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Fighting back

"Fighting back" Continued...

But when Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., hired astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez in June, the Freedom From Religion Foundation warned the school’s “reputation is on the line.” Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, told a Muncie paper Ball State “should start hiring scientists who will teach real science and not religious apologetics.”

The problem? Gonzalez, a Christian, believes in intelligent design (ID), the scientific theory that nature displays evidence of having been designed by a mind. In 2004, as a professor at Iowa State University, Gonzalez co-authored The Privileged Planet, a book that argued the Earth is ideally situated to support life and gives humans an optimal vantage point to study the universe.

The book ultimately cost Gonzalez his job. After a group of atheists complained, Iowa State denied his application for tenure, even though his credentials were impeccable and he had never taught ID in class. In July, his new employer, Ball State president Jo Ann Gora, sent all faculty a terse reminder that intelligent design was “a religious belief and not a scientific theory. Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses.”

Gonzalez has some candid advice for ID proponents who want to work in academia: “Don’t discuss your ID views publicly. If you have an idea for an ID research project, do it in your spare time.”

Yet discrimination isn’t stopping the ID movement: In the past 12 years, more than 800 scientists have signed the “Dissent from Darwinism” statement, publicly acknowledging their skepticism that the complexity of life emerged from random mutations and natural selection. Many more have heeded Gonzalez’s advice in keeping their views to themselves for the sake of their careers.

Fresh faces are rising in the ranks: This summer, 45 students, scientists, teachers, and professors from around the world attended a closed-door seminar held by the Discovery Institute, an ID think tank in Seattle. They sat under the teaching of Gonzalez and other leading proponents of ID to learn the scientific evidence of intelligent design and the social impact of Darwinism. Despite risking discrimination and career roadblocks, the attendees are passionate about what they see as clear evidence of design in nature. For many of the American attendees, their biggest struggle is figuring out how to advocate intelligent design in hostile schools, universities, and labs without short-circuiting their careers in the process.

To protect the identities of some attendees, WORLD agreed to use pseudonyms (designated with an asterisk).

Biologist Isaac Watson* squirmed on a couch for five minutes before agreeing how he could be described in print: He’s a 20-something graduate of a secular university on the East Coast who holds a Ph.D. in the biological sciences, and he said, “The minute I associate myself with the ID movement I’m crossing a kind of point of no return, in terms of career advancement.” 

Watson is on the verge of a lifelong dream: He loved animals as a child and remembers hoping in sixth grade to become a scientist one day. He grew up in the church learning about the Genesis creation account and, even before high school, doubted Darwinian evolution could explain the origin of species.

After studying biology at a university that preaches Darwinism, Watson’s doubts haven’t gone away. For one, neo-Darwinian theory has led scientists to wrong conclusions, such as the assumption DNA segments with unknown functions are leftover evolutionary “junk.” Yet, Watson says, an ID proponent examining those segments would predict, “Well, if a designer created this, it probably has functionality”—and recent discoveries indicate most “junk” DNA has some biochemical function.

Watson is trying to decide how to promote intelligent design while avoiding what he calls a “career execution.” If the academic world knew he was pro-ID, his name might be informally blacklisted, preventing him from publishing in scientific journals. Watson is considering keeping his views hidden until his science credentials are established—by earning tenure, for example. He’s not sure when that will be.

Plant Breeder Randy Potter* works at a state university in the Midwest and makes his living tromping through fields, selecting plants with desirable traits, harvesting and planting their seeds, and raising new plants with those traits. Through this process of conventional breeding, he might be able to increase or decrease the height of a crop, or even increase its yield.

Is that Darwinian evolution in action? No, says Potter: “I have a goal in mind.” The selection in this case involves intelligence–his own. He notes that Darwin said evolution proceeded “without any intelligence, [but that’s] a leap. … It’s not like I can turn a wheat plant into a corn plant.”

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