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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

California Academy of Sciences settles potential libel claim; provides redress for ID sympathizer

When I spoke to him last night, California attorney Larry Caldwell told me that it sure helps to be a lawyer. Especially when it comes to dealing with a series of non-fact-based allegations against one’s good judgement and character.

Caldwell, a parent who thinks that students should be taught the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the Darwinian theory of evolution, was accused by a leading Darwinist of, among other things, proposing odd little books for adoption by the school system, books that he had never seen!

Service note: If you are looking for my extended review of Privileged Planet, go here. If you are looking for information on the showing of Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian, go here and here to start, and then this one will bring you up to date.
The article was authored by Eugenie C. Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, Inc. (NCSE). Scott's article, entitled “In My Backyard: Creationists in California,” appeared in the Spring print and online editions of the Academy’s California Wild magazine, and was linked on the NCSE website.

Caldwell filed suit, but the California Academy of Sciences has settled by agreeing to 1) permanently remove all on-line access to the Scott article, 2) publish a lengthy letter by Caldwell and 3) publish a retraction letter by Scott in the upcoming Summer 2005 edition of California Wild , which will be available in print and on the Internet in early July.

Caldwell says that his letter will correct a number of factual misstatements in the Scott article.

(Note: Copies of that article are probably as scarce as elbow pads for snakes right now, and I don’t have time to search - but if anyone knows of a link, you could put it in the Comments box, and much thanks.)

He also says that
Unfortunately, Scott and the NCSE have a long history of libeling people in the debate over how evolution should be taught in our public schools; my case is only the most recent example. Hopefully, it won't take any more libel lawsuits to teach them how to stick to the truth.

Other critics of Darwin's theory have been personally attacked on the basis of misrepresentations in similar cases where the Darwinists claim that the critics' professional statements or qualifications are false," said Caldwell. "The difference between them and me is that I decided to take legal action. Darwinists need to get the message: engage in civil discourse without defamation or prepare to answer in court.
Personally, I am delighted by this turn of events. As a journalist, I initially found it difficult to cover the intelligent design controversy, on account of the swamp of false allegations about what intelligent design theorists thought, said, and did.

I wish I could be surprised that it took the threat of a libel suit to get a science organization to correct a record that should never have been so wrong in the first place. Unfortunately, I am not surprised.

Here’s another example of the kind of stuff that irks me: David Berlinski, a secular Jewish mathematician who disputes Darwinism, has been called in some quarters, a creationist , about which he says, “Some readers seem to have been persuaded that in criticizing the Darwinian theory of evolution, I intended to uphold a doctrine of creationism. This is a mistake, supported by nothing that I have written.”

Similarly, ID theorist Michael Behe, a Roman Catholic biochemist, has been called a creationist, even though he has told me explicitly that he thinks that all the information in the universe was probably coded in at the Big Bang. That would make him a theistic evolutionist, of course. His doubts about Darwinism are based on biochemistry, not religion, just as Berlinski’s doubts are based on mathematics, not religion.

As I understand it, creationism means the effort to align science findings with a sacred text (Bible, Koran, tribal tradition about origins). I don’t see anything wrong with such an enterprise, but anyone who does not acknowledge a given sacred text won’t care, so it’s not properly a public issue.

However, while covering the intelligent design controversy, I met a number of scientists and mathematicians who had very good, non-religious reasons, based in their own disciplines, for doubting Darwinian evolution (from goo to you in a zillion easy steps).

I suspect some Darwinists resort to name calling and misrepresentation, in the hope that future evidence will vindicate a theory that they themselves have privately begun to doubt. As I said in a previous post, I am glad Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s bulldog, never lived to see this stuff.

Whether Darwinism turns out to be right or wrong, it must face scrutiny without the help of all the name-calling. Maybe the California settlement will help in that process.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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