In "Finding Darwin's God" (see my Amazon.com review of 8 April 2000 "God Is a Creator, Not a Creationist") Kenneth Miller finds common ground between God and evolution. Mainstream science and most major religions found that long ago, of course, but Miller also criticizes the "mutually contradictory" creationist positions that persist in trying to discredit evolution as an atheistic worldview (with the ironic help of some outspoken atheist scientists). While Miller notes primarily the differences in the creationist approaches, in "Tower of Babel" Robert Pennock traces their "common ancestry," and concentrates on how the new "intelligent design" creationism (IDC) evolved.
Although it is tempting to think that IDC was "designed" to get around the Supreme Court decision that banned the teaching of creationism because it is a religious view, the approach was in fact "pre-adapted," as evidenced by such books as Michael Denton's "Evolution - A Theory In Crisis." Unlike classic creationism, IDC generally avoids stating its own alternative hypotheses and origins models, and does not identify the designer. Rather, IDC recycles long-refuted arguments against evolution, and builds upon them with some original ideas, none of which, however, qualify as science.
Pennock's novel approach uses linguistics, both as an analogy for biological evolution, and as an example of how anti-evolutionists of all stripes try to hide their internal disagreements, such as on the origin of human language diversity. Focusing on Phillip Johnson, but also discussing other prominent Discovery Institute fellows such as Michael Behe and William Dembski, Pennock exposes IDC as a "postmodern" approach that cleverly avoids the pitfalls of classic young-earth and old-earth creationism (YEC, OEC), whose models and hypotheses have been thoroughly discredited. Like Miller, Pennock does not give enough emphasis to the fact that America's poor science literacy is a chief reason that creationists can get away with their misrepresentations of evolution and science in general. But he does note that the general public has been sold on a false dichotomy of design vs. evolution. The logical disconnect between the "arguments for design" and "arguments against evolution" is lost on most audiences.
Pennock also downplays two other features of IDC. First, given his interest in linguistics, I expected more coverage of how the IDC strategy is mainly a semantic one. IDC's chief tactics are to quote scientists out-of-context and to define terms, especially "Darwinism," to suit its bait-and-switch arguments. Second, although he hints at it in places, he stops short of the claim made by Ronald Bailey in his insightful article "Origin of the Specious" (Reason magazine, July, 1997) - that many creationists privately accept evolution, despite their vocal arguments against it. While this may not be true of all creationists - indeed many IDCs may be closet YECs - I am fairly convinced that it applies to most professional IDCs. Their extreme political and philosophical views, however, prevent them from admitting it to a general public that they fear cannot handle the truth. But other than misrepresenting evolution, IDCs avoid bearing false witness by letting the audience do the dirty work of inferring whatever alternative they prefer. The more educated audiences usually infer OEC, sometimes including the common descent that Behe and others have admitted, while general audiences prefer YEC, America's favorite origins myth. But the fact that most audiences do not notice, and if they do, mostly ignore, the mutual contradictions among their alternative positions, is evidence that IDC is much "fitter" than its more slowly evolving creationism cousins. IDC is not "Creationism Lite," it is "Pseudoscience Xtreme."
After detailing their strategy, Pennock tries to "calm the creationists' fears." But surely he knows that Johnson et al have heard his philosophical arguments before and have well-rehearsed rebuttals. Though not often obvious, Pennock's arguments here are for the benefit of third parties who find the ID sound bites convincing, but have not given them much thought. Whether he privately agrees with Pennock or not, Johnson is, in the words of one reviewer, "past praying for." Pennock concludes by defending the counterintuitive claim that teaching only evolution is the fairest option.
Although "Finding Darwin's God" appealed to me more as a scientist, "Tower of Babel" is an excellent reference on the evolution of the anti-evolution strategies, and the parallel evolution of the creationists' "god" (the gap-dwelling designer that they promote, if not the God in which they believe) into a caricature that is unfit for both science and religion.