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Bravo for Encouraging Discussion of Intelligent Design

The Chronicle of Higher Education is currently running a refreshing op-ed piece entitled, "Why Can't We Discuss Intelligent Design?," by J. Scott Turner, arguing for open discussion of ID on university campuses. The twist: Dr. Turner is a an associate professor of biology at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry who thinks intelligent design is "wrongheaded," but nevertheless deserves to be discussed in academia.

Turner, who studies termites and their "remarkable structures," relates how recently, his mere use of the term "design" in a lecture incited an anti-ID heckler to interrupt Turner repeatedly in an effort to prevent him from completing the lecture. Ironically, Turner doesn't even attribute such apparent "design" in termite structures to an intelligent cause.

Turner marvels at how, since Darwin, the mere mention of "design" in connection with biology can evoke what Turner calls "The Pause, the awkward silence that typically follows a faux pas." Turner then observes:

If just one freighted word like "design" can evoke The Pause, combining two -- as in the phrase "intelligent design" -- seems to make otherwise sane people slip their moorings. If you enjoy irony, as I do, the spectacle can provide hours of entertainment. I wonder, for example, what demon had gripped a past president of Cornell University when he singled out intelligent design as a unique threat to academic and civil discourse. Aren't universities supposed to be a place for dangerous ideas?
Turner offers this welcome advice to his fellow biologists:
"Friends, intelligent design is just an idea." You might believe (as I do) that it is a wrongheaded idea, but it's hard to see how that alone should disqualify it from academic discourse. Academe is full of wrongheaded ideas, and always has been -- not because academe itself is wrongheaded, but because to discuss such ideas is its very function. Even bad ideas can contain kernels of truth, and it is academe's role to find them. That can be done only in the sunlight and fresh air of normal academic discourse. Expelling an idea is the surest way to allow falsehood to survive.
Turner also points out the irony of scientists who claim to be staunchly against any mixing of religion and science, yet who approve of Richard Dawkins' blatant mixing of religion and science in his recent anti-religious diatribe, The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

Turner is to be applauded for his courage in proposing an open debate of the scientific significance of the appearance of design in nature, and The Chronicle of Higher Education is to be applauded for publishing Turner's op-ed. Let us hope that others in academia will recognize the value in permitting the theory of intelligent design to be openly discussed and debated--whether or not they agree with ID.