[Note: This article is a modified version of what was originally published on Evolution News and Views as a 3-part series, linked as follows: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.]
Scientific American has a long history of opposing intelligent design (ID), so it comes as no surprise that they have tasked their columnist Michael Shermer with the job of attacking Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Michael Shermer is the founder of Skeptic Magazine, who loves to boast about how evolution liberated him from belief in God. In fact, he does just that in his article attacking Expelled, opening it by saying: "In 1974 I matriculated at Pepperdine University as a born-again Christian who rejected Darwinism and evolutionary theory," but when he "finally took a course in evolutionary theory in graduate school I realized that I had been hoodwinked." In his book, Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design, Shermer tries to convince the reader that he believes that evolution and religion are compatible, but ultimately concedes that, "were we to take a strictly scientific approach to the God question, we would have to reject the God hypothesis." It's tough to take Shermer's calls for peace between religion and Darwin seriously when he has elsewhere declared his view that "[t]here is no God, intelligent designer, or anything resembling the divinity as proffered by the world's religions."
Shermer is interviewed in the documentary Expelled, and he basically denies that there is any persecution of ID proponents. Since the film provides extensive documentation of the discrimination faced by ID proponents in the academy, Expelled disproves Shermer's one-sided skepticism. Thus, Shermer doesn't like the film.
Shermer's day job is literally being a professional skeptic. He makes a living telling people that they should be skeptical of religion. But Shermer virtually never applies his skepticism to modern Darwinian theory. This film shows that sometimes his skepticism against ID goes too far. Shermer certainly has a huge stake in the debate over this film — in fact, it seems that his entire worldview, livelihood, and de-conversion experience depend heavily upon the veracity of Darwinian evolution. It therefore comes as no surprise that in his review of Expelled, he paints evolutionists as the saints, and Darwinism as a pure and unadulterated religion.
Shermer's General Approach to Handling Persecution of ID Proponents: One-Sided Skepticism, Denial, and Blaming the Victim
Having seen Expelled, Shermer now knows that his denial that ID proponents get persecuted serves as a foil for the impressive documentation of such persecution presented throughout the film. His response is not to amend his answer in light of the facts presented in the movie, but rather to issue even more forceful denials that there is any persecution of ID proponents taking place. Shermer's method of dealing with these persecution instances is as follows:
(1) Ignore all the facts showing there was persecution;
(2) E-mail the persecutor and ask them if there was any anti-ID discrimination;
(3) Withhold all skepticism from the statements of the persecutors, and then trumpet their response as evidence that there is no persecution against ID proponents, blaming the victim for losing their job and then claiming those who feel there is persecution are just promoting a "conspiracy."
Shermer's record of consistently taking the side of the persecutors shows that he is part of the problem and is in no way an objective source to analyze this subject. For example, Shermer implies that Richard Sternberg's credibility is diminished because he's a fellow of the International Society for Complexity Information, and Design or because he "is a signatory of the Discovery Institute's '100 Scientists who Doubt Darwinism' statement." (By the way, it's over 700 scientists now, Dr. Shermer.) This shows that Shermer himself could be a potential persecutor of Darwin skeptics, for he isn't interested in giving Darwin-skeptics equal treatment.
If only Shermer would turn some of his skepticism against the perpetrators instead of waging all of his skepticism against the victims. This is typical behavior of persecutors: Deny and blame the victim, telling them they are conspiracy theorists. This unwillingness to believe the facts fits perfectly with Shermer's modus operandi: unyielding and eternal skepticism—unless it supports Darwinism.
Shermer Blames-the-Victim Case #1: Richard Sternberg
The conversation with Michael Shermer in the Expelled film revolves around the publication of Stephen C. Meyer's pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific paper in the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The editor who oversaw the publication of that article was Dr. Richard Sternberg, who, according to investigations by both the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and also by subcommittee staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, subsequently was harassed, intimidated, and demoted because he broke ranks with the unwritten (or sometimes written) rule among Darwinists that you must keep ID out of science journals.
Here's the truth of the matter: Before Meyer's paper was published, the pro-Darwin lobby had long-claimed that ID was not science because it wasn't in peer-reviewed journals. But once ID was undeniably and explicitly supported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal article, Darwinists panicked, and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) prompted the journal's publishing society, the Biological Society of Washington (BSW) to attack the paper. The BSW gladly obeyed the NCSE, issuing a statement that Meyer's paper should not have been published because ID allegedly is not science. If that doesn't sound like circular logic, consider the proof that the NCSE orchestrated the whole thing, according to the findings of an investigation by subcommittee staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform ("Report"):
Early on in the controversy, the NCSE circulated a set of "talking points" to the BSW Council and NMNH officials on how to discredit both Sternberg and the Meyer article. The OSC investigation found that the "NCSE recommendations were circulated within the SI and eventually became part of the official public response of the SI to the Meyer article.: (Report, pg. 22)
To attack Meyer's article, Shermer cites the NCSE-inspired statement from the BSW stating that, "Contrary to typical editorial practices, the paper was published without review by any associate editor; Sternberg handled the entire review process. The council, which includes officers, elected councilors and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings." Shermer should have applied some of his famous skepticism here, because that statement is in fact a falsehood: Eugenie Scott herself admitted that "other editors have not always referred all articles to the Associate Editors, and because editors justifiably have discretion," that therefore the BSW should not "come down too hard on Dr. Sternberg for errors in the procedure followed in accepting this article." (See Report, pages 25-26.) Shermer conveniently spares the BSW from skepticism over Eugenie Scott's behind-closed-doors concession, which contradicts the BSW's public statement.
Moreover, Shermer and the BSW ignore that in less-politicized statements, Dr. Roy McDiarmid, the President of the BSW and a scientist at the Smithsonian, admitted that there was no wrongdoing regarding the peer-review process of Meyer's paper:
I have seen the review file and comments from 3 reviewers on the Meyer paper. All three with some differences among the comments recommended or suggested publication. I was surprised but concluded that there was not inappropriate behavior vs a vis [sic] the review process. (See Report, e-mail from Roy McDiarmid, "Re: Request for information," January 28, 2005, 2:25 PM to Hans Sues, emphasis added.)
So the truth is that Meyer's paper WAS peer-reviewed, and that Darwinists have invented the claim that it was not peer-reviewed or that there was wrongdoing regarding the publication of the article. Shermer, the famous skeptic, seems unwilling to apply his skepticism to anything the Darwinists say about this situation, blindly accepting the denials from Darwinists that any discrimination against ID took place, instead blaming the victim.
Shermer should just drop his attempts to defend the Smithsonian, but he doesn't, calling the attacks upon Sternberg part of Ben Stein's "case for conspiracy." So let's review the findings of a congressional staff investigation to see if there really was any discrimination against Dr. Sternberg (who holds two Ph.D.s in evolution), or if Shermer is right and this is all just a conspiracy inside the heads of Dr. Richard Sternberg, Ben Stein, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, and a bunch of people working at Congress. The Congressional Staff Report found the following:
"I suppose we could call [Sternberg] on the phone and verbally ask him to do the right thing and resign?" (Dr. Jonathan Coddington)
"a face to face meeting or at least a "you are welcome to leave or resign" call with this individual, is in order." (Dr. Rafael Lemaitre)
"if [Sternberg] had any class he would either entirely desist or resign his appointment." (Dr. Jonathan Coddington)
"Sternberg is a well-established figure in anti-evolution circles, and a simple Google search would have exposed these connections." (Dr. Hans Sues)
"In a memo prepared on February 8, 2005, NMNH scientist Marilyn Schotte admitted that after publication of the Meyer paper, Dr. Coddington wanted to know "if Dr. Sternberg was religious." Dr. Schotte further admitted telling Coddington that Sternberg "was a Republican." Schotte even conceded that Coddington may have asked her whether Sternberg "was a fundamentalist" and whether "he was a conservative."" (Description of a memo is discussed in the Report)
"From now on, I will keep an eye on Dr. (von) Sternberg, and I'd greatly appreciate it if you or other NCSE specialists could let me [know] about further activities by this gentleman in areas poutside [sic] crustacean systematics." (Dr. Hans Sues)Michael Shermer apparently has unlimited skepticism when it comes to the claims of Darwin-skeptics--he's unwilling to believe any of their statements that they have experienced persecution. But Dr. Sternberg summarized the discrimination taken against him as follows:
(For more details, see National Center for Science Education Asked to Spy for the Government According to Congressional Report.)
I was transferred from the supervision of a friendly sponsor (supervisor) at the Museum to a hostile one....I was twice forced to move specimens from my office space on short notice for no good reason, my name plate was removed from my office door, and eventually I was deprived of all official office space and forced to use a shared work area as my work location in the Museum....I was subjected to an array of new reporting requirements not imposed on other Research Associates....My access to the specimens needed for my research at the Museum was restricted. (My access to the Museum was also restricted. I was forced to give up my master key.)Rather than admit that any of this evidence exists, Shermer happily applies infinite skepticism to the persecuted, and withholds all skepticism from the statements of the persecutors: Shermer even e-mailed Jonathan Coddington, the chief persecutor of Richard Sternberg, asking him about the situation. It comes as no surprise that Coddington personally wrote back to Shermer claiming there was nothing to see here. In Coddington's words: "Sternberg was not discriminated against, was never dismissed, and in fact was not even a paid employee, but just an unpaid research associate who had completed his three-year term!" This is consistent with Coddington's prior behavior, as the congressional staff investigation's report concluded, "Given the factual record, the Smithsonian's pro-forma denials of discrimination are unbelievable." So are Shermer's denials.
[S]aid Eugenie Scott, the group's executive director[:] "If this was a corporation, and an employee did something that really embarrassed the administration, really blew it, how long do you think that person would be employed?" ... Scott, of the NCSE, insisted that Smithsonian scientists had no choice but to explore Sternberg's religious beliefs. "They don't care if you are religious, but they do care a lot if you are a creationist," Scott said. "Sternberg denies it, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it argues for zealotry."So there you have it: Everything that Jonathan Coddington denies, Eugenie Scott essentially admits--and justifies--because she thinks it's permissible to persecute and investigate someone if they sympathize with the "creationists." If Michael Shermer should be skeptical of anything, it is the contradictory claims of the Smithsonian and leading Darwinists like Eugenie Scott which expose the attempts to cover-up the unfair treatment of Dr. Sternberg.
(Michael Powell, "Editor Explains Reasons for 'Intelligent Design' Article," Washington Post, August 19, 2005, emphases added)
Most of the animal phyla that are represented in the fossil record first appear, "fully formed," in the Cambrian some 550 million years ago...The fossil record is therefore of no help with respect to the origin and early diversification of the various animal phyla.In fact, Richard Dawkins conceded in 1986 regarding the Cambrian fauna that, "It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history." (The Blind Watchmaker, 1986, pg. 229-230.) In another very serious treatment of the subject, John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry, leaders in evolutionary biology, wrote in 1995 that the "Cambrian explosion remains a puzzle" for Darwinian theorists despite the discovery of a some Pre-Cambrian fossils:
(R.S.K. Barnes, P. Calow & P.J.W. Olive, The Invertebrates: A New Synthesis, pages 9-10 (3rd ed., Blackwell Sci. Publications, 2001).)
Some 540 million years ago, at the beginning of the Cambrian, there appeared an array of multicellular marine animals, including the major phyla that exist today: coelenterates, platyhelminths, annelids, arthropods, molluscs, echinoderms and others. Chordates are also present in the Cambrian: they are not known from the earliest deposits, in which only hard parts are preserved, but are present in the slightly later Burgess Shale, in which soft-bodied forms are preserved. Forty years ago, this sudden appearance of metazoan fossils was not only a puzzle but something of an embarrassment: the absence of any known fossils from earlier rocks was a weapon widely used by creationists. Today, the fossil evidence for prokaryotes goes back 3000 million years, and for protists some 1000 million years. The Cambrian explosion remains a puzzle, however, which has been only fitfully illuminated by the discovery of the enigmatic soft-bodied Ediacaran fauna, which had a worldwide distribution between 580 and 560 million years ago. There are still doubts about how these fossils should be interpreted (Simon Conway Morris, 1993).It seems that Prothero has glossed over the real problems with evolutionary explanations of the Cambrian fauna in a book that hardly looks like a serious treatment of this subject. In the end, Shermer needs to apply some of his famous skepticism to his own sources. Moreover, Meyer's peer-reviewer-approved argument still carries great weight. As Meyer explains, the explosion of new biological information in the Cambrian period is best explained by an intelligent cause:
(John Maynard Smith and Eörs Szathmáry, The Major Transitions in Evolution, page 203 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995).)
Analysis of the problem of the origin of biological information, therefore, exposes a deficiency in the causal powers of natural selection that corresponds precisely to powers that agents are uniquely known to possess. Intelligent agents have foresight. Such agents can select functional goals before they exist. They can devise or select material means to accomplish those ends from among an array of possibilities and then actualize those goals in accord with a preconceived design plan or set of functional requirements. Rational agents can constrain combinatorial space with distant outcomes in mind. The causal powers that natural selection lacks—almost by definition—are associated with the attributes of consciousness and rationality—with purposive intelligence. Thus, by invoking design to explain the origin of new biological information, contemporary design theorists are not positing an arbitrary explanatory element unmotivated by a consideration of the evidence. Instead, they are positing an entity possessing precisely the attributes and causal powers that the phenomenon in question requires as a condition of its production and explanation.Shermer Blames-the-Victim Case #2: Guillermo Gonzalez
(Stephen C. Meyer, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2):213-239 (2004).)
[H]e peaks in 2003 but ends in 2006 just as high as he was when he started at ISU. Moreover, he outperformed all ISU astronomy faculty in normalized publications during that period. The one year that is obviously less happens to be the same year that he co-authored an astronomy textbook published by Cambridge University Press.Not only that, but as explained here, Gonzalez led astronomers in his department in a normalized count of citations to his work in other scientific papers:
Gonzalez joined ISU in 2001, and for his publications since 2001 he has the highest normalized citation count of all astronomers in his department, including both tenured and untenured faculty! Moreover, despite the fact that he is much younger than many of the tenured faculty members in the department, he has the second highest lifetime normalized citation count among all astronomers in his department.Given that Gonzalez apparently led all tenured ISU astronomers who voted against his tenure in both normalized publications and normalized citations since 2001, it's hard to see what grounds they have for complaining about his publication record. If Gonzalez's publication record went down at all during his probationary period at ISU, it still remained at an extremely impressive level that warranted tenure. If anything, this indicates that scientists should not be penalized for extraordinarily high academic achievements early in their careers if, like Gonzalez, they continue to produce outstanding publication rates during their tenure probationary period.
"Again, that statement is completely false. The truth is that in 2001, soon before Gonzalez left the University of Washington (UW) [to] join the faculty at ISU, he served as the primary advisor to a UW doctoral student in astronomy, Chris Laws. Gonzalez served as Laws' primary scientific advisor over the course of Laws' entire doctoral thesis, and Laws successfully graduated from UW with a Ph.D. in astronomy in December, 2004. Gonzalez also served on the committee of another Ph.D. student at UW, Rory Barnes, and this student also successfully graduated in 2004. You may want to also correct this false information as well and issue a retraction immediately."Second, it's worth noting that pre-tenure faculty typically aren't expected to have as many graduate students as tenured faculty, because pre-tenured faculty are supposed to focus primarily on research. So even if they were accurate, Scott's complaints here are of little relevance. Shermer should start applying some of his skepticism to the false claims of the pro-Darwin lobbyists like Eugenie Scott.
"Dr. Gonzalez is eminently qualified for the promotion according to your guidelines of excellence in scholarship and exhibiting a potential for national distinction. In light of your criteria I would certainly recommend the promotion."Indeed, 2/3 of the external reviewers who gave an opinion about whether Dr. Gonzalez deserves tenure agreed that he should receive tenure.
"Who is Ben Stein to say what is science and not science? None of us speak for science. Scientists vary all over the map in their religious and philosophical views, for example, Francis Collins [the evangelical Christian and National Human Genome Research Institute director], so no one can speak for science."This statement sounds reasonable, but it is both hypocritical and wrong on various levels.