This article was originally published at The Christian Post in September 2009.
What I find most interesting, and disturbing, about the current health care debate is the way that advocates of a public option in health care are marginalized with the accusation that they harbor a “socialist” or even “communist” agenda. Rhetorically it is very effective to call somebody a socialist, or to accuse them of having a “socialist agenda”, but such ascriptions do little more than instill fear and shut down reasoned debate.
There is a method in the madness however. These types of charges handily redirect the issue away from the specific question of whether health care should be private or public and onto the broader, and much more contentious, question of whether the economy simpliciter should be socialized.
This is deceptive in two ways. First, the vast majority of those advocating health care reform do not subscribe to a sweeping socialist agenda. To take one example, while they may believe that the government should provide health care, they most emphatically do not believe that the government should be building automobiles. In other words, they are advocates of a mixed economy (mixed, that is, between public non-profit and private for-profit institutions).
Second, the critics of the public option also accept a mixed economy. They may not be “socialists” with respect to health care, but the vast majority are “socialists” with respect to the fire and police service as well as national defense.
In sum, sweeping warnings against socialism are a mere canard, a red herring, and the fact that they are tolerated as much as they are suggests to me a depressing denigration in the quality of debate in the public square.
But what has this to do with intelligent design, you ask? The link is the similarity in the way that both are shut down through fallacious associations. In the same way that reasoned arguments for a public option in health care are marginalized as socialism, arguments for the inclusion of intelligence as an explanatory cause in science are marginalized as “God of the gaps”, often with the mindless mantra “Goddidit”.
I looked up “Goddidit” here http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Goddidit and read the following:
“essentially the simplest possible explanation for the universe. It is the answer to every and all questions taken to their extreme end. If you’re wondering how speaking the universe into existence actually works, you’re a heretic and should shut up and go away.”
In other words, those who reply “Goddidit” are implying that the advocate of ID simply invokes divine causation as a final explanation whenever they do not understand something. I must charitably assume that those who make this charge have not read the writings of ID advocates.
Nonetheless, whenever an advocate of intelligent design argues for design as a legitimate tool in the scientist’s explanatory toolbox (to use Paul Nelson’s wording), the response is: “Oh great, so ‘Goddidit” (preferably said with a suitably condescending eyeroll).
This is distorted at multiple levels. First, the advocate of ID does not infer God in debate, they infer intelligence (even if they believe the intelligence may be God — that is simply irrelevant). Second, the advocate of ID does not accept intelligence based on what we don’t know but rather on what we do know. (See Meyer on the DNA digital code.) Third, the advocate of ID does not accept intelligence as the final word but rather as a provisional conclusion based on what we now know.
Consequently it is not the IDer who is saying “shut up and go away” but rather their critic who replies to their argument with “Goddidit”.
With that we can consider the link with public health care. In the same way that those who advocate for a public option are marginalized by identifying them with a view they do not in fact hold (socialism simpliciter) so the advocates of design are marginalized by identifying them with a view they do not in fact hold (God of the gaps, based on ignorance, as an end to debate).
But the parallels go further: just as the critics of the public option in health care actually support state control elsewhere (police, fire, national defense) so the critics of ID actually support intelligent design elsewhere (as Dembski has shown at length and ad nauseum).
The lesson for today is as follows: don’t let people marginalize a dissenting opinion by spurious, fear-based associations. Such straw man maneuvers are the bane of reasoned public debate.