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Editor Explains Reasons for 'Intelligent Design' Article

Richard Sternberg came under fire from Smithsonian scientists over an article questioning evolutionary theory.
Richard Sternberg came under fire from Smithsonian scientists over an article questioning evolutionary theory. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

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When the article appeared, the reaction was near instantaneous and furious. Within days, detailed scientific critiques of Meyer's article appeared on pro-evolution Web sites. "The origin of genetic information is thoroughly understood," said Nick Matzke of the NCSE. "If the arguments were coherent this paper would have been revolutionary-- but they were bogus."

A senior Smithsonian scientist wrote in an e-mail: "We are evolutionary biologists and I am sorry to see us made into the laughing stock of the world, even if this kind of rubbish sells well in backwoods USA."

An e-mail stated, falsely, that Sternberg had "training as an orthodox priest." Another labeled him a "Young Earth Creationist," meaning a person who believes God created the world in the past 10,000 years.

This latter accusation is a reference to Sternberg's service on the board of the Baraminology Study Group, a "young Earth" group. Sternberg insists he does not believe in creationism. "I was rather strong in my criticism of them," he said. "But I agreed to work as a friendly but critical outsider."

Scott, of the NCSE, insisted that Smithsonian scientists had no choice but to explore Sternberg's religious beliefs. "They don't care if you are religious, but they do care a lot if you are a creationist," Scott said. "Sternberg denies it, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it argues for zealotry."

Endgame

Sternberg has seen stress piled upon stress in the past year. His marriage has dissolved, and he no longer comes into the Smithsonian. When the biological society issued a statement disavowing Meyer's article, Sternberg was advised not to attend. "I was told that feelings were running so high, they could not guarantee me that they could keep order," Sternberg said.

A former professor of Sternberg's says the researcher has an intellectual penchant for going against the system. Sternberg does not deny it.

"I loathe careerism and the herd mentality," he said. "I really think that objective truth can be discovered and that popular opinion and consensus thinking does more to obscure than to reveal."


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