The heavy hand of Darwinist orthodoxy

Scientists who doubt Darwinian evolutionary theory face institutional discrimination.

February 12, 2007 23:52
4 minute read.

darwin 88. (photo credit: )

The specter of academic discrimination against an unpopular minority should have a special resonance in the Jewish community. Or so you would think. Between World War I and the end of World War II, Jews in the United States lived through a period of anti-Semitism notable for its impact on academia. According to Leonard Dinnerstein in his comprehensive history Anti-Semitism in America, the number of Jewish professors nationwide hovered around 100. Partly, this discrimination was driven by fears that Jews, widely associated with "internationalism" and "Bolshevism," would corrupt gentile students, subverting their Christian beliefs and Anglo-Saxon values. Those times are long past - for Jews. But another controversial minority is having a rough time of it in today's academic world. It's not an ethnic or religious minority but an intellectual one. I refer to those beleaguered scientists, affiliated with certain universities and research institutions, who doubt Darwinian evolutionary theory. Consider the case of Smithsonian Institution researcher Richard Sternberg. An evolutionary biologist holding two PhDs (in molecular evolution and theoretical biology), Sternberg committed the offense of publishing, in a Smithsonian-affiliated technical biology journal, an essay advocating intelligent design. He was merely the editor of the essay. The author, Dr. Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, questioned the sufficiency of Darwinian natural selection to produce the genetic information necessary to build new forms of life. He further suggested that the digital information in the cell (the equivalent of software) pointed to a designing intelligence. Though Sternberg's position at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) was unsalaried, his supervisors were clear in their internal email traffic that he must be made to pay for his departure from Darwinist orthodoxy, pressuring him to resign through a campaign of harassment. I broke the story two years ago in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, and was severely attacked for it by Darwinists. However in a new report by a Congressional committee, not only is my original reporting vindicated but many additional disturbing details have been added. The emails are now part of the public record, revealed in the report from the US House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform. The committee's staff investigation demonstrates that "Sternberg's civil and constitutional rights were violated": "In emails exchanged during August and September 2004, NMNH officials revealed their intent to use their government jobs to discriminate against scientists based on their outside activities regarding evolution…. "Given the attitudes expressed in these emails, scientists who are known to be skeptical of Darwinian theory, whatever their qualifications or research record, cannot expect to receive equal treatment or consideration by NMNH officials." At one point, Sternberg's supervisor, zoology chairman Jonathan Coddington, stooped to questioning another supervisor about whether "Dr. Sternberg was religious," "was a Republican," or "was a conservative." Dr. Hans Sues, an associate director at the museum, asked a private Darwin-advocacy group, the National Center for Science Education, to keep an eye on Sternberg and "let me [know] about further activities by this gentleman." He wanted to be informed of any incriminating information. JUST AS a Jewish scholar during the 1920s through 1940s should have been considered for employment without prejudice based on fears about his potential Judaic or Bolshevik beliefs, surely a serious scientist deserves to be protected from abuse engendered by his merely publishing controversial ideas. The problem, regrettably, extends well beyond Sternberg. When a National Public Radio reporter spoke to Darwin-doubting scientists in the wake of the Sternberg affair, a professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia declined to be interviewed because that would be "the kiss of death" to any hopes of obtaining tenure. At the University of Idaho, President Timothy P. White has taken the step of formally forbidding his science faculty from telling students about alternative views of evolution in the biophysical sciences. Darwinists like to claim that only their understanding of evolution deserves to be called science. If so, why is it necessary for a college president to forbid scientists from teaching as they see fit? Indeed, the Discovery Institute maintains a list of almost 700 Darwin-doubting professional scientists. The Idaho and Smithsonian cases, like others at Ohio State, Iowa State, and the University of Kansas, are disturbing because they involve public institutions, which presumably answer to the public. But private colleges are just as discriminatory. At Cornell University, President Hunter Rawlings denounced Darwin-doubters. He acknowledged that according to a survey many of his students have views similar to those in intelligent-design theory, but announced that such critiques of Darwin could have no place in his science classrooms. You have to wonder about a theory, like Darwinism, so brittle that its teaching has to be mandated from above. The report from the Congressional committee, prepared under Indiana's Rep. Mark Souder, concludes with a call for legal reform: "Congress should consider statutory language that would protect the free speech rights regarding evolution of scientists at all federally-funded institutions." Is it too much to hope that the Jewish community would join me in concluding that we have reached a point where, when it comes to freedom of thought and research, not only Jews deserve protection? The writer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a columnist for the Forward, and the author of Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History.

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