Free Speech Icon Free Speech

What Drives Darwinian Scientists to their Fury

David Klinghoffer

You may have wondered why Darwinists in academia get so worked up about intelligent design. Reading what they write about our scientists and their work, you picture these guys turning red and sweating a lot. Alternatively, they try to mask their rage by getting all sarcastic and pseudo-witty — a man of mature age like Larry Moran, for example, calling other adults “IDiots.”
Clearly, it’s irrational because anger is almost always irrational. (I should know.) But even irrational fury typically has a trigger, and you might reasonably doubt whether the publications of scientists associated with the Discovery Institute are really, in a direct sense, that trigger.
Professor Pompous — as attorney Barry Arrington dubs a biologist in Colorado who verbally abused a student who questioned his Darwinian view, a case that drew Arrington’s involvement and resulted in a pompous, self-praising letter of apology from the biologist in question — this Professor Pompous goes into a book store and sees copies of Signature in the Cell, and that’s what drove him to yell at and humiliate his student? A colleague suggested the other day that the equation works the other way around.
A guy like Professor Pompous or any of the better known Darwinian-scientist writers you can think of aren’t driven to their fury directly by the scholarly work of Michael Behe, Doug Axe or Stephen Meyer, but rather indirectly every time a student brings it up in class. Every year a new cohort of young people comes through the lecture hall and some number of them — probably a growing number — have been exposed somewhere to ID’s critique and alternative to neo-Darwinism. Every time a student puts her hand up and politely asks something along the lines of, “But what about irreducible complexity?” it throws the class discussion down a totally different corridor of the mind than the professor meant it to go.
The professor can either dismiss the student with a hand wave and a casual invocation of “creationism,” which makes everyone else wonder what this is all about, or he can explain the issue and try to refute Behe or Meyer, but that just raises more questions in the minds of some students who are inclined to doubt his authority.
Either way, how annoying for him! That’s not on the syllabus! It’s not supposed to be on the program at all. It really puts our professor into an uncomfortable position. This explains P.Z. Myers’s undisguised outrage when questioned in a non-academic setting — a pub in Glasgow — by a young person fresh out of college and on his way to grad school. The young man, our Jonathan M., was a stand-in for other students that professors encounter in their own classrooms and whom they, in that setting, are generally disallowed from abusing the way Myers abused Jonathan.
The thing is, these challenges from students are something that keeps happening year after year and class after class. It’s a persistent irritant to our Professor Pompous and his colleagues, with personal and professional consequences for them. It’s like having an ache in your neck or back that keeps coming back and you can never seem to rid yourself of it no matter what you do. Physical discomfort like that drives people to irritability that can seem both irrational and inexplicable, until you understand what actually drives it.
The intelligent-design movement is reaching these students and thereby their teachers, throwing the latter into chronic peevishness that we, in turn, see manifesting in their public comments.
Professional academics can screen their graduate students — as, indeed, we know that many do. We have heard reports from prospective grad students in biology who are being asked during the interview process whether they have an opinion about intelligent design. But teachers cannot pre-screen their undergraduates for unorthodox tendencies.
As Darwin-doubting becomes more common among college kids, this pain in the neck is going to get worse for a lot of professors. Which leads us to think, as another colleague predicts, that the fight over Darwinism is going to get even more bitter than it is now before it smooths out.