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INTELLIGENT DESIGN: CREATIONISM'S TROJAN HORSE

A Conversation With Barbara Forrest

Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, La., is co-author of the new book Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press). Written with Paul R. Gross, who holds a Ph.D. in general physiology, the book explains the Religious Right's strategy for working "intelligent design" creationism into America's public schools.

Forrest, a member of Americans United's National Advisory Council, recently discussed the book with Church & State. Excerpts from the interview follow. To read the complete interview, please visit AU's website at www.au.org. For more information about the book, visit Forrest's website at www.creationismstrojanhorse.com.

Q. In your new book, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, you focus on The Wedge strategy pioneered by Phillip Johnson. For those not familiar with it, what is "The Wedge" strategy and what is its ultimate goal?

A. The Wedge strategy is the intelligent design movement's tactical plan for promoting intelligent design creationism as an alternative to evolutionary theory in the American cultural mainstream and public school science classes. The movement's 5-, 10-, and 20-year goals are outlined in a document on the Internet entitled "The Wedge Strategy." Informally known as the "Wedge Document," it was a fund-raising tool used by the Discovery Institute to raise money for its creationist subsidiary, the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, which was established in 1996 and is now called the Center for Science and Culture. According to the Wedge Document, the strategy is designed to defeat "Darwinism" and to promote an idea of science "consonant with Christian and theistic convictions." The ultimate goal of the Wedge strategy is to "renew" American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian values.

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The intelligent design (ID) creationists who are executing this strategy collectively refer to themselves as "the Wedge." Phillip Johnson, the architect of the strategy and the group's de facto leader, invokes the metaphor of a wood-splitting wedge to illustrate his goal of splitting apart the concepts of science and naturalism.... Science, however, is a naturalistic enterprise. Scientists cannot appeal to supernatural explanations because there is neither a methodology for testing them nor an epistemology for knowing the supernatural. Science has a naturalistic methodology, known less controversially as "scientific method."

Q. Advocates of intelligent design argue that their ideas are not necessarily religious. Yet it would seem that if humans were intelligently designed, the designer must have been God. In light of this, how do ID proponents argue that their ideas are not religious in nature?

A. ID creationists contend that the work of an intelligent designer can be empirically detected in nature, but they evade questions about the designer's identity and the mechanisms through which it works by insisting that detecting its activity does not require knowing its identity. They argue that ID is based on cutting-edge science. Yet even ID proponents with legitimate science credentials have never produced one iota of original scientific data to support these claims. Biochemist Michael Behe never invokes ID in any of his professional publications. He surely would do this if he really believed that ID is a genuine scientific theory. In his role as an ID proponent, he claims that biological structures such as bacterial flagella are "irreducibly complex," meaning that their parts could not have been assembled over time by natural selection and that the absence of one part would by definition make the entire structure nonfunctional. Yet he admits that his definition of irreducible complexity is flawed and has not so far produced a promised revision of it....

As to whether ID is religious, we can go straight to the horse's mouth to verify this. Fortunately, members of the Wedge themselves have made the task very easy by confirming unambiguously on numerous occasions that ID is fundamentally a religious belief.

Q. Intelligent design supporters often portray it in the media as some new, groundbreaking idea. But isn't it true that the argument from design is an old, discredited idea that actually pre-dates Charles Darwin? What are the origins of what is now called intelligent design?

A. The argument from design is indeed very old and illustrates how pre-scicntific people constructed explanations of the cosmos that reflect their own experience as intelligent agents. Thomas Aquinas used it as one of his arguments for God's existence, noting that many natural objects function as though they are aiming toward "the best result." Thomas reasoned that since an object lacking intelligence cannot do this without external guidance from an intelligent being, there must be such a being by whom unintelligent things are purposefully directed. The idea of intelligent design is also central to William Paley's 1802 book, Natural Theology, where he presents his famous watchmaker analogy. Although ID proponents, particularly William Dembski, deny that ID is natural theology, the resemblance between what Paley said in 1802 and what Dembski says today is striking. Reading Paley is like reading works by ID creationists in many ways.


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