No, Your Honor

Evolutionists Shouldn't Attack Scientists

Eighty years ago on July 21, 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Unfortunately, it’s an icon that has become sorely out-of-date as the politics of the evolution controversy have changed.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 theory known as intelligent design. Intelligent design proposes that some features of the natural world — because of their highly ordered complexity — 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 George Mason University in Virginia, biology professor Caroline Crocker was banned recently from teaching about intelligent design in her classes.

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. Sternberg’s case is under investigation by the federal government.

The same intolerance applies to any scientist who publicly criticizes Darwinism. At the Mississippi University for Woman, chemistry professor Nancy Bryson was removed as head of the division of natural sciences in 2003 after merely 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 later.

Students at other educational institutions are getting the same chilling message.

Recently, The Ohio State University doctoral candidate Bryan Leonard had his dissertation defense placed on hold after three pro-Darwin professors filed a bogus complaint attacking Leonard’s dissertation research as “unethical human subject experimentation.”

Leonard’s dissertation project looked at how student beliefs changed after students were taught scientific evidence for and against modern evolutionary theory. The complaining professors admitted that they had not actually read Leonard’s dissertation. But they were sure it must be unethical. Why? According to the professors, there is no valid evidence against evolutionary theory. Thus — by definition — Leonard’s research must be tantamount to child abuse.

These politically correct efforts to cleanse the educational system of any critics of Darwin are fueled by increasingly toxic rhetoric on the part of evolutionists.

Rather than defend the scientific merits of evolution, evolutionists have become obsessed with denouncing their opponents as dangerous zealots bent on imposing theocracy. In many states, it has become routine to apply the label of “Taliban” to anyone who supports teaching students about scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory.

Biology professor P.Z. Myers at the University of Minnesota has even demanded the public firing and humiliation of some teachers who express doubts about Darwin.

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 it’s unhealthy for a free society.

Defenders of evolution used to understand that free speech was good for everyone.

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

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing 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.