Wednesday, November 14, 2007

It Is Designed, Just Not Very Intelligently

Some of the few reasons for ever keeping cable television are PBS' series Nova and Frontline. Both present intelligent, thoughtful, incisive documentaries, the former on science and technology, the latter on political and social and cultural issues. The latest Nova is a kind of wedding of the two, covering the Dover, DE Intelligent Design Case. Greg Anrig writes about it today at TPM Cafe:
In watching the documentary, I was struck by the parallels between the Dover story and movement conservatism generally. The selling of “intelligent design,” and the idea itself, has much in common with Social Security privatization, supply-side economics, the invasion of Iraq, school vouchers, and other half-baked causes that the right has relentlessly been pushing in recent decades.

For example, central to the selling of the intelligent design idea was the creation in 1996 of The Discovery Institute’s Center for Renewal of Science and Culture, initially funded by the Ahmanson family and the MacLellan Foundation (which supports organizations committed to “furthering of the Kingdom of Christ”). The Center housed and otherwise supported an eclectic mix of people, usually affiliated with universities, who in one way or another tried to come up with examples that would reinforce their claims about intelligent design.

It developed an internal game plan called the “Wedge Strategy,” which states as an overarching goal the replacement of science as currently practiced with “theistic and Christian science.” What the center was most effective at was developing a soft-sell marketing pitch intended to minimize the opposition that would arise against a creationism hard-sell. So, for example, it advocated that biology classes “teach the controversy” as a means of incorporating its attacks on Darwinism into lesson plans, rather than insisting that intelligent design replace evolution.

Basically, the Discovery Institute’s Center was in the business of marketing—not research. . . .

Now think about the role played by the Cato Institution and the Heritage Foundation in selling Social Security privatization. Akin to the “Wedge Document,” they developed the 1983 game plan “Achieving a 'Leninist' Strategy.” For years they honed a pitch aimed at reassuring everyone that, far from phasing out Social Security, they actually wanted to bolster it. They even softened the lingo from “privatization” to “private accounts.” When confronted with fundamental flaws with the concept, such as the massive additional federal debt it would create while imposing added risks on Americans, the think tanks came up with lame excuses while steaming full speed ahead with the same ill-conceived idea that would advance their broader agenda. Just as some intelligent design advocates outright lied in saying religion had nothing to do with their motivations, many privatization advocates lied in saying they wanted to strengthen Social Security.(emphases added)

I would add that, not only is "Intelligent Design" more a marketing strategy than anything closely resembling a serious scientific theory, it also uses the kind of coded language - referred to derisively if truthfully by some as "dog whistle politics" - that Republicans have developed to appeal to southern racism since Richard Nixon honed the infamous "Southern Strategy". By blabbing about "law and order" and "State's Rights" and "Reverse Discrimination", Republicans have made appeals to racist sentiments as a wedge to divide the old Confederacy from their multi-generational ties to the Democratic Party. While there is a sense of "good riddance to bad rubbish" in that instance (the IQ of both parties increased when Strom Thurmond became a Republican), the deeper issue here is that, like the "Southern Strategy", Republicans can pretend a certain plausible deniability in regards to the religious nature of Intelligent Design. By refusing to admit they have tried to put lipstick on the fetal pig of creationism, and by playing around with such wonderful sounding things as "teaching the controversy", they make themselves look all high-minded and open, and the scientists who oppose them appear dogmatic and narrow. To the extent that it was a successful marketing strategy, it worked like gangbusters, just like the Southern Strategy gave us Jesse Helms (who ran an ad showing white hands crumpling a rejection letter, clearly indicating that minority set-asides had denied a job to a qualified white man for an unqualified black man), Newt Gingrich (a whole book could be written about this guy; several, if one includes psychological profiles), and a whole host of not-quite-closeted bigots who have disgraced our public life.

Lucky for us, and especially for Dover Public Schools, since the question became a court case, which deals in facts rather than political marketing, the issue of the religious nature of Intelligent Design could be decided on the merits, and was. No amount of blowing on the dog whistle could change the fact that not just lipstick, but rouge, a dress, and pumps had been put on the creationist pig, only to be stripped away revealing . . . a pig.

The judge in this case admitted that, although this particular case was over, the fight would continue only shows that the "Designer" may have been "Intelligent", but some of those so designed were not gifted with that same attribute. Lucky for us we have Nova to remind us that, no matter how much you try, a pig in a dress is still just bacon on the cloven hoof.

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