A Jesus Cult’s Assault on Science

Pushing theocracy over democracy
One of the most baffling developments of our time is the love affair between Donald Trump and evangelical Christians. Not that Trump is even capable of love—and there is no evidence whatever that he possesses religious or moral sensibilities. Are they out of their minds? It would be hard to think of a better example of ‘selling your soul to the devil.’

In many cases, I suspect, evangelicals are simply driven by panic, as assaults on their worldview pile on. What a horror, for example, that gay people can now get married; the holy folks on the Christian right have no trouble believing that hurricanes are God’s wrath for such flagrant violation of ‘Bible law.’ Thrice-divorced Kim Davis—how’s that for thumbing your nose at Jesus?—became a folk hero for standing her Christian ground.

Kim Davis—this is not a stretch—is not a very bright bulb; hence she was exploited by Mike Huckabee and Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who engineered her meeting with Pope Francis. She just followed her gut reaction that God must be disgusted about men getting married. But the evangelical masterminds—those who manage the think tanks—are far more calculating; their embrace of Trump is strategic. They see the big picture and they’ve accepted the challenge of putting the brakes on secularism. Their goal is the scuttling of democracy. Theocracy, the Christian version thereof, is the prize to be won: it is our destiny to be a Christian nation.

They’ve been at this campaign for a long time, and those who care about separation of church and state—standing our ground against theocracy—should be under no delusion that evangelicals are on the losing side of history; that they are destined for defeat in the cultural wars.

Dr. Abby Hafer shows what we’re up against in her essay, “Intelligent Design Isn’t Science, and It Doesn’t Even Try to Be Science,” in John Loftus’ 2016 anthology, Christianity in the Light of Science: Critically Examining the World’s Largest Religion.

God the Creator is such a big deal for the Bible-believing folks. If there is any hope for Christian-nation status, how could this not be taught in American schools? Hence it was a major blow in 1987 when the Supreme Court ruled that creationism is religious doctrine, and thus cannot be included in public school curricula.

In the wake of this setback, the Discovery Institute was founded; one of its major funders, Howard F. Abrahamson, Jr., declared his goal to be “…the total integration of biblical law into our lives.” To subvert the Supreme Court decision, new terminology was adopted as a subterfuge. “The Discovery Institute refers to intelligent design in public as though it were different from creationism,” Hafer points out. “Don’t be fooled. Intelligent Design was a strategic rebranding of creationism…” (p. 143)

Hafer’s essay is a study of the dishonesty of the religious right. The advocates for theocracy can’t say out loud that they despise democracy, with its assumption that many religions can co-exist, that ‘equal treatment under the law’ applies to everyone, and that the government cannot be in the religion business. The dishonesty begins with the very name, The Discover Institute, since honest inquiry into how the world works is nowhere on its agenda. Honest inquiry is what science does, but science is, in fact, conservative theism’s biggest threat. So how can they get anti-science back into the schools when creationism is disqualified by the courts?

A document called The Wedge Strategy was written in 1998, and Hafer observes that it is “is probably the first document in history to propose defeating the very idea of science by using a public relations campaign.” (p. 141)

• “The Wedge Strategy (or Wedge document) outlines how the Discovery Institute plans to split science and rationality away from American culture and use intelligent design (ID) as the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ to start the process. The reason for this is that the people at the Discovery Institute hate science…their basic message is that the world has gone to moral hell, and it’s science’s fault.” (pp. 141-142)

Dr. Hafer quotes from the Wedge document:

• “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” (p. 143)

The trick, of course, is to come up with a ‘science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.’ That takes a lot of posturing and fudging, and Hafer describes the challenge for these Christian contortionists:

“The Discovery Institute is antipathetic to science. However, its promoters have a perverted little problem. Even while they have contempt for legitimate science, they must pretend that intelligent design is itself legitimate science. Why? Because it has to be treated that way to be taught in science classes in American public schools. So the Discovery Institute must persuade people that ID is science, even while they privately hold science in contempt and blame it for many of the ills of the world.” (p. 144)

That campaign of persuasion includes the claim that Intelligent Design is based on scientific research; this crumbles under close scrutiny:

“ID’s claims of scientific legitimacy have been widely refuted by biologists. These claims were also rejected by Judge John E. Jones in the famous Kitzmiller case. However, proponents of ID have continued to insist that ID is science. And they continue to have success in persuading legislators, school board members, teachers, and other involved in decisions regarding science education, both in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Therefore, ID cannot be considered a spent force.” (p. 145)

If they have to achieve theocracy one school at a time, so be it.

Now that evangelicals have their sponsor in the White House—with the fanatic Mike Pence at his side—theocracy enthusiasts have their dream advocates. Christianity in the Light of Science was published shortly before the dawn of the Trump-Pence era, so hang on to your copy. The Abby Hafer essay is an important resource; a major part of it (about 14 pages) is her brilliant demonstration that the supposed science touted by the Discovery Institute is phony. They use enough academic terminology to sound like they have all the right stuff—but this is an illusion, as she demonstrates so precisely.

Hafer sourced articles from the Discovery Institute website, and compared them with articles sourced from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), which is known “to produce high-quality scientific research.” In both sets of articles she searched for the words data and argu—which would bring up the words, argue, argument, arguing. Overwhelmingly, as it turns out, the Discovery Institute articles yielded very few hits on data, but many on argu.

• “Scientists at STRI made heavy use of data but rarely used or cited argumentation in their articles. By contrast, Discovery Institute writers rarely referred to data and never to testing a hypothesis, but they referred heavily to argumentation.” (p. 157)

• “…proponents of ID still claim that many of their articles are ‘peer-reviewed.’ Articles promoting ID often claim to present original research. However, they rarely contain descriptions of the methods by which any research was done, or present any experimental and/or quantitative results.” (p. 145)

• “There is very little data in articles by ID writers and lots of arguing, whereas true scientists do the reverse. A complete lack of hypothesis testing points to a field that is at best underdeveloped, since ID proponents have had more than adequate time to progress to qualified studies and hypothesis testing. The fact that they haven’t done this despite twenty-five years of constant arguing, publicity, and lobbying for their views indicates a far greater interest in arguing, publicity, and lobbying than in doing authentic scientific research.” (p. 160)

• “The fact that ID proponents want their ideas to be part of biology textbooks before they have produced a large body of quantitative research indicates that they either do not understand what science is or they do not care.” (p. 160)

• The Discovery institute “…is very good at writing things that sound scientific but are factual rubbish.” (p. 162)

• “Do not trust the ‘scientific research’ that is done by people who demonstrate a fundamental contempt for the whole idea of scientific research.” (p. 163)

• “…if people learn to depend on science for their facts about the world, they will be unwilling to swallow the non-fact-based dogma over which the Discovery Institute has control. These religious zealots are not trying to benefit people, they are trying to have power over them.” (p. 165)

The Discovery Institute cannot deliver the goods because Intelligent Design doesn’t have the data to back up claims that a god—any god—can be credited with designing the complexity of world, especially its evolved living creatures. The institute is a Jesus cult that specializes in theological posturing. Of course, we are used to theists spinning their tales with no data to back them up. All requests for reliable, verifiable data are deflected; instead we hear endless theobabble and obfuscation.

This is our simple request—and I never tire of repeating it: Tell us where we can find reliable, verifiable data about God, but with this caveat: all theists must agree, Yes, this is where the data can be sound. And, of course, to cite but one example, scripture is not an answer, because all theists cannot agree on which books are ‘true scripture.’

It should be noted that Hafer’s essay in the Loftus anthology focuses on the politics of Intelligent Design. For her analysis of its failure as science, see her book, The Not-So-Intelligent Designer—Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not.

There can be little doubt that the Discovery Institute takes its inspiration from the apostle Paul’s claim that “…the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (I Cor. 3:19). And this should pull us back to the profound embarrassment of the New Testament itself.

How ironic that the Christian religion shows no evidence whatever of being intelligently designed. It developed as a hodgepodge of borrowed beliefs; spare parts from pagan religions of the ancient world were cobbled together, including virgin birth, resurrection of the dead, magical healings, sacred meals to gain access to gods, Satan, eternal punishment, and apocalyptic fantasies. Multiple myths were layered onto the Jesus of Nazareth story—whether or not he actually existed once upon a time.

All this is well understood now by scholars of religion, yet here we are, twenty centuries later, still dealing with that ancient mess of ideas—so much a mess that Christianity has split into some 40,000 squabbling, warring, and even violent factions. And some of them are determined to push those who disagree off the planet. Oh yes, I can hear howls of protest from ‘moderate’ Christians that they aren’t like that. So they need to close ranks with atheists, humanists and secularists to help make sure that science and democracy can emerge intact on the other side of the Trump-Pence era. And the end of that era isn’t even in sight yet.

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published in 2016 by Tellectual Press.

The Cure-for-Christianity Library can be found here.