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Chris Mooney Steps Up the Pro-Darwin Rhetoric

Casey Luskin

Last fall I posted a response to Chris Mooney’s chapter in The Republican War on Science where I rebutted much of what he said in his book against intelligent design (which can be read here). Recently, Mooney wrote an aticle in the LA Times, co-authored with Alan Sokal, where he stepped up the rhetoric against Darwin-skeptics, calling them “the worst science abusers.” Mooney always equates Darwin-skeptics with “religious fundamentalists” and even goes so far as to invoke the “denier of evolution” name-calling approach:

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria do not spare deniers of evolution, and global climate change will not spare any of us. As physicist Richard Feynman wrote in connection with the space shuttle Challenger disaster, “nature cannot be fooled.”

Apart from the harsh rhetoric, the problem with Mooney’s straw man is that no Darwin-skeptic is a “denier” that Darwinian principles are useful at explaining why bacteria can acquire resistance to antibiotics. This extreme example of small-scale evolution results in no new species and no net additions of novel biological information to the genome. But it does happen, and thus it provides a useful example of precisely what neo-Darwinian processes actually can produce.

So why does Mooney argue so harshly against those he labels “science abusers,” “deniers of evolution,” and “religious fundamentalists” (who he claims are engaged in an “interminable push” to “undermine the teaching of evolution in American schools”)? A little research on Mooney’s background quickly may reveal the answer.

According to a page on Yale’s campus notes, Mooney was “copresident and a founding member of the Yale College Society for Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics” and “interned with the CFA [Campus Freethought Alliance] … where he helped draft the organization’s ‘Bill of Rights for Unbelievers.'” Of course Mooney has every right to be a secular humanist activist–and he’s entitled to his viewpoint. His own personal religious or anti-religious beliefs and motives in no way diminish the validity of his scientific views. But they are relevant in one important sense: The instant Mooney plays the religious-motive card against Darwin-skeptics (which he does heavily in his book), he should realize that his own hand is weak. In fact, Chris Mooney provides a yet another example of the fact that many (though certainly not all, of course) leading Darwinist activists are secular humanists.

I will agree with one statement Mooney makes in his editorial: “journalists and citizens must renounce a lazy ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ approach and start analyzing critically the quality of the evidence.” I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, Mooney rejects his own advice and calls those who would critically analyze evolution “the worst science abusers” who are trying to “undermine the teaching of evolution.” Just like the Darwinists in New Mexico, scientific freedom of thought is fine for Mooney until it begins to encroach upon evolution.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Chris Mooney