Friday, December 21, 2012

I was reading while the internet was down...

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that my cable service was out for a couple of days. During that time, it occurred to me more than once how dependent we have - I have - become on being able to access umpteen channels on television and on being able to run to the computer and hop on the Internet to look something up or play a game whenever I want to or need to. While I'm not addicted to it (I don't think), I am a writer who does a lot of research and I really miss the Internet when I don't have access to it and don't have just the right book at hand to look up something that I'm researching or something that has caught my interest.

There were advantages, though, to not having the Internet at the ready to distract me. One of those advantages was that I had the time to more quickly finish reading a particularly good book that I had been taking a long time to get through. Although it is a good book, it is dense, difficult reading, and the subject matter was such that I had to take a break from time to time so that I wouldn't throw the thing and break something or put a hole in the wall.

The book is Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2005; 401 pages), by Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross. I picked it up at the library as part of research for a couple of projects I'm working on, and I didn't really expect to read it all the way through, but I found it fascinating as well as frustrating and, sometimes, infuriating.

I have to preface what I have to say about the book by saying that I was raised to see no contradiction between believing in deity and accepting the fact that evolution happens. Or, more accurately, it was just not a question that came up. The existence of God just was not seen as an impediment to evolution occurring, and evolution was not seen as ruling out the possible existence of God. It never occurred to me that anyone might think differently until I was in the fifth or sixth grade and a girl in my class flipped out when we saw an educational film that talked about evolution. She was incensed that any idea other than a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis was advanced for the creation of species. Never mind that there are two pretty much mutually exclusive accounts of creation just in the first few pages of that book, a reality that wasn't on my radar at the time.

In the years that followed, however, especially when I got interested in anthropology and started reading widely in that and other subjects, I learned just how opposed some people are to the idea of evolution, and of it being taught in public school science classrooms. I was especially interested in the way they progressed from calling their stand creationism, to calling it "scientific creationism", to calling it "intelligent design", changing what they called their ideas as the US courts, and especially the United States Supreme Court, ruled over and over that creationism, then creation science, and then intelligent design, were really religious ideas, not science, and were not to be taught in public school science classrooms.

What this book does is look specifically at the proponents of intelligent design and how they insist, at least in public, that their ideas are not creationism and are not religion. The authors spend a great deal of time and use more than sufficient documentation to show that, on the contrary, there really isn't much difference between creationism and intelligent design. For example, they show that while ID proponents claim that they don't believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis, particularly in the short period of time allowed for the age of the Earth by that text, that there are a number of Young-Earth believers (those who believe that the Earth is only between 6 thousand and 10 thousand years old) among ID proponents.

The authors also spend a great deal of time refuting the claim of ID proponents that while the propose that the universe, the Earth, and life were designed by an intelligent entity, they do not necessarily identify that Designer with God. Forrest and Gross produce plenty of evidence of what these same people say to religous audiences and write for religious audiences that show they really are theists who have as one of their main objectives bringing religion into the schools by first introducing ID into public school classrooms.

Especially disturbing to me is their evidence showing the ties of the ID movement to Christian Reconstructionism. If you read here regularly, you know that I've written about the Reconstructionists here before and that I do not approve of them and their aims, the main goal being turning the United States into a theocracy.

All of the information the authors present is exhaustively documented in 64 pages of endnotes, many of them to web pages of the organizations that advocate ID and support the proponets with their money. They list the organizations, the name names of those pushing the ID agenda. Within the text, they quote these individuals and organizations at length. These quotations are part of what make the book difficult reading, considering that some of the folks who publish in favor of ID really aren't very good writers. These passages also show exactly how far ID proponents are willing to go to tailor their message to their audience, insisting to school boards that ID is not religious but talking in almost exclusively religious terms when addressing religious audiences.

Despite its fairly academic tone (the authors are a philosopher and a physiologist), I think this is a valuable book. It isn't a quick, easy read, but the information it contains is important, and I think the time spent reading is time well spent for those interested in the subject matter and for anyone concerned about what young people are being taught, especially when you consider that ID proponents have as part of their specific program "recruiting" students to their ideology and encouraging them to "challenge" their teachers over the creationsim/evolution issue.

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