Wedgie

One of the remarkably progressive provisions made in the foundation of the United States was the Constitution’s First Amendment of 1791, which was made with the purpose of embedding certain civil rights in the new state’s constitution. Free speech and freedom of the press were guaranteed, along with rights to free assembly and citizen powers to petition the government. Further, the state was forbidden to either establish any religion or to interfere with the practice of religion.

It was this brief sentence in the Amendment relating to religion which has always been taken to rule that the teaching of religion in a publicly-funded school is unconstitutional. Compare that with the United Kingdom, where the teaching of religion is still compulsory.  It seems to me that there must be a certain critical time window in which religion needs to be taught to a child in order to make it “stick”. Not an original observation, of course; the founder of the Jesuits said “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.”

That’s why religious believers in the United States have often attempted to evade or circumvent the constitution, and have religion (only their own, naturally) taught in schools. In fact, the religious thinktank, the Discovery Institute, has a plan — they call it the Wedge Strategy — to gradually increase the penetration of their religion into public life, including schools, until it becomes the default position.

The Wedge Document, essentially a programme to overthrow the US Constitution and establish a theocratic state (so successful in, say, Iran), was leaked onto the Internet in 1999. It makes fascinating reading. Of the three phases in the plan — * Phase I: Scientific Research, Writing & Publicity, * Phase II: Publicity & Opinion-making, and * Phase III: Cultural Confrontation & Renewal — it’s not clear exactly where we are at the moment. The Discovery Institute and its supporters have mainly been campaigning on Intelligent Design so far, which could imply that it’s still Phase I.

In fact, although the Discovery Institute and its plan feature many other religious, authoritarian and right-wing views, it’s Intelligent Design that they’re best known for. They originally called it “Creationism”, until a Supreme Court case in 1987 ruled that creationism was religious (well, duh!) and therefore teaching it in schools was nonconstitutional. After a brief flirtation with “Creation Science”, the movement settled on “Intelligent Design”. Proof that ID was merely relabelled Creationism came from a new edition of the anti-evolution book “Of Pandas and People“, where with the power of the word processor, all occurrences of “creationism” were replaced by “intelligent design”, “Creator” became “intelligent agency”, and “creationist” changed to “design proponents”. (Except, amusingly, the change to one appearance of “creationist” was bodged, with only the central part of the word subsituted, so that the result read “cdesign proponentsists”. Apparently, that edition of the book is quite valuable on eBay now.)

The basic concept of Intelligent Design is “irreducible complexity”, the idea that some biological systems could not have evolved because no simpler or more primitive versions can be conceived of, and therefore must have been “created” all at once. In formal rhetoric, this is known as argumentum ad ignorantiam (“appeal to ignorance”), argument by lack of imagination, or argument from personal incredulity. It’s a logical fallacy, in other words.

Anyway, right or wrong (and it is wrong), Intelligent Design is just the point of the wedge. The ultimate aim is subversion of the US Constitution. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

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