The Rhetoric of Science
Paul Newell, from The Galilaen Library has a great interview with Thomas Lessl, an Associate Professor in the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Georgia. The interview covers the use of rhetoric in science, and has many interesting and insightful comments. Of particular interest is what Thomas says about Creation Science and Intelligent Design.
My early work on the scientific response to creationism drew its inspiration from research on the sociology of deviance (especially that of Kai Erickson and Lester Kurtz), which seemed to suggest that institutions have a certain attraction to deviant insiders or heretics. This is because heretics provide institutions with counterpoints against which they can articulate their official positions. While it is often difficult for institutions to say what they believe in any definitive sense (they may not really know, or there may be disagreement among elites), they can create consensus around what they reject - heresy. This is one of the reasons groups gain solidarity in having a common enemy. But having heretical enemies is particularly advantageous. This comes from the fact that heretics (as opposed to pure infidels) are more similar to their orthodox counterparts and thus capable of providing this useful contrastive benchmark for their right-thinking foes.(Emphasis mine) Thomas is suggesting that the darwinian lobby's response to creation science has a lot to do with the lobby's insecurity in it's position. Yet clearly, if evolution was the foundation of all modern biology this wouldn't be a problem. Perhaps their insecurity stems from real short-comings in the theory.
Deviance studies suggest that heresy hunts are likely to occur at moments of institutional insecurity. You might not get this impression from listening to anti-creationist rhetoric, except to the extent that it focuses so largely not on the scientific case for evolution as on secondary issues of method, metaphysics and motive. It is more often concerned with showing why creationism is not science than on showing why Darwinism is. This draws attentions away from difficulties that may plague evolutionary theory.
The difficulties that make creationism an attractive enemy for science are not necessarily intellectual ones - though they could be. To use Taylor's metaphor again, I'm of the opinion that public discourses are best regarded as belonging to some larger "ecology" of meaning. Science, when it goes public, may be concerned about advancing scientific truth, but it is also going to be concerned with a larger set of issues relating to patronage, authority, its place in the academy, etc. Were science merely a technical arena of inquiry, creationism wouldn't be a threat. The fact that a majority of Americans remain sceptical about evolution and the fact that some of these folks claim that science supports the religious doctrine of creation doesn't directly interfere with scientists' ability to pursue the naturalistic program they prefer. But creationism does threaten to disrupt the more fragile linkages between science and public culture that make patronage possible. Creationism is an important threat, but it is an indirect one. Scientists understand that public attitudes about science matter, because they understand that the flow of patronage that keeps research going is likely to be affected by public dispositions toward their work. Obviously if all Americans embraced the evolutionary paradigm with the same enthusiasm that Darwinists have for it, it would enjoy the kind of finding that supports research on cancer and birth defects.
Thomas goes on to talk about the Intelligent Design (ID) movement and how it is often labelled as creation science in a cheap tuxedo.
One consistent pattern in the scientific mainstream's response to ID has been to try to identify it with scientific creationism, to paint it with the same brush so to speak. Such allegations are still frequently made - that ID is merely "creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo". This is what movement scholars call a strategy of "evasion", an institutional effort to slow the momentum of a movement by pretending that it doesn't exist - or in this case by pretending that it is made up of merely radical fundamentalists of no account. This strategy is still being plied in the mass media, for public audiences that remain largely ignorant about the differences between these two movements. But in many of the more academic settings where ID is being debated this stopped working long ago. On the inside there has been a more direct and sustained response to intelligent design. Scientific creationism was largely ignored by scientists - except when it tried to legislate for equal time in various states. But ID is not being ignored. As movements evolve the strategies of evasion initially plied by the institutions they challenge typically give way to strategies of confrontation and coercion. We see a confrontation approach in the whole cottage industry that has grown up within the scientific culture among writers like Kenneth Miller and Robert Pennock for whom the refutation of ID has become a full time job. Incidents of coercion are more localized but pervasive nonetheless.I think Thomas errs in his differentiation of the responses to creation science and ID. There have been many volumes written by scientists in both sides of the debate for both creation science and ID. Creation Science was never ignored. The biggest difference was that ID is not religiously based and so previous court victories were seemingly useless in preventing the loss of authority the darwinists feared. ID's quick uptake by many groups has also increased the darwinists fears and so a wider and more violent response to the heretical ID views was needed.
The more they kick and scream, the more scared they are.