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Trying to Put Intelligent Design Under a Taboo

Casey Luskin

It’s always amusing how evolutionists continually proclaim, and then re-proclaim, the apparent demise of intelligent design (ID) (i.e. ‘no really, this time ID actually is dead!‘). We’re pretty used to that, but then it gets a little creepy when they exude what appears to be an unhealthy pleasure in ID’s (purported) demise. Such was recently the exact case when National Center for Science Education (NCSE) president Kevin Padian and former NCSE spokesman Nick Matzke, in a January issue of Biochemical Journal, published a “review article” claiming that the “case for ID” has “collapsed,” gleefully asserting that “no one with scientific or philosophical integrity is going to take [Discovery Institute or ID] seriously in future.”

I challenged Nick on his words and he replied “I stand by that comment” (see here for the exchange). And Biochemical Journal clearly wants the world to read the Padian/Matzke article, as they’re making it available free on their website, and I am told they reprinted it in the February issue of their more popular journal, The Biochemist, the membership magazine of the Biochemical Society.

Fair enough. I have no objection whatsoever to scientists publishing views that criticize ID in scientific journals. ID-critics have every right to try to persuade people with reason and scientific arguments. But the Padian/Matzke lead review article, the kind that’s supposed to summarize the state of a field, does not try to persuade with mere reason and arguments, but with veiled threats (and with a few less-veiled insults thrown in, just for good measure). This affront to academic freedom should concern everyone, whether you oppose or support ID. Let me explain further.

Imagine that you’re a pro-ID research biologist and you see leading research journals publishing lead review articles (not editorials, and not letters to the editor, but review articles) declaring that anyone who has “scientific or philosophical integrity” will not take intelligent design “seriously in the future.” What is the effect of such statements? The effect is that the authoritative reviewers send a message to you and others in the community that if you merely hint that you even so much as “take intelligent design seriously,” then you will be subject to all kinds of ridicule and your integrity will be tarnished.

In this style, reason and arguments are secondary, for it’s all about attacks on the person — if you support ID, you lack integrity. Period. Since reputation and integrity means so much in science and academia, this effectively puts a taboo on anything that hints of ID. The message is this: “Taking ID seriously could be harmful to the health of your career, so banish these thoughts from your mind (or keep them to yourself), and fall into line.”

This message is dangerous to freedom of inquiry and the progress of science on a general level. But this is of course the precise message that is being comunicated by the NCSE. And certain influential factions in the scientific community seem more than happy to oblige them in these efforts

In any case, a pro-ID Ph.D. research biologist — the kind of biologist whose career could be negatively impacted by the kind of veiled threats being promoted by the Padian / Matzke/ Biochemical Journal review article — wrote me a response to the piece. This biologist, who wished to remain anonymous, has printed their reply below:

Junk Science
The Biochemical Journal is a respectable journal publishing articles and reviews about serious scientific research. Their masthead lists various areas of biochemical research, including cell biology, disease, energy, genes, plants, signaling, and structures. In their guideline to authors the journal editors state:

The Biochemical Journal publishes papers in English in all fields of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, provided that they make a sufficient contribution to knowledge in these fields…. All work presented should have as its aim the development of biochemical concepts rather than the mere recording of facts.[1]

Reviews are usually solicited from eminent scientists in their particular fields. For example, recent issues include a review by Chothia and Gough[2], and another by Gustavo Caetano- Anollés et al.[3] all of whom are well known for their work in the area of protein evolution. Why then, I wonder, did the journal see fit to publish a “review article” titled “Darwin, Dover, ‘Intelligent Design’ and textbooks” by Kevin Padian and Nicholas Matzke[4]?

The “review article” in question contains nothing of scientific merit. There are no interpretations of experimental results, no theories advanced, no biochemical concepts developed. There is no review of the current state of a particular scientific field, either. Instead, the review by Padian and Matzke is a one-sided retelling of a legal trial[5] with some simplistic historical analysis and ersatz theology thrown in. The article conflates creationism and intelligent design, misrepresents the views of intelligent design scientists and the Discovery Institute, and engages in vicious character assassination. It is a blatant attempt to scare people away from intelligent design by proclaiming that “no one with scientific or philosophical integrity is going to take [ID] seriously in future.”

The simple reality is that this article is a polemical hit piece. It’s not a scholarly work of history or theology, let alone science. It is biased and prejudicial in its retelling of events, imputing motives to people without first-hand knowledge of events. It makes sweeping statements and broad generalizations with no independent verifiability. It puffs the credentials of one of its authors while snidely referring to the “allegedly peer-reviewed books” of a scientist it attacks and calling him “chicken”.

There have been, and continue to be a stream of articles attacking intelligent design published in science journals, especially in this so-called year of Darwin. But this article is the nastiest I have seen. So my question remains — why did a respectable scientific journal print it? It would appear that, contrary to their guideline to authors, they’ll print anything as long as it denigrates and disparages the right people.

And that’s no way to do science.

References Cited:
2. Chothia C and Gough J (2009) Genomic and structural aspects of protein evolution. Biochem J 419: 15-28.
3. Caetano-Anollés G et al. (2009) The origin, evolution and structure of the protein world. Biochem J 417: 621–637.
4. Padian K and Matzke N (2009) Darwin, Dover, ‘Intelligent Design’ and textbooks. Biochem J 417: 29-42.
5. There is another side to the story on Dover. To learn about it, see


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.



Kevin PadianNational Center for Science EducationncseNick Matzke