Darwin, Intelligent Design, and Freedom of Discovery on Evolutionists' Holy Day

Casey Luskin
U.S. News & World Report
February 10, 2009
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February 12 used to be universally recognized as the birthday of Abraham Lincoln--a day celebrating freedom. Needing a patron saint, Darwinists in recent years have converted February 12 into "Darwin Day."

There's nothing wrong with celebrating Darwin's birthday--if that's what you really want to do. But in recent years the advocacy of evolution has become increasingly associated with attempts to subvert freedom. To reclaim February 12 for those who love freedom, Discovery Institute and others in the intelligent design (ID) movement are calling February 12, 2009, "Academic Freedom Day" (see www.AcademicFreedomDay.com).

To be sure, Darwin supported academic freedom. In On the Origin of Species, he openly discussed weaknesses in his arguments and declared that "a fair result can only be obtained by stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

One would think that Darwin's latter-day defenders would follow his approach and allow debate over evolution in the classroom. But a lot has changed in the past 150 years.

Darwinists today seek to stifle scientific dissent from their viewpoint by asserting that there are no serious scientific weaknesses in modern evolutionary theory (called neo-Darwinism). The real losers here are students and scientific progress.

The more we discover about the cell, the more we are learning that it functions like a miniature factory, replete with motors, powerhouses, garbage disposals, guarded gates, transportation corridors, and most importantly, CPUs. The central information processing machinery of the cell runs on a language-based code composed of irreducibly complex circuits and machines: The myriad enzymes used in the process that converts the genetic information in DNA into proteins are themselves created by the process that converts DNA into proteins.

The problem for Darwinists is obvious: The simplest cell won't function unless this basic machinery is intact, so how does such complexity evolve via a "blind" and "undirected" Darwinian process of numerous, successive, slight modifications?

Even scientists who reject ID admit that neo-Darwinism is lacking. Biochemist Franklin Harold stated in a 2001 Oxford University Press monograph that "there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations." Indeed, over 750 Ph.D. scientists have signed a list declaring their view that random mutation and natural selection are impotent to explain the complexity of life (see www.dissentfromdarwin.org).

As we sequence more genomes of species, biologists are also finding that one gene or trait implies one evolutionary tree, while another gene yields an entirely different tree. No wonder the cover of the journal New Scientist recently declared that with respect to his vision of a grand tree of life, "Darwin Was Wrong."

Common descent--the view that all species are related--has also failed to overcome a problem that Darwin recognized in his own day: the lack of evolutionary transitions documented in the fossil record. Instead, what we see are new biological forms coming into existence in "explosions," without clear evolutionary precursors.

Finally, Darwinists have long-argued that our cells can't be designed because they are full of functionless "junk DNA." But in recent years, biologists have discovered that the vast majority of our DNA is performing vital cellular functions and isn't "junk" at all. The wrong-headed conclusions of modern Darwinists have stifled scientific progress and slowed discovery of function for noncoding DNA.

Despite the bluffs of Darwinists, neo-Darwinism has plenty of scientific weaknesses that are discussed in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Since cellular language implies an author, and microbiological machines imply an engineer, and genetically encoded programs imply a programmer, increasing numbers of scientists feel the solution is intelligent design.

ID proponents are making their case in the mainstream scientific literature, but some Darwinists have sought to stifle the debate by pretending that teaching about ID--or even raising mere scientific challenges to evolution--contravenes the scientific method and brings religion into the classroom.

In 2005, such Darwinists even managed to convince one federal judge to ban ID from a school district and rule that ID is not science. Darwinists today continue to cite this wildly inaccurate and activist judicial ruling as if one federal judge can settle this entire scientific debate.

Unfortunately, the bluffs and authoritarian tactics of Darwinists create a climate of intolerance that leads to discrimination against academics and educators who dissent from neo-Darwinism.

The latest example took place last week when economist, comedian, and Darwin skeptic Ben Stein withdrew from offering the spring commencement address at the University of Vermont because, as the Chronicle of Higher Education put it, "his invitation drew complaints about his views on biological evolution."

The main instigator of complaints against Stein was University of Minnesota Morris biologist P.Z. Myers, who in 2005 demanded "the public firing and humiliation of some teachers" who support ID or doubt Darwinism. This time, Myers incited his blog's followers against Stein, proclaiming that "it's a real slap in the face for the university to drag in this disgrace who has been a figurehead for a movement that is trying to replace science with superstition."

The truth about Stein's withdrawal has leaked out in media interviews where UVM's President Dan Fogel made it clear that ID proponents deserve second-class treatment. Parroting Myers's rhetoric, Fogel was quoted saying, "It's an issue about the appropriateness of awarding an honorary degree to someone whose views in many ways ignore or affront the fundamental values of scientific inquiry."

Fogel's statement is simply a pretext for discriminating against scholars who hold a minority scientific viewpoint. The reality is that Fogel has demonstrated plain old intolerance for academics that support ID.

Like many persecutors, Fogel appears blind to his own prejudices. He thus added, "This is not, to my mind, an issue about academic freedom." But Fogel's actions refute his own words: The very fact that he won't give an honorary degree to a scholar because of that scholar's support for ID demonstrates the lack of academic freedom for ID proponents in the academy.

People who have the evidence on their side don't behave like this. Science and education are suffering because Darwinists are using bluffs about the evidence, fear-mongering about religion, and discrimination against minority viewpoints to stifle the debate over evolution.

Let's drop the pretexts, the intimidation, and the strong-arm tactics, and let freedom once again reign in academia on Feb. 12, 2009.

Casey Luskin is cofounder of the Intelligent Design & Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center and program officer in public policy and legal affairs at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in Earth sciences from the University of California-San Diego and a law degree from the University of San Diego.