed by whines of persecution. As it is, intelligent design seems to be spent. Instead of coming up with something profound, its proponents are busy reshuffling their now tired and redundant rhetoric while a good deal of those who once backed them gave up and went back to the tried and true practice of political Bible thumping, especially in red states where you can get away with being a teacher-proselytizer because the community approves and the school boards are far too scared to pick a fight since they know that having the facts on their side is meaningless if their opponents are immune to said facts. So when you have the Bible and a voter registration in hand, and politicians cower before you, who needs all that abstract talk of some unspecified creator to get things done?

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  • Bruce Coulson

    ID was an interesting effort to circumvent the Constitution (in the U.S.) in order to get religious teachings disguised as ‘science’. But it meant that the religious faithful had to operate in the scientific arena; a playing field they were very unfamiliar with. So, they got thumped; soundly. Dogmatic but not as stupid as people would think or wish, they’ve changed tactics again.

    The goal remains the same; promote religious teachings using government money. And to try and influence children to accept their version of reality by using secular authority. If one tactic fails (Intelligent Design) use another. So, I think you’re right. ID was a tactic that failed, and although a few people may cling to it, the leaders of the faithful have moved on.

  • Russ Toelke

    Are not the faithful betraying their deity by avoiding the name they use for him/her/it?

  • DamianD

    Look no further than Rick Perry’s latest campaign add to see that new/old tactic in action.

    ID never really worked, so it’s not surprising to see them retreat to a simple full frontal assault on the public, playing the prosecuted and blaming the ills that we face on the fact that we don’t bend knee to the same things they do.

    Homosexuals can serve openly in the military but my kid can’t lead his class in a prayer at school? Oh noeeees! America is doomed!