Propaganda and Teaching Intelligent Design

The thing about Intelligent Design is that it’s non-science masquerading as science. Its claims can’t be used to predict anything and are not falsifiable. It’s not a theory that can be improved over time. Its domain is religious and philosophical.

That doesn’t stop its ardent supporters from wishing very hard for it to be science. It was designed to supplant evolution, which is very much a scientific theory. Christian creationism was clearly religion and not science; to hide this fact, supporters filed off the serial numbers, removing explicit references to the Christian God and giving creationism a new name and a shiny science-y gloss.

William Dembski, a big proponent of Intelligent Design, is a professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This summer he taught three courses on Intelligent Design. Note the requirements for the undergraduate and masters classes.

AP410: This is the undegrad [sic] course. You have three things to do: (1) take the final exam (worth 40% of your grade); (2) write a 3,000-word essay on the theological significance of intelligent design (worth 40% of your grade); (3) provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 2,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

AP510: This is the masters course. You have four things to do: (1) take the final exam (worth 30% of your grade); (2) write a 1,500- to 2,000-word critical review of Francis Collins’s The Language of God — for instructions, see below (20% of your grade); (3) write a 3,000-word essay on the theological significance of intelligent design (worth 30% of your grade); (4) provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 3,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).

Why the requirements that students troll science-oriented blogs and other websites? If you’re a teacher, your goal should be to help students understand the material and demonstrate mastery of it. Having students write about the class topic is a long-accepted way of doing that; maybe that’s what Dembski is after. But that’s unlikely — both classes already have an essay requirement. And these “website posts” are going to be about 200 to 300 words or so, bite-sized chunks that won’t give the students room to really develop their theses.

Maybe Dembski wants his students to show that they can handle rhetoric and discussion, and can debate their points logically. But if so, why send them to the internet? Trying to learn good debate through blog comments is like trying to learn journalism from the Weekly World News.

That leaves propaganda as the most likely purpose for the assignment, which serves no pedagogical purpose. Dembski is cynically using students to advance his cause, with no real benefit to them. At least grad students learn useful skills when they do research for their professors. Worse, he’s sending them into a hostile crowd. This will help foster an us-versus-them mentality. “See?” Dembski can say, “they don’t want to talk rationally to you. They hate the truth,” leaving aside that he sent them there to troll.

Dembski has betrayed the teacher-student pact. He’s using his position of power to further his ideological ends in a craven manner. Shame on him.

Share

9 Comments

  1. Kismet
    on August 24, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I find it sad that things like this are becoming more and more prevalent. I worry for the day when our country, which is supposed to have freedoms like religion and thought protected as well as speech, will end up divided. It truly is a fear of mine for our future generations.
    Thank you Doc for being a man of science as well as a moral person of faith, who is willing to go against the religious “party line”, so to speak. I appreciate that you and your family are involved in your church and raising your kids in faith. I am glad there will be another generation of people who think for themselves coming after us.

  2. scyllacat
    on August 24, 2009 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I just spoke to someone else this week–a friend–who is no longer comfortable calling herself a Christian because of the whackness (not to mention the burning in hell).

    We want the “God loves us and wants us to be happy” (Plus “Kittens for everybody”) platform.

    It’s always good to see people plainly pointing at this ID crap for what it is.

  3. on August 24, 2009 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I’m certainly willing to call myself Christian, but that doesn’t mean I should give anyone a free pass based on them sharing a religion with me.

  4. on August 24, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Agree completely with your blog. Shameless for a professor to force his students into promoting his position on the Internet.
    As to the related issue, evolution and the relationship between science and religion/philosophy/theology, I’ve always appreciated the official statement made by the leadership of the Christian denomination in which I believe, in 1931, which I think was pretty forward-thinking for its time, and still is today:
    “Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church.”
    If more people, on all sides of the issue, could simply leave science to science and theology to theology, the issue would become a non-issue.

  5. Joyous
    on August 24, 2009 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    It’s kind of telling that this guy knows he’s teaching something that will require argument on hostile websites–it underscores the fact that there’s simply not enough to “intelligent design” to teach a full course on. His students will apparently have nothing better to do than pick fights. I’m trying to imagine a similar case, with a biology teacher requiring students to go argue on ID message boards–does not compute. They’d be too busy–oh, I dunno–studying science?

  6. Raven
    on August 24, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    It is both frightful and sad to know that there are people as low as him in the world. I do not have a valid, scientific or not, opinion on the Intelligent Design theory. The concept that there is something greater outside us, be it God or something more, is logical and beautiful to me. But I would never consider turning my opinions into bombs, placing them into the hands of children, and asking them to walk into ‘hostile territory’ with them. This is wrong on so many levels. And not to mention quite juvenile.

  7. on August 24, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Trying to learn good debate through blog comments is like trying to learn journalism from the Weekly World News.

    Nice zinger in a nicely-argued point. Count me in your camp, Dr. Boom.

  8. Lisa
    on August 31, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    I’m still angry, and I first read this days ago. Nothing to add but I felt I should comment, if only to say, thanks, Stephen, for being another voice to call out ID as malarkey and for spotlighting Dembski’s abuse of power.

  9. on September 11, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Hard to believe that this guy gets to keep his job. Hard to believe, and depressing.

One Trackback

  1. By links for 2009-08-24 | GFMorris.com on August 24, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    […] Propaganda and Teaching Intelligent Design | Live Granades (tags: gfmorris_comment) […]