Wright Does the Right Thing, Reinstates Behe on Intelligent Design
When I wrote earlier on the Stalinist erasure of John McWhorter's interview with biochemist Michael Behe on Bloggingheads.tv, I began by saying, "Wow." I will say that again: "Wow." Why wow? Because Bloggingheads editor-in-chief Robert Wright was, as I'd suspected, out of the shop when it happened -- on a silent meditation retreat, in fact -- and on returning he reversed his staff's Orwellian move and put the interview back up. Way to go, Mr. Wright!
There are three orders of business here. First, congratulations to Robert Wright, whose very interesting book The Evolution of God I've commented on before. He writes sensibly in explanation of what happened, making clear that the censoring of Behe was indefensible without publicly condemning his subordinates, which would have been ungracious:
This diavlog has now been re-posted. The decision to remove it from the site was made by BhTV staff while I was away and unavailable for consultation. (Yes, even in a wired world it's possible to take yourself off the grid. Here's how I did it.) It's impossible to say for sure whether, in the heat of the moment, I would have made a decision different from the staff's decision. But on reflection I've decided that removing this particular diavlog from the site is hard to justify by any general principle that should govern our future conduct. In other words, it's not a precedent I'd want to live with. At the same time, I can imagine circumstances under which a diavlog would warrant removal from the site. So this episode has usefully spurred me and the BhTV staff to try to articulate some rules of the road for this sort of thing. Within a week, the results will be posted, along with some related thoughts on the whole idea behind Bloggingheads.tv, here.Just so you know, Wright is no intelligent-design fan, as he makes clear in The Evolution of God. He's a Darwinist, including on evolutionary psychology where Darwinism becomes even harder to defend than in other areas, but a fair-minded one. He's no theist either and writes frankly of himself as a materialist, but neither is he prejudiced against religion. An interesting person, a little bit in the William James mold. (James, by the way, had some intriguing reservations about scientific materialism.)
So saying mazal tov to Wright is point one. Point two is that this should be a lesson for him and everyone else, underlining the unthinking prejudice that Darwin-doubters face. Someone at Bloggingheads muzzled McWhorter for allowing a full and friendly presentation of Behe's ideas on irreducible complexity. The interview went up and then was taken down in the space of about six hours. That's fast. Not only was the interview erased but sufficient pressure was brought to bear on McWhorter that he wrote, or allowed someone else to write, an apology for conducting the interview in the first place!
Why would he concede so quickly? It can only be that he felt threatened in some way. If he refused, he must have thought, he would lose something of value. Probably something having to do with his livelihood. I can't imagine he's afraid of negative comments left on Bloggingheads by anonymous Darwin believers, or by snarky, obscene bloggers like Abigail Smith. (For the record, he did not respond to an email request from me for his own take.)
The lesson is that this is how Darwinism works, intimidating anyone who might publicly dissent. This time there was a Robert Wright to set things right. But as I said before, he stands out from other Darwinists by his open-mindedness. This was a decent thing he did. It's the exception that proves the rule. The rule is that Darwinism will not tolerate a dialogue, will not accept being questioned.
Point three is that now Wright has ruled that in his shop, it's not forbidden to question Darwinian evolution, why not let more flowers bloom? Wright is a materialist and thinks a modern scientific outlook necessitates a materialist view. (Maybe he'd put it differently himself.) That's an opinion worth a serious discussion. It would make for a fascinating conversation. What I'd love to see is a dialogue on Blogginheads between Wright and Stephen Meyer (Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design) or David Berlinski (The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretension) on materialism itself.
Alternatively, more of a debate between Meyer or Berlinski and the Darwinist of Mr. Wright's choice, if any would dare. How about it, Bob?
Update: Robert Wright on intelligent design, Time magazine, March 11, 2002:
Critics of ID, which has been billed in the press as new and sophisticated, say it's just creationism in disguise. If so it's a good disguise. Creationists believe that God made current life-forms from scratch. The ID movement takes no position on how life got here, and many adherents believe in evolution. Some even grant a role to the evolutionary engine posited by Darwin: natural selection. They just deny that natural selection alone could have driven life all the way from pond scum to us.