Friday, January 28, 2005

Okay- Now my bloomers are aflame

I'm not sure I buy the current Intelligent Design argument as the final explanation for how everything came to be. That doesn't mean I think there was no intelligence present, but I don't know that they've framed or proved it adequately. And certainly, the physically observable processes of adaptation have to be included in any schema that's legitimate.

Yet and still, the fear of even approaching the issue scientifically can make blind naysayers of critical thinkers (see below), and that's a crying shame. If we're going to defend and encourage Harvard president Larry Summers' provocation to study the potential for "innate" differences in aptitude between male and female brains, why would we be afraid to examine Intelligent Design? Even if one suspects a theory is hogwash, as long as one's research is careful and ethical, what better way to refute it than with rigorous examination of facts? Perhaps, through that process, compelling alternatives may even be uncovered.

I've exceprted this article from the WSJ.
BY DAVID KLINGHOFFER Friday, January 28, 2005

The question of whether Intelligent Design (ID) may be presented to public-school students alongside neo-Darwinian evolution has roiled parents and teachers in various communities lately. Whether ID may be presented to adult scientific professionals is another question altogether but also controversial. It 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." Here was trouble.

The piece happened to be the first peer-reviewed article to appear in a technical biology journal laying out the evidential case for Intelligent Design. According to ID theory, certain features of living organisms--such as the miniature machines and complex circuits within cells--are better explained by an unspecified designing intelligence than by an undirected natural process like random mutation and natural selection.

Mr. Sternberg's editorship has since expired, as it was scheduled to anyway, but his future as a researcher is in jeopardy--and that he had not planned on at all. He has been penalized by the museum's Department of Zoology, his religious and political beliefs questioned. He now rests his hope for vindication on his complaint filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that he was subjected to discrimination on the basis of perceived religious beliefs. A museum spokesman confirms that the OSC is investigating. Says Mr. Sternberg: "I'm spending my time trying to figure out how to salvage a scientific career."

The offending review-essay was written by Stephen Meyer, who holds a Cambridge University doctorate in the philosophy of biology. In the article, he cites biologists and paleontologists critical of certain aspects of Darwinism--mainstream scientists at places like the University of Chicago, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford. Mr. Meyer gathers the threads of their comments to make his own case. He points, for example, to the Cambrian explosion 530 million years ago, when between 19 and 34 animal phyla (body plans) sprang into existence. He argues that, relying on only the Darwinian mechanism, there was not enough time for the necessary genetic "information" to be generated. ID, he believes, offers a better explanation.
Whatever the article's ultimate merits--beyond the judgment of a layman--it was indeed subject to peer review, the gold standard of academic science. Not that such review saved Mr. Sternberg from infamy. Soon after the article appeared, Hans Sues--the museum's No. 2 senior scientist--denounced it to colleagues and then sent a widely forwarded e-mail calling it "unscientific garbage."

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."

Worries about being perceived as "religious" spread at the museum. One curator, who generally confirmed the conversation when I spoke to him, told Mr. Sternberg about a gathering where he offered a Jewish prayer for a colleague about to retire. The curator fretted: "So now they're going to think that I'm a religious person, and that's not a good thing at the museum."

Without dispute, there have been times when people of faith, the Catholic Church for example, stood in opposition to scientific questioning, especially when they hadn't figured how to theologically understand the findings. (Send the scholars back to the theology mines, I say- Where's my new, comprehensive scholarship on homosexuality? I don't want retreads, I want a new, openminded looksee and resultant apologetics.) This oppressive stance was a particular problem because the Church was the principal repository and provider of advanced education, and it was their own students who kept getting pesky ideas.

However, since then, minds have cleared and hearts have stilled their panic. Most faiths now consider science to be a laudable vocation. The current Catechism of the Catholic Church says "The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of beings and from the relationships which exist among them. Man discovers them progressively as the laws of nature. They call forth the admiration of scholars. The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man's intellect and will."

For any scientist, surely curiosity and wonder should be prerequisite. And surely that makes any authentic discoveries of our being, world, and universe "wonderful". The secular faith of Science is leaning toward the same mistakes that religion has historically made-refusing to truthfully examine the intricacies and amazements of existence just because the resulting Weltanschauung hasn't caught up.

Seek Truth first, then understanding. Cause then effect. Reversing the order perverts the search.

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