Early in my academic career at the University of Utah, I was a chemistry major. I consider the scientific method to be the cornerstone of scientific progress in the so-called post-modern age. Submission of important academic work to critical peer review is an essential element of the process. What is important, both theologically and scientifically, is that we are consistent in our approach to the truth, and, when challenged, we respond using the tools we have inherited and the process that everyone has agreed to.
But what happens if the ivory tower gatekeepers decide that individuals of a particular religious and/or political persuasion should not even have access to the system, particularly if they are publishing peer-reviewed papers that challenge pervading theories regarding, say, evolution? What are we to make of something like this (via OpinionJournal.com)?
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Zoology Department, Jonathan Coddington, called Mr. Sternberg's supervisor. According to Mr. Sternberg's OSC complaint: "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."Dr. Richard M. v. Sternberg is "a research associate at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington." He holds not one, but two Ph.D.s in biology. His career is in jeopardy because he edited the scientific journal (Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington) that published a paper by one Dr. Stephen Meyer, who believes that currently accepted evolutionary theory cannot explain certain phenomena in the fossil record.
That a theory might not explain everything is familiar issue to those who know anything about Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein's work is great at the explaining motion of larger bodies, but breaks down at the atomic/sub-atomic level, where scientists have to rely on the probabilistic formulae of quantum mechanics. Currently, the two theories cannot be reconciled with each other, even though they both accurately describe fundamental physical properties. In a similar fashion, Dr. Meyer's paper lays the groundwork for a similar scenario within the field of biology. Perhaps something other than Darwinian evolution can help us explain things that "pure" evolutionary theory cannot? Meyer proposes a form of design theory as a possible explanation. Many believe that such questions are pure bunk for the start, but others, as Dr. Sternberg notes on his home page:
[F]ound the paper "informative," "stimulating," "thought-provoking," (real quotes I've heard from colleagues about the paper), including some who are in agreement with some of Meyer's ideas.I'm not an expert in biology, relativity, or quantum mechanics, but I do know this: Dr. Meyer's conclusions might be complete crap, but they are nonetheless peer-reviewed crap. Therefore, criticism of his science should be presented in a forum at least as public as the one he chose, using the same process to which Meyer submitted. Instead, we learn in the Wall Street Journal that a back-alley jihad of sorts is being conducted against the individual who approved the publication of this scientific work.
The McCarthyite impulse so often attributed to "right-wingers" has seemingly become the key tool of the scientific, secular left ("Have you now, or have you ever been, a professing Christian?" "Have you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Republican Party?") in order to repress ideas that run counter to the prevailing academic doctrines. I consider this yet another symptom of today's brand of "academic freedom."
David Klinghoffer's Wall Street Journal article "The Branding of a Heretic" can be read here.
Mr. Meyer's paper is also available online.
[For a wonderful synopsis of relativity, quantum mechanics, and some of the efforts currently underway to unify the two with string theory, see Brian Greene's excellent book The Elegant Universe.]