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John Derbyshire at NRO Had a Bad Christmas… or Something

John G. West

John Derbyshire, the vitriolic anti-ID crusader over at National Review Online, must have had a really bad Christmas. Or something. In his post-Christmas column at NRO, he is more shrill and bombastic in his denunciations of ID than ever, if that’s possible.

At the same time Derbyshire criticizes supporters of ID for their supposedly “ad hominem” arguments, he also:

  1. accuses “ID fanatics” of threatening the life of Judge Jones of Kitzmiller v. Dover fame;
  2. denounces “the whole ID business… [as] riddled with dishonesty”;
  3. lashes out at “Intelligent Design buncombe and its shifty promoters”;
  4. says that while he “daresay there are some honest and sincere people pushing the ID agenda… taken as a whole, it is all a bit shabby and ignoble”;
  5. insinuates that ID proponents are money-grubbing low-lifes who are mostly interested in “merrily raising funds… whizzing round the country on their junkets… collecting their book royalties, and disdaining to do anything as grubbily tedious as actual scientific research.”

Derbyshire seems to be competing with himself to see how many ad hominem attacks he can include in a single column. Such outbursts must be embarrassing for National Review, a fine publication which used to be a model of reasoned debate and thoughtful analysis. It still is in most areas, but Derbyshire’s intemperate rants don’t do it any credit. It says something when PBS has been more fair-minded in its coverage of ID than a writer at NRO (see here and here). Derbyshire is entitled to his viewpoint, of course. Unfortunately, he shows very little evidence of having read both sides of the current debate, instead relying almost wholly on such impeccable sources as Barbara Forrest, the long-time board member of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association who seems to think that anyone who supports ID wants to impose theocracy.

For the record, ID scientists not only do scientific research and produce scholarly publications, they often face persecution and intimidation if they express their views openly. Indeed, as the case of evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian Institution shows, a scientist who merely treats intelligent design with an open-mind is liable to be subjected to harassment and discrimination. And the insinuation by Derbyshire that ID proponents are somehow in it for the money rather than because of their sincere beliefs about the evidence is the sort of baseless smear one would usually expect from the far-left, not a writer for National Review. The claim is also laughable, given the fact that the entire ID program at Discovery Institute receives far less funding than the budget, say, of the biology program at a single major state university; it also receives far less funding than the budgets of the major Biblical “creationist” groups. If ID scholars are making a difference, it’s not because of the power of their pocketbooks, it’s because of the power of their ideas.

The very shrillness of the attacks by Derbyshire and other anti-ID zealots exposes the bankruptcy of their position. Unable to respond to the substantive arguments being put forward by ID proponents (except when they caricature them), these critics increasingly rely on trying to demonize supporters of ID. But in the process they only discredit themselves.

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.

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