Intelligent Design: The New Creationism Threatens All of Science and Society
By Marshall Berman
Design? Creationism? Look, I’m very busy right now. I don’t have time
for that nonsense. I’ve got work to do in the lab and on the computer.
I have a career. Besides, it will all go away soon.”
What Americans Believe
familiar? For most of my life, I thought everyone knew that “Creation
Science” was “dark ages” stuff. Until a physicist began to argue with
me that evolution was a bunch of “just-so” stories, with no supporting
evidence. Since then, I’ve seen, read, and heard hundreds of other
creationists and “Intelligent Design” advocates argue that there is no
fossil evidence to support evolution, that the only reason evolution
has endured for almost a century and a half is because modern
scientists are part of a conspiracy to cover up the real truth, that
there are major questions concerning the reliability of radioactivity
dating methods, and that many scientists “worship at the altar of
Darwinism.” These people are scientists, lawyers, philosophers,
theologians, and politicians. Indeed, I learned that creationists, like
biological species, come in many varieties: young earth, old earth, and
a reincarnated species, intelligent design creationists.
polls taken during the past 20 years consistently show a plurality (45
percent in February 2001) of Americans agreeing with the statement:
“God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time
within the last 10,000 years or so” (Brooks, 2001).
of those surveyed favored teaching creationism along with evolution in
public schools, while 29 percent are opposed (Gallup News Service,
Other surveys have shown that perhaps half of adults do
not believe that humans evolved from earlier species, instead believing
the Biblical account in Genesis.
What Scientists Believe
is a stark difference between the views of scientists and those of the
general public. 5% of scientists hold creationist views, compared to
44% of the public. 95% of scientists hold naturalistic or theistic
views that evolution is valid (Gallup poll, 1997).
According to Newsweek, "By
one count there are some 700 scientists with respectable academic
credentials (out of a total of 480,000 U.S. earth and life scientists)
who give credence to creation-science..." That would put the
support for creation science among those branches of science that deal
with the earth and its life forms at about 0.14% (Newsweek magazine,
Our nation is
paying a heavy price for having failed to teach students critical
thinking skills, reasoning, and good science for several generations.
The consequences are an appalling science illiteracy among most
Americans. In a recent survey (NSF, 2000), about half the respondents
did not know:
*The earliest humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs.
*It takes Earth one year to go around the Sun.
*Electrons are smaller than atoms.
*Antibiotics do not kill viruses.
Jon Miller, Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, studies
American views on and knowledge of science. His data reveal some major
gaps in basic knowledge. American adults in general do not understand
what molecules are. Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to
heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult
American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth (Dean, C.,
International Competitiveness in Science, Math, Technology and Innovation
US is falling rapidly and drastically behind in science and math
education (e.g., see Getty, S. and Berman, M., 2005), compared to other
industrial countries, especially in East Asia. Those countries hold
scientists, engineers, and teachers in high regard, and provide respect
and rewards. In this country, politicians talk about education, but
little will be accomplished until the culture itself changes. On the
business side, outsourcing has gone far beyond low-wage manufacturing.
Hi-tech companies are now outsourcing research and innovation to India
and China, because that’s where some of the most competent scientists
and engineers are! US competitiveness is almost certainly destined to
be second-class, unless we can turn this around (e.g., see Friedman, T.
Intelligent Design, The Discovery Institute, and The Threat to Society
disheartening as these surveys are, they only tell a small part of the
story. In the 1980s, federal courts and the Supreme Court ruled that
the First Amendment prohibited the teaching of Bible-based creationism
and so-called “Creation Science.” Shortly thereafter, an “evolved”
version of creationism appeared called “Intelligent Design” (ID). ID is
actually a re-incarnation of a discredited 200-year-old argument that
goes back to William Paley, who said that the complexity of living
things required direct, divine intervention by a creator (Berman, M.
Although the current version of ID professes to be
scientific, it is religious. Phillip Johnson, a retired lawyer, is
considered to be its guru; its center is the Discovery Institute (DI)
in Seattle, Washington [http://www.discovery.org/], which includes the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) [http://www.discovery.org/csc/].Financial
support for the DI, millions of dollars, comes from 22 foundations, at
least two-thirds of them with explicitly religious missions.
refuses to “publicly” describe the “designer,” or say anything about
methods or timing of the implemenation of design into life on earth,
demonstrate any scientific predictability, show any empirical support,
or even conceive of how the “notion” could be tested or falsified.
[Leading ID supporter, Michael Behe, has said: “…while I argue for
design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open.
Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of
Christianity; an angel--fallen or not; Plato's demi-urge; some mystical
new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or
some utterly unknown intelligent being” (Behe, M. 2001)]. ID cloaks
itself in scientific vocabulary and pseudo-scientific concepts such as
“irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity.” It attacks a few
details about the evolutionary process, all of which have been
extensively and fairly analyzed by the science community and found
wanting, false or just typical ongoing research questions. DI hired a
well-known public relations firm, Creative Response Concepts [http://www.crc4pr.com/firm/clients.asp],
and has influenced a large group of local, state and federal
politicians, including US Congressmen and Senators, and even the
President. It recently helped produce a media statement by German
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a close friend of the current Pope
(Schoenborn, 2005). The Discovery Institute does everything a political
advocacy group would do, except perform any scientific research or
produce any new scientific knowledge.
Nevertheless, they claim
to be a growing movement, and that it is “only fair” to “teach the
(non-existent scientific) controversy.” Their most important immediate
goal is to insert their unscientific ideas into public school science
classrooms, and they care little about gaining acceptance in the
science community. Unfortunately, many conscientious religious people,
including politicians and school board members, have come to believe
that there really is a scientific controversy.
readers of APS News may not understand the broad goals of the Discovery
Institute and the Intelligent Design advocates. The Institute developed
a plan called the “Wedge,” which was anonymously leaked (Wedge
Strategy, 1999; and Forrest and Gross, 2003).
Evolution is only
the initial target of the Wedge’s edge, to be followed by an attack on
all of science, and ultimately by profound changes in our society,
culture, and government. They wish to change much more than the content
of science; they want to change the process of doing science, and with
it the entire character of American society. Here are their own words,
excerpted from their plan and goals, the “Wedge Strategy”:
Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing
less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.
Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those
from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how 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.
“Five Year Strategic Plan Summary
social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms,
those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, 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.
• To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
• To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.
“Twenty Year Goals
• To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
To see design theory application in specific fields, including
molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in
the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and
philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
• To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life”
above quotes demonstrate that Intelligent Design’s claim to be
non-religious is false. It is also obvious that the ID movement has
aims far beyond attacking evolution in its attempt to return society to
the fantasized “idyllic” and “moral” culture that prevailed in Europe
prior to the Enlightenment. Most importantly, the preservation of many
freedoms, including the freedom to choose any religion, or none, is not
consistent with ID philosophy and goals. The writings of the leading
CSC senior fellows make this nostalgia for the Dark Ages frighteningly
"From the sixth century up to the Enlightenment it is
safe to say that the West was thoroughly imbued with Christian ideals
and that Western intellectual elites were overwhelmingly Christian.
False ideas that undermined the very foundations of the Christian faith
(e.g., denying the resurrection or the Trinity) were swiftly challenged
and uprooted. Since the enlightenment, however, we have not so much
lacked the means to combat false ideas as the will and clarity.”
(Dembski and Richards, 2001.)
“The scientific picture
of the world championed since the Enlightenment is not just wrong but
massively wrong. Indeed entire fields of inquiry, especially in the
human sciences, will need to be rethought from the ground up in terms
of intelligent design.” (Dembski, W. A., 1999).
Reynolds is a CSC fellow on the faculty at Biola University (listed by
Access Research Network as an ID college, www.arn.org/college.htm). He
writes, “Torrey Honors Institute (at Biola) is at war with the
modern culture. Torrey does not want to ‘get along’ with materialism,
secularism, naturalism, post-modernism, radical feminism, or
spiritualism. We want to win over every facet of the culture, from the
arts to the sciences, for the Kingdom of Christ.” (Reynolds, J. M.,
The real goals of the modern ID movement are
evident. Their target is all of science and society; evolution is just
the beginning, the edge of the “Wedge.”
Scientists and Politics
are only two Ph.D. physicists in Congress: Rep. Vern Ehlers
(R-Michigan) and Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey). (see Holt, R. 2005).
Both have been leaders in working for improving science and math
education. But they are small voices among 533 other Congressmen and
Scientists are mostly invisible in the realm of
politics for good reasons: long hours of research, dedication, raising
research funds, teaching, distaste for politics, and family needs,
among other demands on their time. But individual scientists and even
science organizations can be politically powerless, regardless of
whether they are Nobel prize winners or members of the National Academy
of Sciences, or their organizations represent tens of thousands of
people. Unfortunately, politicians generally regard scientists as a
small voting bloc with little political clout [although the number of
employed US scientists and engineers is about eleven million (NSF,
1999)]. Personal experience has shown that scientists and their advice
often get little respect from politicians. However, in New Mexico, many
of us have embraced the realm of politics and have had a significant
impact on public education.
In New Mexico in 1996, the State
Board of Education decided to remove all references to evolution and
the age of the earth from the state science content standards. The
majority of Board members had little knowledge of science and were
misled by a physicist member who was a creationist. His arrogance was
astounding as he complimented himself on reviewing the National Science
Education Standards, finding faults, and accusing the developers of the
standards of being "completely clueless as to the canonical
characteristics of good standards, whether they hail from the National
Academy of Sciences or not." (Lenard, R., 1996). But in this country,
the opinions of a few activist minority scientists are often given
equal weight to an overwhelming majority of mainstream scientists. The
media frequently promote this disproportionate representation by
attempting to be “fair” to both sides.
New Mexico scientists,
teachers, parents, and state and national organizations organized to
oppose this attack on the science standards. We tried discussions,
lobbying, letters, and even introducing a bill in the state
legislature. It all failed. We were outsiders. Ultimately, we decided
that we had to become insiders to effect change, and I ran for the
State Board in the next election.
Despite our trepidation on
entering the unknown realm of campaign politics, it actually became a
valuable lesson in democracy. Many people volunteered, including
scientists, teachers, parents, concerned citizens, clergy. We made
signs and posted them. We searched the voter rolls for groups who voted
often. I spoke at every gathering we could arrange. We had teams go
door-to-door to talk to voters, most of whom were quite receptive and
very interested in education. We actually raised more money (entirely
from small contributions) than any other candidate had in this kind of
election. We built a website. We distributed flyers. And we ultimately
defeated a 20-year incumbent.
Despite having a full-time job,
and an assignment 1500 miles away in Washington, DC, I was able to make
every State Board meeting. After a learning period, I eventually gained
the confidence of most of the other fourteen Board members. They came
to rely on me for issues related to gathering and analyzing data,
statistics, and many education issues, especially related to science
and math. It was a very worthwhile experience. And we were able to
return evolution and the age of the earth to the New Mexico science
standards in 1999 and again in 2003. Ultimately, New Mexico approved
some of the best science and math standards in the US (http://www.nmlites.org/standards/science/index.html).
the political controversy continues. Despite having lost their attempt
to greatly modify the 2003 standards, they proclaimed victory the day
after the Board’s unanimous vote. And right now, they are attempting to
promote new policies in local districts that would disingenuously
support their ID concept of “teaching the controversy.” A recent ID Op
Ed said "For the record, our science standards were given national recognition as some of the best standards in the nation."
But essentially all the recognition came from scientists and science
organizations (including the AIP) that are adamantly opposed to ID
proposals and arguments. And that recognition was a result of not
accepting many of the changes that the NM Intelligent Design Network
Intelligent Design movement poses a threat to all of science and
perhaps to secular democracy itself. The movement is highly political,
very astute, extremely well-marketed, disingenuous, and grossly
misunderstood by most Americans. The so-called “controversy” has been
couched in slogans that focus on “fairness,” “just the facts, ma’am,”
“Darwinism is a religion,” “what are scientists afraid of,” “evolution
equals atheism,” and other loaded phrases that mask their real initial
target: open up public school science classrooms to address possible
supernatural phenomena. The ID movement has strongly influenced many
politicians with little or no scientific backgrounds. Of course, the
struggle is primarily political, religious and philosophical. And we
must therefore fight in the political arena as well as the science
community. Scientists must become more politically involved, if this
assault is to be stopped. Replacing sound science and engineering with
pseudo-science, polemics, blind faith, and wishful thinking won’t save
you when the curtain of “Dark Ages II” begins to fall!
Berman has been a manager at Sandia National Laboratories, vice
president of the New Mexico State Board of Education, and Executive
Director for Education of the Council on Competitiveness in Washington
Behe, M. 2001. "The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis," Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2001), pg. 165. More at http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/1341.
Berman, M. 2003. “Intelligent Design Creationism: A Threat to Society – Not Just Biology,”
Brooks, D.J. 2001. “Substantial Numbers of Americans Continue to Doubt Evolution as Explanation for Origin of Humans.” Gallup News Service. Poll analyses. March 5. Available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr010305.asp.
Dean, Cornelia, 2005. “Scientific Savvy? In the U.S., Not Much,” New York Times, August 30, 2005.
Dembski, W. A., 1999. Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, Intervarsity Press, 1999, p. 224.
Dembski, W. A. and Richards, J. W., 2001. Unapologetic Apologetics, Intervarsity Press, 2001, p. 20.
Friedman, T. L., 2005. “The World is Flat, A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century,” Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2005.
Forrest, B. and Gross, P. R., 2003. “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design;” Oxford University Press, Nov. 2003.
Gallup poll, 1997. http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_publi.htm.
Gallup News Service, 2000. “Kansas Voters Fail to Re-Nominate Anti-Evolution School Board Members.” Gallup News Service. Poll analyses. August 2. Available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr000802b.asp.
Getty, S. and Berman, M., 2005. “International Competitiveness: Where Do We Stand?” The Natural Selection, BSCS, Winter 2005.
Holt, R. 2005. “Intelligent Design: It's Not Even Wrong,” Sep. 8, 2005, http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/9/8/183216/1039.
Lenard, R., 1996. “Standard Fosters Scientific Rigor,” Albuquerque Journal, Sep. 21, 1996.
Newsweek magazine, 1987. June 29, 1987, page 23; and http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_publi.htm.
NSF, 1999. Characteristics of Scientists and Engineers in the United States: 1999; http://srsstats.sbe.nsf.gov/preformatted-tables/1999/tables/TableC1.pdf.
NSF, 2000. Ch. 8: Science and Technology: Public Understanding and Public Attitudes; http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind00/c8/c8h.htm.
PollingReport.com, 2005. http://www.pollingreport.com/.
Reynolds, J. M. “Origin of Torrey,” Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University, (removed from original site; now at http://web.archive.org/web/20000124070727/http://www.biola.edu/academics/torrey/origin.cfm).
Schoenborn, C. 2005. Finding Design in Nature, Op Ed by Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, New York Times, July 7, 2005; http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/07/opinion/07schonborn.html.
Wedge Strategy, 1999. Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture;