This past Monday, eight different SMU faculty members submitted an opinion article entitled “SMU professors speak out against Darwin presentation.” They argued that the presentation “4 Nails in Darwin’s Coffin: New Challenges to Darwinian Evolution” put on by Discovery Institute (DI), was a “dishonest attempt to present a particular form of religion and science.” This allegation was then followed by a few dishonest, misunderstood and slightly biased claims of their own.
First of all, let me begin by stating that I will not attempt to challenge or argue the science that was presented or discussed in either the aforementioned event from last Thursday or in the article published on Monday. I intend full respect of the professors and scientists as well as their accomplishments and successes in their respective fields. As Doug Axe, one of the featured speakers at the event said in his article “A Word to the Wise,” “serious science is being done on both sides of the debate, and that should give us confidence that a truer picture of biology will become visible as the smoke clears.” I agree and am thankful that there are great minds searching out the complexities of where, exactly, we came from.
I will, however, speak to a handful of things that I read in the professors’ article that I found to be false. For example, the professors claim that the Discovery Institute is “a well-financed organization.” I wonder, compared to what? The established scientific institutes of higher education, government agencies and even the SMU science departments are by any definition, better funded than the Discovery Institute.
Secondly, they pointed out that a representative of DI “thanked the SMU administration” (which is true) “for permitting the event, which we took to be a suggestion that it was organized by an academic program of the University.” They went on to say that neither the SMU administration nor any academic program organized the event. That part is also true. It was organized by PULSE (aka Victory Campus Ministries), a non-denominational, Christian student group that is chartered through the Office of the Chaplain. I announced this to the entire crowd at the beginning of the event, as I am the director of PULSE.
The representative who “thanked the SMU administration” was aware that the 2007 DI event entitled “Darwin vs. Design” (which is mentioned in the professors’ article) was brought before President Turner by members of the SMU academic community in an attempt to have it canceled, which he did not. The statement made by the DI representative was a simple “thank you” to the president and a way to give honor to the hosting university and nothing more.
Thirdly, the professors stated that they were “outraged by the dishonesty” of the presentations and that the speakers at the event brought “pseudo-scientific” arguments. To claim that the Discovery Institute Fellows are “pseudo-scientists who are busily trying to pass themselves off on the unwary as legitimate scientists” is a strong claim. All of the presenters possess PhDs (some more than one), most from top-tiered universities. Most of them have also taught or done research at institutions such as Cambridge, UC-Berkeley and even the Smithsonian Institution. Whether or not you agree with the conclusions these scientists have drawn from their research doesn’t disqualify their credentials. It just makes their conclusions different from yours.
Finally, and this is my biggest disappointment: If the presentation was just another example of dishonesty and deception, why didn’t any of the undersigned professors who authored the article in contention and who attended the presentation, speak up publicly on Thursday? What a great opportunity to address the issues in front of a crowd that is obviously interested in the science of it. If the professors are that concerned and disturbed that the claims made were “false or misleading,” why not voice it at the time and put an end to the debate?
The speakers did a fantastic job in communicating science in a way that non-scientific people, like me, could understand. My biggest hope in bringing the DI group here was to bring a scientific view that contrasts what is largely taught in universities, and they did that well. Our goal was to resurrect the conversation about our origins and the meaning of life, and I believe they succeeded in that as well.
Again quoting Doug Axe’s article, if you had spoken up, you would have “certainly [received] a respectful hearing. At the same time [you would have shown] that Darwinism can still be defended the way scientific theories ought to be defended. As things stand now, though, you can hardly blame people for wondering how many Darwinists really believe it can.”
You were given the opportunity to speak up and “protect the people who attended from believing dishonest science” – you did not. You were invited to publicly question the DI representatives face-to-face – you did not You had the chance to engage in debate that “advances the cause of truth” – you did not.
The university should be a place for free and vigorous academic discussion, as it is the locale of shaping the minds and beliefs of our future leaders. It should grieve us all that many in the science department at SMU fear such dialogue.
Jerret Sykes is the Director of PULSE, the weekly gathering for Victory Campus Ministries at SMU. He can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.