Recently I got an e-mail from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) with a notice about the transcript being available for President Obama’s recent speech to that organization. One comment by the President caught my eye:
The members of this institution [the NAS] embody what is so necessary for us to continue our scientific advance and to maintain our cutting-edge, and that’s restless curiosity and boundless hope, but also a fidelity to facts and truth, and a willingness to follow where the evidence leads.
That last phrase — “a willingness to follow where the evidence leads” — sounded strangely familiar. Proponents of intelligent design have used it for years, largely because we’re passionate about being faithful to the scientific evidence, and also because we’re acutely aware that materialists are often not willing to follow the evidence when it leads to detecting non-material causes behind life’s development.
In fact, you’ll find almost the same words as a concluding thought in Stephen Meyer’s forthcoming book, Darwin’s Doubt:
Scientists committed to methodological naturalism have nothing to lose but their chains, fetters that bind them to a creaky and exhausted nineteenth-century materialism. The future lies open before them, and us. As we in the intelligent design research community like to say, let’s break some rules and follow the evidence wherever it leads.
Of course Dr. Meyer’s book is hardly the only ID writing that employs that kind of language. So did President Obama’s speechwriter borrow the phrase from intelligent design lingo?
We’ll probably never know for certain, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended as a sly shout-out to the ID research community (which is not popular with the NAS). Needless to say, I’m not trying to suggest that President Obama or anyone else in his administration endorses intelligent design. But if you Google the phrase, you’ll find that (apart from reports on President Obama’s NAS speech), most of the hits are to writings by proponents of intelligent design.
Undoubtedly, many people have used the line in the past. In fact, it’s a paraphrase of advice given by Socrates, in Plato’s dialogues. But in recent years it’s ID proponents who have introduced it as a maxim into popular rhetoric, from which President Obama is known to draw inspiration in his speeches.
So sure, I’d like to think that it’s possible the President’s speechwriter borrowed the line about “a willingness to follow where the evidence leads” from ID writing, though it’s entirely possible that isn’t what happened. In any case, it’s nice to see the line being used by President Obama. More than that, however, I wish the National Academy Sciences itself, notwithstanding President Obama’s praise for its membership, really did display such a willingness to “follow the evidence wherever it leads.”
Image credit: National Academy of Sciences/Flickr.