It seems that every organisation connected with science has leaders who feel the need to make statements opposing intelligent design and creationism. Whilst most of these get no further than the press release, one has made it to the pages of Genome Biology. The author is Gregory Petsko, President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB ). The first paragraph sets the tone: "the Discovery Institute, that bastion of ignorance, right-wing political ideology, and pseudo-scientific claptrap, the creationist movement has mounted yet another assault on science." The "assault on science" is considered to be partly propaganda and partly legislative. Leaders like Petsko appear to be afflicted with a form of schizophrenia: when writing as scientists, they are rational and moderate; but when confronted by ID or creationism, they erupt in a frenzy of wild assertions.
The search for Frankenstein's monster is ever with us (Source here)
The propaganda charge relates to the film Expelled: No intelligence allowed. It seems to be of little concern to Petsko that the Discovery Institute is not responsible for this film. Knowledge that they have been positive about it is deemed sufficient to incriminate the organisation. Furthermore, Petsko points readers to Richard Dawkins' web site for a "spirited attack on the film" rather than summarising the substance of his charge of propaganda. The really disturbing thing is that there is no sense of outrage that academic freedom has been compromised in the treatment meted out to ID sympathisers. Instead of acknowledging that numerous research scientists have been given a very hard time by evolutionists, the message is implicit that they deserve all they get. Later, Petsko refers to teachers who want to teach creationism in a science class:
"What about the academic freedom argument? If someone wants to teach creationism in a science class, shouldn't they have the right to do so? Certainly - if they want to get fired. Because if they do that they deserve to get fired. It has nothing to do with academic freedom; it's about basic competence."
None of the people documented in Expelled set out to teach creationism. One was an editor of a journal who saw through the peer review process of an ID research paper before publishing it. Others were ID sympathisers whose ambitions to pursue research interests were thwarted by colleagues who insisted "It has nothing to do with academic freedom; it's about basic competence." In the UK, we have just witnessed the removal of Michael Reiss from his position as Education Director of the Royal Society because he did not buy into the dogmatic stance of secularised science demanded by his peers. He is an evolutionist, yet influential scientists deemed him guilty of incompetence. It is good to read some letters supportive of Michael Reiss in today's Independent:
"That a pressure group which appeared to have a limited grasp of the article could pillory a respected science educator to the point of resignation is a lasting disgrace" (Michael Poole),
"Michael Reiss is one of the most distinguished science educators we have, [. . .] I am simply surprised that the Royal Society is unable to understand the message that they are conveying to the public, that they are unable to defend and explain the simple argument that their director of education was proposing" (Professor David Waddington).
The second charge brought by Petsko relates to legislation and, in particular, the decision of the Louisiana House of Representatives to approve overwhelmingly a bill supporting academic freedom in teaching controversial issues in science. Possible areas of application were said to be evolutionary theory, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning. The pressure groups promoting evolutionary theory have repeatedly decried the idea that there is any controversy involved. Here is Petsko:
"Let me say this as clearly as possible, so there can be no mistake about what I mean: there is no controversy. Just because a few misguided so-called scientists question the validity of the concept of evolution doesn't mean there is a controversy. [. . .] The fact that some people believe nonsense does not give that nonsense scientific credibility. A challenge to existing scientific principles must be based on evidence, not on belief, and there isn't a shred of evidence to support either creationism or intelligent design. Those ideas belong in a religion or philosophy class, not in a science class."
It is sad to see these words repeated yet again. The Dissent from Darwin list was initiated to put to rest the claim that there was no dissent from Darwin coming from scientists. To call these people a "few misguided so-called scientists" tells us more about Petsko's grasp of the issues than anything else. The problem is that the evolutionary biology pressure groups cannot afford to have any critical scrutiny of their theories, because they know that many of their cherished dogmas are highly vulnerable. They have to insist that any discussion belongs outside science, because the dissenters actually appeal to evidence when they make their arguments! None of this, of course, is saying that we need to teach creationism or intelligent design in schools. The goal in science is to develop skills of critical thinking and reasoning from evidence. For previous posts on these issues, go here, here, here, here and here.
Petsko gave his message the title "It is alive". He likens the perceived threat to "Frankenstein's monster". He writes: "we must all arm ourselves with the one weapon we have that in the end the monster cannot overcome: the truth." There is some hope for a dialogue once it is realised that all those involved in education are committed to truth. ID scientists are not playing games: they are committed to truth - and they see the evidence of intelligent design through their research work. Creationists also are committed to truth. If we can break out of the stereotyped mental images of each other, there is perhaps a constructive way forward.
It is alive
Gregory A Petsko
Genome Biology 2008, 9:106 | doi:10.1186/gb-2008-9-6-106
Reprinted in ASBMB Today, pages 3-4 (August, 2008)
Abstract: We need to familiarize ourselves with the facts of evolution, so that we can mount a spirited defense against creationism and the forces of ignorance.
Luskin, C. NCSE Promotes Shrill Editorial Suggesting "Students be Forced to Consider the Possibility that There Is No God", Evolution News & Views, 15 September 2008
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