Intelligent Design’s Witness Protection Program
It’s surreal, but you get used to it. Yesterday I was involved in negotiating email contact between an ID proponent in academia and a professor who’s not an ID proponent, quite the opposite, but who wanted to know the identity of the former so that they could be in touch. Because the ID proponent is not safe in his position (and I’m using the pronoun “his” in the generic sense; it could as well be a woman), I needed to insist on strict confidentiality.
On this point, an assurance was offered but not as forthrightly as I wanted. More emails followed. Finally, having consulted colleagues, I agreed to release the name and email to the other party.
If the promise of confidentiality were not honored, it could easily be a big problem for the ID proponent. This is what it means to be an ID scientist on a university campus today: it’s like being in a witness-protection program, while Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture is like the U.S. Marshalls, keeping scientists’ locations and identities secure against their being tracked down and targeted by the Darwinist syndicate. No one is in danger of being killed. But of having career prospects ruined or seriously damaged? Oh yeah. You bet. We’ve seen it happen, when scholars were uncareful about sharing their pro-ID views publicly, or even hinting at them, too many times already to doubt that.
This is the kind of stuff that goes on in the evolution “debate” routinely: Darwinists seeking, not to honestly argue with us, but to do damage, to persons and reputations, out of spite. As Sarah Chaffee wrote here yesterday:
Among all those in university life who experience intimidation and threats of reprisals for speaking their mind, scientists and scholars with heterodox views on Darwinian theory may be the most severely restricted from exercising ordinary free speech.
It would be good to hear more about their plight. Yet from most self-styled defenders of open expression, you don’t hear anything about them at all.
Isn’t that the truth?
The Williamson Affair
Against this background, over this past weekend I read the big Wall Street Journal article by conservative journalist Kevin Williamson about his experience getting hired and almost immediately fired by The Atlantic over foolish and ugly comments he had made about women who have had abortions. The magazine’s bowing to a mob of Williamson’s haters on Twitter was unfair and rather craven. Williamson recounts an earlier conversation he had with Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg:
“You know, the campaign to have me fired will begin 11 seconds after you announce that you’ve hired me,” I told him. He scoffed. “It won’t be that bad,” he said.
A colleague here who also read Williamson’s article asks, “How many Darwin-doubting scientists and scholars do we know that have had this exact conversation at some point in their professional career?”
Williamson complains that of all the writers who commented on his well-publicized experience with The Atlantic, only one actually did some homework and got in touch with him to try to sort out his views and determine whether he really thought women who have abortions should be hung, or whether that was just a provocation intended to stir thought. Evidently it was the latter.
It’s interesting about Kevin Williamson, though. We have just a little bit of history here with him. Mr. Williamson dismisses ID as “basically a fraud” and its proponents as “cranks.” On the other hand, he says that the “ability to evaluate” the relevant arguments requires “graduate-level work in evolutionary science,” a lame excuse for not doing his homework. The attitude is all too familiar.
Williamson will survive. Anyone who can dial up an essay for himself in the Wall Street Journal to tell his own side of a story and complain about being censored is, probably, going to be OK. You can’t say as much for the ID proponents whose careers would be on the line for sharing, not foolish provocations, but sober and evidence-based views on design in biological and cosmic origins. If punished for speaking out, their only recourse, just about the only ear open to hearing about their experience and the only voice willing to protest about it, would be us.
ID proponents are the great forgotten victims of speech censorship. From “self-styled defenders of open expression,” says Sarah Chaffee, “[i]t would be good to hear more about their plight.” Agreed.
Photo: U.S. Marshalls with a witness under protection, by United States Marshals Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.