Inside Higher Ed on creo/ID volume

Those following the controversy about the ID/creationist volume that was scheduled for publication by Springer that is being further peer-reviewed by Springer should make sure to check out the piece by reporter Kaustuv Basu at Inside Higher Ed. (See previously: PT post #1, PT post #2.)

Here, we get the first reactions from the creationists involved with the project:

This week’s furor broke along predictable lines, with the editors of the book criticizing the attitude of the supporters of evolution. John Sanford, one of five editors of the book and a courtesy associate professor at Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture, said in an e-mail that he was amazed that anyone could think that the “Darwin Dissidents” were trying to take over academe.

“Obviously we are only trying to exercise academic freedom and freedom of speech, and are challenging a sacred cow,” he wrote. “Where are the academics who profess tolerance and open dialog? Where are the academics who would confront ‘hate speech’ on their own campus?”

There is apparently a lot of confusion about what “free speech” means in the creationist community. Just this week I experienced this with Casey Luskin. I recently emailed him to express my worry that he might have trouble sleeping at night, after he abandoned his oft-stated claims to be environmentalist and pro-science when he wrote this post: “A Friendly Letter to the Heartland Institute and Other Advocates of Free Speech on Global Warming”. The post gave all kinds of love to the global-warming deniers, and didn’t bother to raise a single finger of criticism for the deniers’ numerous shenanigans, even though Luskin agrees with the mainstream that global warming is happening and humans are causing it. Luskin replied that he was just defending freedom of speech, to which I replied:

I think you should repeat after me:

“The right to free speech does not mean that the government, the schools, or any particular private institution or publisher are required to promote my views. Nor does criticism or rejection of my views amount to a violation of free speech.”

“The right to free speech does not mean that the government, the schools, or any particular private institution or publisher are required to promote my views. Nor does criticism or rejection of my views amount to a violation of free speech.”

“The right to free speech does not mean that the government, the schools, or any particular private institution or publisher are required to promote my views. Nor does criticism or rejection of my views amount to a violation of free speech.”

If the government imprisons you or bans your book, that’s a violation of free speech. The government, schools, museums, publishers, etc. making decisions about what is good science and what is not, and deciding that your view is not and is unworthy of promotion with their dime and their time, is *not* a violation of free speech. It’s a simple *requirement* of these institutions successfully functioning in the modern age.

It’s very simple, I’m surprised a lawyer like you doesn’t know this.

And as for Sanford’s talk about “tolerance and open dialog”, this can’t be the only guiding value, or else we’d have to demand that peer-reviewed science publishers publish Bigfoot, anti-vaxers, HIV deniers, UFOology, and a hundred other forms of crankery. The *whole point* of peer-review is *to exercise critical judgment*. This is entirely meaningless if any criticism or rejection is taken to be censorship. Everyone involved here has freedom of speech – the creationists, the publisher (which decides what and what not to publish, every day, all the time), the reporters, the other scientists who edit and publish for Springer and who have a state in its credibility, us bloggers commenting on the topic, etc. Freedom of speech does not belong only to the creationists.

Speaking of freedom of speech, perhaps there wasn’t room in Basu’s short piece, but describing Sanford as “a courtesy associate professor at Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture” doesn’t quite cover everything one might say. Here is some more relevant information:

Source: “Down - Not Up.” Lecture by John Sanford at Loma Linda University. Date uncertain, sometime between June 2011 and the upload date, Feb 20, 2012. Loma Linda, if you didn’t know, is a Seventh-Day Adventist institution, and the Seventh-Day Adventists are one of the theological strongholds of young-earth creationism in the U.S., although this effect may decay with distance from Loma Linda, as Wes and I once discovered.


  1. Sanford discusses the Cornell meeting at 30:20.

  2. Cute elephant graphic at 31:40. The elephant is what the different creationist scientists are “discovering”. The elephant backbone is molecular biology saying that evolution doesn’t work. The elephant’s legs represent thermodynamics saying that evolution doesn’t work. Etc.

  3. The infamous creationist 2nd Law of Thermodynamics argument is made throughout, without any mention of the standard criticisms, as far as I can tell (I didn’t have time to watch the whole thing.)

  4. Don’t miss the nice scientific chart at 11:30:


About this graph, Sanford says:

“This particular graph is one of the strongest, as a scientist, one of the strongest evidences for me that Scripture is telling us, not speaking figuratively, not speaking creatively, but telling us history. And it speaks of a decline.”

Yep, there’s some really critical scientific thinking on display there.

Discovery Institute response

The conclusion of Basu’s piece contains a response from John West at the DI:

John West, associate director at the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, an organization that advocates for intelligent design, said the critics had not read the book and were bigots. “In the academic world, it is not considered a mark of scholarship to attack books you haven’t read,” he said, calling Matzke, the blog-poster, a hypocrite. “Intelligent design scientists are criticized for not publishing and then you denounce them for doing just that. It is damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

I’ll just quote what I said to the reporter who inquired: “And obviously I haven’t read the book. But I have read virtually every ID publication ever, and these guys don’t change their tune very much.” One is not required to disregard prior knowledge when forming an opinion. I am a Bayesian, after all.

If ID folks were seriously interested in gaining honest credibility in science, they would have to change their approach in many ways. A non-exhaustive list would include:

  1. Don’t try to imply that a private conference held by renting a room at a university is an official meeting sponsored by the university.

  2. Don’t include theologians, and employees of zookeeper-based evangelical ministries, and young-earth creationists, and then hide the meeting from the general scientific community and from anyone with expertise in the topics you are discussing, and then call it a meeting of a “diverse group of scientists”.

  3. Heck, just come out and admit that the idea that the Earth is young is as wrong as any idea ever has been in the whole history of science – as wrong as flat-Earthism – and that defending it for Biblical reasons is just intellectual dishonesty and ignoring the physical data.

  4. Then, come out admit that your view is unpopular, advocated by a tiny minority of people almost entirely not in the correct scientific specialities – don’t try to pretend it’s a “rapidly growing” group in academia (if you go back to the identical “rapidly growing in academia” claims which the “creation scientists” made in the 1970s and 1980s, “scientific” creationism has been “rapidly growing” in academia for almost 40 years now!). Admit that to a first approximation you’re a bunch of conservative evangelicals with strong prior convictions leading to theological problems with evolution.

  5. All that said, you have established some margin of credibility that you actually are interested in evidence, fairly representing the state of academic opinion and academics, and interested in dialog rather than propaganda. (Yes, young-earth creationism is a litmus test about whether or not you are interested in evidence. Being agnostic about the earth being young is not an option. Telling scientists one thing and religious people another thing about the age of the earth is not an option. Endorsing arguments which depend on a young-earth premise is not an option. Not if you want to establish that you care about evidence and that you accept that there are right and wrong answers in science, which is the bare minimum for productive dialog on some dissident issue.) You can then say, “nevertheless, we think we have some interesting arguments that the scientific community should address, in the interests of fully exploring every possibility. Even if the arguments are wrong, we would like to make them as best we are able, and submit them to public scrutiny and rebuttal from those best prepared to address them” – and then get the actual best experts, not just random somewhat famous people with a vague idea about your position and your argument, or people who superficially appear to have appropriate credentials but who are outside of the relevant field or don’t represent the majority view.

  6. Finally, to maintain this credibility, you would have to do the above consistently, and not turn around and tell church audiences that your views are Real Science (TM) just because you got raked over the coals by experts. You would have to agree that the scientific community is the proper forum for assessing these issues, and not try to win by fighting a public opinion battle and then getting ignorant politicians to force your views into the scientific curriculum and textbooks.

If your arguments actually had merit, the above approach would work, eventually. The honesty would be refreshing and would attract more attention from serious experts than the currently standard devious tactics, which just make you look like just another group of un-serious cranks. The route above is the route taken by all of the actual revolutionary scientific ideas which have succeeded. They start with one or a few people, they make their arguments, acknowledging the weight of the prior paradigm, and encouraging critical review from relevant experts. They focus only on trying to convince their scientific peers. Only long after they succeed do their views get into the schools.