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MSNBC’s Alan Boyle and Sean B. Carroll Argue Scientists Should Keep “Quiet” about Support for Intelligent Design (Part 1)

[Note: For a more comprehensive defense of Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, please see: NCSE Exposed at NCSEExposed.org]

We’ve known for a long time that MSNBC’s “Cosmic Log” writer Alan Boyle doesn’t like intelligent design, and in his coverage of Expelled, Boyle is no exception to the “checkpoint” pattern described earlier here on ENV. This time, he’s got scientists from the academy “checkpoint” to back him up. Thus, he feels confident to attack Expelled as, “creepy … campaign ad, aimed at swiftboating science.”

Enter Sean B. Carroll, a prominent biologist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Boyle’s big gun who also happens to dislike intelligent design. Boyle quotes Carroll in a one-two punch that essentially states that scientists who support intelligent design should keep quiet about such views in the science classroom. Boyle writes:

Even at the time of 2005’s Kitzmiller v. Dover court decision, it was clear that an argument based on academic freedom would be the next frontier for the intelligent-design debate. But the freedom to teach isn’t absolute. It’s subject to the usual checks and balances of academic institutions, plus the constitutional ban on state establishment of religion – and the idea that the content of a science class should be, well, based on science.

That doesn’t mean science teachers can’t have wacky ideas. Some of the wackiest ideas have been held by the world’s greatest scientists – including Isaac Newton, a religious heretic who calculated that the world would end in the year 2060. To Newton’s credit, he kept relatively quiet about the wackier claims and pushed ahead with better ideas like calculus, optics and universal gravitation.

Carroll had similar advice for today’s biologists: “The biology community will tell you that understanding genetics and evolution is fundamental to being a literate biologist. … Do you want your kids to be taught by people who are living in the 18th century? I don’t think so. They have a right to think these things or believe these things, but they have an obligation to be technically competent.”

What’s that again? In case you missed what Boyle just wrote, let me explain what you just saw: First, Boyle praises Newton because he “kept relatively quiet” about his “wacky ideas.” Next, Boyle directly inserts intelligent design into the “wacky idea” category. Then Boyle quotes Sean B. Carroll advising present-day biologists to do the same with their “wackier claims,” except in the context of Carroll’s advice, the topic is doubts about evolution. The implication is clear: Boyle and Carroll think that there should be no academic freedom for scientists or educators to speak in favor of intelligent design. In Boyle and Carroll’s world, if you have real doubts about evolution, then like Newton, you should just keep “quiet.”

Alan Boyle of course has every right to believe that intelligent design is “wacky,” and he has every right to promote that view. But should he advocate restricting the academic freedom of scientists who believe that there is merit to intelligent design–restricting the academic freedom of scientists who publish research and books supporting the theory and then dare to mention it in the classroom? Apparently, Boyle (with the back-up of Sean Carroll) think the answer is “yes,” and they should be the arbiter of who gets academic freedom and who doesn’t in the debate over Darwin. As Gerald Schroeder says in Expelled, academic freedom exists, “but not if you’re on the wrong side of the wall”–i.e. there is no academic freedom if you support intelligent design.

In Boyle’s world, academic “freedom” only exists to express disagreement with intelligent design. Is that really freedom?


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, 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.



Alan BoyleMSNBCSean B. Carroll