One of you wrote: “You once mentioned that Orson Scott Card should have a dog in the ID fight. Here's his dog. It appears to intersect with yours quite a bit, with, perhaps, some stuff you might consider a strawman or two.”
Hrmmm.. Card is a complex and interesting person. First an aside. He long ago began savaging me in public, I think perhpas because he’s irritated by the fact that we have fans in common. After many years of this, I began looking around for things to dislike about him too (I am only human), and found a few. (I have to look hard because I like to see the good in people, and Scott has plenty on that side of the ledger.)
What I have mostly criticized (and it is non-ad-hominem) is his apparent literary obsession with ubermenschen demigods, relentlessly returning to the trope of mutant superbeings who so-o-o-o-o regret having to impose their will on benighted/foolish humanity... for our own good, of course. And yet, Card’s are among the most interesting demigods around! Really angst-ridden and filled with painful doubts... that somehow never seem to prevent them from finally deciding to squish us, after all. Unlike Yoda, at least his midi-chlorian Ubers are willing to answer questions -- at prodigious length. I hope, if we ever are taken over by mutant Homo superiors, they will be OS Card characters, because at least they won’t enjoy it.
Enough about that lit-gossip. As for Card’s paper on ID, it is a superior piece of work, legitimately chastising the “either-or” dichotomy and authoritarian posturing that too many scientists have bought into.
Or, at least, the essay begins that way, before ultimately falling apart. To start with, he enumerates a number of responses that have been offered by Darwinists, in reaction to the community that promotes teaching Intelligent Design in public school science curricula. Here’s his list:
1. Intelligent Design is just Creation Science in a new suit (name-calling).
2. Don’t listen to these guys, they’re not real scientists (credentialism).
3. If you actually understood science as we do, you’d realize that these guys are wrong and we’re right; but you don’t, so you have to trust us (expertism).
4. They got some details of those complex systems wrong, so they must be wrong about everything (sniping).
5. The First Amendment requires the separation of church and state (politics).
6. We can’t possibly find a fossil record of every step along the way in evolution, but evolution has already been so well demonstrated it is absurd to challenge it in the details (prestidigitation).
7. Even if there are problems with the Darwinian model, there’s no justification for postulating an “intelligent designer” (true).
There is merit to many of these points.
For starters, Card is perfectly right that many scientists have acted childishly, in responding to challenges from outside their community of peer-reviewed doctorate holders. Some do resort to “credentialism” and “expertism” and other smug tactics. Carl Sagan was among the worst perpetrators of this almost ecclesiastical abuse of position, using authority and standing as cudgels against whatever he chose to call “superstition.” While evangelizing and sermonizing about the beauty and wonder of science, he would also assert a privileged position of wise authority, in terms that would have needed little modification -- just a little terminology-swapping -- to befit some ancient High Priest. Indeed, by making such claims, some of the best-known scientific spokesmen have walked right into a trap.
I have spoken elsewhere of our civilization’s obsession with the mythos of Suspicion of Authority - or SOA -- that pervades nearly all popular western culture. SOA had its modern origins in the same Enlightenment movement that engendered science, during an era of revolution against the old collusions of royalty and clergy that had kept our ancestors in bondage, for four millennia. Indeed, good science is fundamentally grounded in an enlightenment willingness to question established perceptions and accepted beliefs, challenging them to survive the give and take of reciprocal criticism and the experimental process. It cannot be over-emphasized that science was -- and remains -- the rebel phenomenon, opposing (and always endangered by) older habits of hierarchy and nostalgic dogma, that dominated nearly every other culture, keeping us shrouded in darkness.
Hence, it can be profoundly ironic when the opponents of science find ways to reverse roles and portray an entrenched scientific “establishment.” One seeking to protect its authoritarian power and turf, insisting upon a rigid catechism of accepted Truth. Hierarchs obsessed with suppressing alternative explanations or brushing aside inconveniently contrary evidence.
Yes, there are imperious authority figures in science. And yet, all in all, these accusations tend to be deeply unfair. Scientists are busy, busy people, doing among the most important things, ever. The topics of their research, from biology to starflight, are deeply attractive to a well-read public and to their credit, many scientists and science-journalists strive to share popularized accounts, on TV and in journals like DISCOVER Magazine. No prior “priesthood” ever worked so hard to share deep insights and include the average citizens who ultimately pay for it all.
Still they are very busy. So it is natural for their hackles to rise when they are chivvied and harried and sniped by indignant outsiders who express Suspicion of Authority to an indignant and unreasonable degree, insisting on attention being paid to this or that or the latest kooky thing. If as little as 98% of these “unconventional” notions are meritless or meretricious, one might hope that the remaining 2% will get attention from experts, in the due course of time. Yet, is only natural that scientists sometimes duck for cover, not only in their labs, but by using the same dismissing language toward all unsolicited, uncredentialed input, even by sincere and educated citizens with interesting questions to raise.
How to solve this problem? There is a desperate need for some system of merit that allows and encourages good ideas to rise up, outside the establishment, so that the best can legitimately demand attention, while denying credence to mere distracting dross. For this reason, I have long been a supporter of the Society for Amateur Scientists (http://www.sas.org/).
Having said all that, those of us who have worked in science know that no other system ever succeeded so well at compensating for flaws in human nature. Yes, powerful scientists, being human, cannot help sometimes throwing their weight around. On the other hand, bright graduate students desire nothing more deeply than to discover some chink or flaw in accepted paradigms, just the sort of tumultuous discovery that can make a reputation, forever. While human nature does keep pushing in one direction, toward priest-like hierarchies of dogma -- and this trend can be abetted by political pressures -- science still remains remarkably free of reactionary corruption. No other system has ever put in place as many counter-forces and incentives to shove the other way, constantly renewing the drive for innovation and change.
Alas, these subtleties are not well-known outside of academia and the lab. Given the prevalence of SOA in mass culture... and the palpable power of science in the modern age... it is only natural for tales of authoritarian repression to gain some romantic credence. Much of the UFO community, for example, revolves around paranoid fantasies, claiming that hundreds - even thousands - of the very best scientists and engineers might cooperate with a 60 year program, secretly investigating the greatest discovery of all time, without anyone blowing the whistle or breathing a word in all that time. Talk about fantasy!
Getting back to specifics, one of the underlying emotional appeals made by proponents of Intelligent Design has been to tug at this image of stodgy, establishment high priests, busy protecting a rigid dogma by repressing competition, resisting even a fair discussion of alternative ideas. As I described in another chapter, the ID community plays this card well, by appealing to the twin notions of completeness and fair play. (“Why should students be prevented from hearing all sides and deciding for themselves?”)
What can be profoundly irritating and counterproductive is when scientists inadvertently feed this image of ID as some kind of righteous underdog, instead of helping the public to see it as the stalking horse for a powerfully reactionary coalition. This cannot be done by oversimplifying or creating a strawman. As Orson Scott Card rightfully points out, Intelligent Design (ID) differs - in important ways -- from old style Creation Science (CS).
Next time we will deal with some of those differences, pondering whether those opposing evolution are, in fact, demonstrating it, in action, as they change and adapt to different social, educational and political circumstances.
See: Other Theories of Intelligent Design: Intelligent Design is Only One of Many Alternatives to Darwinian Evolution