January 29, 2005


The Branding of a Heretic (DAVID KLINGHOFFER, January 28, 2005, Wall Street Journal)

The question of whether Intelligent Design (ID) may be presented to public-school students alongside neo-Darwinian evolution has roiled parents and teachers in various communities lately. Whether ID may be presented to adult scientific professionals is another question altogether but also controversial. It is now roiling the government-supported Smithsonian Institution, where one scientist has had his career all but ruined over it.

The scientist is Richard Sternberg, a research associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington. The holder of two Ph.D.s in biology, Mr. Sternberg was until recently the managing editor of a nominally independent journal published at the museum, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, where he exercised final editorial authority. The August issue included typical articles on taxonomical topics--e.g., on a new species of hermit crab. It also included an atypical article, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories." Here was trouble.

The piece happened to be the first peer-reviewed article to appear in a technical biology journal laying out the evidential case for Intelligent Design. According to ID theory, certain features of living organisms--such as the miniature machines and complex circuits within cells--are better explained by an unspecified designing intelligence than by an undirected natural process like random mutation and natural selection. [...]

The Biological Society of Washington released a vaguely ecclesiastical statement regretting its association with the article. It did not address its arguments but denied its orthodoxy, citing a resolution of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that defined ID as, by its very nature, unscientific.

It may or may not be, but surely the matter can be debated on scientific grounds, responded to with argument instead of invective and stigma. Note the circularity: Critics of ID have long argued that the theory was unscientific because it had not been put forward in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Now that it has, they argue that it shouldn't have been because it's unscientific. They banish certain ideas from certain venues as if by holy writ, and brand heretics too. In any case, the heretic here is Mr. Meyer, a fellow at Seattle's Discovery Institute, not Mr. Sternberg, who isn't himself an advocate of Intelligent Design. [...]

Intelligent Design, in any event, is hardly a made-to-order prop for any particular religion. When the British atheist philosopher Antony Flew made news this winter by declaring that he had become a deist--a believer in an unbiblical "god of the philosophers" who takes no notice of our lives--he pointed to the plausibility of ID theory.

Darwinism, by contrast, is an essential ingredient in secularism, that aggressive, quasi-religious faith without a deity. The Sternberg case seems, in many ways, an instance of one religion persecuting a rival, demanding loyalty from anyone who enters one of its churches--like the National Museum of Natural History.

Like any rigid institution, Darwinism should be expected to lash out wildly as it is overthrown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 29, 2005 8:12 AM

It was my understanding that the theory of evolution was compatible with Intelligent Design, but most of you posts seem to imply otherwise. Do you think the two are compatible?

Posted by: Brandon at January 30, 2005 9:47 AM


They're the same thing. One says Nature the other says Intelligence at all the same points.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2005 6:25 PM

Only if you define intelligence down to nuttiness are they compatible.

Darwinism was the finally successful candidate among a host of theories that were sparked by the incoherence of ID.

ID was posited, not observed, and once systematic observations of the natural world began, ID collapsed within, almost, hours.

There is nothing new in the 21st century version of ID to fix the problems that caused it to be ridiculed in the 19th.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at January 31, 2005 1:31 AM

Darwinism was posited, not observed, and once systematic observations of the natural world began, collapsed within, almost, hours.

Posted by: oj at January 31, 2005 7:22 AM