In talking about the upcoming Ben Stein movie, John Derbyshire made a provocative comment yesterday about creationists, intelligent design, and the theory that intelligent design is a backhanded way of promoting creationism without playing the religion card:
[It's something] I've said before here, and repeated as politely as I could in panel discussions with creationists: they're not just wrong, they're shifty. In my opinion, they wandered off the straight and narrow when they started pushing this "intelligent design" stuff. My advice to them — frequently offered but, for reasons that are baffling to me, never taken up — is to drop the i-d b-s and go back to good old Biblical creationism. At least that's an honest point of view founded in Scripture. I understand why the move to i-d was made: to try to get out from under current church-state jurisprudence (not all of which I agree with). However, the constant strain of keeping a straight face while insisting that theirs is not — no way! absolutely not!! — a religious campaign, and talking about the mysterious-but-definitely-not-supernatural "Designer," has corrupted them irredeemably.
Let's ignore for the moment his claim that creationism is wrong. I'm interested in his accusation that some Christians are taking an inherently religious idea (creationism, in this case) and wrapping it up in non-religious clothes ("intelligent design") in order to "sneak" the idea into culture without setting off church-and-state worries, and to prevent a knee-jerk rejection of the idea just because it's religious.
I've heard this claim leveled against intelligent-design proponents before. I don't know if it's true in this case—I don't follow the creationism/intelligent design movement enough to know. But from time to time I have noticed instances where I think Christians do employ this tactic. One example is with the topics of abortion and pre-marital sex. Go to many Christian websites or books about abortion and you'll find a lot of arguments about why abortion is a dangerous procedure, can cause health complications in women, can lead to emotional problems for women, etc. These arguments are legitimate, but the real reason that Christians are worked up is not that they're concerned about the health risks of abortion—it's that they believe abortion is morally wrong and against God's will. They just don't dare phrase it like that.
I see something similar in the way a lot of Christians talk about premarital sex. They're against it, and have a load of good reasons why: it's unsafe, it can result in disease, it can produce children you're not ready for, it can be emotionally damaging—all good reasons, but lurking behind them is the real reason: God.
I'm curious what you think of all this. Let me try to boil it down to a few discussion questions:
- Do you agree with the charge that the intelligent design movement is "creationism in disguise"? Are there other issues where Christians are stealthily promoting Christian ideas, without labeling them as such?
- Is it dishonest to hide your religious motives when talking about controversial issues? Would it be more "honest" to just be upfront about your religious goals, or would that just needlessly sabotage your message?
What do you think?
(Via Patrick Appel at AndrewSullivan.com.)