Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The hacksaw strategy

Intelligent designers at the Discovery Institute have made a $16,000 donation to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural Science to have the premier showing of their ID film "The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe" held there on June 23rd. The invitation-only event is being billed as "co-sponsored" by the Smithsonian.

Pro-science websites and bloggers are asking readers to make protest calls and send protest e-mails to Randall Kremer, National Museum of Natural History Director of Public Affairs 202-633-2950 giving@si.edu or nhevents@si.edu.
Read more at Red State Rabble and Panda's Thumb.

I wonder if the wedge strategy is all just a skillful bit of misdirection.

The "wedge" is a metaphor for taking a wedge to the "rotten tree" of evolution (as they see it) and chipping away at the trunk a bit at a time until the whole thing falls over. That's the image they want you to have. Personally, I've always had a funnier picture in my head -- an image of Phillip Johnson charging at a granite cliff with a plastic spork, going "Hah! (poke poke) It will collapse any minute now! (poke poke) Take that, evolution!"

For the metaphor of chopping a tree to really work, I think they would need to go after the scientific FOUNDATIONS of evolution, and make a scientific case against it. This, of course, they have not done.

Instead, what they are doing might more accurately be termed the "pruning shears strategy" or the "hacksaw strategy" if you will. After poking at the trunk for years, they have to resort to going after the extended branches of the tree. A school district here. A museum there. An obscure scientific journal over there. The SYMPTOMS of being an accepted mainstream science are evolution's wide dispersal through all the normal channels of science education. It seems that DI's real strategy is to attack those symptoms and make it appear as if evolution has no support in school, museums, etc., while declining to bother with the scientific trunk of the tree.

There was a wonderful story once by Raymond Smullyan, called Planet Without Laughter. A dwindling number of people on this planet still have a sense of humor, and humor is treated as an almost mystical or supernatural phenomenon. One character gives a sermon on humor, trying to make the humorless people understand that they can't "get" humor just by imitating it.
"Another way you try to learn by mere imitation is by this ridiculous practice of memorizing jokes. In a perfectly laborious and mechanical fashion you commit to memory thousands upon thousands of jokes and you think you are thereby acquiring a sense of humor! You call this activity 'studying' -- you say you are 'studying to acquire a sense of humor.' But these jokes are absolutely pointless for you to learn until after you have acquired a sense of humor. Without this inner sense, you cannot possibly see the real point of these jokes. True, even without this sense, you can understand the situations these jokes describe, but these situations themselves are totally uninteresting unless you can perceive the humor in them."
That's a great analogy to what the Intelligent Design movement is about: imitating science. They put on their white lab coats and write mathematical equations on their blackboards and come up with impressive sounding vocabulary words like "Irreducible Complexity," but they don't actually do science. They demand to be taken seriously in schools and museums and journals, but even if they succed, all they've done is memorized some jokes, not learned to be funny.

I'm no botanist, but I have been informed that you can kill some trees by hacking off all the branches while leaving the roots and the trunk intact. Trees use their branches and leaves to synthesize their food using sunlight, so killing all the branches cuts off their nourishment. However, if you did this then that wouldn't prove the tree was rotten in the first place, only that if you abuse anything enough then it dies.

1 comment:

  1. As I remarked on Panda's Thumb, the ID folks seem to have a penchant for using simple machines as a metaphor to describe their strategy. The irony is that the wedge, as a device, is not "irreducibly complex."

    Regarding your comment about Philip Johnson wielding a spork:
    Are you suggesting that the IDers adopt a "Spork" strategy? I think you may be on to something. After all, the spork, like Intelligent Design, is an instrument of evil, being forced on children in public schools everywhere. And, like the spork, ID is brittle and inflexible, rendering it unsuitable for actual use....