It is with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I write this to announce that, as the year 2015 closes, I am leaving Discovery Institute. I am doing so in order to fulfill a lifelong goal of furthering my studies. My colleagues, who entirely support this decision, are people of the utmost integrity and they have been incredibly generous and welcoming to me and my family. I know we will miss each other. Working here over the past ten years has been a wonderful experience for which I am extremely grateful. It has taught me an immense amount.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that the truth doesn’t always win out in the short term, but it does in the longer term. With that in mind, I offer a few parting reflections.
We’ve been talking a lot lately about the 2005 Dover trial, which was my first major assignment after I started working at Discovery Institute. That September, I flew to Harrisburg, PA, and witnessed much of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in person. Among other things, I heard many contrived claims about intelligent design from the ACLU team that represented the plaintiffs.
For folks in the ID movement, this stuff was nothing new — we’d been hearing Darwin activists misrepresent ID arguments for years. But it was a major wakeup call to see a federal judge buy into those untrue claims, and literally copy and paste demonstrably false assertions into his ruling. It shook my faith in the judiciary’s ability to properly sift through questions, free from political influences and the temptations of worldly acclaim, to arrive at a just and reasonable conclusion.
The persecution of ID proponents that followed the Dover decision was a tough season, and it’s not over yet. However, in that context, I have been privileged to assist some amazing people — folks like Guillermo Gonzalez, Robert Marks, Granville Sewell, Avi Davis and his American Freedom Alliance, and many others whose names must go unmentioned. They have courageously faced down intolerance and stood for intellectual freedom. And here’s something else I’ve learned: people who boldly persevere in the face of such opposition can come through to the other side. Despite the challenge, Dover will, I believe, prove to be only a short-term loss for the truth — a speed bump, if you will.
In early 2011, I was fortunate enough to become Research Coordinator at DI. In this capacity, I enjoyed increased collaboration with many pro-ID scientists to help ensure they had the resources needed for their work. This provided a front-row seat as I witnessed and appreciated the scientific progress that ID has made. The science supporting design in nature has mounted higher with every year.
Though the inference to design goes back to the ancient Greek philosophers and remained the consensus view among scientists until Darwin, the modern ID movement has seen the beginnings of a scientific Rennaissance. Since Dover, ID scientists and scholars have published over sixty pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific publications. Over sixty different researchers authored or co-authored those papers — showing that ID has a solid base of researchers. For me, having followed the ID debate since college in the late 90s, these are exciting developments.
Later in 2011, I was privileged to attend an ID-research conference at Cornell University where dozens of ID-friendly scientists presented their work. The aftermath of this conference provided valuable insights that exposed the Darwin lobby’s true aims, as well as their limitations. Many of the papers at this conference were supposed to appear in the book Biological Information: New Perspectives, to have been published by Springer-Verlag, a prestigious science publishing house. But ID-critics apparently felt threatened by the volume, so they mounted a campaign to pressure Springer to not publish the book. This was extremely revealing. How many times have we heard ID critics say things like “ID can’t be taken seriously because it doesn’t present research at science conferences and doesn’t publish scientific papers.” But then what happens when ID proponents do exactly what the critics demanded? What happens when we present pure research papers at a science conference at a top university and then seek to have it published by a world-class scientific publisher? Do Darwin lobbyists applaud us? No. Instead, they try to censor our work. This showed that the true goal of many Darwin lobbyists is to stifle academic freedom for ID at all costs, not to invite real scientific dialogue, and not to seek the truth.
Unfortunately, Springer capitulated to the censors and refused to publish the book, illegally violating their contract. But in the end, the Biological Information: New Perspectives volume was published by another well-respected publisher, World Scientific. The message here is that Darwin lobbyists don’t have enough confidence and security in the merits of their viewpoint to allow critics to publish credible alternative viewpoints. It also shows that there are forces in the mainstream scientific community who are willing to seek the truth even in the face of political threats from the Darwin lobby. The whole episode was a major win for ID.
During my time at Discovery Institute, we have also seen some of ID’s longstanding scientific predictions spectacularly fulfilled. Exhibit A: The ENCODE project’s discovery of widespread function for non-coding DNA. Again, since the late 1990s I’d been hearing ID-critics say “junk DNA refutes ID.” At that time, my rejoinder was “We haven’t even studied this ‘dark matter of the genome’ enough to know what it does. Let’s just wait and see.” Well, we’ve been waiting and now we’ve seen: ID was correct all along. Early indications of this mass-functionality first came to light in 2007 when ENCODE published its preliminary results suggesting that a great portion of our DNA is transcribed into RNA. But in 2012 ENCODE published its main results, showing that over 80 percent of the genome gives strong evidence of function. Papers uncovering specific functions for specific “junk” genetic elements continue to pour forth.
Exhibit B: The burgeoning field of epigenetics has also validated ID’s prediction of new layers of information, code, and complex regulatory mechanisms in life. We’ve seen discoveries of new DNA codes (e.g., multiple meanings for synonymous codons), as well as the histone code, the RNA splicing code, the sugar code, and others. It’s a great time to be an ID proponent!
Another way to measure the progress ID: Look at our books Signature of Controversy and Debating Darwin’s Doubt which showed that two breakthrough works on ID, Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, fared exceedingly well against critics. Even as Darwin’s Doubt was released, we saw a major book by Douglas Erwin and James Valentine, The Cambrian Explosion, confirm many of Meyer’s arguments about the Cambrian fossil record and the lack of adequate evolutionary mechanisms to explain it. Evolutionary biologists are now admitting we need “post-Darwinian” models to explain the Cambrian explosion. I find myself thinking “Isn’t this what ID has been saying for years?”
Over my tenure at Discovery Institute, I’ve witnessed a flood of credible scientists critiquing core tenets of neo-Darwinian theory, including the sufficiency of mutation and selection to produce new complex features, and the tree of life itself. I’ll never forget how in January 2009, on the same day that University of Texas molecular biologist David Hillis told the Texas State Board of Education about the “overwhelming agreement” between different DNA-based trees, a scientific paper in New Scientist was published admitting that what we really find is the exact opposite: DNA-based trees commonly conflict. On the same occasion, I heard Southern Methodist University anthropologist Ronald Wetherington tell the Texas State Board that the hominid record shows “no lack of transitional fossils.” However, when I wrote a chapter on fossils for the book Science and Human Origins, I documented that the technical literature contains many admissions of a severe gap between the human-like and the ape-like species. Things are getting so bad for Darwinism that just last year, Nature published an article stating that neo-Darwinian theory needs a “rethink” — “urgently.” The authors even admitted that evolutionary biologists suppress their own criticisms of neo-Darwinism to avoid appearing to lend credence to intelligent design. When mainstream biology is saying many of the same things that ID proponents do — but won’t admit it — you know we’re on the right track.
Similarly, recent high-profile exchanges between leading ID proponents and critics have affirmed ID arguments. One of the joys at Discovery was working with Steve Meyer on some of the background research that went into Darwin’s Doubt. We were gratified when the book received a critical, yet serious and respectful review in Science by UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall. In a radio debate with Meyer, Marshall tacitly conceded that he assumes the existence of the information for the genes necessary to build animals, and never explains their origin. Likewise, a leading theistic evolutionist, biologist Darrel Falk, disagreed with Meyer’s arguments for design even as he acknowledged that neo-Darwinism faces strong criticisms from mainstream scientific authorities. Falk also admitted that “the rapid generation of body plans de novo” in the Cambrian is a “big mystery,” which no evolutionary model can yet explain. Such prominent exchanges show that the arguments and evidence are trending in ID’s direction.
A final development — one that is perhaps the most encouraging to me — is the growing cohort of graduate students who are moving on and up in their careers to pursue ID research. Many are graduates of our Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design, and the vast majority are closely aligned with ID thinking and ready to contribute to the next generation of research. Quite a few of them are already authoring peer-reviewed research papers that support ID, and we expect to see much more of this as time goes on.
In short, my personal support for ID and confidence in its future have never been stronger. I am departing from Discovery Institute assured that the fundamentals of ID are sound.
In case you’re curious about the specifics of my future plans — all in good time. Suffice to say, I am leaving Discovery Institute on the best of terms, and have my colleagues’ full moral support for my next phase of life. I wish my friends at DI much success in the coming years, and I leave hugely enriched by my time working here.
More than anything, however, I want to express thanks for the encouragement of our readers at Evolution News, listeners at ID the Future, and other supporters of Discovery Institute who have helped advance the argument for intelligent design. They have sent me literally thousands of kind emails over the years and also challenged me with innumerable thoughtful questions that I’ve done my best to answer. You have kept me going through both the good seasons and the challenging ones.
I leave you all with a charge, taken from the sticker that I had on my office door for years until I moved out just recently:
Image: � totenaka / Dollar Photo Club.