Shame, shame, shame… on the Discovery Institute

11 01 2007

PZ posted a letter from this weeks issue of Nature up at the depository of knowledge that is Pharyngula, the implications of what the Turkish scientific community is saying (as Homer Simpson might put it) make me want to vomit in terror. As you may or may not know, in a recent poll about acceptance of evolution in the journal Science, Turkey came in dead last (right after the good ol’ U-S-of-A) out of 34 surveyed countries when it came to public acceptance of evolution, and this week several Turkish scientists bring up their attempts to spread awareness about evolutionary thought in their own country. It’s going to be a hard fight, but the most disturbing aspect of their letter was this:

“Most forcefully, a non-governmental association, Universite Konseyleri Dernegi, has filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education, demanding that creationism should be removed from textbooks and evolutionary biology should be covered appropriately in the curriculum.

The ministry has responded by asserting that darwinism is scientifically suspect — using publications by the US intelligent-design Discovery Institute for reference. It goes on to claim that developed countries are including creation-like theories in their curricula and to imply that evolution is not compatible with Turkish ‘culture and values’. At this point it is unclear how the case will turn out.” [emphasis mine]

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m no friend to the Disco Institute, but this really gets me riled up. I have yet to find out what Discovery Institute works are cited by the Turkish government in defense of intelligent design, but the fact that the DI is (as far as I know) silent about the intellectual oppression of the Turkish people sickens me. This is the same group that publicly claims that they’re not trying to do away with evolution (or as they call it, “Darwinism”, although I’m faitly certain we’ve long been past the 1800’s) but yet they say nothing when their documents are used to back government censure of scientific thought/study. I don’t know about Wells, Behe, Dembski, Meyer, or Chapman, but if someone was taking words out of my mouth to justify something unjust, I’d have a bone to pick with said quote miner. Could it be that the Discovery Institute would actually promote the censorship and suppressing of evolution in Turkey? (A shocking question, I know) Perhaps they are.

In America the ID/creationism vs evolution mud-slinging free-for-all largely circles around evangelical christians and scientists (spanning from theistic evolutionists to rabid atheists), but we need to keep in mind that belief in the Judeo-Christian God or lack of such a belief are not the only religious choices in the world, Islam being another major player in terms of faith. As such, ID advocates and creationists have long been assisting muslims to propagate mistrust of evolution, citing intelligent design as the gap that could unite the long estranged Abrahamic faiths. One mouthpiece for ID in the Islamic world is Mustafa Akyol, the Wikipedia article citing that he currently writes for a Turkish newspaper (surprise, surprise, although this has yet to be verified according to the article’s header). I looked over his blog and after skimming I was able to find a few posts about ID in Turkey, one of which quoting a Yahoo!News article that is no longer posted. The excerpt read:

[Mustafa] Akyol, a Muslim believer who says Darwinism is incompatible with his faith, has been waging an uphill struggle to popularize ID here. But most Turks show no interest because they see no need to avoid naming God. His lonely campaign got an unexpected boost last month when Education Minister Huseyin Celik hinted on television that he might want to see it added to Turkish textbooks.”If it’s wrong to say Darwin’s theory should not be in the books because it is in line with atheist propaganda, we can’t disregard intelligent design because it coincides with beliefs of monotheistic religions about creation,” he told CNN Turk.”

Hmm… if people are far more open to cutting out the middle-man and naming Allah or God as the designer, why push ID? ID is an attempt to gain credibility for creationism scientifically, thus directly naming any deity does not serve the cause (as such a deity is as-yet untestable and often relegated to “outside science” by ID advocates), although the “argument from design” is ubiquitous in creationism, thus allowing ID and more fundamental creationist ideas to be easily reconciled (ID is really part of a larger creationist whole). In reading over some of Akyol’s other pieces, specifically the Disco Institute-hosted “Under God or Under Darwin?” (when the title itself is a straw man, you know you’re in trouble), he doesn’t say much other than ID could perhaps be a way to bridge the gaps between the USA and Islamic countries, making quite a few errors along the way. One of the most maddening is an instance of quote-mining that makes my blood-pressure rise whenever I see it. The tired old trick goes as follows:

“To see that premise, we first have to note how ID theorists criticize Darwin. They do this by applying his own criterion for falsification. “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications,” said Darwin, “my theory would break down.””

This is one of the old creationist canards that Behe and others bring out in order to say that natural selection couldn’t possibly be the driving force for complex biological systems in nature
(remember, Darwin made the prospect of evolution real via natural selection; the idea that life evolved had been around since the height of Greek society), claiming that evolution fails by Darwin’s own criteria. They often leave off the last part of the quotation, which is “But I can find out no such case.” Granted, Darwin did not have access to the vast amounts of genetic, microbiological, paleontological, and other data we have today, but natural selection+mutation has yet to be successfully refuted as the driving force behind evolution. It is important to remember that Darwin was exceedingly apprehensive about evolution, constantly worrying about it and not even bringing it to light for many years because of its potential implications, so I primarily look at his quote as one of apprehension about responses to his theory, not as the be-all and end-all litmus test for evolution. Personally, I don’t think that evolution is “gradual” in the sense that it is uniform in speed, punctuated equilibria and changes during development of an organism causing more rapid change, but this does not shake the reality that evolution occurs and can still be considered “gradual” in that we can trace the steps taken (to greater or lesser degrees).

Furthermore, assuming that the way Darwin used “gradual” meant that there was at least some plausible transition from A to B, I wasn’t aware that ID thinkers had solved all of life’s mysteries and all the votes were in. Evolution, while 150 years old, is still a young science (compared to chemistry, physics, astronomy, etc) and our methods for understanding the cell and genetics are still being developed; how can anyone say what did or did not occur? Such is the problem with books like Darwin’s Black Box; we don’t have all the answers for the evolution of a flagellum today, but unless I’m wrong cellular and microbiologists still have jobs and are still researching life at the microscopic level, so is it not at least conceivable that as we learn more we will understand more about the evolution of life?

There’s plenty more about the article that aggravates me, but the clincher is one of the worst straw-man arguments I’ve ever seen, and, as is par for the course in ID, reveals the foundations of the movement.

“Phillip E. Johnson once said that the ID debate is about the question whether the U.S. is a nation under God or a nation under Darwin. We Muslims see the latter as a plague; we have no problem with the former. We might have disagreements, but we agree on the most fundamental truth of all — that there really is a God out there, and He is the One to Whom we owe our very life and existence.”

Phillip E. Johnson also once said

“…if you’re going to introduce people to scriptural truth, the first thing they have to understand is that there is a possibility that God actually could communicate. And in order for that to be possible, it has to be possible for God to be our Creator. And that is impossible if God is just an imaginary idea in our minds. So, one has to start at the most basic level with opening the mind so that it is in a position to receive truth well before it actually gets the truth or is capable of absorbing it.”

in reference to why ID doesn’t throw for the touchdown and identify the designer (yet), and the man’s other spurious claims in his “war against natuaralism” wherever he saw fit to find it don’t do much to sway me in his favor. There is this idea that continues to circulate that evolutionists of all stripes somehow worship Darwin, possibly even getting together for special readings of his works (On the Origin of Species being equivalent to the Old Testament, Descent of Man being the New Testament) and chanting “All glory to the protoplasm.” Evolution does make any moral demand or ask the rejection of any faith; all it asks is that we humans actually think and observe the world around us. This may come as a shock to the moral majority-types that make up many creationist camps, but the “sinfulness” they see in materialism didn’t just show up the day Darwin published; their very own good book chronicles rape, incest, murder, war, famine, infidelity, greed, cannibalism, and other horrors thousands of years before Darwin was ever born. Indeed, it seems creationists want to retroactively blame Darwin for the Fall of Adam and Eve, making him the snake in the garden. If it’s a sin to thirst for knowledge and understanding, then I am perhaps among the worst of sinners, but I do not believe that such is a crime. Emerson put it best when he wrote

“The religion that is afraid of science dishonors God and commits suicide”

and while creationists often claim they have no problem with science (even “love” science), they take special care to deny 150 years of observation, study, and insight because they can’t reconcile their interpretation of a holy book with the world around them, insisting that those who dissent from their view are to blame for the tragedy befalling society as we creep towards the “end times.” I am not about to contemplate what would happen if the West and Islamic countries laid to rest their differences because of a shared belief in intelligent design (I don’t see it happening anyway), but I don’t think that we should lie or be deceitful in order to restore society’s morality. That is one of the most maddening aspects of this debate, those who oppose evolution and espousing a desire to return to morality (when such a “golden moral age” existed, I know not. Even in the “wholesome” 50’s mom was hopped up on Black Beauties and thanks to Kinsey we know dad might have had at least one foot in the closet) are perfect examples of overpowering arrogance, hate, deceit, and condescension; great role models, eh? Many evolutionary scientists don’t fare much better, but at least they do not claim to be trying to better the moral climate of the world to whatever end.

I feel I’ve derailed myself a bit here, but the point of this post is this. I challenge the Discovery Institute to issue a report about it stance on their literature being used to suppress evolution even when they claim that is not their purpose in this debate. Their public cry is “Teach the controversy!” but it seems that when no one is paying attention, they’d rather have their side win out, so I would very much like to hear why the DI is essentially silent when Turkish scientists are claiming their own government uses DI propaganda to crush the debate. I think it’s a question that most certainly needs for forthright answer.


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3 responses

7 11 2008
Cameron

Anyone can get their hands on the DI’s publications. Just because Turkey uses them that means the DI is directly involved with their school curriculum matters. And if the DI played a hand in them receiving such publications, why should the DI deny them just because Turkish schools don’t like Evolution? Evolution publications probably aren’t denied if schools refuse to mention ID.

Further, why do you even blog about this if Naturalism is the reality of all scientific causes? In this case, ID advocates are just matter in motion doing what they have been evolved to do.

23 11 2008
shoshannah Atwell

Do I need a rite to passage to be creative, scientific, and religious…, boy thats an interesting recipe? I am sure I can think of more things to add. I find it an insult to intellegence that I must not be able to kindle my inner conflict alone, but after all, when I imagine myself loving ET as if he were found in the bottom of my closet, I probably would forget about my own inadaquacy.

23 11 2008
shoshannah Atwell

I hope that with all the informtion out there we finally decide its time to just keep doing what the sum of the whole really wants and needs…like jesus did!

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