Thursday, May 14, 2009

Betraying the Lie

Advocates of the non-science of Intelligent Design often respond indignantly to the claim that ID is really nothing more than a religious claim dressed in a thin garment of scientific-looking language.

We know, definitively, that this is the case, and the words of Michael Egnor of the Discovery Institute - the major pro-ID group - demonstrate this repeatedly.

A recent post on the Discovery Institute's "Evolution News and Views" blog offered a rebuttal to a blog post by Dr. Jeffrey Shallit. Dr. Shallit was reviewing
a piece by McGill philosopher Margaret Somerville in the OCUFA publication Academic Matters. (OCUFA is the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.)
I haven't bothered to read the whole piece yet; it seems to be the typical drivel about how universities are becoming "intolerant" of "alternative ideas" and that anyone the author doesn't agree with or whose position the author doesn't understand is a "fundamentalist" scientist.

In his review, Dr. Shallit said:
With respect to religion, why should religious dogma, which maintains ridiculous and unverifiable claims, be treated in the same way as science and rational thinking?
The following is quoted verbatim from the Discovery Institute's post:
The existence of God is not a “ridiculous and unverifiable claim;” it's the conclusion reached by the vast majority of human beings living today and who have ever lived, and is a viewpoint held by most of the best philosophers, ethicists and scientists in history. While there are thoughtful arguments that can be made for atheism, the arguments advanced by Shallit and his comrades like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Myers, and Hitchens are puerile. For example, the assertion that Christianity is disproven by assertions such as ‘If God created the universe, who made God?’ or ‘some bad things have been done by Christians, therefore Christianity is untrue’ would get a failing grade in any respectable introductory philosophy course. You'll get more genuine insight from a paragraph of Aristotle or Aquinas than from a library of Dawkins and Dennett.

Subtle arguments about God being the ground for existence and about the role of Christianity in Western politics and culture aren't "ridiculous and unverifiable;" these arguments are central to philosophy and to any informed understanding of history. New Atheist boilerplate trivializes the profound issues that religious belief raises, and the New Atheist contribution to meaningful discussion of these fundamental issues is ...well... nil. For New Atheists, ‘rational thinking’ takes a backseat to ideological spittle.

There it is, folks. Now, for sure, there's nothing particularly inflammatory about this response, apart from the blatant straw men, dismissal of theological problems as non-issues, etc.

But that's not the real issue here, which is in fact twofold. First, this is a blog hosted by a site that is supposed to be about a scientific claim, and yet it's discussing theological issues. If this were a purely scientific institution, this post wouldn't even be there. It wouldn't be relevant. Science is indifferent and impartial on the subject of eugenics, which is fleetingly referenced in the original piece. In other words, this is word straight from the mouth of the Discovery Institute that they consider religious claims relevant to science. They are not, and should not factor into scientific discovery one bit. Ethics, yes; religion, absolutely not.

The second issue is the aforementioned discussion of eugenics. In the original piece, the word 'eugenics' and its variations appear twice. In Dr. Shallit's response, three times.

In the Discovery Institute's blog post, it is mentioned forty three times, even appearing in the title of the post:

Dr. Jeffery Shallit on Eugenic Morality: "Why, exactly, would the world be better off with more Down's syndrome children?”

The implication here could not be any clearer: The DI blog wants to make its readers believe that Dr. Shallit is a proponent of eugenics. This is in keeping with the DI's (and by extension the ID creationists') theme of "evolution led to the Holocaust". I'm not simply fear-mongering here; they explicitly mention the Nazis in the post:
In the 1950's, Fredrick Osborn, the president of the American Eugenics Society, advocated a shift away from the more explicit negative eugenics that had been discredited by the Nazi's uncommonly skillful implementation of eugenic theory.
This is also directly in keeping with the theme of "evolution is atheism" as explicitly stated in the post:
In the atheist/Darwinian view, eugenics is moral, even virtuous. The Darwinian understanding of man’s origins is that man arose through a struggle for survival. Our highest traits are the result of Natural Selection. The kindness and charity that are inherent to civilization threaten mankind, because it impairs Natural Selection, which is the source of our humanity.
There you go. According to the Discovery Institute, evolution equals eugenics, Nazism, holocausts, praise for the destruction of the weak, atheism, and basically all that is wrong with the world. And Dr. Shallit is their unfortunate victim. Clearly their interest in intellectual honesty is minimal, in comparison to their affinity for character assassination.

P.S.: Notice that they don't even bother to spell his name properly. They're too busy building their case against the "evilutionist" straw man to care who it is they're talking about.