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Ban Discovery Institute: Hank Campbell's Mad Appeal to the Editors of National Review

It's been an active week for people who, in the name of science, would like to ban reasoned arguments about science. First we had the president of Ball State University issuing what amounts to a speech code disallowing the discussion of intelligent design in science classrooms. Now we have science writer Hank Campbell, of Science 2.0, calling on National Review to ban writers associated with Discovery Institute, starting with NRO blogger Wesley Smith ("If National Review Wants Scientists To Take Conservatives Seriously, Jettison The Discovery Institute").

Of course, the Ball State story is important and worrisome, confirming a trend in academic life to silence minority scientific views by fiat. Not so Campbell's "tirade," as Wesley generously calls it, which was featured prominently at a website I enjoy, Real Clear Science, edited by Alex Berezow. (With Berezow, Campbell co-wrote the recent book Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left, which ENV's Casey Luskin enjoyed.)

Campbell obviously doesn't have the power to ban anyone, despite his nattering at the editors at NR about how the legacy of William F. Buckley requires capitulation to Mr. Campbell's demands. I can't imagine anyone serious taking this seriously, not least because, more than a mere tirade, it reads to me like something written and published, unedited, while the author was drunk.

I'm not saying it was written under those circumstances, just that the combination of unreason and unreality make it sound that way.

This all started when Alex Berezow wrote an article supporting "three-parent" in vitro fertilization, to which Wesley responded forcefully and reasonably at NRO. Berezow minimized ethical concerns about the idea, while Smith emphasized and elaborated them. I'm not going to wade into the complexities now.

In responding to Wesley Smith, though, Hank Campbell goes nuts. He compares Smith to "astrologers using the stars as their evidence," an "anti-science fearmonger." It's all downhill from there. Wesley thinks IVF is in need of some controls, not that it should be banned altogether. Nevertheless, Campbell steams:

  • "Basically, Smith hates all in vitro fertilization. Always has, always will."
  • "He is against all IVF and has been since it started."
  • "It is apparently yet another example of his favorite slur to heave at researchers, scientocracy: the idea that scientists are inherently unethical."
  • "Smith won't come out and just say he hates all biology."
  • "Smith has no problem implying infertile parents are evil if they use IVF."
  • In an update, Smith is said to think that "demonizing scientists and IVF parents and children is still okay."

Scientists are "inherently unethical"? Would-be parents are "evil if they use IVF"? Wesley Smith "demonizes...children"? Wesley "hates all biology"? These are lunatic ideas, rivaled in their madness by what Campbell has to say about Discovery Institute:

  • We "promote doubt about biology in general."
  • For Smith as for us, IVF is "a tool of Lucifer or whatever the Discovery Institute thinks about all biology."
  • "Discovery Institute is against all biology."
  • A photo caption of a wild-eyed man chewing his fingernails characterizes our, or perhaps Wesley Smith's view: "We must ban biology and, oh, by the way, let's get rid of teaching evolution unless it has a warning label too."
  • "To the Discovery Institute, science and medicine is a vast liberal conspiracy against religion."

Hank Campbell doesn't say these things merely as an FYI but to rouse the editors of NR to eject Wesley and anyone associated with Discovery Institute as an affront to conservatism:

  • "Conservatives claim to be more rational so there is no reason to embrace the irrational Discovery Institute."
  • "The Discovery Institute is an anti-science version of the John Birch Society. Why lend credibility to that, National Review? Who is going to note that the Discovery Institute is likewise "far removed from common sense" the way that Buckley referred to those other conservative crackpots in 1962?"
  • "Why don't conservative readers of National Review see that the real agenda of Discovery Institute is to deny science and promote a particular sectarian viewpoint, including in classrooms, exactly the kind of thing conservatives know the Founding Fathers didn't want?"
  • "51 years ago, Bill Buckley took a stand for reason against the fringe radicals in the movement. It is time for the modern National Review to do the same thing."

Among the many things Campbell doesn't know, there is the fact that not only William Buckley but other founding fathers of modern conservatism -- Richard Weaver, Irving Kristol, Richard John Neuhaus -- expressed grave doubts, scientific and philosophical, about the science of Darwinism. That would make them "anti-science" in Hank Campbell's book. As for the country's Founding Fathers, see my post, "Try to Imagine Our Country's Founding if the Founders Had Not Been Advocates of Intelligent Design."

Campbell now appeals to Buckley's heirs to reject all doubts about any statement made in the name of "science" -- whether on the subject of Darwinian theory or in vitro fertilization -- and to reject anyone expressing such doubts as "anti-science." Only casting aside all skepticism and docilely believing what you're told counts as rational.

Campbell bases his appeal on characterizations of the people he doesn't like -- Wesley Smith, Discovery Institute -- that aren't merely false or ridiculous but insane. We "hate all biology," are "against all biology." We "promote doubt about biology in general." We think "all biology" is "a tool of Lucifer." We would "ban biology."

I'm accustomed to folks like Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins denouncing intelligent design without giving any indication of having familiarized themselves with the actual evidence or arguments for ID. That signals a lack of intellectual integrity, ignorance without excuse, which is one thing.

Campbell also has no idea what ID advocates say -- he has clearly not read anything we've contributed to the evolution debate. But he adds to that these mad imaginings about banning biology and medicine as a Luciferian plot. It's not even a lie -- a lie is something the liar rationally calculates that his rational listener may be persuaded to accept as true. But no one in his right mind is going to believe this stuff.

And Campbell thinks he's going to move those on the Right to embrace what he regards as "rationality" with such a crazy, crazy diatribe? Wow, good luck to you with that, Hank.