Safire Weighs In
William Safire has devoted his most recent language column to the history of the word creationism. Unlike his political columns, his language columns are nearly always interesting and worth reading. This one is no exception. Here's an excerpt:
The word creationism, coined in 1868 in opposition to what was then called Darwinism or evolutionism, had fallen on hard times. The proponents of a theory faithfully attributing the origin of matter to God, “the creator,” were seemingly overwhelmed by the theory put forward by Charles Darwin and bolstered with much evidence by 20th century scientists. As a result, the noun creationism (like its predecessor, teleology, the study of purposeful design in nature) gained a musty connotation while evolutionism modishly lost its -ism.
Then along came the phrase intelligent design, and evolution had fresh linguistic competition. Though the phrase can be found in an 1847 issue of Scientific American and in an 1868 book, it was probably coined in its present sense in “Humanism,” a 1903 book by Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller: “It will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of evolution may be guided by an intelligent design.” (Emphasis in Original)
The article ends with a quote from Nobel Laureate Leon Cooper, of the Brown University Dept. of Physics:
I will leave the last word on this old controversy with its new phraseology to the neuroscientist Leon Cooper, a Nobel laureate at Brown University. He tells all of today's red-faced disputants: “If we could all lighten up a bit perhaps, we could have some fun in the classroom discussing the evidence and the proposed explanations -- just as we do at scientific conferences.”
Ugh. What's especially annoying about this is that I'm sure Cooper sees himself as the clear-thinking moderate surrounded by extremists of both sides. I suspect he has not read much of the ID literature, and has little sense of just how brain-dead ID's scientific assertions really are. I further suspect he has spent little time investigating the political dimensions of the issue, since he seems to think that treating a science classroom like a small scientific conference will settle the problem.
It's standard appeasement. Give a little ground to the crazy people and everything will be all right. But it's not as if the Discovery Institute would pack up and go away if we introduced “Teach the Controversy” into every science classroom in the country. They would simply use that as the first step in their broader campaign to use the tools of government to promote their religious views.