Intelligent Design: Creationism’s Trojan Horse - A Conversation With Barbara Forrest

Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La., is co-author of the new book Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press). Written with Paul R. Gross, who holds a Ph.D. in general physiology, the book explains the Religious Right’s strategy for working “intelligent design” creationism into America’s public schools. 

Forrest, a member of Americans United’s National Advisory Council, recently discussed the book with Church & State, and an excerpt from the interview ran in the February issue. The complete interview is below. For more information about the book, visit Forrest’s website at www.creationismstrojanhorse.com.

Q. In your new book, Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, you focus on The Wedge strategy pioneered by Phillip Johnson. For those not familiar with it, what is “The Wedge” strategy and what it its ultimate goal?

A. The Wedge strategy is the intelligent design movement’s tactical plan for promoting intelligent design (ID) creationism as an alternative to evolutionary theory in the American cultural mainstream and public school science classes. The movement’s 5-, 10- and 20-year goals are outlined in a document on the Internet entitled “The Wedge Strategy.” Informally known as the “Wedge Document,” it was a fundraising tool used by the Discovery Institute to raise money for its creationist subsidiary, the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), which was established in 1996 and is now called the Center for Science and Culture. According to the Wedge Document, the strategy is designed to defeat “Darwinism” and to promote an idea of science “consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” The ultimate goal of the Wedge strategy is to “renew” American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian values.

The intelligent design creationists who are executing this strategy collectively refer to themselves as “the Wedge.” Phillip Johnson, the architect of the strategy and the group’s de facto leader, invokes the metaphor of a wood-splitting wedge to illustrate his goal of splitting apart the concepts of science and naturalism. A fundamental part of the Wedge strategy is the rejection of naturalism as unnecessary to science. Of course, the only alternative to naturalism is supernaturalism. But ID proponents avoid this word when speaking to mainstream audiences, substituting thinly disguised euphemisms such as “non-natural.” They believe that such semantic subterfuge will enable them to skirt the constitutional prohibitions against promoting religion in public schools. They have not always avoided mentioning the supernatural, however. In the movement’s early years, when Johnson brought together the Wedge’s younger members, they had to build a base of religious, political, and financial support. This required revealing the true nature of their program. The CRSC’s early website announced that new developments in the sciences were “raising serious doubts about scientific materialism and re-opening the case for the supernatural.” This was a clear signal to potential supporters that the CRSC was open for business as a religious organization dedicated to opposing evolution.

Science, however, is a naturalistic enterprise. Scientists cannot appeal to supernatural explanations because there is neither a methodology for testing them nor an epistemology for knowing the supernatural. Science has a naturalistic methodology, known less controversially as “scientific method.” That simply means that scientists seek natural explanations for natural phenomena. Science also has an epistemology, namely, the use of human sensory faculties to collect empirical data about the world and the use of our rational faculties to draw conclusions and construct explanations of this data. This is the only successful way to do science, and the pragmatic success of this naturalistic methodology is the only reason scientists use it. There is neither a conspiracy by scientists to prohibit “alternative explanations” nor an arbitrary commitment to naturalism, as ID proponents charge. Scientists use this naturalistic methodology because it works. Period.

Yet ID proponents argue that science need not be naturalistic but can -- indeed must -- appeal to an intelligent designer, i.e., a supernatural being, in order to explain the natural world adequately. In short, since the ID movement cannot really influence the way science is actually done (even the scientists among them do not use the concept of ID in their professional scientific work), they want to influence the way science is understood by the American public and by policymakers. But the idea they are promoting is nothing more than a return to the pre-modern concept of science in which the religious beliefs of its practitioners shaped their explanation of the natural world.

Q. What is the relationship between advocates of The Wedge and the older school of creationists who promote a literal reading of the Bible and think Earth is only 6,000 years old? Wedge advocates like Johnson and Michael Behe say they reject young-Earth creationism, yet many young-Earthers seem to have endorsed the Wedge strategy. What is going on here?

A. There is a marriage of convenience between young-Earth creationists (YECs) and ID creationists. The fundamentalist YECs insist on the literal interpretation of Genesis, which includes the view that Earth is only 6,000-10,000 years old. Most ID proponents are evangelicals who allow a little more room for biblical interpretation than fundamentalists do. They are not literalists but accept modern scientific evidence that Earth is several billion years old. This is a source of conflict between the two groups, but YECs have had their day in court (quite a few of them, in fact) and have lost every time. They know that they have no hope of getting their own views into public school science classes. Phillip Johnson knows this, too, but he also needs the YECs’ political support. And there are YECs in the ID movement such as Paul Nelson, a philosopher, and Nancy Pearcey, a Christian writer and commentator. Both are longtime CRSC fellows. YECs and ID proponents are united by their social and political conservatism, so Johnson has tried to construct a “big tent,” a coalition of YECs and ID creationists, hoping to use the strength of their combined numbers as a political force. The YECs have gone along, grudgingly at times, eager to profit from the Wedge’s hoped-for success at getting ID into public schools. For them, ID is now the only game in town.

But the strategy and arguments ID proponents use are the same ones the YECs have always used. ID terminology is somewhat more scientifically sophisticated and religiously sanitized, but not so much that YECs cannot recognize its true identity as creationism. In chapter 9 of Creationism’s Trojan Horse, my co-author and I catalogue the parallels between ID and the “creation science” of well-known YECs Henry Morris and Duane Gish. For instance, Both Morris and Gish have stated that in promoting creationism, discussions of the Bible should be strategically avoided. Johnson says exactly the same thing. One of the “evidences” Morris and Gish offer for their antievolutionism is the supposed absence of transitional fossils. Philosopher/mathematician/Christian apologist William Dembski, the chief Wedge intellectual, makes the same charge in Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design, where he hits all the same antievolutionist notes that YECs traditionally do. We list a number of such similarities in our book and could have included even more.

Despite occasional carping by the YECs about ID’s not being biblical enough, they carefully avoid criticizing it too harshly and sometimes publicize their alliance with it. Young-Earther Ashby Camp, writing for the Creation Research Society’s Creation Matters, has said, “If the science establishment can be forced to acknowledge the scientific case for intelligent design, theism will become part of the ‘post-Christian’ cultural air. . . . If ID is successful in changing the culture, the presumption against the supernatural will be eliminated.” YECs clearly think they have something to gain from this partnership. However, there are signals from within ID ranks that they do not hold their fundamentalist allies in high esteem. One of the Wedge Document’s goals is for seminaries to “increasingly recognize and repudiate naturalistic presuppositions.” Dembski and his Wedge colleague Jay Wesley Richards, in a 2001 book they co-edited, Unapologetic Apologetics, seek to “transform mainline seminaries in particular and the secular academic world in general.” But they consider fundamentalism a problem: “One obstacle is fundamentalism, which assumes all conceptual problems facing Christianity are easily resolved. . . . Fundamentalism prevents us from doing the quality work that’s needed to deserve the respect of the secular academic world.”  Yet Wedge members do not hesitate to appear in public with their fundamentalist allies. The YEC/ID political marriage will likely last as long as both sides think there is hope of some headway in furthering the ID agenda.

Q. Advocates of intelligent design argue that their ideas are not necessarily religious. Yet it would seem that if humans were intelligently designed, the designer must have been God. In light of this, how do ID proponents argue that their ideas are not religious in nature?

A. ID creationists contend that the work of an intelligent designer can be empirically detected in nature, but they evade questions about the designer’s identity and the mechanisms through which it works by insisting that detecting its activity does not require knowing its identity. They argue that ID is based on cutting-edge science. Yet even ID proponents with legitimate science credentials have never produced one iota of original scientific data to support these claims. Biochemist Michael Behe never invokes ID in any of his professional publications. He surely would do this if he really believed that ID is a genuine scientific theory. In his role as an ID proponent, he claims that biological structures such as bacterial flagella are “irreducibly complex,” meaning that their parts could not have been assembled over time by natural selection and that the absence of one part would by definition make the entire structure nonfunctional. Yet he admits that his definition of irreducible complexity is flawed and has not so far produced a promised revision of it. Dembski, who has no science credentials, claims to have developed a test for detecting intelligently designed complexity in biological systems, but he has never made a successful attempt to show how it works and ignores requests to produce data that might enable others to do it. So despite their argument that ID is not religious, it certainly is not science.

As to whether ID is religious, we can go straight to the horse’s mouth to verify this. Fortunately, members of the Wedge themselves have made the task very easy by confirming unambiguously on numerous occasions that ID is fundamentally a religious belief. Insisting that their concerns are scientific and educational, they complain that their motives are irrelevant to the merits of their arguments. But in the absence of scientific accomplishment, the ID movement rests only on its proponents’ religious motives and goals, revealed through their own pronouncements. As early as 1992, Dembski stipulated that when he spoke of an intelligent designer, he was referring to a “supernatural intelligence.” The “Wedge Strategy,” written between 1996 and 1998, states that “the proposition that human beings are created in the image of God” has been under “wholesale attack” by people like “Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud.” It states further that “the cultural consequences of this triumph of materialism were devastating.” So much for the Wedge’s non-religious motives. Furthermore, according to this document, “Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.”  Once materialism is dead, the Wedge hopes to reinstate a “broadly theistic understanding of nature.” So much for non-religious goals. The Discovery Institute has tried to downplay the significance of this document, but it is the Wedge’s own statement of their strategy, and they are stuck with it. And contrary to their posturing as a secular, scientific organization, they have continued to provide a great deal more evidence of ID’s religious identity.

Phillip Johnson confirmed that ID is a religious belief in 1996, the year the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture was established, when the Wedge had to make its religious identity known in order to attract support. Johnson stated, “My colleagues and I speak of ‘theistic realism’-- or sometimes, ‘mere creation’ -- as the defining concept of our movement. This means that we affirm that God is objectively real as Creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology.” He clearly wants people to see ID as an idea that can supplant naturalistic science with divine revelation: “If life is not simply matter evolving by natural selection, but is something that had to be designed by a creator who is real, then the nature of that creator, and the possibility of revelation, will become a matter of widespread interest among thoughtful people who are currently being taught that evolutionary science has shown God to be a product of the human imagination.” He referred to the Wedge’s religious goals in a 2001 speech before an audience of supporters when he explained that Wedge leaders founded the ID movement to explain the evidence for “a Creator” and to “unify the religious world.” In an interview that same year, Johnson predicted that “with the success of intelligent design,” people would understand that “the Christians have been right all along -- at least on major elements of the story, like divine creation.” That realization, according to Johnson, would forestall the argument that Christian ideas have “no legitimate place in public education, in public lawmaking, in public discussion generally.”

Yet despite Wedge members’ claim that ID is a scientific alternative to evolution, they don’t dare carry this charade too far. In order to maintain their standing with conservative religious supporters -- and fend off fundamentalist criticisms that ID is not sufficiently  biblical -- they have to show that ID is indeed biblically based. But they also want to avoid divisive arguments over the age of Earth, etc., so they simply substitute the Book of John for the Book of Genesis. Johnson says that the biblical basis for ID is John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. / The same was in the beginning with God. / All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” Johnson appeals to this minimalist account of divine creation instead of Genesis, which invokes a literalist interpretation of the Bible that many ID proponents do not share and introduces a source of contention into the “big tent.”

In a 1999 article for the Christian magazine Touchstone, Dembski confirmed the foundation of ID in John 1 when he assured readers that “Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.” And in Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, the 1999 book in which Dembski explains ID for his Christian audience, he makes it clear that “divine Logos” is God’s own language, “the Word that in Christ was made flesh.” He seals the connection between the concept of divine creation and ID as “Logos theology” when he asserts that “God speaks the divine Logos to create the world.” He even specifies in this book about ID that God must be male!

There is a wealth of such statements. So Wedge leaders’ argument that ID is not religious is a complete sham. ID proponents use it with mainstream audiences for public relations and legal purposes. It does not reflect the true essence of ID creationism.

Q. Is there a conflict between what ID backers tell the public through the media and what they say before conservative Christian audiences?

A. There is a noticeable conflict, but it is studied and deliberate. When speaking to a mainstream audience and to the media, ID proponents must pretend that ID is a secular, scientific theory. In short, they actually have to deny the religious foundation of their own ideas. Philosopher of science Robert Pennock, who has written extensively about ID, says, “When lobbying for ID in the public schools, Wedge members sometimes deny that ID makes any claims about the identity of the designer. It is ironic that their political strategy leads them to deny God in the public square more often than Peter did.”  Moreover, Wedge members are now disavowing their own terminology because the term “intelligent design” has become a liability for them. They are doing this for two reasons. First, because of the Discovery Institute’s successful public relations campaign to make “intelligent design” a household word, more people now also recognize it as the religious concept of creationism. Second, the Wedge is waging an unrelenting campaign to get ID into public school sciences classes in some form. They have come close to doing that in Ohio, where they succeeded in getting the State Board of Education to adopt a creationist lesson plan. So they are now using euphemisms to refer to ID in an attempt to craft a workable legal defense should there be a lawsuit in Ohio or elsewhere. They claim not to be promoting the teaching of “intelligent design,” but rather the teaching of the “controversy” over evolution, or the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolutionary theory, or “arguments against evolution.”  

But when speaking to what the Wedge Document calls their “natural constituency, namely [conservative] Christians,” ID creationists express themselves unambiguously in religious language, as I have shown above. They know that they cannot afford to do too good a job of disguising their true religious loyalties, since only by maintaining their conservative Christian base can they also maintain their political momentum -- and their major funding sources, virtually all of which are religious organizations and individuals such as Howard Ahmanson.

Q. Intelligent design supporters often portray it in the media as some new, ground-breaking idea. But isn’t it true that the argument from design is an old, discredited idea that actually pre-dates Charles Darwin? What are the origins of what is now called intelligent design?

A. The argument from design is indeed very old and illustrates how pre-scientific people constructed explanations of the cosmos that reflect their own experience as intelligent agents. Thomas Aquinas used it as one of his arguments for God’s existence, noting that many natural objects function as though they are aiming toward “the best result.” Thomas reasoned that since an object lacking intelligence cannot do this without external guidance from an intelligent being, there must be such a being by whom unintelligent things are purposefully directed. The idea of intelligent design is also central to William Paley’s 1802 book, Natural Theology, where he presents his famous watchmaker analogy. Although ID proponents, particularly Dembski, deny that ID is natural theology, the resemblance between what Paley said in 1802 and what Dembski says today is striking. Reading Paley is like reading works by ID creationists in many ways.

Q. The Foundation for Thought and Ethics published “Of Pandas and People,” a popular ID volume. The name of this group sounds innocuous. What did your research turn up about the Foundation?

A. The Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) is a publishing company headquartered in Richardson, Texas. The founder and president is Jon A. Buell, whom the FTE website describes as an “author, editor, and lecturer.” Although the website is registered under the organizational name, William Dembski is the administrative contact, and the FTE mailing address is actually Dembski’s. FTE has been an integral partner in the Wedge strategy since Phillip Johnson first organized the Wedge in the early 1990s. FTE also holds the copyright to the creationist textbook, Of Pandas and People, which it markets to teachers and tried unsuccessfully to have adopted by the Plano, Texas, school district in 1995. It also co-sponsored the ID movement’s first conference in 1992, which its website touts with overblown rhetoric as “a historic event” that was “soon felt at even the top levels of science in America.” FTE published the conference proceedings and sells other “educational resources” on its website; these include all the major ID books. Dembski is the FTE’s “Academic Editor.” FTE’s true mission is to put materials into the hands of parents, students and teachers that promote a conservative Christian worldview. One of its most recent efforts is described in a fundraising letter in which FTE promotes its book, Sex and Character, apparently attempting to cash in on rising interest in abstinence education in public schools, or, as FTE puts it, to “increase the cleansing tonic we are sending into the classrooms of our country’s youngest citizens.” 

Q. Your book contains a lot of information about the Discovery Institute. What is this organization, and what tactics does it use to promote the spread of ID in public schools?

A. The Discovery Institute is a conservative think tank in Seattle, Washington. Its founder and president is Bruce Chapman, a former member of the Reagan administration. The organization has several interests centering around transportation and other issues in the Pacific Northwest, but it functions primarily as the headquarters of the ID movement. Although it purports to be a secular organization, its religious moorings are clearly recognizable. Patricia O’Connell Killen, a religion professor at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma whose work centers around the regional religious identity of the Pacific Northwest, recently wrote that “religiously inspired think tanks such as the conservative evangelical Discovery Institute” are part of the “religious landscape” of that area.

Discovery Institute’s most important subsidiary is its creationist arm, the Center for Science and Culture (CSC), established in 1996 as the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in order to advance the Wedge strategy. Chapman calls the center “our No. 1 project.” Although the CSC website advertises lucrative fellowships of up to $50,000 a year for “support of significant and original research in the natural sciences, the history and philosophy of science, cognitive science and related fields,” none of the center’s fellows has ever produced the scientific research which the Wedge Document says is to form the foundation of the Wedge strategy.

Instead of producing original scientific data to support ID’s claims, the Discovery Institute has promoted ID politically to the public, education officials and public policymakers. In 2000, the Wedge held a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., to promote ID to lawmakers. ID creationists have tried to influence the content of state and local science standards, the content of state-approved science textbooks, and even the No Child Left Behind Act. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania inserted a sense of the Senate resolution into the bill calling for students to be taught why evolution “generates so much continuing controversy. The resolution was actually a pro-ID subterfuge designed to bolster the Wedge’s claim to have congressional support for their efforts. Few of the senators who voted to support the “Santorum amendment” actually could have recognized the resolution for what it truly was, however. Pro-science organizations succeeded in having the resolution removed from the bill, but Wedge supporters on the conference committee preserved it in the bill’s legislative history. The item is not federal law, but just as its author Phillip Johnson planned, it is constantly cited by ID supporters as providing federal sanction for their pro-ID agenda.

ID proponents are the first creationists to establish such high-level political influence in the nation’s capitol. Sen. Santorum is their most vocal supporter there, but there are others. Reps. John Boehner and Steve Chabot of Ohio and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, along with Santorum, have signed letters supporting the Discovery Institute’s interpretation of the Santorum amendment. One of those letters was sent to the president and vice-president of the Ohio Board of Education; the other was sent to the Texas Board of Education.

Discovery Institute’s efforts have caused problems in a number of states, notably Kansas, Montana, Texas and Ohio. (Only 10 states have not had problems with ID.) And there are two additional de facto Wedge subsidiaries. Access Research Network (ARN), headquartered in Colorado Springs, serves as a clearinghouse and marketer for ID books, videotapes, etc. The Intelligent Design Network (IDnet), which does a great deal of the footwork with state and local boards of education, is headquartered in Kansas but has extended the Wedge’s reach through branches in New Mexico and Minnesota. IDnet operatives also worked closely with Science Excellence for All Ohioans, which spearheaded the highly publicized effort to insert ID into the science standards in Ohio. 

Discovery Institute also employs staff at its Seattle headquarters whose main task is to advance the Wedge strategy through an aggressive public relations campaign. One of their most disturbing public relations coups was convincing PBS to sell a creationist video, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, as a science film in its online store for two years. Fortunately, but only after misleading unsuspecting customers for all this time, PBS has stopped selling the video. But the Wedge public relations campaign continues. Apparently unhappy with unfavorable media coverage, Discovery Institute now features a weblog, “Evolution News & Views.” Rob Crowther, CSC director of communications, explains this initiative: “We’re going to use this blog [to] inform, analyze, and expose how the news media cover -- and fail to cover -- the scientific controversy over Darwinian evolution…. We not only plan to offer critiques and corrections to major news stories, we will also offer behind-the-scenes glimpses at journalists and how they operate when they report on this issue.” The media must be quaking in their boots.

The Center for Science and Culture has also announced the establishment of the “CSC Discovery Society,” which its website bills as a “select grassroots mobilization force designed to support the work -- and disseminate the message -- of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.” Members are assured that they will be supporting “cutting-edge research that challenges Darwinian evolution and validates the intelligent design of life and the universe.” The $300 annual membership fee may help keep the Discovery Society very select. 

Q. You teach at the university level and your coauthor, Paul Gross, has a Ph.D. in general physiology. Based on your knowledge of higher education in America, is intelligent design commonly taught in university-level biology courses as a serious alternative to Darwinian theory?

A. No. Respectable university science departments teach evolution because it is the only scientific theory that explains the development of Earth’s life forms. The Wedge does have a following in academia, however. The cultivation of support in higher education is one of the most active parts of their strategy. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that they have faculty supporters on every university campus in this country, including at Ivy League schools. Some, such as Alvin Plantinga at Notre Dame and Frank Tipler at Tulane University, are high-profile figures in academia.

There are certainly religious schools that teach ID. Biola University and Oklahoma Baptist University are listed on the Access Research Network website as “ID Colleges.” In addition, the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, which began as a student organization at the University of California at San Diego, helps establish student IDEA clubs on university and high school campuses. The Intelligent Design and Undergraduate Research Center, ARN’s student division, also cultivates followers at universities. Campus youth ministries play an active role in bringing ID to university campuses through lectures by Wedge leaders Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe and other ID figures. But this activity takes place outside university science departments. No science program worth its salt is going to teach ID.

At a number of public universities, including the University of California at Berkeley and the University of New Mexico, sympathetic faculty have slipped ID courses under the radar as freshman seminars, honors courses and other courses outside required curricula in which instructors have wider latitude regarding course content. I predict that this will increase, and university administrators should be paying closer attention to what college students are getting in such classes. This is a question of professional competence. Students should not pay the price for dereliction of duty by instructors who are either not qualified to teach classes purporting to be about science or have subordinated scientific integrity to personal religious loyalties.

Q. Scientists publish the results of their research in peer-reviewed journals that are subject to rigorous scrutiny from other researchers working in the field. How do ID proponents disseminate their ideas? Are there peer-reviewed ID journals?

A. The major vehicle for the dissemination of ID is the roughly three dozen books its proponents have published and marketed aggressively. The Wedge strategy called for publication of 30 books by 2003, and that deadline was almost met. It probably has been met by now. Wedge members also write numerous op-eds and magazine articles and have made masterful use of the Internet. Two issues of Touchstone magazine have been devoted to ID. Christianity Today, which I had always considered a credible magazine, has unfortunately given ID a very high profile. Focus on the Family, in addition to co-publishing the creationist videotape Unlocking the Mystery of Life, which features the major Wedge leaders, publishes pro-ID articles on its website and in its Citizen magazine. Focus on the Family employee Mark Hartwig is also a CSC fellow, a connection which has helped to publicize ID extensively. James Dobson often features ID proponents on his Focus on the Family radio program.

ID creationists have published what they call “peer-reviewed” ID journals, but their peers consist of their own network of supporters. Origins and Design, which was formerly Origins Research, a publication by the creationist Students for Origins Research, was published by ARN for a number of years but is now apparently defunct. Dembski publishes Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, an electronic journal featuring articles by supporters of his online organization, the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID). But the publication standards of Dembski’s on-line journal are a bit lax. The editorial board consists of Dembski’s close associates. Most of the articles are by Wedge members and ID supporters, some of whom are only students. The articles are posted to ISCID’s discussion forum, which Dembski calls an “archive.” Once an article meets “basic scholarly standards” and is accepted into the archive, it is considered suitable for publication upon approval by one (it used to be two) of ISCID’s 58 fellows, who constitute the editorial advisory board. Describing standard procedures of scientific peer review as geared toward censorship, Dembski recently loosened his on-line journal’s publication standards even more for the sake of “novelty and creativity.”

ID proponents have long sought to stifle criticism that they publish no genuinely scientific, peer-reviewed articles on ID. They recently got a little help from a friend. A pro-ID article by CSC program director Stephen C. Meyer was published in a legitimate science journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The article, a review essay which presents no original ID research, is a revised version of a 2001 article on the “Cambrian explosion” that was first posted on the Intelligent Design and Undergraduate Research Center website. A later version also appeared in the book Meyer co-edited, Darwinism, Design and Public Education. The editor, Richard v. Sternberg, a creationist himself who left his position shortly after the article appeared, published it without allowing the journal’s associate editors to review it. The Biological Society of Washington Council has since repudiated the article and vowed that proper review procedures will henceforth be followed. The Wedge claimed a similar victory when an article by Michael Behe and David W. Snoke was published in Protein Science. But the paper has been critiqued by qualified scientists, who point out that “it contains no ‘design theory,’ makes no attempt to model an ‘intelligent design’ process, and proposes no alternative to evolution.” Neither article gives the Wedge the credibility they claim. As far as publishing original scientific data to support ID is concerned, their scorecard is still blank.

Q. To many people, this may seem like an esoteric debate over obtuse scientific questions. Why should parents be concerned? How will the outcome of this debate affect our children?

A. The debate is esoteric only in the sense that it involves science, which most Americans understand poorly despite their love of technology. But even though the average American’s scientific literacy is rather low, there are aspects of the issue that parents can and should understand. Americans insist that education is one of their chief priorities, but the United States is the world’s only industrialized country in which people are still fighting over evolution. Even developing countries are not doing this. Americans look like fools to the rest of the world.

The Wedge’s primary target audience is politically and religiously conservative people who hold the mistaken view that evolution threatens their moral and religious values, believe that ID is a real scientific theory and will support anyone who shares that view. Their secondary target is sincere but scientifically uninformed people who fall for ID proponents’ argument that all sides of an issue deserve a hearing. Desiring to encourage “critical thinking,” they are susceptible to the Wedge’s proposal that schools balance evolution with “teaching the controversy,” or “the strengths and weaknesses of evolution,” or “evidence against evolution” -- all well-known Wedge euphemisms for ID. But to teach ID in any of its guises is to balance truth with lies. There is no scientific controversy about the fact of biological evolution. There is only the fake controversy the Discovery Institute manufactured to advance its political and religious agenda. ID proponents know that few people in their audiences are willing or able to do the research that exposes ID as the sham it is. (Hence the need for books like Creationism’s Trojan Horse.) The unavoidable conclusion is that Wedge strategists are exploiting their audiences’ fears, religious loyalties and gullibility. This shows little respect for the people they convince to petition school board officials on behalf of ID.

Parents should be concerned about the resurgence of creationism as ID because it threatens the quality of their children’s education. It diminishes their chances for competing in the job market, making informed choices as consumers of medical care and making responsible contributions as citizens. Not the least of people’s concerns should be the enormous amounts of time and money being wasted on this issue. Science is one of the weakest areas of American education, and the resistance many teachers face when teaching evolution discourages them, especially those who are under prepared, from bothering with it. Parents should support teachers and insist that schools offer quality science instruction. If a school’s science instruction is good, it’s a pretty good bet that everything else is, too. Every day and every tax dollar spent fighting creationists, paying the costs of inevitable lawsuits, etc., is a day and a dollar not spent on decently educating children, and that should make parents fighting mad.

Q. Creationists have for years labored to undermine the teaching of evolution in the public schools. What is different about this new ID strategy? In what ways is it more sophisticated?

A. First, I want to stress that there is virtually nothing different about ID in terms of its identity as creationism. The “new” ID creationists use virtually the same arguments, employ the same tactics, and have the same agenda as the earlier “creation scientists.” That is clearly documented in our book.

The difference is that the creationists at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture are more aggressive and more politically connected and sophisticated than earlier creationists. The core group in the Wedge has the luxury of devoting themselves to these efforts, unlike their opponents, who do not have the benefit of wealthy benefactors to bankroll clerical staff, expensive advertising campaigns and political networking, as Wedge members do. 

Finally -- and I cannot stress this point strongly enough -- Americans who value their Constitution and religious freedom should be concerned about the larger problem of which ID is a prominent symptom. Americans need to know about the darker side of the Wedge strategy, which few people except its supporters have seen. ID is more than just creationism’s Trojan horse -- it is a stalking horse for the Religious Right’s effort to steamroll its way into American education and public policy. The core of this issue is really about power -- who controls education and thus the minds of children, and who controls the policy that shapes American culture and public life. ID proponents share the Religious Right’s dislike of secular education. They also share its theocratic vision for our country. Their most vocal supporters include powerful Religious Right leaders: James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly, Beverly LaHaye and D. James Kennedy.

The vision Wedge strategists have for American culture is not pretty. In addressing their conservative Christian audience, both Phillip Johnson and William Dembski promote a disturbing religious exclusionism and anti-secularism. Johnson has made comments that could be interpreted as anti-Muslim. Referring to Americans’ fear of “these Muslim terrorists” after September 11, he paints a picture of American professors who are “afraid of what the Muslim students will do” on their campuses. Commenting that he never thought “our country would descend to this level,” he implies that Muslims worship a false God: “We once knew who the true God was and were able to proclaim it frankly.” Dembski favors reviving the religious transgression of heresy even for fellow Christians. He recognizes the question his view might provoke: “Can’t we all just get along and live together in peace?” His answer should have all Americans worried: “Unfortunately, the answer is no.”