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Eighty years ago this month, high school teacher John Scopes was convicted in a stifling Dayton, Tenn., courtroom of teaching students about Darwin’s theory of evolution contrary to state law.
Made famous by the play and film Inherit the Wind, the Scopes trial has become an icon in the continuing battle for free speech and scientific inquiry.
Unfortunately, it’s an icon that has become sorely out of date as the politics of the evolution controversy have changed.
While teachers and scientists used to face attacks for expressing support for evolution, today growing numbers are being punished for expressing skepticism, as Darwinists have assumed the role of persecutor that used to be played by Biblical fundamentalists.
Some of the worst abuse has been directed toward scientists who advocate a new concept known as intelligent design. Intelligent design proposes that some features of the natural world are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather than chance and necessity.
Intelligent design is not creationism. It isn’t even anti-evolution, depending on how one defines “evolution.”
That hasn’t stopped evolutionists from pummeling scientists who are open-minded enough to give intelligent design a fair hearing.
At the Smithsonian Institution, biologist Richard Sternberg, the former editor of a respected biology journal, says he faced discrimination and retaliation after accepting for publication a peer-reviewed article supportive of intelligent design last year.
The same intolerance applies to any scientist who publicly criticizes Darwinism. At the Mississippi University for Women, chemistry professor Nancy Bryson was removed as head of the division of natural sciences in 2003 after presenting scientific criticisms of biological and chemical evolution to a seminar of honors students.
“Students at my college got the message very clearly: Do not ask any questions about Darwinism,” she explained.
Students at other educational institutions are getting the same chilling message.
Rather than defend the scientific merits of evolution, evolutionists have become obsessed with denouncing their opponents as dangerous zealots hell-bent on imposing theocracy.
Defenders of evolution who fear blind zealotry should look in the mirror. The new Darwinian fundamentalists have become just as intolerant as the religious fundamentalists they despise.
Such intolerance is unhealthy for science and a free society.
In the words of John Scopes, “by respecting the other man’s views and by protecting his liberties, we gain respect for our own views and we protect our own liberties.”
Darwin’s current defenders would do well to heed those words.
John G. West is associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute and an associate professor of political science at Seattle Pacific University.