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Unraveling The Threads of Darwinist Paranoia

For years philosopher Barbara Forrest and biologist Paul Gross have been warning anyone who will listen about what they regard as a sinister conspiracy by proponents of intelligent design theory to abolish civil liberties, unify church and state, and “replace the scientific method with belief in God.” Their book Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design represents a culmination of their crusade. Denouncing the motives of intelligent design proponents as nothing short of nefarious, the book calls on “people of good will toward science” to rise up and stop this “threat… not only to education but to the principle of separation of church and state.”

It is sad that Forrest and Gross feel so insecure about the status of Darwinism that they must resort to histrionics to make their point. Rather than defending the cause of good science, their fear-mongering undercuts the spirit of free inquiry and rational debate on which scientific progress ultimately depends.

Forrest and Gross’s preposterous charge that intelligent design supporters are conspiring against civil liberties and the separation of church is the product of their own fevered imaginations. No legitimate proponent of intelligent design opposes the separation of church and state, least of all Discovery Institute, a secular think tank whose various officers and fellows represent an eclectic range of religious views, from Jewish to Roman Catholic to Presbyterian to agnostic-hardly a fundamentalist cabal. Ironically, one of the authors of this article has written a book highlighting the benefits of disesetablishment and religious freedom in America’s constitutional system. The title of that book (The Politics of Revelation and Reason) makes a cameo appearance in Forrest and Gross’s tome, but they imply (wrongly) that the book argues for unifying church and state. Apparently they did not even read the book before enlisting it as proof for their conspiracy theory.

Forrest and Gross spend much of their book tracing in mind-numbing detail the supposed religious beliefs and affiliations of various supporters of intelligent design, as if holding religious beliefs is a kind of thought crime. Forrest and Gross appear to believe that if intelligent design scholars have religious beliefs, then their writings are tainted and should be dismissed. But scholars should be evaluated on the quality of their evidence and arguments, not their motives. Forrest herself serves on the board of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, which describes itself as “an affiliate of American Atheists, and [a] member of the Atheist Alliance International.” Applying Gross and Forrest’s own motivation standard to themselves, does this mean that their book should be dismissed because it is tainted by Forrest’s militant secularism?

We hope not, for Forrest and Gross deserve to be refuted on the demerits of their arguments, not on speculations about their motives. But why can’t they extend the same rational courtesy to scholars supportive of intelligent design?

Other than their attack on motives, Gross and Forrest’s main complaint seems to be that proponents of intelligent design don’t produce genuine scholarship, especially in peer-reviewed publications. That complaint is baseless too. Biochemist Michael Behe has defended his theory of irreducible complexity in peer-reviewed journals, and his recent peer-reviewed article in Protein Science, co-written with physicist David W. Snoke, makes a case against a key pillar of Neo-Darwinism. Stephen Meyer recently published a peer-reviewed article discussing intelligent design as an explanation for the Cambrian Explosion of animal life in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Then there are peer-reviewed academic books like The Design Inference (Cambridge University Press) and Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (Michigan State University Press), as well as peer-edited volumes such as Debating Design (also Cambridge University Press).

Fortunately, many in the academic community are turning out to be more open-minded about the debate over intelligent design than Forrest and Gross. They want to make up their own minds about the evidence without having self-appointed thought-police shut down the scientific discussion before it starts.

Nonetheless, Forrest and Gross are likely to find support among those Darwinists who would like to disqualify articles supportive of intelligent design on a priori grounds. The editorial board of one science journal, for example, rejected a submission by Michael Behe with the following explanation: “As you no doubt know, our journal has supported and demonstrated a strong evolutionary position from the very beginning, and believes that evolutionary explanations of all structures and phenomena of life are possible and inevitable.” Evolutionary explanations for “all structures and phenomena of life” are “inevitable”? Is this an empirical statement or a statement of faith?

More recently, evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg has found out just how close-minded the Darwinist thought-police can be. Editor of the biology journal that published Stephen Meyer’s article on intelligent design, Sternberg has been vilified by Darwinist activists for having had the temerity to allow Meyer’s article to undergo peer-review in the first place. Darwinists who previously chided intelligent design theorists for not submitting to peer-review now reversed course and argued that peer-review wasn’t enough and that Sternberg should have rejected Meyer’s article even though it had been approved through the standard peer-review process by three qualified reviewers.

Forrest and Gross undoubtedly want people to believe that all genuine scientists embrace Darwinism, so the theory should no longer be open for serious debate. Never mind that even some prominent evolutionists now voice doubts about key aspects of Neo-Darwinism. Even apart from these dissenting voices within evolutionary theory, Gross and Forrest’s wish is fallacious for a more basic reason: Debate and critical scrutiny are enshrined at the heart of science. The day a scientific theory becomes immune to serious debate is the day the theory sheds the status of science and takes on the rank of dogma.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Associate Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Associate Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

Jonathan Witt

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, Ph.D., is a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.