21 August 2005

(Un)Intelligence by Design

Flying Spaghetti Monster aside, there are far deeper, long-term implications for the current controversy in the United States concerning the teaching of so-called intelligent design. (I’ll dispense with specific links on the topic, since websites and weblog postings on the issue now number in the millions.) The New York Times, among other mass-media outlets, has been following the issue, with today’s offering examining the institute that is apparently driving the controversy – an institute heavily funded by fundamentalist Christian organizations.

That a de facto Christian theocracy (or, if you prefer a less biased approach, those who back fundamentalist, political Christianity and would like to control the U.S. political agenda) wants to bend school curricula in accordance with its doctrine is not news. What is, or will become, news, is the loss of rigorous thinking about serious worldly issues by this once great nation.

In a recent op-ed piece, Paul Krugman likens the politically-motivated and fabricated controversy over intelligent design vs. evolution, to the policy-influenced doubt raised over global warming and so-called supply-side economics (the latter already demonstrated to be a disaster; the former a disaster in progress):
But what if creationists do to evolutionary theory what corporate interests did to global warming: create a widespread impression that the scientific consensus has shaky foundations? Creationists failed when they pretended to be engaged in science, not religious indoctrination: "creation science" was too crude to fool anyone. But intelligent design, which spreads doubt about evolution without being too overtly religious, may succeed where creation science failed.

The important thing to remember is that like supply-side economics or global-warming skepticism, intelligent design doesn't have to attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective. All it has to do is create confusion, to make it seem as if there really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory. That, together with the political muscle of the religious right, may be enough to start a process that ends with banishing Darwin from the classroom.
The effect of all this is to create a condition in which doctrine and political policy create fallacious but plausible “alternative scenarios” that are set equal to rigorously-achieved scientific, economic and sociological conclusions. Students and future researchers are taught the acceptability of “believing is seeing” – that you only “see” those things that you believe. Ultimately, such a view undoes the empirical basis of science.

Want a current demonstration of this process? Look no further than the pharmaceutical industry, in which there has been scandal after scandal of suppressed research, results that demonstrate harm, or lack of efficacy ignored, approvals rushed through regulatory agencies in which there may be apparent political influence, and, as a final example, the “reefer madness” political response to considering the medical use of marijuana. Many researchers have found (the hard way) that you are only permitted to see that which your funders believe.

Lack of critical thinking and awareness of the effects of processes, diminishes intelligence, and the future ability of a people to compete. Ironically, promotion of the intelligent design doctrine in the United States will prove Darwin correct, after a fashion. But by then, it will be too late.
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Craig said...

I think there was an URLo, here is the correct link for
Krugman's NYT op-ed

Craig said...

Sorry: Paul
Krugman's NYT op-ed

Mark Federman said...

I've updated the link in the body of the post. Thanks, Craig!

Gimble said...

Deepak Chopra is saying some things over at the Huffington Post about evolution that I think is demonstrative of the effect you observe. By reading the comments you realize that very little progress is made in increasing understanding, in fact what seems to be occurring is indeed a false debate between two sides arguing about different topics. Yet each "side" garners enthusiastic support. It is very reminiscent of other "debates" in our polarized political climate. If only we could agree on what we disagree on...