Crux Magazine Off to Bad Start

Crux magazine is a new publication with a virtual who's who of ID advocates as contributors and editors. It also has three blogs associated with it, with contributions from those same people. While declaring itself the "last bastion of Truth" (yes, they even capitalized it), their contributors seem to have a little difficulty grasping the non-capitalized variety of truth in two articles about the Sternberg/Smithsonian situation. The first, written by Crux senior editor Bobby Maddex, repeats the accusations in the David Klinghoffer WSJ piece as gospel truth, but adds one bit of falsehood to it:

Though still an employee of the museum, Sternberg, who is not even an advocate of Intelligent Design himself, has since been shunned by former colleagues throughout the United States, and his office still sits empty as "unclaimed space."

But in point of fact, Sternberg is not an employee of the museum and never has been. He is an employee of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, which is an agency of the National Institutes of Health, not the National Museum of Natural History, which is under the Smithsonian. He is a Research Associate at the NMNH, an unpaid position that merely allows access to the Smithsonian's collections without staff supervision. That was his position there before all of this brouhaha, and that is his position there now. As for his office sitting empty as unclaimed space, that is only because Sternberg's office is now in another part of the museum.

The second article, by John Coleman, is even less accurate in its portrayal of the situation. He says:

Sternberg, something of a postmodern Catholic received even worse treatment when he allowed an article proposing the possibility of Intelligent Design (a prominent anti-Darwinian theory of origins) to appear in the Museum of Natural History's journal. Sternberg lost his post at both the museum and the journal, as noted by Bobby Maddex; his crime--allowing a theory considered unscientific by the academic mainstream to make it through the process of peer review.

There are several inaccuracies in that one paragraph. First, he did not lose his post at either the museum or the journal as a result of publishing the Meyer article in PBSW. As noted above, and as Sternberg himself admits, he is still a Research Associate at the museum and his tenure as editor of the journal was already set to expire. He published the Meyer article in the last edition of the journal he had editorial control over, I suspect quite intentionally. So it is simply false to assert that he was fired from either position because of the controversy surrounding that publication. He still retains the only position he would have even if it had never happened.

Second, the claim that ID is "a prominent anti-Darwinian theory of origins" is also false. ID is, by the admission of its most forthright advocates, not yet a theory at all. Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute, regarded by me and others as both the brightest and most honest of the ID proponents, said only a few months ago, "We don't have such a theory right now, and that's a problem. Without a theory, it's very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we've got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as 'irreducible complexity' and 'specified complexity'- but, as yet, no general theory of biological design." This also points up the straw man nature of another statement made by Klinghoffer and repeated by Maddex in the post linked to above. He said:

Klinghoffer goes on to point out the single most frustrating aspect of the case for Intelligent Design advocates. "Critics of ID have long argued that the theory was unscientific because it had not been put forward in a peer-reviewed scientific journal," he writes. "Now that it has, they argue that it shouldn't have been because it's unscientific."

But that is nothing more than a straw man. The argument about the unscientific nature of ID was never premised upon the fact that it had not appeared in a peer reviewed journal, but upon the fact that there simply was no theory of intelligent design from which one might derive testable hypotheses and spur research that might confirm or disconfirm the theory. The Meyer article does nothing to change that, as it was solely a review article and the arguments made in it are of a purely negative nature. The argument is essentially, "not evolution, therefore God". But that is an illogical conclusion for many reasons, and it is certainly not anything like a testable theory. What no ID advocate has done, as Nelson admits, is develop an actual theory of intelligent design that could be tested in some way. The only thing they have done is tried to poke holes in evolutionary explanations on the assumption that showing the insufficency of evolution proves that God must have done it. As Nelson had also said in 2002, "There is something deeply dissatisfying about establishing the bona fides of one theory by debunking another. Design simply must put novel predictions of its own on the blackboard."

Until ID advocates actually come up with a theory that makes positive predictions (as opposed to "I predict evolution can't explain this") that can be used to test the veracity of the theory, it will not be taken seriously as a genuine scientific model. Nor does it deserve to be. As another ID advocate, Bruce Gordon has also noted, "inclusion of design theory as part of the standard discourse of the scientific community, if it ever happens, will be the result of a long and difficult process of quality research and publication." That is a process that has barely begun, as Gordon says in that same article, and as a result ID had been "prematurely drawn into discussions of public science education where it has no business making an appearance without broad recognition from the scientific community that it is making a worthwhile contribution to our understanding of the natural world."

Given the inaccuracies in just the first few posts on the supplemental blogs written by contributors and editors, I'd say Crux is not off to a very good start. Perhaps they should spend more time worrying about the truth and less time declaring itself a "bastion of Truth".