Accuracy in Media

Maybe Monty Python was right, that nobody expects a Spanish Inquisition, but that’s exactly what scientists and scholars are getting if they become in any way associated with the highly controversial theory of intelligent design. The punishment for such heresy can be mockery, intimidation or academic death through firing or suspension.

Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomy professor at Iowa State University found this out after his book, The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery, was published. His book pointed out the uniqueness of the earth’s location as a paradise for scientific exploration and how the fine-tuned laws of physics seem to line up logically with an intelligent agent. Gonzalez spoke about his experience Wednesday, December 7th at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. at a forum hosted by the Discovery Institute on the growing trend of mistreating scientists who become involved with intelligent design theory.

Many scientists lauded his work, including David Hughes of the Royal Astronomical Society, Harvard astrophysicist Owen Gingerich and others. But a number of people in the scientific and academic community branded him a heretic and began attacking Gonzalez, not to his face in open debate on the issues, but in vicious emails and in petitions seeking to have him rejected in his upcoming tenure review process. All because he examined the data and concluded that the universe appears to have been designed.

“What did I do (to deserve this)? I had never even taught the (intelligent design) argument in class,” said Gonzales of the treatment he received by colleagues in his university and other Iowa schools.

Gonzales said that he was accused by a colleague of “plotting to establish a theocracy.”
Bryan Leonard, a high school biology teacher in Ohio, is a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University. In 2004, Ohio implemented a teach-the-controversy approach to evolution in their public schools, and Leonard chose to make the effects of the program the topic for his dissertation. Just days before Leonard was to complete his oral exam, the last step to obtaining his doctorate, three professors “filed an ideologically-motivated complaint” against him and OSU released details of the complaint to the news media smearing Leonard’s name before any investigation was completed.

According to the Discovery Institute there are many more examples of persecuted scientists and professors like Gonzales and Leonard. Dr. Nancy Bryson taught chemistry at a state university in Mississippi until she lost her job for lecturing a group of honors students about scientific criticisms of Darwinism. Roger DeHart was a high school teacher in Washington State who tried to supplement his science materials with information from mainstream science publications that pointed out flaws in Darwinian thought. He was removed from the position and an offer from a nearby school district was rescinded when they learned of the controversy.

Smithsonian scientist Dr. Richard Sternberg has his own story of persecution. Sternberg was the editor of The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a scholarly journal. He received a submission by Stephen Meyer which argued that the Cambrian explosion is best explained by intelligent design, which he sent out for peer review, edited and published. Colleagues of Sternberg immediately began attacking him by circulating nasty emails, denying him access to the building and even his own office and creating a hostile work environment to force him out, according to the report by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. Sternberg planned to speak on the panel at the Discovery Institute’s forum, but a family member’s illness prevented him from attending.

Jay W. Richards, Gonzales’ co-author and former employee of Discovery Institute, who now works for the Acton Institute was the moderator of the discussion.

At the beginning of the talk, Richards took time to define intelligent design theory. “ID makes two claims. One, Activities of intelligent agents often leave evidence of their influence. Two, Evidence for design is present in the natural world. It does not rest on religion,” Richards explained but he admitted that there are definite theological and philosophical implications.

Critics of intelligent design claim that the theory is not scientific, it is creationism in disguise, that there is no debate or controversy over the “facts of evolution.”

One questioner pointed out that people claiming intelligent design is not scientific define science as only pursuing materialistic explanations, to which Richards agreed.

The Discovery Institute, a public policy center that defends teaching-the-controversy approaches and defends all students’ and teachers’ right to share their viewpoint, contends that intelligent design is not creationism. “Unlike biblically-based creationism, ID stands only on scientific evidence, observation and analysis.” The institute also has a list of over 400 scientists who signed statements of “Dissent from Darwinism.” These scientists come from dozens of different sciences and teach at schools like MIT, Rutgers, Ohio State and Princeton among others. Even though these 400 are almost certainly in the minority, there is clearly controversy over the “facts” of evolution.

Richards also expressed his shock over the many accounts of scientists’ and professors’ reputations being maligned and those being punished through suspension or firing because, in his view, the academic community is supposed to discuss controversial issues and foster thought and open debate.

When asked why so many in the scientific community are adamantly opposed to theories critical of Darwinism, Jay Richards said, “People have some personal motivations. If you are a hardcore materialist, Darwin provides a way to explain things that appear to be designed. The metaphysical weight Darwinism provides and people want to hold on to that.”

“There are always philosophical and metaphysical implications and origin questions bring them up. I think we should admit them and engage in honest debate on the evidence,” said Richards.

Gonzales wants to see the end of academic censorship and mistreatment of intelligent-design supporters. “If I am denied tenure because of my book, that is a form of censorship. If the university says it (Intelligent Design Theory) cannot be mentioned, that is censorship,” said Gonzalez.

“We’re just pleading for free discourse,” said Richards, “science progresses through the free exchange of ideas.”

Gonzales said he would not want to teach intelligent design unless his entire department decided it was acceptable, and he thinks students really want to understand the issue. “I’ve found that students are interested in the topic and don’t know where to turn for information. I want us to come to terms and provide these students with both sides so they can make up their own minds,” said Gonzales.

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