Monday, June 30, 2008

Michael Parenti: Dubious Design, Part Two

An adapted excerpt from God and His Demons, a forthcoming book by Michael Parenti

Since scientific theories in all fields contain some unanswered questions, why is evolution singled out by the intelligent designers as the one gap-ridden speculative theory? The answer is glaringly evident: evolution is in direct collision with Genesis. If evolution is true, then the Bible’s description of how God fashioned the world in six days and created humans in their present form seems much the fairy tale. And if Genesis is a fairy tale, then of what validity is the remainder of the divinely dictated tome that serves as the unerring fundament of Judaic-Christian belief?

The response offered by the scientific defenders of evolution is predictable and somewhat incomplete: “We have no way of testing and demonstrating the truth or falsity of non-natural spirit forces that are presumed to be acting in nature.” It would be nice if someday someone would add, “and neither do the intelligent designers.” That is the real problem. Of course, scientists cannot move outside their fundamental paradigm and demonstrate divine causation, but neither can the designing creationists.

This is a crucial point because the burden of proof for intelligent design is on the designers. Where is their field work, their laboratory experiments, their observational reports and accumulated evidence measuring the effects of ID vectors on various natural forces and entities, all the things we would expect from a scientific inquiry interested in “hard facts”?

This is the problem with teaching ID: what would you actually teach? How could you judge the reliability of what you teach? How do we determine what is or isn’t evidentiary if one can postulate a priori an unseen supreme designer lurking behind everything? In the two decades since ID has emerged, it has generated no important experiments or insights into biology, and looks less and less like a science and increasingly like a theological polemic.

Advocates of ID seem untroubled by their own scientific illiteracy. One of them asserts that there is no evidence of a protracted evolution because “all the vertebrate groups, from fish to mammals appear [in the fossil record] at one time.” Not true, George Monbiot responds; the first fish fossils and the first mammal fossils are separated from each other by some 300 million years.

ID proponents make much of the human eye. Given the intricacy and delicate precision that enables it to perform its marvelous function, and “the purposeful arrangement of parts,” the eye could never have developed from hit-and-miss mutation and natural selection, the argument goes. If evolution were true, there would be fossils of particular animals without vision and others with varying degrees of eye development strung out across the ages, but “such fossils do not exist,” the intelligent designers maintain. But such fossils do exist, Monbiot reminds us; the fossil record does indeed stretch across the ages with countless eyes “in all stages of development.”

As for the creationists, it is not that they have questions about particular aspects of evolution, as might we all. Rather they deny that it ever happened. They believe the book of Genesis is literally true. Possessed of the absolute truth as they see it, they are not prone to tolerate alternative perspectives. They are not interested in a pluralism of views. They do not want to supplement evolutionary theory but to replace it. , even as they call for more tolerance in secular schools and increasingly greater exposure for their own “explanation.”

Its proponents insist that ID is not religiously anchored; it requires neither miracles nor a creator. They avoid mention of the six-day jiffy creation and other biblical narratives. But if ID is not supernatural, then how does it act as a first and perfect universalistic template for all this imperfect unfinished world? How can it create the natural world in all its wondrous and presumably irreducible complexity if it is itself merely a component of that complexity? Here is a designer that is the source of all creation’s form and content but which itself cannot be subjected to any kind of scientific study, a designer that supposedly is fixed in nature yet transcends ordinary materiality.

The designers centered at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank in Seattle, revealed their religiously motivated hand in their now infamous and strikingly candid, in-house document, “The Wedge Strategy,” written in 1999 and leaked to the public some time later. According to “The Wedge Strategy,” the ultimate goal of intelligent design is “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies” replacing scientific materialism “with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

The authors of this document blame evolutionary theory and materialistic science for most of the world’s evils. They write, “Thinking they could engineer the perfect society through the application of scientific knowledge, materialist reformers advocated coercive government programs that falsely promised to create heaven on earth.” In sum, ID is not a field of study; it is a refined fundamentalist preachment in service to a reactionary political agenda.

The creationists and ID designers appear to be championing free speech and diversity of ideas when they urge that students be taught more than just Darwinism. In fact they themselves are not interested in a pluralism of views. They do not favor the teaching of every theory of creation.

There are as many stories of how the world began and how it is held together as there are tribal mythologies and tales. The fundamentalist Jesus worshippers are concerned only about the Genesis narrative, the one they want accorded exclusive standing in the schools.

Thus in 1999, creationists on the Kansas state board of education removed nearly all references to evolution from the curriculum. Such references were restored only after Kansas voters ousted the creationist bloc in 2001. In short, the creationists do not want to supplement evolutionary theory but to replace it, which – as demonstrated in Kansas – is exactly what they do when afforded the opportunity.

* Michael Parenti’s lastest books are Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (2007), Democracy for the Few, 8th ed. (2007), and The Culture Struggle (2006). The above is adapted from his forthcoming book God and His Demons. For further information about the author, visit www.michaelparenti.org.
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