Now that we've seen the impassioned blogs and op-ed pieces, the press critiques and the legal arguments, the next big thing had to be Intelligent Design: The Movie. So along comes the 90-minute documentary formally titled Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, opening this week on a big screen a couple of blocks from the offices of the Seattle think tank where the idea has been gurgling for years.
While the film has been almost universally panned by the critics, it's still showing at some 1,000 theaters around the country. And that is very good news for Bruce Chapman, the former Seattle City Council member whose Discovery Institute has weighed in on lots of issues, but is best-known nationally as incubator for that ever-so-contentious idea called "intelligent design."
This is the argument that Charles Darwin erred – and so does virtually every scientist on Earth – by accepting the theory of evolution. Chapman and others argue that human life is far too complex to have evolved through natural selection, so it must have been designed by, well, a very smart designer-to-be-named-later. Chapman winces at such definitions, but his own would consume more pages than he's going to get here.
However it is defined, intelligent design, or "ID," has gained some traction across the nation, particularly among religious fundamentalists, so that godfearing creationists find themselves seeking intellectual guidance from godless Seattle, Land of the Liberal Democrats, home of the unchurched. In recent years, the idea has burst into school boardrooms, courtrooms, the halls of Congress, and the White House. It has been the target of editorial crusades in journals ranging from the The Stranger to The New York Times. And each seems to ask: How in the world did this notoriously unholy city become headquarters for a fundamentally conservative crusade?
The simple answer: Bruce Chapman. With an assist by a mild-mannered philosophy professor from an obscure Presbyterian college just across the mountains in Spokane.
But there is much more to this story. I bear witness to this, because I am a recovering Discovery fellow. For a few weeks back in 2001, I worked with Chapman and Co. – not on Darwinism, but on transportation. I also am a preacher's kid who graduated many years ago from that little Presbyterian college.
In Seattle, merely acknowledging my past association with Discovery is like confessing that I have failed to recycle my beer bottles. But more of that later. Here's what I've learned about the Origin of Bruce Chapman and the rest of his Species:
When I first met Chapman, he was not Chapman. He was P.C. Circleman, the pseudonym under which he wrote an engaging urban affairs column for the staid editorial pages of The Seattle Times. This was the late '60s, when I was a cub reporter in the Times newsroom, and Chapman was a bright, articulate, slightly geeky Harvard guy with black-framed glasses who wrote the kinds of things I yearned to write. We were newcomers to Seattle, each in his own way trying to figure out the chemistry of our adopted hometown.
Seattle in the '60s and early '70s was a nice, family-friendly city run by a benevolent clique of aging businessmen who ruled from the private confines of the Rainier Club, just up the street from City Hall. The city had well-paying Boeing jobs, good schools, and a fine university, roughly equal proportions of liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans, and a housing market where a twentysomething could buy a three-bedroom fixer-upper for $15,000.
"Seattle was a real city, but it was not finished," Chapman recalled years later. "It didn't have the ethnic divisions that plagued Eastern cities. It was open and honest and genuinely bipartisan."
It was also teetering. Boeing lost its supersonic jetliner deal, went into a tailspin, and laid off thousands. There were riots around the university and the Central Area over Vietnam and civil rights. And local government was shaken by police payoff scandals that reached into City Hall.
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