A Response to David Gelernter’s Attack on Evolution (5 of 4)

A Response to David Gelernter’s Attack on Evolution (5 of 4) September 4, 2019

In part 5 of this 4-part series, we’ll conclude our critique of a popular article in which David Gelernter (who’s not a biologist) attacks evolution (part 1). We’ll look at the agendas of the various parties to get a better understanding of what motivates the players.

Warning: the Discovery Institute has an unsavory agenda

The Discovery Institute has several divisions, the most prominent of which is the Center for Science and Culture. This is the one advocating Intelligent Design:

The mission of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture is to advance the understanding that human beings and nature are the result of intelligent design rather than a blind and undirected process.

Their mission isn’t to follow the facts like scientists but to advocate for their predetermined conclusion, like theists.

You might say that it’s a think tank, so obviously it’s going to have an agenda, but note the difference between advocating for policies (small government, tighter gun laws, etc.) and advocating for a supposedly scientific claim (Intelligent Design).

Scientific claims should stand on their own, supported by evidence, and not need advocates. And maybe even the Discovery Institute itself doesn’t see Intelligent Design as a scientific claim.

The focus of the Discovery Institute isn’t on following the evidence, nor is it convincing the scientific community. They’ve lost that battle, and they know it. Science works by scientists sharing ideas and debating among themselves, trying to find flaws in their own work and others’. There are popularizers (Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and many others) who help explain science to the public, but discovering new truths about nature happens within science.

The Discovery Institute doesn’t publish papers in conventional science journals; they bypass science and go right to the public. Give a grant to a university lab and they will fund new research, but give it to the Discovery Institute, and they will just do more PR.

It’s a smart move, in a Machiavellian sort of way. Getting the public convinced that evolution is nonsense so that they demand Creationism in schools is one step in the Discovery Institute’s leaked 1998 Wedge Strategy. Their goal was to replace naturalistic explanations in society with Christian ones and advance the conservative political agenda. They wanted to return to God as the foundation of Western civilization.

And the Creationism/ID movement has been effective. A 2018 study shows only 33 percent of Americans accepting evolution. Perhaps when they imagine “Making America Great Again,” they see Europe of the thirteenth century, long before meddlesome science started explaining things better than Christianity.

News update

We can see the agenda of the Discovery Institute made plain in an article from a few days ago in response to the press coverage of Gelernter’s article. They said, “We get encouraged to see voices in mainstream media catching up with the idea that there are serious scientific reasons to doubt evolutionary theory.”

Huh? They care about the mainstream media and not biologists? They’re publicly admitting that PR and not science is their goal! They want mainstream press coverage since they know that there is no debate within science. They’ve lost the argument in the only forum where it matters, they know it, and they’re admitting it.

Gelernter’s agenda

What was the point of Gelernter’s article? If it was just a book report on Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt, Meyer himself would’ve been the better person to write it.

I wonder about his motivation. It’s obviously not a scientist’s honest search for the truth, because he unashamedly references only Intelligent Design (ID) sources. He’s comfortable rejecting the consensus in scientific disciplines to which he’s an outsider. He’s already rejected manmade climate change, so going public with his rejection of evolution isn’t that reckless. Time magazine called him, “A conservative among mostly liberal Ivy League professors, a religious believer among the often disbelieving ranks of computer scientists.”

The Christian community is doing to him what they did to atheist philosopher Antony Flew. Attacked as “the world’s most notorious atheist” (as he was identified in the subtitle of his 2007 book explaining his change of heart), Flew became a darling among Christians when he switched to deism. (I responded to Flew’s book here.)

Flew’s book was co-written with (more likely, written by) another author. The argument for his conversion was the standard Creationist views, none of which Flew, as a non-scientist, brought any value to. Flew was simply a marionette whose strings were pulled by his Creationist controller.

Similarly, Gelernter the Ivy League full professor is another nice catch for Creationists. Like Flew, he brings nothing to the scientific conversation, but then Creationism isn’t about the science. If Gelernter is willing to prostitute himself, for whatever puzzling reason, I can see why the Discovery Institute would celebrate that.

Gelernter vs. Intelligent Design

Curiously, Gelernter ends with an incisive critique of ID that is unexpected, given the lap dog praise of Meyer’s book in the body of the article. I’ve complained so much in this series of posts that, on this rare bit of agreement, I’d like to give him the last word.

He begins by saying that a single intervention by some Designer to start life or create the phylum that eventually produced mammals or create consciousness is one thing, but that doesn’t explain Meyer’s primary complaint, his contention that evolution can’t explain the Cambrian explosion.

An intelligent designer who interferes repeatedly, on the other hand, poses an even harder problem of explaining why he chose to act when he did. Such a cause would necessarily have some sense of the big picture of life on earth. What was his strategy? How did he manage to back himself into so many corners, wasting energy on so many doomed organisms? Granted, they might each have contributed genes to our common stockpile—but could hardly have done so in the most efficient way. What was his purpose? And why did he do such an awfully slipshod job? Why are we so disease prone, heartbreak prone, and so on? An intelligent designer makes perfect sense in the abstract. The real challenge is how to fit this designer into life as we know it. Intelligent design might well be the ultimate answer. But as a theory, it would seem to have a long way to go.

The scientist believes in proof without certainty,
the bigot in certainty without proof.
Let us never forget that tyranny most often springs
from a fanatical faith in the absoluteness of one’s beliefs.
— Ashley Montagu

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Image from Richard Stock, CC license
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