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The Persecution of Richard Sternberg

by Amnon Goldberg, February 2005 commenting on the article "Persecution in the name of science" from the Orthodox Jewish newspaper "Yated Ne'eman(A text version is appended for convenience.)

 

The handling of Richard Sternberg by the scientific establishment has been mild compared to some of his predecessors.

There exists an academic and media mafiosi which attempts to discourage, suppress, ostracise, threaten, and demote individuals who even start to show an interest in "heterodox ideas."

Organised pressure groups, chicanery, sharp practice, and jealous histrionics abound in the "altruistic" Scientific Establishment, all geared to prevent and discredit any research and experimentation that threatens the establishment "status quo" or is against "informed opinion", especially in the area of today's three "sacred cows" of Evolution, Relativity and Heliocentricity.

Any doubters or nay-sayers are lambasted with epithets like "dupe", "heresy", "shameful", "disgraceful", "pseudo-scientific fanaticism", "fog of nonsense", "red herrings", "shallow", "starry-eyed fundamentalism", "extreme", "lack of balance, "dogmatic", "bigoted", "hysterical", "far fetched", "ignorant", "of no help to anyone", "height of presumption."

When even President Reagan in 1984 dared to express his doubts in the theory of evolution, public questions were raised as to his sanity!

Researchers like Immanuel Velikovsky (catastrophist), Halton Arp (anti-Big Bang), Stefan Marinov (anti-Relativist), Pons and Fleischmann (cold fusion), Robert Gentry (pleochroic haloes), Richard Milton (anti-evolution), Barry Setterfield (decrease in speed of light), Eric Braithwate (free energy), Walter van der Kamp (geocentrist) etc., have been shown to have strong cases, or even to be substantially correct. Yet they were all initially greeted with epithets like "stupid", "drivel", "loony", "harmless fruitcake", "in need of psychiatric help" etc., and conspiratorial attempts at the highest levels were made to silence them, ban their publications, restrict their access to laboratories, deny them telescope time etc. in blatant disrespect of the pursuit of novel human knowledge.

Persecution in the Name of Science - Intelligent Design and Unreasoning Prejudice

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The science establishment has banned and blacklisted a respected scientist merely because he allowed an article about Intelligent Design to be printed in a journal that he edited, and even though the article was peer-reviewed.

Dr. Richard Sternberg, a research associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, was until recently the managing editor of a nominally independent journal that is published at the museum, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. The August issue included an article entitled, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories," which is now the first peer- reviewed article to appear in a technical biology journal laying out the scientific case for Intelligent Design (ID).

ID has been trying to set itself up to be taught as a scientifically respectable alternative to evolution. ID theory stresses that certain features of living organisms - such as the eye which seems to require a large number of interlocking systems in order to be useful and cannot easily be seen as possible to build up in any series of incremental steps - are much better explained, even in scientific discourse, by a designing intelligence than by an undirected process like random mutation and natural selection.

One of the first popular works that advocated ID was Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson, a Berkeley law professor who is an evangelical Christian. One of the main criticisms is of what Johnson calls "methodological naturalism."

Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, explains, "Is it the obligation of the scientist to come up with a materialist explanation of phenomena, choosing among an artificially limited set of options, or to come up with just the best explanation?"

ID argues that the simplest and best explanation of several important phenomena is that the world reflects the design of a conscious, rational intelligence. But ID has nothing to say about the identity of the designer and how he does his work. Meyer's view is simply: "We don't know."

Writing recently in the New York Times, Michael J. Behe, a professor of biological sciences at Lehigh University, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute and one of the first to write a book arguing for ID, wrote, "Intelligent design proponents do question whether random mutation and natural selection completely explain the deep structure of life. But they do not doubt that evolution occurred. And intelligent design itself says nothing about the religious concept of a creator.

"The contemporary argument for intelligent design is based on physical evidence and a straightforward application of logic. The argument for it consists of four linked claims. The first claim is uncontroversial: we can often recognize the effects of design in nature. For example, unintelligent physical forces like plate tectonics and erosion seem quite sufficient to account for the origin of the Rocky Mountains. Yet they are not enough to explain Mount Rushmore.

." . . the second claim of the intelligent design argument: the physical marks of design are visible in aspects of biology. This is uncontroversial, too. The 18th-century clergyman William Paley likened living things to a watch, arguing that the workings of both point to intelligent design. Modern Darwinists disagree with Paley that the perceived design is real, but they do agree that life overwhelms us with the appearance of design.

"The next claim in the argument for design is that we have no good explanation for the foundation of life that doesn't involve intelligence. Here is where thoughtful people part company. Darwinists assert that their theory can explain the appearance of design in life as the result of random mutation and natural selection . . . Some scientists, however, think the Darwinists' confidence is unjustified. They note that although natural selection can explain some aspects of biology, there are no research studies indicating that Darwinian processes can make molecular machines of the complexity we find in the cell.

"The fourth claim in the design argument is also controversial: in the absence of any convincing non-design explanation, we are justified in thinking that real intelligent design was involved in life. To evaluate this claim, it's important to keep in mind that it is the profound appearance of design in life that everyone is laboring to explain, not the appearance of natural selection or the appearance of self-organization.

"The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck. Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious."

The Discovery Institute has published a statement entitled "Scientific Dissent From Darwinism," but so far only about 350 scientists have signed on. The reason may be at least in part the experience of Dr. Sternberg.

Dr. Sternberg's future as a researcher is in doubt because of what was published under his watch, even though the article passed peer review and even though he is not a proponent of ID. According to a recent article by David Klinghoffer in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Sternberg has been penalized by the museum's Department of Zoology, and his religious and political beliefs questioned.

The offending essay was written by the same Stephen Meyer quoted above, who holds a Cambridge University doctorate in the philosophy of biology. Meyer cites biologists and paleontologists critical of certain aspects of Darwinism - mainstream scientists at places like the University of Chicago, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford.

According to standard evolutionary theory, at a certain time and in a very short period, between 19 and 34 animal phyla (body structures) sprang into existence. Meyer argues that the Darwinian mechanism does not have enough time for it to generate the necessary genetic "information" in the time frame in which this was supposed to have happened. ID, he believes, offers a better explanation.

The article was submitted for the normal peer review, and it passed. So Dr. Sternberg put it in.

Soon after the article appeared, Hans Sues - the museum's number two senior scientist denounced it to colleagues and then sent a widely forwarded email calling it "unscientific garbage."

Other groups, including the publisher, disassociated themselves from the article, saying that it should not have appeared.

ID has struggled to achieve respectability. 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 put in because it's unscientific.

The chairman of the Zoology Department at the Museum, Jonathan Coddington, called Dr. Sternberg's supervisor soon after the article appeared. According to a complaint that Dr. Sternberg filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC): "First, he asked [the supervisor] 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 later told Dr. Sternberg about the conversation.

In October, Dr. Coddington told Dr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the entire area, thus denying him access to materials he needs for his research. Dr. 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 Dr. Coddington, according to the complaint. "Yes, you are being singled out."

Klinghoffer tried to contact Dr. Coddington and Dr. Sues, but they did not return his repeated calls for comment.

Dr. 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 old office sits empty. Old colleagues at other institutions now refuse to work with him on publication projects.

According to the OSC complaint, one museum specialist chided Dr. Sternberg, saying: "I think you are a religiously motivated person and you have dragged down the Proceedings because of your religiously motivated agenda." Definitely not, Dr. Sternberg told Klinghoffer. 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."

Dr. Sternberg now rests his hope for vindication on a complaint he filed with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) of discrimination on the basis of perceived religious beliefs. A museum spokesman confirmed that the OSC is investigating.