Writing and Thinking
Christmas Past

Semi-Intelligent Design

Modern Europe and America have thus been divided, politically and ideologically, into three camps.  There are liberals... There are Marxists...  both are rationalistic, and both, in intention, are scientific and empirical.  But from the point of view of practical politics the division is sharp.

The third section of modern opinion, represented politically by Nazis and fascists, differs philosophically from the other two far more profoundly than they differ from each other.  It is anti-rational and anti-scientific. ... It emphasizes will, especially will to power; this it believes to be mainly concentrated in certain races and individuals, who therefore have a right to rule.

When Russell wrote those lines in his History, it was 1943, and he was living in the United States.  He believed that the US represented the great hope of rational, liberal thought ("liberal" in the philosophical tradition of Locke and Hume, of course, not in the narrow political sense in which it is currently used).  He was wrong.

The battle over Intelligent Design is profoundly about what knowledge is.  It isn't science, it's metaphysics.  The battle is about whether or not we believe that science, as it has been practiced over the last four hundred years, is a legitimate method for understanding the world, or if, in fact, it is dangerous because it may lead us to question metaphysical and religious truths.  To insert Intelligent Design into science classes, is to undermine the very notion of what scientific knowledge is.

As a metaphysical theory, it was pretty thoroughly debunked back in the 17th century after Leibniz, its last great proponent.  It is amusing to turn to Russell again, when, just before explicating Leibniz's arguments he says, "it is well to realise that modern theologians no longer rely on them."  When it is closely examined, it is such a lousy theory.  What intelligent designer would have created human bodies that are so frail, weak and subject to so many failures?  The frightening thing about intelligent design is what it reveals about the nature of the creator -- I'd rather believe it's some half-crazed crackpot  imp run amok than to think that an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful deity made such a botched job of it.   In order to make the theory of intelligent design internally consistent, you have to address the problem of evil, and you cannot do that without resorting to a clearly religious argument of some sort.  To proclaim that Intelligent Design is science is to reveal oneself to be intellectually dishonest or profoundly ignorant.

What I found most striking in Judge Jones' decision in the Pennsylvania case was his pointing out that the evidence clearly showed how the proponents had intentionally lied.  But I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  Why should someone who believes that science and rational thought are dangerous and even evil feel bound by normal conventions of truth and falsity?  If God requires a little deceit in order to move the flag of faith forward, why should any true believer hesitate?

For those who adhere to W's worldview, science is a tremendous threat.  It leads children to think for themselves, to examine evidence, to develop an argument along logical lines, and to go wherever the facts lead.  But that assumes that there are objective facts to discover.  And as our president's minions have pointed out, the "fact-based" world is outmoded.  What our president's partisans admire so much is his unshakeable will -- clear evidence of his right to rule.


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