May 25, 2004

Defending the Wedge


By Paul Nesselroade

What is "The Wedge"?

Recently, a few Intelligent Design (ID) critics have created some confusion over the meaning of "The Wedge." Several statements made by ID detractors in books and blogs (web logs) have suggested "The Wedge" to be a partially concealed strategy by well-funded religious fanatics to attack science and force it to come under the thumb of a specific religious mindset. (But how concealed can it be when the acknowledged sharp edge of the wedge, Philip Johnson, writes a book entitled, The Wedge of Truth in which he delineates the strategy for all to read?) Some statements have gone so far as to suggest that the advocates of "The Wedge" are dead-set on turning the United States into a theocracy! (For examples of writings suggesting the Wedge has hidden insidious motives and conspiratorial intentions, see the articles by Massimo Pigliucci and Robert Witzel and Steve Olson's book review "Shapes of a Wedge" on page 825 of the May 7, 2004 issue of the AAAS magazine Science).

But is this an accurate characterization of "The Wedge," or is this just a baseless appeal by Darwinists to impugn the motives of their adversaries? Well, as they say, when the facts aren't on your side, argue motives. The truth is, with regard to "The Wedge," the facts can speak for themselves. First of all, let's distinguish the Wedge document from the Wedge strategy. "The Wedge" document is nothing more or less than a fundraising proposal generated in 1999 by the Discovery Institute - a think-tank in Seattle, Washington. It is posted in its entirety (as well as a response to all the misinformation that has been spread by Wedge critics) at the Discovery Institute's website here. Interested readers may want to sift through the document and see for themselves that the Wedge conspiracy charges are simply not true.

Secondly, there is the Wedge strategy. Wedge advocates are becoming increasingly more convinced that the emerging biochemical and cosmological facts implicate the involvement of intelligence in the natural world. Helping scientists as well as the general public become aware of these facts is the central plank in "The Wedge" strategy. The intent of Wedge supporters is to split apart two arguments often used in tandem to dissuade people from the consideration of design hypotheses.

One of the two arguments is philosophical in nature and plays a critical defensive role in preserving Darwinism from potentially damaging competition. The thrust of this argument goes like this: science is ill-equipped to handle inferences to design, so therefore, these inferences have to be ruled out on principle alone (i.e., science simply cannot assess the presence of design). The second argument is evidentiary in nature and serves its purpose in offensive situations. The basic thesis here is that all or virtually all of the biological and physical evidence available to us points in the direction of purposeless, blind forces. Together these arguments form a rhetorically powerful one-two punch. When Darwinists are on the offensive, out comes the "evidence" about sloppy design and vestigial organs. These arguments attempt to illustrate the absurdity of a designer who would have possibly "done it that way?" But when ID advocates advance arguments based on observations that all but demand an inference to design, the Darwinist camp quickly switches to defense and reminds everyone that, tempting as it may seem, it is impossible to generate scientific evidence in favor of design - science simply doesn't allow it. Heads, I win; tails, you lose.

Now of course a major logical flaw occurs when these two arguments are combined. Although design advocates feel both arguments are faulty, any impartial observer can see that the two arguments cannot both be correct. If, on the one hand, science cannot speak to the issue of design, then it makes no sense to a moment later speak of "evidence" that opposes design. And if it is possible to marshal scientific evidence opposing design, then it must be at least theoretically possible to marshal scientific evidence supporting design - so why is it rejected a priori?

I presume that Darwinists who are bent on protecting their theory from fair critique are aware of this logical flaw, but evidently the utility of employing both arguments makes it irresistible. It is this having-their-cake-and-eating-it-too that necessitates any wedge strategy at all. So, for instance, Wedge advocates point out, among other things, that legitimate sciences infer the presence of design all the time. In fact, entire scientific enterprises exist because design is empirically detectable (regardless of whether the nature or intentions of the designer are discernable or not). What if biological evidence continues to surface, the most honest assessment of which repeatedly merits this inference to design? What if it becomes more and more apparent that there are verifiable signs of designing intelligence in the natural world? This is indeed the juncture at which we sit. Refusing to acknowledge this does not make the evidence go away. In light of this situation, Wedge advocates are simply attempting to reopen the public forum on the presence of design in nature - a forum which has been prematurely shut down by faulty Darwinist rhetoric.

Exposing the incongruity between the naturalistic doctrine of blind, purposeless causes and the emerging scientific evidence from information theory, molecular biology, and other fields associated with origins issues, is the crux of "The Wedge" strategy. There is nothing clandestine or sinister about it. It is simple, direct, and open for all to observe. Either it will succeed because hypotheses inferring design will lead us into further scientific truth, or it will wither away due to its fruitlessness. Is it evil and pernicious to allow this idea to breathe and see what happens? Is it appropriate to repeatedly make baseless claims designed to dissuade curious observers from taking a closer look? As a Wedge advocate, I would ask you to see past the histrionic hand-wringing of the Darwinists and take a close look at the possibility of design. Examine the evidence and judge for yourself, isn't that the way science is supposed to work?

Dr. Nesselroade is Associate Professor of Psychology at Asbury College in Kentucky.  Readers are welcome to respond to this column at the ARN Discussion Forum.

Copyright 2004 Paul Nesselroade. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 02.23.04