Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Can I See Your I.D., Please?

[[S C I E N C E]] * Once more puckering up before the backsides of Christian rightists, George W. Bush on Monday declared that America’s schools should go beyond teaching the science of evolution, when it comes to discussing mankind’s natural history, and give equal weight to the controversial notion of “intelligent design” (I.D.). This theory--rejected by scientists who view it as a cunning means of introducing religion into public-school science classrooms, but gaining ground in 20 states, including Kansas--posits that life on Earth is simply too complicated and miraculous to have developed solely through the mindless crapshoot of natural selection, as defined by Charles Darwin in his 1859 book, The Origin of Species, and that a “higher power” (God, or perhaps some alien force) must surely have had a hand in its creation.

“I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,” Bush told a cadre of Texas newspaper reporters gathered at the White House, shortly before leaving on the longest presidential vacation since Ronald Reagan’s day. “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.”

But of course, Bush is no great believer in science. And the debate over this “new creationism” isn’t so simple as Bush suggests. It can’t really be boiled down to a bumper-sticker slogan--“Leave No God Behind,” perhaps. It pits religious conservatives, who today hold sway in the Republican Party (and insist, with straight faces, that evolution is “too often taught as fact”), against people such as Robert T. Pennock, an associate professor of science and technology studies and associate professor of philosophy at Michigan State University’s Lyman Briggs School. In his 1999 book, Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, Pennock wrote that from the standpoint of biologists, “there is no controversy about whether or not evolutionary theory is true. The repeated claims by creationists that the theory is false are not taken seriously by scientists, except in the sense that they worry that the rest of the public might take them seriously, which would then be a problem. But that is a problem of education. As a problem for science, however, the ‘creationism debate’ is basically a nonissue.” Even Bush’s own science advisor, John H. Marburger III, downplayed his boss’ remarks on this subject as “old news,” telling The New York Times that “intelligent design is not a scientific concept” and that the prez was only suggesting that intelligent design be brought up as part of the “social context” in science classes.

Still, thanks to think tanks such as Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a lack of fire and brimstone among I.D. proponents (who contend that intelligent design isn’t creationism in less dogmatic trappings), and disinterest in this debate by scientists, who see intelligent design as a transient fad and don’t spend the time necessary to defend evolutionary science, intelligent design is making inroads into the public consciousness. This could be especially concerning, when you consider that a recent Pew Research poll found that 57 percent of Americans already favor the teaching of creationism, along with evolution, in public schools, and 33 percent endorse instruction in creationism instead of evolution. Eighty years after the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” the United States may be speeding toward another momentous clash between faith and reason.

In the meantime, however, one must ask the obvious question: Would a “higher intelligence” really have inflicted upon our planet some of the people, concepts, and commodities we see around us every day? Not to trivialize this debate (too much), but shouldn’t we be asking whether we’ve been the victims of unintelligent design, instead? How else can one explain the following?
  • Thong underwear for men
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger movies
  • Jude Law cheating on his beauteous fiancée, Sienna Miller, with his kids’ nanny
  • FOX News
  • Hit Me Baby One More Time
  • Color-coded threat-level alerts
  • Packets of mismatched men’s boxers
  • Tom DeLay
  • Spam (both kinds)
  • Abstinence-only sex education
  • The DaVinci Code knock-offs
  • Decaffeinated coffee
  • Comb-overs
  • Rick Santorum
  • “Trickle-down economics”
  • Talk radio
  • The Reverend Sun Myung Moon
  • Billy Bob Thornton
  • “NASCAR dads”
  • Listen Up
  • Pepto-Bismol commercials
  • Anna Nichole Smith
  • Dick Cheney
  • Olestra
  • Vioxx
  • Monster truck rallies
  • Chicken fries
  • Segways
  • The Contract with America
  • Microsoft Bob
  • Rupert Murdoch
  • E-novels
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Miniaturized dog breeds
  • Body waxing
  • Steroids
  • Ann Coulter
  • Plastic fences
  • Junk art
  • The Iraq war
  • Catwoman
  • Sammy “The Bull” Gravano
  • Scott “Just Plain Bull” McClellan
  • King Kong remakes
  • Gas-guzzling SUVs
  • Ride-’em mowers
  • Oversize foam fingers
  • Garage sales
  • Robert Mugabe
  • Katie Holmes with Tom Cruise
  • Chunky women in midriff-baring tops
  • Big, showy belt buckles
  • Fur fashion accents
  • Ambush Makeover
  • George W. Bush
  • Billy Bush
  • Poker on TV
  • Mosquitoes
  • The National Rifle Association
  • Buffalo wings
  • Columnist-cum-propagandist Armstrong Williams
  • Algebra
  • Florida
  • Pat Robertson
  • Cowboy hats
  • Karaoke
  • Enron
  • Michael Jackson
  • Michael Medved
  • The CEO Perp Walk
  • Masters of the Universe
  • Swift Vets and POWs for Truth
  • Courtney Love
  • Condo flipping
  • North Korea
  • Texas
  • Steak tartare
  • Kangaroos
  • Newt Gingrich, novelist
  • Ralph Nader, politician
  • The continuing U.S. embargo against Cuba
  • Homophobia
  • Racism
  • Gay escort-turned-White House reporter Jeff Gannon (aka James D. Guckert)
  • G. Gordon Liddy
  • “Wardrobe malfunctions”
  • “Compassionate conservative”
  • Motor homes
  • Superstores
  • Andrew Dice Clay
  • Guns in churches
  • “Lite” beers
  • Jäegermeister
  • “Justice Sunday” evangelical rallies
  • Dr. Phil
  • Judge Joe Brown
  • Having sex with animals
  • Overusing the word “freedom”
  • Zell Miller
  • The Wall Street Journal editorial page
  • “The axis of evil”
  • John Bolton
  • John Ashcroft
  • The A-Team on DVD
  • Cruise ships
  • Halliburton
  • “Nuke a Gay Whale for Christ” T-shirts
  • “I Only Support Gay Marriage If Both Chicks Are Hot” T-shirts
  • Paris Hilton
  • Katherine Harris
  • Liposuction
  • Clitoris piercing
  • Swine flu
  • “Extraordinary rendition”
  • “Pre-emptive war”
  • Ahmed Chalabi
  • Scandals ending in “-gate”
  • Professional wrestling
  • Amateur porn
  • Nancy Grace
  • T-ball
Debate over the I.D. theory seems destined to continue. In the aftermath of the prez’s comments this week, the blog Pharyngula (operated by University of Minnesota associate biology professor Paul Z. Myers) collected 157 Web links, “from liberals and conservatives, all complaining about Bush’s stupid statements.” At the same time, the Discovery Institute promptly touted the “scientist”-in-chief’s commitment to “free speech on evolution and intelligent design.”

So far, I seem to be the only one--imagine that--questioning the intelligence at the core of this pseudo-scientific theory. If you’d like to contribute your own examples of unintelligent design, please drop a comment below.

CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: Charles Smyth, master of the blog Spiraglio, contributed to the aforementioned list.


Ego-Surfing Author said...

If you want a really intriguing explanation for the inexplicable popular contagions on your list, check out Daniel Dennet's piece at

Anonymous said...

At the risk of giving Bush more credit than he deserves, this issued really irritates me. As someone who has devoted a fair amount of effort to the sciences, it's completely inappropriate to try and pit a scientific theory (and a damned good one, too) against a social construct.

The hell of it is, any creationist that tries to do so is in an infinitely defensible position. They can lay accusation after accusation about insufficient evidence or missing links at the door of the evolutionists, but any plot holes in their own arguments can be shored up with pleas for faith. And values. To quote from Carl Sagan's Contact, "Anything you don't understand, Mr. Rankin, you attribute to God. God for you is where you sweep away all the mysteries of the world, all the challenges to our intelligence. You simply turn your mind off and say God did it."

Personally, after knowing what I do about all the incredible forces at work with evolution (chance mutations, fine details of natural selection, adaptation), I think the idea of a simple 6-day creation ("poof!") sort of demeaning to life in general. Life takes a lot more effort than that.

Also, there was this absolutely luscious article in National Geographic last year (I actually met David Quammen once): .