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Monday, August 06, 2007

ID Godfather's thoughts on creationist students

Following up our discussion of the Creationist Museum here and here, Phillip Johnson wrote an interesting reflection on how an astronomy professor who accepts conventional dating for the age of the universe addresses the apparently substantial number of young earth creationists in his class:
Saperstein [the astronomy prof] concludes that, if very many students remain biblical literalists despite having had a scientific education, he fears for their future, the future of American science, and the future of an American society beset by problems amenable to scientific solutions. He does not explain why knowledge of how the world works now is not sufficient for a science that aspires to solve the problems that beset us. Perhaps our society is more in need of a sound spiritual grounding than of theories about the distant past that cannot be tested by observation or experiment.
I have observed that anti-Darwinist inclinations are fairly common among engineers, for example, who are the scientists most directly concerned with society’s practical problems. But creationists can also be found even among evolutionary biologists and paleontologists, whose theoretical work directly involves the more speculative historical subjects that arouse skepticism in Saperstein’s students.

Johnson also warns,
Alvin Saperstein is also a decent man who is trying to understand his students and reason with them rather than dictate to them. But he had better be careful, because persuasion can work in either direction. I know one senior professor, author of an influential book advocating a naturalistic, chemical evolutionary scenario for the origin of life, who was persuaded by his students that his theory was wrong and that life was intelligently designed. He got into a lot of trouble with zealous colleagues and administrators when he began expressing his doubts about his previous assumptions in his classes.

By the way, did you notice Johnson's "Leading Edge" column's masthead? Yes, that's it, all right - it's the infamous Wedge, and yes, Johnson is the indeed Godfather of the ID theorists.

In reality, of course, Johnson - a constitutional lawyer - was the guy who showed a bunch of isolated scientists how to make their case to a broader world, no matter how colleagues tried to stifle them. That was, as he himself said, a lawyer's contribution. His Darwin on Trial rocketed into the big time when it was denounced by rote in all the science journals.

DoT was probably the book that established the pattern: Publish a good case and use the negative energy of the denunciations by Darwinists/materialist atheists/religious fellow travellers to make up for the deficit in positive financial resources. The book remains a classic, and the strategy has not so far failed. That isn't surprising either - the screaming you hear from Darwinists is genuine frustration; they can't help but go along with it.

It was purely a stroke of luck for the ID theorists that conspirazoids later got hold of "the Wedge document" and sent half the Darwinists' forces down an irrelevant rabbit trail - obscuring the actual, highly effective strategy with rampant speculation about libertarian theocracies and such.

Surely Disco (the ID guys' think tank) did not offer it to the Darwinists as sucker bait? I refuse to allow my mind to go there. No! No! O, but the perfidy of the world ... Okay, okay, let's consider it. Possible? Yes. But likely? No.

No, the Wedge document just happened, and guaranteed Disco and the ID theorists still more exposure - at the cost of putting out a few more brushfires now and then. But so far as I can see, Disco was only ever in trouble with the materialists and their fellow travellers over that one, not with any significant number of people who think intelligent design is worth considering. That, of course, is why it never did the damage Disco's enemies were hoping for.

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