SMU professors speak out against Darwin presentation
Published: Monday, September 27, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 17:11
Last Thursday evening, the SMU community witnessed another dishonest attempt to present a particular form of religion as science, entitled "4 Nails in Darwin's Coffin: New Challenges to Darwinian Evolution". It was designed and presented by Seattle's Discovery Institute (and its subsidiary the Biologic Institute). This was a follow-up to their equally dishonest 2007 presentation "Darwin vs. Design".
We were outraged by the dishonesty of Thursday's presentation, but not entirely surprised by it. The Discovery Institute is a well-financed organization that has repeatedly attempted to discredit Darwinian biology and thereby advance its brand of religion called Intelligent Design. We do not object to religion as such. But we do object to blatant distortions of Darwinian thinking, and to pseudo-scientific alternatives to it that are falsely alleged to be better supported by the evidence.
The evening began with a slickly-produced movie in the style of a science documentary entitled "Darwin's Dilemma". It focused on the supposedly inexplicably-sudden appearance of new phyla of animal forms during the early Cambrian era, about 600 million years ago. There were also other arguments made that alleged that the processes that Darwin described could not explain any significant evolutionary change in any organism at all, let alone those of the "Cambrian Explosion". The Discovery Institute employees who were interviewed in the movie were present to elaborate on these arguments in person. They suggested that the supposedly glaring inadequacies of Darwinian theory could be remedied if we instead accept the ‘theory' that a vaguely-described intelligent designer produced life and all of its intricate features. Although a flyer invited attendees to "bring questions", none were allowed until about three hours into the program, thirty minutes after its announced ending time! This leads us to doubt that the Institute sincerely wishes to engage in dialogue or debate. We will also mention that a representative of the Institute, standing in front of a podium with the SMU logo on it, thanked the "SMU administration" for permitting the event, which we took to be a suggestion that it was organized by an academic program of the University. Make no mistake: this is false. The program was not organized by any SMU academic program.
Many of the more general arguments presented against Darwinian theory have been around for a number of years, and have been thoroughly demolished by experts. The strong suggestion made in the movie and by the Discovery Institute employees that there is serious doubt in the scientific community about the adequacy of Darwinian theory is completely false. The Discovery Institute is a fringe group of pseudo-scientists who are busily trying to pass themselves off on the unwary as legitimate scientists.
We cannot present here a detailed discussion of all of the distortions presented on Thursday evening. We are all seriously disturbed by various particular claims that we believe are false or misleading, and by the fallacious objections presented to Darwinian theory as such.
Anyone interested in learning about the fatal flaws in the claims that the Discovery Institute makes about Darwinian thought in general, and the Cambrian Explosion in particular, can find that detailed information on this website: http://faculty.smu.edu/jwise/big_problems_with_intelligent_design.htm
The site also has background information on the Discovery Institute.
But we wish to state here our firm conviction that Darwinian theory is solidly supported by masses of evidence, and that it can explain innumerable characteristics of the biological world, from the genetic features of individual organisms to the appearance and disappearance of phyla and other large-scale patterns of biological change.
We are fortunate at SMU in having an intelligent student body that places great value on honest intellectual debate and inquiry. As faculty members we are eager to engage in such debate, which we believe advances the cause of truth. We strongly believe that the Discovery Institute is not interested in honest debate, and is not engaged in legitimate scientific enquiry. It is engaged in a concerted effort to distort the truth. Unlike the serious discussions of evolution that occurred here during our "Darwin Year" activities in 2009-10, the event last Thursday was a propaganda exercise. We are troubled to think that some of the people who attended it still might not understand this.
Edward Countryman, History John Ubelaker, Biology
Justin Fisher, Philosophy Pia Vogel, Biology
Randall Scalise, Physics Ronald Wetherington, Anthropology
Steven Sverdlik, Philosophy John Wise, Biology