A Crack in the Wall

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that promotes intelligent design creationism, is infamous for its authorship of a secret document called the “Wedge Strategy“, which lays out their plan to overthrow the theory of evolution and “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God”. The leak of this document proved to be a considerable embarrassment for the Discovery Institute, especially when Judge John E. Jones cited it as key evidence of the ID movement’s religious intent in the 2005 Dover ruling.

The Wedge Strategy was defined in three phases: “Scientific Research, Writing & Publicity” (in practice, heavy on the publicity, not so much on the scientific research), “Publicity & Opinion-making”, and “Cultural Confrontation & Renewal”. The document envisions “intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science” within twenty years, an outcome which, needless to say, does not look likely. It’s especially amusing to note that the entire document was written before embarking on this grand strategy, which implies that the advocates of ID knew what the outcome of their scientific research would be before they started it.

With intelligent design dealt a decisive court blow and the forces of religious fundamentalism in disarray, the Wedge Strategy appears to be headed for its demise. But as intelligent design founders, there’s a new wedge on the rise in America.

A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal, “The New New Atheism“, contains much of the usual ill-informed blather, but does have one paragraph worthy of note:

But one stunning new development under the sun is that promulgating atheism has become a lucrative business. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, in less than 12 months atheism’s newest champions have sold close to a million books. Some 500,000 hardcover copies are in print of Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” (2006); 296,000 copies of Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” (2007); 185,000 copies of Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation” (2006); 64,100 copies of Daniel C. Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”; and 60,000 copies of Victor J. Stenger’s “God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does not Exist” (2007).

It’s impossible to overlook the irony: this is the very kind of success the advocates of ID were hoping for. But while they have stumbled, atheism and freethought are on the rise, with a flourishing crew of forceful, passionate writers making the case for a life free of religion. We, not they, are the ones wedging our way into the mainstream. But while the DI’s wedge sought to split the wall of church-state separation and shoehorn their religious views into public school in the guise of science, the nascent atheist movement has taken aim at a far more deserving target: the faith wall running through the heart of our society, the one which proclaims that religious dogma is infallible and should never be questioned. This wall, unlike the other, needs to be brought down, and we’re just the ones to do it.

Some people, including some atheists, have taken the position that belief in the unproven is an ineradicable part of human nature. I do not think so, however. That wall of dogma may seem tall and imposing, but its strength has never truly been tested; it has never in our lifetimes faced a sustained assault like the broadside we’re now giving it. Look closer, and you’ll see that its surface is cracked and worn. It may tower high above our heads, but vines are curling between its stones, and tree roots are pushing up beneath its foundation, slowly splitting it apart with gentle, patient strength. Who knows? That wall may be more fragile than it seems – even to the point where a good strong push in the right place could bring the whole thing crashing down.

At the very least, even if religious dogma remains with us, there is plenty of room for atheism to grow. I have no doubt whatsoever that there are a huge number of people who remain religious only because it is the default position, and whom we could readily persuade if given the chance to present our message. Our movement has not yet shown any sign of hitting a ceiling. Progress may be slow, but we are making a difference, and we are winning converts by showing that there is another way, better than the gloomy creeds of organized religion. The more we get our message out there, the more people will respond to it. Year by year, our wedge is splitting those stones a bit more. And we are doing it through speech and the power of ideas, not bullying, faux science and legal trickery such as the creationists have attempted. We may not have as many well-funded think tanks and media groups, but unlike them, we have the facts on our side.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.operacast.com G Riggs

    IMO, the development underscored by the Wall Street Journal piece may partly be due to a general and growing revulsion against religious dogmatism in the wake of 9/11. If all these new publications help wipe just a little of the smirk off Osama Bin Laden’s face, then hey!

    Cheers,

    G Riggs

  • Will E.

    Yeah, wow, four books on atheism in the last year or so, and suddenly atheism is “lucrative business.” Whatever. The atheism shelf at my local Borders comprises about a dozen titles, while the religion section it’s part of takes up three *aisles*. Give me a fucking break–tell it to Rick Warren or Joel Osteen.

  • Freeyourmind

    Will E. – that’s an unfair comparison that you made. Atheism on it’s own is a non-subject. The word itself simply means “without theism”. Whereas there are many religions and many ways to look at each one. They’re beliefs, claims, etc.. must be written about so that people can understand them. That is why you will always have a large number more books about religion than about Atheism.

    The authors of the books mentioned are simply discussing the negatives of religion as a whole along with the benefits of living a faith-free life.

  • Alex Weaver

    Minor correction:

    The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based obfuscation tank that promotes intelligent design creationism,

    Other than that… *agrees*

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Some people, including some atheists, have taken the position that belief in the unproven is an ineradicable part of human nature. I do not think so, however. That wall of dogma may seem tall and imposing, but its strength has never truly been tested; it has never in our lifetimes faced a sustained assault like the broadside we’re now giving it.

    I think the wall is definitely cracking, and it’s great news. But the fact remains that according to both Dennett and Alper, it is the innate human tendency to attribute agency (and personality) to random or natural events which forms the basis of belief. Combine this with various forms of adversity, and anxiety about death, and it’s a perfect cauldron for supersition.

    So as science has chipped away at former idols of nature by explaining phenomena, mystics continue to find and focus on ever more obscure and hard-to-define realms. I have several conversations going on right now with new-agers who are all wrapped up in “synchronicities,” and “intuition” as the new frontiers of belief. Another one which I plan to post on soon is the idea of “purity.”

    New age superstition is less socially harmful, but it’s every bit as powerful as a “reality distortion field.”

  • Warren T

    To Will E.: Commenting that atheism is a lucrative business has very little to do with the truth value of nontheism or monotheistic religion. Religion demands indoctrination at an early age and once in place becomes excellent fodder for the sheep concsiousness it promulgates; ergo, full shelves at Borders. Nontheism, on the other hand, represents the minority whom for whatever reason, escape the plodding attemtps by our elders and by society to subdue reason early enough to shut it down or compartmentalize the brain sufficiently in order that dogmatic beliefs are sheltered from reason in adulthood. For a multitude of social, political and psychological reasons, it is only the brave and persistent human that makes the foray away from religion and into the light of reason, ergo, relatively few books in the “Atheism” category. As mentioned by another commentor, there should be no Atheism section anyway. Those books should be in the science or philosophy section where truth is sought, not the re-hashing of dogma by people who are caught in the web.

  • javaman

    even to the point where a good strong push in the right place could bring the whole thing crashing down.

    Ebonmusing, perhaps this can be the focal point of your new book. Who better than you to find this one simple unifying principle and to elegantly explain it in your gentle way? I consider you the new Carl Sagan of our times. We’re all behind you, and I’m your biggest fan. Count me in.

  • http://lifewithoutfaith.com/ BrotherRichard

    For years “non-believers” have been content to live and let live. It is the religious right that is forcing us out of the closet. They can’t be content with controling their own life; they have to control everyone else’s as well. They started the fight. True science, stem cell reasarch, gay rights, education are just a few arenas.

    Richard
    http:lifewithoutfaith.com

  • Alex Weaver

    That wall of dogma may seem tall and imposing, but its strength has never truly been tested; it has never in our lifetimes faced a sustained assault like the broadside we’re now giving it.

    That “broadside” bit has me suddenly imagining William Dembski with a powdered wig and bicorne, walking numbly down the stairs of the DI headquarters as cannons blast them apart from either side…. ^.^

  • laytheist

    Concerning the wedge doc:

    What about the first 4 or 5 paragraphs? Is all that BS or is their truth to it? Or is it framed in a way to make materialism look bad. My fundamentalist family member would be all over that and I don’t have the background to refute it. She would love the Marx reference since she is still caught up in the red scare. Where do I start reading?