In what, unfortunately, seems to have become the new normal, conspiracy theories abound and are embraced by Donald Trump and his entourage. The favorite form of such theorists is the "false flag" variety in which it is alleged that the victims of an action are actually the ones responsible.
Consider just a couple of examples. Trump reportedly called Alex Jones to thank him for his help in the election. Jones, as I suspect you know is the founder of InfoWars.com and the host of his own radio talk show. Jones is probably best known for advancing the despicable false flag conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax perpetuated by the federal government in an attempt to garner support for gun control.
John Bolton, Trump's likely pick for deputy secretary of state, made it clear that he believes that the hacking of the DNC and the Clinton campaign's e-mail wasn't carried out by the Russians. Instead, he asserted that it was likely done by the Obama administration as a false flag operation.
And now, the Discovery Institute comes wading into this morass with an equally ridiculous false flag conspiracy theory of its own. As I discussed earlier this week, a petition is circulating on the Web asking that the Trump administration ban the teaching of evolution in public schools. I referred to the petition as "an amateurish publicity stunt - one without any chance of becoming law." But I also made it clear that the mere presence of the petition reinforces the belief popular among creationists that there is a major conflict between religion and science.
The Discovery Institute, a creationist organization that pretends to be something other than what it is, asserts that the petition itself is a false flag operation. It is, David Klinghoffer, a writer for the Discovery Institute, argues, "very likely phony, transparently so, a false flag operation carried out not by evolution critics but by Darwinists." He continues his rant by calling the petition "a phony proposal intended to generate scare headlines by opportunistic atheists and Darwin apologists, to dishonestly cast evolution skeptics in a false and negative light."
Interestingly, in a Catch 22 sort of way, one piece of "evidence" presented for this false flag conspiracy is the fact that I didn't ignore the petition entirely. And, by responding, I'm accused of initiating my own publicity stunt by "propagandizing for [my] organization." Indeed, I made the case that The Clergy Letter Project and the more than 14,000 clergy members from all across the United States fully support the teaching of evolution and recognize that doing so poses no threat to their religious beliefs.
Klinghoffer goes on to agree with one of the basic premises of The Clergy Letter Project, that religion and science can be compatible. "Agreed, religion is compatible with good science. Absolutely." But then he goes on, without any support other than the Discovery Institute's assurance, that evolution doesn't fit into the category of "good science." "However, is my religion or yours compatible with bad science, failed science, outdated science, any or all ideas that present themselves in the guise of "science"?"
Klinghoffer concludes with his main point: "the creaky, outdated science of neo-Darwinism is indeed at odds with traditional faith, on which it has a corrosive, documented effect. On the other hand, objective evidence of design, in biology and cosmology, is both strong science and what faith traditions would expect."
There are numerous problems with this perspective. First, the scientific community has most assuredly not moved away from evolutionary theory as the dominant organizing principle for all of biology. Second, the concept of intelligent design has yet to yield any meaningful results or even to have offered any falsifiable hypotheses. Third, many faith traditions have rejected the idea of design as articulated by Klinghoffer as being central to their belief structure.
In many ways it is this last point that is most important. When organizations like the Discovery Institute claim to be speaking for all religions they are attempting to define all people of faith into one very narrow perspective, a perspective of their own definition. Privileging of one religious perspective while dismissing, demeaning and discounting all other perspectives is a type of arrogance, an arrogance that should be incompatible with deeply held spirituality.