There are people who apparently have a deep-seated need to believe that Intelligent Design proponents are really creationists in disguise, and that once they have control over the nation’s schools, they’re going to rip off their clever scientist disguises to reveal men in short sleeve dress shirts and horn-rimmed glasses who believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Acting on a preordained set of instructions, this view seems to suggest, they will proceed to outlaw any mention of evolution in schools, and will execute plans that involve, among other things, taking students on weekly field trips to Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.
It is a frightening vision of the future: a flood of creationism let loose on the nation’s schools. The end of science is near, and to ride out the crisis, ID critics are building themselves a rhetorical ark and bringing the fallacies aboard two by two.
The charge that ID is part of some creationist conspiracy was recently reiterated by Larry Arnhart, the author of Darwinian Conservatism. Arnhart, a professor at Northern Illinois University, writes in a recent post about the “Rhetorical Blunder in Ben Stein’s ‘Expelled’,” a blunder which has to do, he thinks, with what is really behind Intelligent Design.
The first thing you should do when you write about someone else’s blunders is not to make them yourself in the process of doing so. It just looks silly. But Arnhart makes one that he repeats throughout his entire discourse on the inadvisability of blunders.
Arnhart makes the following statement about “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”:
This movie is the latest project of the Discovery Institute in promoting the political rhetoric of “intelligent design theory” as the alternative to Darwinian evolutionary science.
It is? In fact, Discovery Institute did not produce the movie. It was included in the movie, but so was Richard Dawkins, who, last time anyone checked, wasn’t involved in the production of the movie either. If he had been, he would have had one less excuse not to know what the movie into which he walked with both his eyes wide open was about. The movie was actually produced by Premise Media, which has no organizational connection with Discovery.
But Arnhart’s main objective in the article is to bolster the “It’s a Creationist Plot” theory about Intelligent Design. “The folks at the Discovery Institute,” he asserts, “have made a big mistake in their production of this movie.” The mistake (which Discovery doesn’t make) in making this movie (which it didn’t make either) is a contradiction Arnhart claims to have detected:
On the one hand, the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute is to say that “intelligent design” is not a creationist religious belief but pure science, and therefore teaching “intelligent design” in public high school biology classes does not violate the First Amendment’s prohibition on establishing religion. On the other hand, the popular success of the Discovery Institute’s rhetoric depends on appealing to Biblical creationists who assume that “intelligent designer” is just another name for God the Biblical Creator.
In other words, Arnhart is asserting that a position should be judged on the basis of who supports it, not by what it actually holds. This is rather strange reasoning for someone like Arnhart to use. If we applied this logic to Darwinism, of course, we could conclude that it is really atheism in disguise, since atheists unanimously support it. But if we did that, people like Arnhart would fuss and fume, and point out that a position should be judged on the basis of what it asserts, not who supports it.
Darwinists have clearly not developed a sense of consistency. Maybe Nature is saving that for the next step up in the evolutionary progress of their species.
In “Expelled,” which Discovery made but really didn’t, this contradiction, says Arnhart, is on full display:
When Bruce Chapman — President of the Discovery Institute — is interviewed by Stein, Chapman says that journalists distort the true position of intelligent design by saying that it’s a creationist religious belief, because the “intelligent designer” is clearly God. Chapman vehemently denies this. But then for the rest of the movie, it’s asserted that anyone who denies “intelligent design” is therefore an atheist who denies the existence of God!
Asserted by whom? Chapman? Maybe Arnhart could provide some evidence of this. I’ve seen the movie twice, and I don’t recall this assertion being made by anyone in the movie. I could see, if the assertion was really made, that it wouldn’t matter who made it, since Arnhart is operating under the assumption that the whole thing was produced by Discovery, and therefore any such assertion could be laid at the feet of Chapman, who is Discovery’s director. But then we have already determined that that assumption is erroneous, haven’t we?
I think what Arnhart means to say here (I’m trying to bail you out here, Larry) is that the movie claims that anyone who is a Darwinist is an atheist who denies the existence of God. But note that it isn’t proponents of ID who make this claim in the movie, but proponents of Darwinism in the form of people like Richard Dawkins. This has, of course, sent the ID critics into paroxysms of indignation because they seem to think that casting Dawkins in a lead role is somehow misrepresentative of the public debate over Intelligent Design.
The only adequate response to this is to point them to the sales figures of Dawkin’s books. And those by his fellow Neo-Atheists–Christopher Hitchins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett–haven’t been too shabby either. The Darwinists who disagree with the Neo-Atheists, like Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Educators (NCSE), get upset every time anyone talks to Dawkins about this issue on the grounds that she and her more presentable colleagues are the ones people should be listening to.
Well, maybe they should. But are they? And who is Eugenie Scott anyway? Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion hit #4 on the New York Times bestseller list. How many books has she sold? If Eugenie Scott wants to be a big star in the next Ben Stein movie, then she’s going to have to do a better job getting her literary career off the ground. That’s all there is to it.
Eugenie, we’ll be pulling for you.
To keep asserting that the Neo-Atheists are not at the heart of the debate over ID is to simply have ignored the press coverage of this issue over the last couple of years. These are, in fact, the people who are among the most visible opponents of Intelligent Design. And it isn’t as if people like Scott were not included in the movie; they were (despite their lack of star power).
But Arnhart and other critics of the movie feel somehow that the makers of an admittedly partisan movie about Intelligent Design have some kind of obligation to comprehensively state their opponents’ case for them in their little hour and a half. Here is a group of people who have control of virtually every scientific professional association, every public university science department, and every secular textbook publishing house — and they want the producers of “Expelled” to use the 90 minutes of equal time they paid for to make the other side look good.
I suppose we should all be happy that ID critics have gotten religion on the issue of accuracy in the media and are now so intent on preaching it to the multitudes. But their conversion has come a little late, hasn’t it? Where were the Defenders of Truth like Arnhart when PBS was doing a hatchet job on Intelligent Design in NOVA’s “Judgment Day,” which was supposed to be, not a partisan, but an unbiased account of the controversy? Well, the one most like Arnhart — namely, Arnhart himself — was praising it.
Arnhart attempts to sound unbiased on the Intelligent Design debate — a pose he strikes often on his blog:
The problem, however, is that both sides of this debate are caught up in a frenzy of rhetorical posturing that makes it impossible to have a thoughtful exchange of competing ideas.
If Arnhart is serious in his concern for ensuring that the debate over Intelligent Design is being conducted on Marquis of Queensbury rules, he would presumably observe them himself. But when, in the very act of condemning Intelligent Design proponents for misrepresenting evolution, he repeats the tired and discredited argument that ID is really disguised creationism, he descends to the very behavior that he laments in others: misrepresentation.
I’ll have to admit, Arnhart does look noble in his objective pose. But if you’re looking for an unbiased view of the debate, you’ll have to look to someone other than Arnhart, whose claim that he is monitoring both sides of this debate for rhetorical posturing is, alas, a rhetorical posture.