Totalitarianism at the Heart of the American Intelligent Design Movement – Part II

Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.

– Phillip E Johnson, American Family Radio, Jan 10, 2003 broadcast.

Open the book “Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds” and you will find an affectionate dedication:

To Roberta and Howard, who understood “the wedge” because they love the Truth.[1]

Howard Ahmanson, the sinister theocrat we met in Part One, and his wife Roberta are friends of the author, Phillip E Johnson. Roberta is no better than her husband. She defends RJ Rushdoony’s desire for the reintroduction of biblical law, and asks “What is so bad about theocracy?”[2]

Phillip Johnson is often called the father, or godfather, of the intelligent design movement.[3][4][5] He is the brains behind the “wedge strategy”, the co-ordinated attack on all fronts to insinuate Christian theology masquerading as science into all areas of public life, until Christianity is the ruling ideology.[6]

In a November 2000 interview, Johnson describes how his “wedge strategy” became the focus of the Intelligent Design movement:

I met Steve Meyer, who was in England at the time. Through Steve, I got to know the others, who were developing what became the Intelligent Design movement. Michael Denton stayed in my home for three days while he was in the United States. Meyer introduced me to Paul Nelson, and so on. One by one, these people came together.
At that time there was a little funding to pay for people to come to Seattle occasionally for a conference. So they had me speak at one in 1989 to look me over. I soon became the leader of the group.[7]

The NCSE has a neat summary of the history of ID:

Intelligent Design creationism (IDC) is a successor to the “creation science” movement, which dates back to the 1960s. The IDC movement began in the middle 1980s as an antievolution movement which could include young earth, old earth, and progressive creationists; theistic evolutionists, however, were not welcome. The movement increased in popularity in the 1990s with the publication of books by law professor Phillip Johnson and the founding in 1996 of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (now the Center for Science and Culture.) The term “intelligent design” was adopted as a replacement for “creation science,” which was ruled to represent a particular religious belief in the Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987.[8]

The popularity of the term “intelligent design” as used by modern creationists to denote a putative scientific field stems from the 1989 edition of the book “Of Pandas and People”.[9]

The ID movement has a temporal home in Seattle at the headquarters of the Center for Science and Culture, part of the Discovery Institute.[10]

The goals for ID, as outlined in the infamous leaked Wedge Document[11] drafted by Discovery Institute staff, are sweeping. They include the objective

To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral, and political life.

The Wedge Document outlines a concerted attack on “materialism”; this effectively means an attack on secular elements of society. For example, modern approaches to criminal justice and welfare are criticized. While it would be very worrying even if the justice and welfare models sought were Victorian, Johnson and his cohort seek to go back much further than that.

Johnson rejects the utility of secular rationality, and he says

[T]he nihilism permeating contemporary life is the inevitable consequence of apostasy.

For him, a Christian society is the only long term option:

As modernist rationalism gives way in universities to its own natural child—postmodernist nihilism—modernists are learning very slowly what a bargain they have made. It isn’t a bargain a society can live with indefinitely.[12]

It becomes clear from his writings that by “modernist rationalism” he means The Enlightenment and its legacy. His proposed solution is desecularization via a religious revival.[13]

Dembski is of the same mind as Johnson. Of science, he says

[T]he scientific picture of the world championed since the Enlightenment is not only wrong, it is massively wrong.[14][10][15]

It may be startling to realize quite how radical the approach to science of Johnson and his most well known satellites really is. Some “evolutionist” scientists are sympathetic to the principle of detection of the supernatural and/or the detection of design in nature. However, such concessions would not satisfy their opponents. Dembski and Johnson and associates believe that science should be essentially theistic. Dembski insists on seeing science through the lens of fifth century theology:

If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient.[16]

Upon his appointment as Professor of Theology and Science at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dembski said

This is really an opportunity to mobilize a new generation of scholars and pastors not just to equip the saints[17] but also to engage the culture and reclaim it for Christ. That’s really what is driving me.[18]

When Dembski says Christians have a mandate to bring “every aspect of life under the influence of [Christianity]”[19] he means it. There is a word for a society where religion, culture, ethics, politics, criminal justice, and legal reform are predicated on the reality of a god.

Dembski is intolerant of Christians who interpret scripture differently to him, let alone the non-religious:

[H]eresy has become an unpopular word. Can’t we all get along and live in peace? Unfortunately the answer is no.[20]

While it is fair to say that Dembski does not advocate an imperialistic approach to creating a world where his fundamentalist brand of Christianity informs everything, the outcome could not be anything other than totalitarian.

The new theocrats, some of them at any rate, may feel that their single authority world would be different because it would be based on “love”, but in the belief that pre-modern values are the highest expression of love they display the symptoms of a dangerous sickness.

Read Part One here

[1] Defeating Darwinism By Opening Minds. Phillip E Johnson. InterVarsity Press 1997.
[2] Interview with Roberta Ahmanson for Christianity Today. 19th January 2011.
[3] Defending Intelligent Design. PBS Nova website.
[4] Intelligent Design: The real issue according to Johnson. The Panda’s Thumb.
[5] Father Of Intelligent Design. Center for Science & Culture website
[6] Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, Barbara Forrest and Paul R Gross, OUP, 2003.
[7] Berkeley’s Radical. An interview with Phillip E Johnson. Touchstone. June 2002.
[8] What Is “Intelligent Design” Creationism? NCSE website.
[9] “Biological design in science classrooms”, Eugenie C. Scott and Nicholas J. Matzke, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May 15, 2007. vol. 104 no. suppl 1.
[10] Understanding the intelligent design creationist movement: Its true nature and goals.
A position paper from the Center For Inquiry office of public policy. Author: Barbara Forrest. July 2007.
[11] The Wedge Document. Copy at
[12] Ethics in a Vacuum. Phillip E Johnson. Touchstone. October 2002.
[13] Nihilism And The End Of Law. Phillip E Johnson. First Things. March 1993.
[14] Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology.William A. Dembski. InterVarsity Press 2002. p224.
[15] Scientific Values and Civic Virtues. Noretta Koertge. OUP 2005. p203.
[16] Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology. P206
[17] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16.

[18] Dembski to head seminary’s new science & theology center. Baptist Press website.
[19] “Introduction: Reclaiming Theological Education”, William A. Dembski & Jay Wesley Richards, in Unapologetic Apologetics: Meeting the challenge of theological studies. Eds. William A. Dembski and Jay Wesley Richards. InterVarsity Press 2001. p18.
[20] “The Task of Apologetics”, William A. Dembski, in Unapologetic Apologetics: Meeting the challenge of theological studies. p43.

The LCI and Bertrand’s Box

Tom English has recommended that we read Dembski and Marks’ paper on their Law of Conservation of Information (not to be confused with the Dembski’s previous LCI from his book No Free Lunch). Dembski also has touted the paper several times, and I too recommend it as a stark display of the the authors’ thinking.

Most people won’t take the time to carefully read a 34-page paper, but I submit that the authors’ core concept of “conservation of information” is very easily understood if we avoid equivocal and misleading terms such as information, search, and target. I’ll illustrate it with a setup borrowed from Joseph Bertrand.

The “Bertrand’s box” scenario is as follows: We’re presented with three small outwardly identical boxes, each containing two coins. One has a two silver coins, one has two gold coins, and one has a silver coin and a gold coin. We’ll call the boxes SS, GG, and SG. We are to randomly choose a box, and then randomly pull a coin from the chosen box.

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Review: Climbing the Steiner Tree


Winston Ewert, William Dembski, and Robert J. Marks II have made available a paper titled Climbing the Steiner Tree — Sources of Active Information in a Genetic Algorithm for Solving the Euclidean Steiner Tree Problem wherein they claim to have identified sources of “active information” in a genetic algorithm used to find solutions to a Steiner problem. The problem referenced in this paper was originally described by Dave Thomas on the Panda’s Thumb almost six years ago. I developed a GA to solve the problem that Dave posed as a challenge a few weeks later, as did a number of other people.

This paper suffers from numerous flaws, starting with a fundamental mischaracterization of the purpose of Thomas’s solution and including general misunderstanding of genetic algorithms, misapplication of the No Free Lunch theorems, spurious claims about “active information”, and incorrect and unsupported assertions regarding the impact of certain GA implementation details.
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