Forbidden Science: Stephen Meyer and Darwin's Doubt in the Context of Academic Freedom
Let's take a step back from the excitement surrounding the publication today of Stephen Meyer's new book, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, and recall the origins of the book. Well, you know by now that they go back to Steve Meyer's PhD studies at Cambridge University and before that to the discovery of the Burgess Shale in 1909 by Smithsonian Institution paleontologist Charles Doolittle Walcott -- and to Charles Darwin's own doubts about whether the Cambrian explosion, 530 million years ago, could be reconciled with his new theory.
Less familiar to many of us may be that Dr. Meyer first raised some (but far from all) of the scientific challenges that you'll find in the new book in a 2004 technical article published in a peer-reviewed biology journal, the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The journal was edited by a Smithsonian Institution evolutionary biologist, Richard Sternberg, affiliated with the National Museum of Natural History.
I first started thinking about Meyer's critique of Darwinian theory, and the case for ID based on the Cambrian event, when I interviewed Sternberg and wrote about his story for the Wall Street Journal. You'll find that article here.
Go back and read it, but the gist is that Dr. Sternberg, merely for editing the article by Steve Meyer, was ruthlessly punished by his colleagues and supervisors, who investigated his scientific, religious, and political views and basically tried to make his life as a researcher as difficult as possible. He was finally forced out of the Smithsonian but not before the federal Office of Special Counsel concluded that Sternberg had indeed been the victim of retaliation.
Anyone who has followed the Eric Hedin affair knows that this is now standard practice by the Darwinian thought police. Dr. Hedin is the Ball State University physicist of whom University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne got wind that he, Hedin, was teaching an honors course including texts favorable to intelligent design. Among those texts were Stephen Meyer's 2004 article that resulted in Sternberg's persecution and Meyer's 2010 book Signature in the Cell. Coyne enlisted the aid of the extreme atheist group Freedom from Religion Foundation, which threatened Ball State with legal action on First Amendment grounds. Coyne and FFRP hold that teaching ID at the university level, in a public institution, amounts to establishment of religion and hence is illegal.
Absurd? Yet scary and disturbing? Absolutely, all three, but the administration at BSU launched an investigation more than four weeks ago and says it is taking the complaint "very seriously." The mind boggles -- or it would, if we didn't know of similar cases from colleges and universities around the country, which we have amply covered here at ENV. In a report over the weekend in the Muncie, IN, Star Press, we learned the names of the four faculty members assigned to investigate Hedin ("Panel investigates Christian BSU prof's class"). If this does not constitute a scandalous case of academic intimidation, what does?
(You will please, if you have not done so yet, sign the petition calling on Ball State University to promptly affirm Dr. Hedin's freedom to teach.)
I bring up the history regarding the Sternberg/Smithsonian story, and the current scandal at BSU, to remind you that the significance of Darwin's Doubt extends beyond its immediate subject: the mainstream scientific search for a replacement theory for Darwinism and the evidence for intelligent design in a variety of relevant fields.
The importance of the book is also not exhausted by the existential question that lies behind the evolution debate. If Darwin were ever shown to be right, then what psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl called (in his famous book) Man's Search for Meaning would automatically be rendered null and void. In a Darwinian universe, where life's origin and evolution reflect no design or intention, there can be no ultimate meaning to our existence, as candid Darwinists admit.
However, apart from the scientific, philosophical and spiritual meanings, the context of the book in the debate about academic freedom must also not be forgotten. The spark of the idea that Meyer elaborates in Darwin's Doubt was so controversial when it was unveiled in 2004 that it resulted in a spasm of persecution at our nation's leading public scientific institution, the Smithsonian.
Another scholar, atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel, would likewise stir up the hornet's nest by commending Stephen Meyer's arguments for ID. His praise for Dr. Meyer's Signature in the Cell, and for Michael Behe and David Berlinski, is the primary reason that a Darwinian lynch mob formed against him. Fortunately, Dr. Nagel's academic position was impregnable -- which is obviously not the case with younger scientists and scholars like Sternberg and Hedin. But I trust you are noticing the pattern.
This is how the scientific "consensus" on Darwinian evolution is maintained: by fear. By bullying. And I cannot tell you how much I despise bullies. Do you agree?
Arguably, no ID theorist has aroused more persecutory rage than Stephen Meyer. What can we do, though, we who believe in the freedom to think and publish and research, free of fear? I mean practically speaking. How can we make our voices and feelings heard, so that they count? We can support appropriate legislation at the state and local level to protect high school science teachers who wish to acquaint students with the evolution debate in mainstream science.
We can let our elected representatives know that we are outraged by threats to such freedom at higher levels of education, especially in our public universities.
More immediately, but also most easily and much more enjoyably, we can buy, read and distribute Darwin's Doubt. This week is not just launch week for a book, but also an opportunity to send a message in favor of the freedom of scholars to write and teach, and our right as informed citizens to evaluate their ideas for ourselves.