Journalists traipse onto dangerous terrain when they presume to pontificate on Intelligent Design. They almost never look good in the doing of it.
Marcia Mercer, for example, inanely criticizes President Bush for answering a question about his opinion on teaching ID. His answer was honest and straight forward, but that's not good enough for the censorious Ms Mercer. She protests, oddly enough, that the president should've followed the example of Calvin Coolidge who, even during the provocative days of the Scopes' trial, said nothing about the subject of evolution.
It apparently hasn't occured to Ms. Mercer that President Coolidge may not have had an opinion on the matter that he deemed worth sharing, but never mind. Her suggestion is too weird to spend any time contemplating. After all, if all occupants of the White House should observe presidential precedents what should a future president do when he finds himself alone in the Oval Office with a young intern and a cigar?
As silly as Mercer's advice to the president was, an essay by Newsweek's resident philosopher Jonathan Alter wins this week's prize for polemical ineptitude. Alter writes:
One wonders where Alter dug up this interesting little factoid. He doesn't tell us and gives us no reason to accept his assertion that we have fewer science majors today than, say, twenty years ago. Even if it were true however, it is much more likely to be a consequence of the reality that science is hard and the marketplace may be offering higher rewards for less difficult pursuits. Alter's assumption that the (unsubstantiated) dearth of science majors is due to right-wing suspicions seems dubious on its face. The "pernicious right-wing notion" that biology is vaguely atheistic, after all, is no more widely held now than it's been since the end of the 19th century.
Moreover, even if the suspicion that conventional biology is hostile to faith is more widely held today, there would be good reason for it since scientists and Darwinian philosophers, especially those who popularize science for a wide audience, keep telling us it is. Carl Sagan, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and others insist that Darwinism is a universal acid, to use Dennett's phrase, that is corrosive to religious belief. Dawkins is adamant that an anti-religious stance, to borrow from an article on him in the September issue of Discover, is a natural outgrowth of evolutionary thought. The article quotes Dawkins as saying that "It is very clear that much of the opposition to evolution in this country...is fed by the suspicion, which I happen to think is justified, that evolution really is antireligious." Little wonder that people have absorbed the "pernicious right-wing notion."
Mr. Alter has concluded from his no doubt copious reading of the literature on the subject, and his attendence at the numerous conferences where the matter is on the agenda, that the idea that a debate exists out here in the hinterlands between Darwinians and Intelligent Design theorists is just an illusion. The matter has been settled and we can all just go home. That's a relief.
After proclaiming victory and an end to hostilities, Alter stumbles by irrelevantly citing Mr. Marburger. The question is not so much whether ID is science as it is whether Darwinian naturalism is science. If ID and Darwinian naturalism are philosophical mirror images, which they are, then whatever perquisites one enjoys in science education should also be available to the other. Alter unwittingly confirms this point in his next paragraph:
What Alter fails to tell us is that the Darwinian claim that specified and irreducible complexity can self-organize and/or result from chance, energy, and physical law alone is also unproven and definitely unprovable. It walks like science and talks like science, but it's a purely metaphysical assumption. So why should it be allowed to be taught in public schools?
Alter presses on:
Of course, though perhaps one despairs by this point of Alter's willingness to grasp this, it's not evolution that's under assault by ID theorists. It's the Darwinian version of evolution which denies any role in the process of the differentiation of life to intelligent agency that ID theorists are challenging.
Alter slyly perpetuates in this passage the error that ID is religion. This appears to be a tactic consistently employed by opponents of ID to discredit it among the public by constant repetition of the libel. There is nothing about ID that is religious. It has religious implications, certainly, but then so does Darwinism.
This claim is simply false. The science (More correctly, the philosophical conclusions drawn from the facts of empirical science) has not been demolished. It's been challenged, it's been attacked, it's been derided, misrepresented, slandered, and maligned, but very little of what ID theorists have written has ever been refuted. Alter seems to think that if someone responds to an opponent's argument in strong cadences with an overlay of dogmatic certainty that he has thereby "demolished" his opponent's case.
Alter says that the most clever thing about ID is that it doesn't sound like nonsense. It could be, somebody might tell him, that that's because it's not.
Ah. The old guilt by association chestnut. Rather than use his space to consider what the ID theorists themselves are saying and doing, Alter just trots out some of right-wing boogeymen with which to frighten the children. It's ironic that evolutionists get upset when people concerned about the philosophical implications of evolution quote Richard Dawkins' screeds against religion, but Alter thinks it perfectly reasonable to cite the opinions of Bill O'Reilly and James Dobson as if they were somehow relevant to the question of the merits of ID.
Undaunted by his embarrassing lack of understanding of the topic upon which he professes to instruct us, Alter turns oracular:
"Wreak havoc with his legacy"? Alter adds the office of prophet to his already distinguished roles of in-house scientist and philosopher. That he knows the future with such assurance is breathtaking for those of us limited by the constraints of space and time.
"Harming science"? How, exactly, have Bush's policies harmed science? Alter needs no justification for these simple-minded asseverations, of course. His readers can be expected to understand that Bush is a dolt so whatever Alter says about the catastrophic nature of anything he does just has to be true.
One is left wondering how many books by any prominent ID thinker Alter has ever read. My guess is that the answer is zero, since he understands so little about the matter. Too bad that doesn't stop him from writing about it. It makes you wonder who the real dolt is.