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Boston Globe Editorial Shows How a Little Learning Can Be a Dangerous Thing

Today’s Boston Globe carries an inane editorial attacking intelligent design that demonstrates how a little learning (in this case, very little) can be a dangerous thing. The Globe editorialist no doubt thought he was valiantly defending good science, but instead he simply exposes how uninformed he is.

The editorial starts by dismissing Dr. Stephen Meyer’s peer-reviewed journal article from the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. According to the Globe:

The trouble started last August when Richard von Sternberg, editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, published an article by Scott C. Meyer, vice president of the Discovery Institute, chief proponent of intelligent design. Meyer contended that the sudden profusion of complex life forms in the Cambrian era, about 500 million years ago, could not be explained by evolution.

The article does not make much of a scientific argument. The ”Cambrian explosion,” as it’s called, lasted millions of years, plenty of time for evolution to work.

The Globe editorialist confidently assures readers that Dr. Meyer’s piece “does not make much of a scientific argument.”

How would he know? He appears not to have read Meyer’s article.

For one thing, he gets Meyer’s name wrong. (Uhh, it’s Stephen, not Scott. Maybe the writer had just been speaking by phone with Eugenie Scott, and had a Freudian slip?) More seriously, the Globe writer shows no awareness of the actual content Meyer’s journal article, which is backed up by citations to more than 140 other scientific articles and monographs.

Meyer’s article makes three major points:

  1. The mechanism of neo-Darwinism (natural selection plus random mutation) does not seem capable of accounting for the origin of animal body plans during the Cambrian explosion.
  2. Other explanations that have been proposed to shore up the neo-Darwinian mechanism have problems of their own.
  3. Intelligent design may offer a promising explanation for the origin of animal body plans for several reasons, including the fact that we know that intelligent causes are capable of producing the kind of complex specified information required to build animal body plans.

Most of Meyer’s article is about point #1: the problems of the neo-Darwinist mechanism of natural selection plus random mutations. As Meyer explains in detail, there are lots of scientists who are skeptical of whether the selection/mutation mechanism is sufficient to explain the origin of animal body plans in the 5-10 million years of time available. No problem, says the Globe editorial writer. The Cambrian explosion lasted millions of years, and that’s good enough for him. A few million years must be enough time for “evolution” to produce absolutely anything, right? Poof! Presto! Chango! The animal body plans magically assemble through the wondrous process of natural selection and random mutations!

Wow. Why didn’t the scientists think of that?

It’s bad enough the Globe writer apparently didn’t read the article he’s pretending to critique. He also doesn’t appear to have read anything else about the Cambrian explosion. If he had, he would have realized that the controversy over whether neo-Darwinism can explain the origin of animal body plans happens to be very, very real.

So real that not even Darwin-cheerleader Eugenie Scott claims that the neo-Darwinian mechanism explains the body plans:

“Who knows whether natural selection explains the Cambrian body plans. … So what?” (Eugenie Scott, quoted in The Seattle Times, March 31, 2005)

The Globe writer is to be congratulated for demonstrating more blind faith in Darwin’s theory than Eugenie Scott.

If you want to determine for yourself whether neo-Darwinism can account for the origin of animal body plans, you can always read the article by Stephen Meyer that the Globe editorialist apparently didn’t have time for.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.