Monday, August 22, 2005

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.


At 8:27 PM, Blogger Arthur_Vandelay said...

(Off topic)

Australian talkback radio tackles ID:

Monday to Friday at 6pm (4pm in WA), repeated at 3am

Should Intelligent Design Be Taught In Our Schools
Tuesday 23 August 2005

The theory of intelligent design has reignited debate about evolution by challenging Darwin’s theory. US President George Bush wants it taught in schools. And here it’s won the qualified backing of education minister Dr Brendan Nelson. Should intelligent design be taught in our schools?

If you are interested in contributing, the contact details are:
Fax: 07-3377-5171
Toll-free phone: 1300 22 55 76 - 1300 CALL RN

(These are Australian numbers: you may need to add an areac code or something)

At 12:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's always easier to call the other side "crazy" than it is to rationally explain why the idea of the universe's development as a product of a greater intelligence than ours is more insane than the world and life arising with no cause at all. We know the world is here. We know its unfathomable complexity and wonder. There's no way to prove there is no designer and there's no way to prove there isn't. And common sense tells any ordinary person there IS a creator.

At 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me rephrase - you can't prove either viewpoint, and there is NO evidence that there is no God, but a great deal of evidence suggesting there is. I am a researcher myself and I know how heavily political and nasty things get in academia, and unfortunately people like you are desperate to protect your turf, new ideas be damned. Evolution will end up on the rubbish heap of failed theories because there's no hard evidence for it and the idea is ridiculous to begin with. It requires much more blind faith to believe in an effect without a cause than it does to believe in God.

At 1:08 AM, Blogger Kele said...

"Let me rephrase - you can't prove either viewpoint, and there is NO evidence that there is no God, but a great deal of evidence suggesting there is."

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

There is no evidence for a god or intelligent designer. Until you show otherwise, I believe Occam's Razor tells us which view to take and it's not ID or creationism.

The whole idea behind intelligent design is a big logical fallacy, argument from ignorance or "god of the gaps". Science isn't based on logical fallacies, I don't think.

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There has been a great article on "intelligent falling" as an alternative to the theory of gravity in the onion.
You can sign a petition to teach intelligent falling alongside with gravity in public schools at

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