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From the March AD 2005
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

Lysenkoism in Washington, D.C.
Ideological Persecution at the Smithsonian Institute

    Academicians in the West have always boasted of an intellectual climate free of government coercion and ideological bias.  The review of a scholar’s work by his peers is the generally accepted method for maintaining high standards of quality in any academic discipline.  A scholar with a new theory or an innovative explanation of things already known generally commits his ideas to writing in a paper for publication by one of the learned societies of his branch of learning,  The editor of the society’s journal turns the paper over to a few other scholars with credentials and experience in the area of study.  This is called “double blind peer review,” as the author of the paper has no idea who will review it, and the reviewers have no idea who wrote it.  The review is no guarantee that the thesis of the paper is “true,” but it does keep the journal from publishing the obviously false.  Additionally, a responsible journal will published well reasoned letters from its readers who find a paper to contain errors of fact, methodology, or logic.  However, in liberal academia, some ideas are “more equal” than others.

    Steven C. Meyer, the holder of a Cambridge Ph.D. in the philosophy of biology, submitted a paper to the Biological Society of Washington which makes its home at the Smithsonian Institute.  The (now former) managing editor of the Society’s journal, Richard Sternberg, who holds two PhDs in biology, after sending out the paper for peer review and receiving favorable response, published it in the Society’s journal: “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,” in the August 2004 (volume 117, no. 2 p. 213-239) Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. [i]

    The paper, although scholarly, is written in comprehensible English, and will be of interest to readers who don’t mind an occasional dictionary look-up.  Dr. Meyer rather clearly accepts the concept of evolution—he will disappoint fundamentalists who insist that in six days of twenty-four hours God created the world and populated it with all of the species it has ever known.  Meyer seems to accept the idea that the fossil record and the similarity of species point to the evolution of one species from another.  His article presents a survey of the current theories of what guided this evolution, along with comments on the short­comings of each theory.

    Dr. Meyer points to at least two particular difficulties.  He cites, first of all, what scientists call the “Cambrian Explosion”—the emergence of a very large number of species during the relatively limited time of the Cambrian period—five or ten million years is but a brief span, considering that the fossil record seems to indicate that half or more of all the known phyla appeared during that period.  Meyer also suggests that modern Information Theory requires a reconsideration of the idea that random events could cause beneficial mutations in any large numbers.  Information reduces uncertainty—and information is found in complexity and not in randomness.  Biological information is passed from mother cell to daughter cell in a number of ways, none of which is enhanced by randomness—random damage to cell structures or DNA molecules are most likely to be just that: damage producing useless structures or molecules.

    In any event, Meyer’s article does not question the theory of evolution, but only the means by which such evolution may have been guided.  It was subject to and passed the muster of peer review.  Dr. Sternberg, the Journal’s editor, acted accordingly and published it.  But, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2005The Branding of a Heretic: Are religious scientists unwelcome at the Smithsonian?” by David Klinghoffer:[ii]

Mr. Sternberg.... 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.... Says Mr. Sternberg: "I'm spending my time trying to figure out how to salvage a scientific career."

[The article] 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.... "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."

... 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." Neither Mr. Coddington nor Mr. Sues returned repeated phone messages asking for their version of events.

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. The Biological Society of Washington released a vaguely ecclesiastical statement regretting its association with the article. It did not address its arguments but denied its orthodoxy, citing a resolution of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that defined ID as, by its very nature, unscientific.

It may or may not be, but surely the matter can be debated on scientific grounds, responded to with argument instead of invective and stigma. Note the circularity: 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.

Intelligent Design, in any event, is hardly a made-to-order prop for any particular religion. When the British atheist philosopher Antony Flew made news this winter by declaring that he had become a deist--a believer in an unbiblical "god of the philosophers" who takes no notice of our lives--he pointed to the plausibility of ID theory.  Darwinism, by contrast, is an essential ingredient in secularism, that aggressive, quasi-religious faith without a deity. The Sternberg case seems, in many ways, an instance of one religion persecuting a rival, demanding loyalty from anyone who enters one of its churches--like the National Museum of Natural History.

    The scandal at the Smithsonian raises a number of interesting questions.  The most obvious being why the scientists of the prestigious Institute did not address Steven Meyers’ article, refute it, present the current theory of evolution, and explain why it is more believable than Intelligent Design.  Presumably, they did not because they could not, and therefore had to resort to what the late C.S. Lewis called “Bulverism”--judging the truth of an argument based on the perceived motives of the speaker, rather than on objective facts—trying to determine why he is wrong, before determining that he is wrong:

    Refutation is no necessary part of an argument. If you attempt to refute your opponent's position, the dynamics of the world may tack you to the wall.  Simply assume your opponent is wrong, and explain why his ideas are culturally tainted at their source, and his argument deserves no consideration.[iii]

    Perhaps the Evolution crowd recognizes that “the dynamics of the world might tack them to the wall” if they got into an honest discussion of the science issues rather than labeling religious beliefs as “culturally tainted at the source.”

    Next arises the question of why the evolution crowd is so vehement.  Is there something in it for them—or do they hold to secularism and left wing politics with “religious” zeal; and, if so, why?

    The possibility of personal gain is not far fetched.  The globalist agenda, backed by the wealthy and powerful, seeks to significantly cut back the world population—something made much more difficult as long as the lower classes cling to ideas like God and family.  Abortion, euthanasia, and birth control would be much more palatable to humans who thought of themselves as nothing but an accident in the DNA pool shared by all life on earth.  Scientists and others who shape public opinion are (and will be for the foreseeable future) rewarded by global elite—contrarians will be denied any reward, and may, like Dr. Sternberg, be punished.

    Then too, there do seem to be evolutionists who speak with the zeal and conviction we associate with religious belief—you can sometimes see the fire lighting up behind their eyes.  David Klinghoffer’s idea that the Smithsonian Institute might be operating as a church of an established religion might not be far off.

    “Surely, the Führer must not know that such things are happenink or he would....” or in this case the Administration or the Supreme Court:

The Smithsonian Institution was founded ... by a bequest to the United States by James Smithson (1765-1829) ... Congress passed an act establishing the Smithsonian Institution ... "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men".... signed into law on August 10, 1846 by James Polk. The bill was drafted by Indiana Democratic Congressman Robert Dale Owen, a Socialist and son of Robert Owen, the father of the cooperative movement. The Smithsonian Institution is established as a trust administered by a secretary and board of regents. The nominal head of the institute is the Chancellor, an office which has always been held by the current Chief Justice of the United States. Serving as a member of the board of regents is one of the very few official legal duties of the Vice President of the United States.[iv]


[iii]   Thanks to Glen J Dufek for the CS Lewis quote, calling our attention to “Bulverism,” and the Smithsonian scandal (and the Title X expenditures  below).

[iv]  Wikipedia, s.v. “Smithsonian Institution.”


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