One of the weapons used by the Wedge activists is the Scientific Dissent from Darwin list. They use this to promote the idea there is a controversy about evolutionary theory within the scientific community. The idea that a significant number of scientists actually oppose the modern understanding of evolution and support “intelligent design” (ID) theory as an alternative. They then go on to demand introduction of ID into science classrooms under the slogan “teach the controversy.”
Only a small number of professionals have been prepared to support the Discovery Institute’s statement (see Dissenters from Darwinism in context). However, the understanding and motives of those who have is interesting.
- Are they genuinely concerned about modern evolutionary theory?
- Do they support ID as an alternative?
- Do they even understand modern evolutionary theory?
- What is their areas of scientific expertise?
- Is their motivation primarily religious?
- Or have they been duped – signing up to support the relatively innocuous statement only to find out later the real way the list is being used?
Professional expertise of dissenters
There have been several attempts to determine motivation of the signatories. John M. Lynch, who is an evolutionary biologist and an historian of biology at Arizona State University, has made a preliminary analysis in his post Dissenting from Darwinism.
He found that only about 2% of the signatories may have had any training in evolutionary biology. The fields of expertise most highly represented on the list are chemistry (19%) engineering (14%) and physics (13%). He comments: “At the risk of being a broken record, I’ll say this again: I don’t care what chemists, physicists, engineers etc have to say about evolution, and neither should you. They have no expertise in the field (and I have none in theirs).”
The professional training of almost all the signatories suggests that their motivation is not concern about any major problems with evolutionary theory.
It’s inevitable the question of religious motivation should be raised given the subject. As the list comes under closer scrutiny the religious links of individual signatories will be discussed. This does not imply dishonesty or secrecy on the part of the signatories. It’s just extra information (beyond professional qualifications) which gives an insight into their motives for signing the statement.
At this stage some indication of motivations are indicated by analysis of subsets of the list of dissenters
Roger Stanyard at the British Centre for Science Education analysed the 34 UK members on the list. His results indicate that many of the 34 are active in religious creationist movements and at least 11 of them a Young Earth Creationists.
Analysis of the Steves
Because of Project Steve I chose the eight signatories with the given name Steve (or its variants) for a brief internet search of background information. As a result I believe that all except one were probably motivated by their religious attitudes. (Dr Sewell, a Family Practice Physician in Belton, Texas, only other internet presence appears to be his medical practice). Here are results for the other Steves:
Stephan J. G. Gift is well known in Trinidad as an outspoken creationist, an opponent of Big Bang cosmology and his claim to have proved Einstein wrong (he is opposed to relativity). His letters to newspapers indicate his Christian beliefs.
Stephen Crouse describes his strong Christian beliefs on his Leadership University personal pages. (Leadership University is not a university – it describes itself as ‘a “one-stop shopping superstore” in the marketplace of ideas’ and is sponsored by the Christian Leadership Ministries, part of the Campus Crusade for Christ International). Crouse was also active in a creationist campaign about the teaching of evolution aimed at the Texas Education State Board of Education
Stephen J. Cheesman is described by the Young Cosmos creationist blog as a “brother” and “special comrade.” He has been editor of “Gate and Wheel” a newsletter of the Koinonia Ministry “a Christian fellowship that believes God is relevant on our college campus today.”
Stephen Lloyd has written for Origins, journal of the Biblical Creation Society, (see ‘God of the Gaps': A Valid Objection?) and the Evangelical Alliance (see Creation and Evolution – ‘Designed to be significant’ ).
Stephen Meyer is one of the original fellows, and is currently the director of, the Centre for the Renewal of Science and Culture which is part of the Discovery Institute and the main Wedge organisation. His religious beliefs are evident from his writings. He believes that scientific evidence supports such belief and that “theism explains a wide ensemble of metaphysically-significant evidences more adequately and comprehensively than other major worldviews” (see The Return of the God Hypothesis).
Steve Maxwell’s Christian views can be inferred from his activity with the Christian Heritage Home Schoolers. Despite his specialisation in molecular and cellular medicine he has been prepared to argue his ID views on the Pharyngula blog.
Steven Gollmer operates Origins webpages from his Cedarville University personal page. Here he declares “Our approach to science and origins is based on the presupposition that our highest and ultimate authority is the unchanging Word of God.” Gollmer was also active in creationist attempts to impose lesson plans on the Ohio State Board of Education.
New Zealand connection
There are currently only three New Zealand signatories to the Scientific Dissent from Darwin list. They are:
Neil Broom is well known as an ID activist and there is no doubt of his Christian beliefs. He is author of the book How Blind Is the Watchmaker?: Nature’s Design & the Limits of Naturalistic Science. The father of ID, Phillip Johnson, gave the book a glowing review describing it as “in the tradition of my own Darwin on Trial and Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box.” (Reviews on the Amazon site are far less complimentary). Broom is a fellow of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID) a web site formed by William Dembski which presents itself as an ID “think tank.”
Ian C. Fuller is an elder of, and preaches in, the Grace Reformed Baptist Fellowship and was active in attempts to teach creationism in schools in the UK. He is described in the Christian Apologetics Forum as a Young Earth Creationist and has written for Origins, journal of the Biblical Creation Society (Geochronology in the light and Science of Earth’s Birth not set in stone).
Bridget Ingham has a religious perspective on science as indicated in a letter to the Pittsburgh Tribune review. She claims: “Science and faith are not mutually exclusive. Faith in the Judeo-Christian God and the Bible stand up to true scientific scrutiny. There is no conflict between the observable physics of our universe — at the microcosm or macrocosm — and what is written in the Scriptures.” And: “Of all the many theories regarding the origin of the universe and the origin of life, none can be absolutely proven because there were no observers and the “experiment” cannot be repeated.”
So what are the motives
I think that the motives for Scientific Dissent from Darwin signatories are religious in the vast majority of cases. Very few have the training to come to their position purely on scientific ground. Almost all the signatories looked at have strong religious views.
I am a little surprised that there is not more evidence of signatories with purely scientific motives – after all the statement itself is quite innocuous. Many, if not, most supporters of modern evolutionary theory would have little trouble supported the sentiments implied by it (see Dissenters from Darwinism in context). However, the lack of such support suggests that people are aware of the way the statement is being used – to discredit modern evolutionary knowledge and to undermine science itself.
Dissenters from Darwinism in context
Religious opposition to “intelligent design”
Intelligent design and the threat to Christianity
Intelligent design and scientific method
Bringing the supernatural into science
Intelligent design – a war on science
New Zealand supports evolution
Intelligent design at the shopping mall
Intelligent design attacks on Christianity
Isaac Newton and intelligent design
Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge?
Intelligent design/creationism II: Is it scientific?
Intelligent design/creationism III: The religious agenda
Intelligent design/creationism IV: The religion – science conflict
Intelligent design/creationism: Postscript
Should we teach creationism?