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What Darwin's Enforcers Will Say About Darwin's Doubt: A Prediction

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Among possible lines of attack against Stephen Meyer's forthcoming book, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, I foresee some critics trying to argue that it's not fair game for Dr. Meyer to invite the general reading public to consider what's going on in peer-reviewed technical literature pertaining to evolution.

After all, biologists should have the opportunity to air their views in a semi-private professional setting without "creationists" barging in and telling the unwashed masses that many scientists have already given up on the Darwinian paradigm and are seeking post-Darwinian alternatives. Even though it's true, still it's wrong to publicize the fact, thereby leading the common folk astray and confirming their prejudice in favor of seeing life and the universe as reflecting some purpose.

Of course in this, I'm optimistically assuming that the critics will read the book before attacking Steve Meyer, or at least read something informative about it. That was not the case with Dr. Meyer's previous book, Signature in the Cell, which was denounced by some biologists who had zero idea even what Meyer was arguing. If I'm right in my prediction, it will be interesting to keep in mind the parallel complaint against our Discovery Institute colleague Wesley J. Smith.

Parallel yet also intriguingly different. At his National Review Online blog Human Exceptionalism, Wesley writes about being "bitterly criticized" by bioethicist Udo Sch�klenk, editor of the journal Bioethics ("Bioethics Hates the Light"). What does Sch�klenk have against Wesley Smith? Wesley's offense is that, writing at the Daily Caller, he exposed another professional journal, the Journal of Medical Ethics, for publishing an article that advocated the permissibility of post-birth abortion. Yes, you read that right.

The authors, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, suggested that it should be ethically defensible to kill babies if their mothers somehow missed the opportunity to abort them while still in the womb. Read the shocking abstract ("After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?"):

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call 'after-birth abortion' (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

Now along comes Udo Sch�klenk of Queen's University in Canada who harshly upbraids Smith for threatening "academic freedom" and putting "bioethics journals under siege." Dr. Sch�klenk complains about Smith being an "employee" of the "creationist lobby group" Discovery Institute who publishes his articles "pretty much exclusively in religious outlets."

This is just one untruth after another, of course. As Smith points out, he is a Discovery Institute senior fellow, not an employee. DI isn't a "lobbying group," nor do we argue for or otherwise support "creationism." In fact, some creationists criticize intelligent design specifically for not being creationism. Well, they've got their facts straight on that point, unlike our fine ethics scholar Dr. Sch�klenk. And Smith predominantly publishes in secular/non-religious outlets, including some academic and legal journals.

The key passage in Sch�klenk's article is this:

Academic journals finding themselves under sustained attacks from lobby groups do find themselves in a difficult situation. While political activism is legitimate -- in fact, desirable -- it can become so intense and well-orchestrated that it begins to threaten academic freedom.

So the problem with exposing what goes on in academic journals is that if the enterprise becomes too "intense" or "well-orchestrated" -- that is, too successful in getting out the word -- then that crosses over into an illegitimate "threat" to "academic freedom." On the other hand, if it's sotto voce or otherwise limp, mute and inept, then I guess it's OK in the eyes of the bioethical community. Citizens may turn the pages of the Journal of Medical Ethics so long as -- when they see an article supporting the deliberate murder of healthy but unwanted babies -- they don't get all upset and start talking about it worriedly with lots of other people.

That's one way that in writing Darwin's Doubt, Stephen Meyer is likely to be found at fault: he blows the lid off the pact of silence and secrecy that has so far kept the evolution controversy among mainstream scientists themselves from gaining wider public awareness.

The difference between Smith's expose and Meyer's is that Smith probably will not draw down fire on the academics whose work he rightly condemns -- fire, I mean, from their ethicist colleagues. In fact, his condemnation likely wins them esteem in their own professional circles -- even as, thank goodness, it may put off the day when such evil ideas are put into practice in the United States.

Stephen Meyer, on the other hand, is casting light on a previously hidden discussion not to condemn but in praise of innovative, forward-thinking scientists who are groping their way forward toward truths we've been advocating for years: not intelligent design but the recognition that Darwinism doesn't explain the enigma of life's evolution; something else is going on.

Dr. Meyer does this, I know, with full awareness that not only will it win him condemnation from the Darwin enforcers. But so too, advocates of post-Darwinian views in the science world will draw fire from their own professional circles for "giving aid and comfort to creationist enemies of science." Which of course is what they're already saying about maverick atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel. If it's any comfort, at least, Dr. Nagel doesn't seem to have sustained any real injuries from that assault.