Intelligent Design Creationism and the Mechanisms of Postmodernity

By Carbonell, Curtis D. | Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Intelligent Design Creationism and the Mechanisms of Postmodernity


Carbonell, Curtis D., Journal of Religion and Popular Culture


Introduction

This article examines the impact of Intelligent Design Creationism (1) on contemporary culture. It provides a critical reading of a cultural phenomenon: IDC's political agenda to create a wedge in secular society so that it might reinsert a theistic view. In this particular case (a religious strategy aimed at attacking science), a key aspect that informs this article is that the institution of science, while fully ideological, does not mean that any other attempt at explaining reality is on equal ground with modern science. A line must be drawn at some point, and in so doing one does not diminish the very social aspects of science. Moreover, even as we acknowledge that the legitimation of knowledge is predicated on social elements highly problematized in literary and cultural studies, some social sites (like Intelligent Design or alchemy or Scientology or mind-reading) should be examined for their merit (or lack thereof) and not automatically accepted just because they may be discredited by dominant institutions, like modern western science. A key element that informs this article is the importance of distinguishing between the very real need to acknowledge a marketplace full of voices and the need for valid knowledge about reality. Such a need (the latter) is not incompatible with a postmodern impulse to hear marginalized voices in proper contexts (like humanities classrooms, i.e., philosophy, literature, religious studies, history, and so on); however, this article does not wish to act as an agent that supports pseudo sciences with political agendas contrary to modern, contemporary, secular society.

As a way of demonstrating that not all engagements between science and the humanities are merely theoretical, and that what is at stake in this encounter is how the sciences and the humanities are to be understood within disciplinary contexts (in both our public schools and our universities), this article focuses on a strategy created by the Discovery Institute's Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (now the Center for Science and Culture), commonly referred to as the Wedge strategy, and how it is articulated by Berkeley law professor Emeritus, Philip E. Johnson. It offers a slight correction of a representation of Johnson as a postmodernist by Robert T. Pennock as a springboard into a larger discussion of how IDC wishes to blur academic and philosophic boundaries between the sciences and the humanities for political reasons.

This article demonstrates that proponents of IDC, like Johnson, use the mechanisms of postmodernity--tools of an advanced postindustrial society such as the Internet; sophisticated public relations campaigns; the proliferation of popular books pretending to be professional academic writing; advertising; mainstream media; entertainment such as video games, books, TV, film, and so on; and most recently, agitprop documentaries like Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed--to challenge evolutionary biology and modern science while remaining foundational and essentialist in their worldview. I will not review the science behind the Darwinism versus Creationism debate, which is beyond the purview of this examination. (2) However, I argue that the possible danger to modern secular science is not in the supposed validity of IDC's arguments; it is in IDC's ability to market itself at a time when "truth" is often legitimated by strident declamations and clever public relations instead of corresponding or cohering to reality, providing working models of reality, or even being merely instrumental.

Postmodernism: A Quick Definition

Steven Best and Douglas Kellner define postmodernity as the rise of a third culture that seeks to reinterpret and utilize aspects of the Enlightenment worth saving. Moreover, literary studies thinker Madan Sarup's concise An Introductory Guide to Poststructuralism and Postmodernism 3 helps as a place to start in confronting such difficult concepts as postmodernism and postmodernity (for a recent comment on drawing distinctions between the terms postmodernism versus postmodernity, see n. …

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