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.