January 29, 2005

The Origin and Spite of the Word-Using Species

Rev. Donald Sensing at One Hand Clapping points to a paper regarding "Intelligent Design," and does not buy in:Failure to explain the origin of species through natural causes exclusively does not mean that the cause is supernatural.

That's certainly correct as far as it goes. I'm not at all clear about "Intelligent Design," but I'm not sure that it requires that the cause be "supernatural." I understand that the proponents of ID assume or would prefer if the cause were supernatural, but I remain agnostic on that issue. It could be the workings of the hand of God, or it could be something as yet supraliminal to beings with the current set of firmware and wetware that we possess.

On the third hand, perhaps it is all the manifestation of Supralapsarianism.

Or perhaps, on the one-hand-clapping, it is all something that is not given us to know no matter how proud a word-using species we are.

UPDATE: Which would be a nice little word game if the issues underneath it did not have dire consequences for real people. In this case, the destruction of a career by the Smithsonian institution.

As reported in an article in the Wall Street Journal -- The Branding of a Heretic: Are religious scientists unwelcome at the Smithsonian? by David Klinghoffer -- hell hath no fury like a Darwinist scorned. Only this fury is reserved not for for Steve Meyer the author of The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories, but for the editor who had the temerity to publish it.

Klinghoffer writes:

Whether ID may be presented to adult scientific professionals is .... now roiling the government-supported Smithsonian Institution, where one scientist has had his career all but ruined over it.

The scientist is Richard Sternberg, a research associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington. The holder of two Ph.D.s in biology, Mr. Sternberg was until recently the managing editor of a nominally independent journal published at the museum, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, where he exercised final editorial authority. The August issue included typical articles on taxonomical topics--e.g., on a new species of hermit crab. It also included an atypical article, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories."

Sternberg's editorship was due to lapse, but that was the least of his troubles. What followed is best termed a "witch-hunt," with all the 17th century elements short of burning at the stake for having a hand in heresy.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Zoology Department, Jonathan Coddington, called Mr. Sternberg's supervisor. According to Mr. Sternberg's OSC complaint: "First, he asked whether Sternberg was a religious fundamentalist. She told him no. Coddington then asked if Sternberg was affiliated with or belonged to any religious organization. . . . He then asked where Sternberg stood politically; . . . he asked, 'Is he a right-winger? What is his political affiliation?' " The supervisor (who did not return my phone messages) recounted the conversation to Mr. Sternberg, who also quotes her observing: "There are Christians here, but they keep their heads down."
And the subtext to Christians in the Sternberg case might well be, "Keep your heads down or have them chopped off."
Mr. Coddington told Mr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the departmental floor, thus denying him access to the specimen collections he needs. Mr. Sternberg was also assigned to the close oversight of a curator with whom he had professional disagreements unrelated to evolution. "I'm going to be straightforward with you," said Mr. Coddington, according to the complaint. "Yes, you are being singled out."
But singled out for what? For receiving a paper, following the peer-review procedure, and then publishing it? To go to the oft-used example: Suppose an editor at a major New York publisher found, had reviewed, purchased and published a novel that, say, advocated the assassination of George W. Bush, and was then fired for doing so. Should we assume that everyone in the media would give a quiet, tacit assent to that and shun the editor? That seems to be what is going on among the brave scientists at the Smithsonian.
Mr. Sternberg begged a friendly curator for alternative research space, and he still works at the museum. But many colleagues now ignore him when he greets them in the hall, and his office sits empty as "unclaimed space." Old colleagues at other institutions now refuse to work with him on publication projects, citing the Meyer episode.
It is clear that the publication of this single paper has afflicted Mr. Sternberg with a severe case of Creationist Leprosy. It is an odd science indeed that cannot brook the least dissent, but that would seem to be the case with contemporary Dawinism which has to declare the heretics or even the messenger to be "Unclean!" Were this all not so serious and tragic, it would be a Monty Python scene where the Darwinists of the Smithsonian trolled the hallways dragging plague carts and shouting "Bring out your Independent Designers and Christians!"

One the one hand, the argument for Darwinism is constantly proclaimed to be rock-solid, and perhaps it is. On the other hand, we can observe the constant moving of the goalposts by those who support the theory.

Critics of ID have long argued that the theory was unscientific because it had not been put forward in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Now that it has, they argue that it shouldn't have been because it's unscientific. They banish certain ideas from certain venues as if by holy writ, and brand heretics too. In any case, the heretic here is Mr. Meyer, a fellow at Seattle's Discovery Institute, not Mr. Sternberg, who isn't himself an advocate of Intelligent Design.
It is said that if you look at something long enough, you become what you behold. Regardless of Darwinism's merits or ultimate truth, this particular stage of its evolution brings it little credit and no small echoes of a kind of intellectual inquisition.
According to the OSC complaint, one museum specialist chided him by saying: "I think you are a religiously motivated person and you have dragged down the Proceedings because of your religiously motivated agenda." Definitely not, says Mr. Sternberg. He is a Catholic who attends Mass but notes: "I would call myself a believer with a lot of questions, about everything. I'm in the postmodern predicament."
Yes, a postmodern predicament in which one's beliefs, opinions, and work can cause you to lose your job, your position, and your friends. It all sounds drearily familiar, doesn't it?

Then again, doing the right thing and remaining true to yourself is one of the few things in life worth losing job, position, and friends for. When it happens it only reveals the shallowness, hypocrisy, and falsity of them all; that none of them were really yours to begin with. After a time, you'll discover that you have, to coin a phrase, "evolved beyond them."

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Posted by Vanderleun at January 29, 2005 8:16 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Should this not be a chapter in Science Made Stupid?

Posted by: Hugh Smith at January 29, 2005 1:33 PM

Those entrenched in academe, are less likely to
be teachers with time and tenure. Sad that.

Posted by: Steel Turman at January 29, 2005 5:47 PM

I don't have a lot of time for creationist philosophers, but I am allowed to question them about any and all aspects of their beliefs. Evolutionists are a different matter. To question them is to attract accusations of cultism and bigotry. Yet I continue to ask why the atmosphere that creates amino acids when sparks are passed through it is not representative of the early Earth. I also ask why there is no evidence of simple forms of DNA in the record, only complex forms developed complete without apparent ancestry. I also ask why there is fossil record of complex bacteria trapped in sediment, subsequently metamorphosized, only a few hundred million years from the planet's formation. These and other similar questions are those that the open minded should ask not seeking to bolster a competing philosophy but rather to promote deeper thought on the origins of life on this planet and the Universe at large. In some quarters it seems that such questions are not welcome.

Austin, TX.

Posted by: Picti at January 29, 2005 8:40 PM
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