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Atheists Silence the Critics Again

John on May 12, 2007 at 2:33 pm

For philosophical reasons I won’t go into now, I’m something of an intelligent design skeptic. Nevertheless, I’ve met a number of the Discover Institute members and they have uniformly been sharp-minded, thoughtful people. All of them love science and respect it as a “truth-tropic” enterprise. Maybe that personal knowledge of the individuals involved is why I’m so disturbed by the frankly Stalinist tactics being deployed against them.

Evolutionary scientists tend to see Intelligent Design as an unwarranted intrusion by religion into science. It’s science being co-opted by something they see as antithetical to the search for truth. I think I can appreciate some of the frustration felt by people who view it this way. It’s always unsettling to feel one’s fundamental assumptions are under attack.

What many of the most vocal critics fail to appreciate is the view from the other side of the fence. Evolutionary theory has long been co-opted by atheists eager to use it as a blunt instrument against theists, particularly Christians. Within a few years of publishing Origin of the Species, atheist groups and individuals around the world — notably TH Huxley — had latched onto it in exactly this way.

We saw it again with the Scopes trail in the 1920s. The ACLU cooked up a bogus lawsuit designed to act as a cultural wedge. Aided by atheists Clarence Darrow and HL Mencken, that’s exactly what happened. The trial was heavily fictionalized in favor of atheism and became a hit play Inherit the Wind. The play later became a film which was equally distant from the truth.

Atheists and free-thinkers rarely seem to reflect on the cultural success of their own wedge strategy or the fictionalized history which helped them achieve cultural widespread acceptance. The ends in this case apparently justify the means. This is a dangerous pose to strike for any group. And with the advent of intelligent design, elements within the scientific community seem to have taken this “by any means necessary” approach several steps further.

Members of the Smithsonian Institution — the closest thing science has to a national monument — were recently caught behaving like heretic hunters of the 16th century. This sort of behavior puts the lie to the frequent assertion by evolutionary theorists that “if ID had any value there would be a raft of scientific papers supporting it.” In reality, everyone involved knows the score. Submitting an ID favorable paper to a journal is a quick way to end one’s career. Pointing out the lack of ID favorable papers in scientific journals is, unfortunately, a lot like the head of the Communist Party in the former USSR pointing out that Pravda hasn’t registered any complaints about the Party. Well, duh. Again, in this case I tend to side with the metaphorical Ruskies, but that doesn’t make what’s happening any less of a travesty.

Case in point is Guillermo Gonzalez, Ph.D in Astronomy and co-author of The Privileged Planet, a pro-ID book. Gonzalez quickly became the focus of a self-appointed group of heretic hunters at Iowa State University. The grand inquisitor in this case was Hector Avalos of the university’s religious studies faculty. Hector wrote an intemperate and somewhat confused hatchet-job on Gonzalez book when it came out. I pointed out some of its chief failings here. [A year later Dr. Avalos dropped by and left a 3,000 word reply dripping with condescension in the comments. You can read the exchange at the link above.]

Avalos also helped organize a group of 150 ISU and U of I professors to protest intelligent design (read: Gonzalez). Another notable member of that group was Paul Mirecki, the U of I K religion professor who lost is job as department head after his plans to use his position to bash “fundies” was revealed in the media. Mirecki was later beaten — he claimed by mysterious pro-ID thugs — but his plans to sue the university seem to have fallen apart when it became clear he had lied to his own lawyer. [Correction: Mirecki was not a signatory of the petition, though I'm sure the Evil Dr. P was with them in spirit.]

Anyway, as of today, Avalos seems to have succeeded in bullying the university. In an interview with a local paper, Guillermo Gonzalez states that his application for tenure has been denied:

According to ISU’s policy on promotion and tenure, evaluation is based “primarily on evidence of scholarship in the faculty member’s teaching, research/creative activities, and/or extension/professional practice.”

In addition to that criteria, Gonzalez’s department of astronomy and physics sets a benchmark for tenure candidates to author at least 15 peer-reviewed journal articles of quality. Gonzalez said he submitted 68, of which 25 have been written since he arrived at ISU in 2001.

“I believe that I fully met the requirements for tenure at ISU,” he said.

Gonzalez said he would rather not comment on why he believes he was denied tenure.

He doesn’t need to comment. I think we all know exactly what’s happening here.

Any scientist who thinks this type of behavior is helping their cause with the public is an idiot. All this does is suggest that science can’t compete on a level playing field. This might work in the short run but in the long term bullies like Hector Avalos are a liability to science.

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