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Is Intelligent Design a Peasants’ Revolt?


When I was a high school debater back in the Reagan era, scaremongering about nuclear war was omnipresent. Facing off, debate teams had a habit, which became a joke, of arguing that any policy favored by their opponents would result in an exchange of warheads with the USSR. Even something as innocuous as to support, or oppose, a law requiring automobile airbags could be wrestled into a threat of annihilation.

It goes beyond high school. In countering an idea you really don’t like, the temptation is to try to drop a nuclear bomb on it. Not only is the idea misconceived, you say, it is so dangerous that it will lead to national catastrophe.

The media’s enforcers of orthodoxy in opinions pertaining to science really, really despise skeptics on evolution and climate control, those advocates of “anti-science.” I should have seen it coming, then, that they would eventually reach for the political season’s populist warhead: Donald Trump.

Or is “anti-science” the bomb, maybe, and Trump the target? Either way, writers at Slate and The New Republic have tried to link the two, arguing that public skepticism on sensitive scientific matters is so dire a threat that it even played a role in summoning the peasant scourge, Trump.

What? Has Trump even offered an opinion on evolution? Not that I’m aware. So far, his views on climate change haven’t played a very prominent a role either, though that could change.

Nonetheless, says New Republic senior editor Jeet Heer, “Conservatives Have Groomed the Perfect Suckers for Trump’s Epic Scam“:

The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump. The Republican “war on science” is also a war on the intellectual habits needed to detect lies.

Jeet Heer is echoed by astronomer Phil Plait at Slate — “The GOP’s Denial of Science Primed Them for the Illogic of Trump“:

Months ago, early on in the presidential campaign, I made light of Trump, saying that his particular candidacy would crash and burn when he inevitably said or did something so outrageous and horrific that people would flee his side.

I was wrong. I underestimated just how thoroughly the GOP had salted the Earth. Philosophical party planks of climate change denial, anti-evolution, anti-intellectualism, intolerance, and more have made it such that Trump can literally say almost anything, and it hardly affects his popularity.

One problem is that the “Republican war on science” cliché cuts both ways. No less than Michael Shermer has written in Scientific American about “The Liberals’ War on Science.” See also “The left’s own war on science” (The Spectator), “The Left’s Bad Ideas About Science Are More Harmful Than the Right’s” (Reason), “The Republican Party Isn’t Really the Anti-Science Party” (The Atlantic), “Democrats Have a Problem With Science, Too” (Politico), and more. If conservatives have “groomed the perfect suckers,” liberals would seem to have done the same.

That aside, Heer and Plait raise an interesting question about populism and the variety of skepticism on science that we know best here, intelligent design. No peasants’ revolt, surely, ID nevertheless embraces intuition as a scientific tool in a way that infuriates Darwinists. That’s the message of Doug Axe’s new book, to be released on July 12, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition that Life is Designed.

Commenting on a new survey showing massive popular (and non-partisan) support for academic freedom in teaching and research about ID, Dr. Axe strikes what sounds like a populist note: “The question of our origin is far too important to be left to professional scientists.”

Bestselling novelist Dean Koontz in his dust-jack blurb echoes Axe’s phrase, “common science“: “Axe uses ‘common science’ to consider the biggest mystery: To what or to whom do we owe our existence?”

ID may validate intuition, but it does so on scientific grounds. The soundest rebuke to the charge of “anti-intellectualism” — from design advocates or other skeptics on Darwinian theory — may be from the words of our own critics. Darwinists have a morbid fear, a terrible allergy to directly confronting arguments for ID. Watch, you’ll see this with the reception of Undeniable.

We’ve seen it already in evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne’s ignorant response to Axe’s book — which Coyne knows nothing about other than from four paragraphs on the Amazon page. Coyne harrumphed:

Did God create a series of fossils that misled us all into thinking that terrestrial artiodactyls evolved into whales, early reptiles into mammals and birds, and early apes into modern humans? And why did he put them in strata whose dates line up very well with the changes in appearance in these transitional forms? What a trickster is Our Lord! Never mind; IDers are motivated by religion, and can’t be bothered to deal with such annoying stuff as evidence.

This foolishness is all a non sequitur — it’s not what Axe’s work is about. It is Coyne who “can’t be bothered to deal” with substantive arguments. For proof, go back and look at his content-free fulminations against Darwin’s Doubt.

The other ID book of the moment, The Design of Life, by Dembski and Wells, offers an accessible introduction to and survey of the evidence for ID. And it offers this service precisely because that evidence is so diverse, wide-ranging, and yes, often quite challenging for the non-PhD (to tell you the candid truth).

Yet try to get our media critics to read just one book, even one article from an ID advocate. Try to get our academic critics to honestly, accurately describe a handful of ID arguments, beyond the thoughtless dismissal, per Coyne, that “IDers are motivated by religion.” They won’t do it. Who’s the “anti-intellectual,” now?

The question of what really drives Trump supporters has launched countless op-eds, blog posts, and think pieces. I leave the subject to others. But to imagine that skepticism on evolution is driven by “anti-intellectualism” is the most absurd criticism I’ve heard in a while.

Image credit: Jean Froissart [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m on Twitter. Follow me @d_klinghoffer.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.