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New Scientist and Jerry Coyne’s Responses to ID Advocate Thomas Jefferson: Cases of Necromancy and Alzheimer’s

Responses from the Darwin faithful to anything touching upon intelligent design are often so thoughtless it takes your breath away. I guess this is how they manage to stay impervious to the evidentiary challenge to their religion — they just don’t think it through, or even read it. A single article in a newspaper or journal taxes their ability simply to read what a person says and respond to that, rather than to what they imagine he would say. Consider the cases of Ewen Callaway and Jerry Coyne.
When Stephen C. Meyer wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe on Thomas Jefferson as a proto-ID supporter, outraged science journalist Callaway at the New Scientist couldn’t even mount an argument. He calls linking Jefferson and ID a “ridiculous assertion.” But he doesn’t tell us why it’s ridiculous. He writes:

Public schools didn’t exist in their current form in America during Jefferson’s time, but Dr. Meyer never pauses to consider whether Jefferson would have supported the teaching of ID — a religious philosophy — in government-funded schools.

Meyer “never pauses to consider”? Whether Jefferson would have supported teaching ideas critical of Darwinian evolution is the subject of Meyer’s first paragraph and it goes on from there. Jefferson would not have supported teaching a religious doctrine in government schools, but Jefferson did not consider design in nature and the cosmos to be a religious doctrine but rather an empirical idea, supported by reason, “without appeal to revelation.”
Callaway then concludes in oracular fashion: “He wouldn’t have” — Jefferson would not have supported acknowledging Darwinism’s scientific shortcomings in a public school setting. This isn’t an argument. It’s an assertion. Actually, it’s necromancy. Callaway believes that he can speak with authority for the dead Jefferson.
He goes on to airily dismiss the massive scientific evidence in Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design as if it were a kind of temper tantrum:

Meyer cannot accept that the genetic code evolved naturally. Never mind the fact that the building blocks of DNA and its cousin molecule RNA existed on early Earth and even in space.

Check out that link. This is mind-boggling. Callway cites as evidence against Meyer’s book that a meteorite in Australia was found to contain “uracil, a base that is essential for the creation of RNA, and xanthine, a close chemical relative of the DNA base, guanine.” But what’s so mysterious about DNA is how the bases got into the specific sequence needed to carry information in the first place. This is the enigma of life’s origin. That’s the whole question that materialist science is unable to answer, about which intelligent design at least gives a clue. Pointing triumphantly to that meteorite is like pointing to a baby with a box of Scrabble letters in front of him and saying it’s thereby obvious that the baby can now proceed to write works of equal merit to Jefferson’s because hey, he’s got all the letters ready to work with.
But let’s lay off Ewen Callaway. He’s just a science writer. More startling is the laziness of University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True.

For most people, believing in Darwinian evolution is about trust. They trust the prestige media and academia. But how can anyone trust a guy who writes so sloppily? On his blog, Coyne lashes out at “young-earth creationist” Stephen Meyer. Of course, Steve Meyer is nothing of the sort, as he writes clearly in Signature in the Cell (e.g., see p. 17) and elsewhere, and has even testified under oath. Meyer believes the information in DNA goes back around 3.85 billion years.
It’s like a kind of Alzheimer’s with these guys. I have a Darwinist email correspondent who simply can’t grasp that I’m not a young-earther. He’s has queried me on this more than once, and each time I respond that I am not. He then goes ahead and forgets that he asked me once before: “Do you really believe that the earth (and the universe) is roughly 6,000 years old?”
In 2005, Coyne wrote a dismissive piece in The New Republic citing Meyer’s controversial essay in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. That’s the one that resulted in the punishment of its editor, Smithsonian evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, by his supervisors and colleagues at the Smithsonian. Let’s assume that Coyne, as a serious scientist, wouldn’t cite a published article in a peer-reviewed technical journal without reading it. In the article, Meyer makes clear his view that life is very old. The article is about the Cambrian explosion, for goodness sake, that happened 530 millions years ago.
Yet now Coyne has forgotten all about that and asks incredulously of Meyer: “Is a 6,000-year-old Earth also an ‘inference from geological data’?” In an appended correction and apology, Dr. Coyne explains that he became confused and thought Steve Meyer was someone else — someone totally different with a different name and different beliefs. I know, it’s so painful when that happens.
In a more general way, Coyne becomes confused about what Meyer was even saying in a brief, simple, and clearly written op-ed. He calls it an “argument from authority,” as if Steve were trying to somehow bolster the scientific case for modern ID from the authority of Jefferson. That would indeed be absurd, but the real point was a historical and philosophical one. Jefferson believed that nature is designed. He believed this based on reason and observation, not Scripture. He was not a Christian. In fact, he didn’t care for Christianity much at all. Yet he did believe in “Nature’s God,” that this God, accessible to all through the evidence of nature, endowed us with “certain unalienable rights.”
So whether Jefferson was right or wrong in his science, we can trace our own liberty back to his ideas, which are branches from an intellectual tree that is today called “intelligent design,” but that goes back much further than that phrase does. You could trace it to Plato and Aristotle, as you could trace Darwinism to Epicurus. Meyer’s message was: If you like the Declaration of Independence, thank intelligent design. Under the influence of Darwinism, such a noble document could not be written. Other kinds of meritorious writing could be produced — say, the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft — but not the Declaration of Independence.
Coyne goes on to characterize Stephen Meyer’s argument as “God-of-the-gaps.” Steve’s book, of course, its argument briefly touched on in the article, is nothing like a God-of-the-gaps argument. But people like Ewen Callaway and Jerry Coyne have their fixed conceptions, to which they are fiercely faithful. Any argument for ID has to be “God-of-the-gaps.” Don’t even bother opening the book. It has to be!
It’s like being a dreamer who, no matter how far he roams in waking life, finds that the house he returns to in his dreams is always the dearly beloved one he lived in when he was five years old. Can Coyne even shake himself awake long enough to read a new and serious book like Meyer’s and consider its argument and evidence afresh? Probably not, right Dr. Coyne?
One idea in Coyne’s blog post has merit. He comments parenthetically about Meyer’s necessarily brief citations from Jefferson, “I’d love to see that quote in context.”
Your wish, Dr. Coyne, is my command. We present to you the fuller quote from Jefferson’s letter to Adams, where his support for intelligent design is even clearer:

I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it’s parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of it’s composition. The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth itself, with it’s distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms. We see, too, evident proofs of the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in it’s course and order. Stars, well known, have disappeared, new ones have come into view, comets, in their incalculable courses, may run foul of suns and planets and require renovation under other laws; certain races of animals are become extinct; and, were there no restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos. So irresistible are these evidences of an intelligent and powerful Agent that, of the infinite numbers of men who have existed thro’ all time, they have believed, in the proportion of a million at least to Unit, in the hypothesis of an eternal pre-existence of a creator, rather than in that of a self-existent Universe. Surely this unanimous sentiment renders this more probable than that of the few in the other hypothesis.

For more on Jefferson and ID, see here and here.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.