December 8, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Darwin Display Becomes Rallying Point

The Charles Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History (11/21/2005, 11/17/2005, 10/17/2005) has become a safe haven and symbol of dominance for Darwinists otherwise flustered by the controversy over evolution.  This most in-depth exhibition of Darwin’s life and thought will make the rounds to Boston, Chicago, Toronto and London in coming seasons.  Alan Packer reviewed the exhibit for Nature1 and found it “splendid.”  He opined, “In explaining what we know about the theory of evolution and its originator, given the limitations of what an exhibition can convey, Darwin could hardly be bettered.”  He also thought it was well-timed because of the controversy in Dover, Pennsylvania over intelligent design.  Darwin, according to Packer, “removed the nebulous idea of belief from the discussion.”
    A panel of academics met last week at the museum to discuss the controversy between Darwinism and intelligent design, Reuters reported (see MSNBC News).  Their panel discussion, entitled “Darwin’s Legacy,” considered ID as a “cultural battle, a global phenomenon or even a brilliant marketing scheme” but not a serious scientific theory.  Michael Ruse puzzled over why America is so religious yet also a “scientific powerhouse.”  He attributed the religious nature to historical reaction of the South to the Civil War.  They turned toward the Bible and away from everything they thought represented the North, he asserted, while evolution “was taken to represent everything about the North that they disliked.”  Ronald Numbers expressed concern that ID is not just an American phenomenon, but is growing rapidly in Asian countries, Russia, China, and Islamic states.  He chocked ID up to a successful P.R. campaign. 

Finally Edward Larson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1998 book on the Scopes monkey trials, held that the debate boiled down in the United States to what is being taught in high-school biology classes.
    In the only remark to draw applause from the large audience, Larson said the “problem is partisan officials trying to tell science teachers how to do their jobs,” and for “blatantly religious motivations.”  He also noted that “so far, the issue hasn’t affected scientific funding.”
  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

Some evolutionists, like E. O. Wilson, have claimed that only anti-evolutionists refer to it as “Darwinism,” but Casey Luskin at Evolution News found many hits on the word in science journals.  Darwin still remains a hero to many evolutionary biologists.  In a recent issue of Current Biology,2 for instance, John Raven (U of Dundee) was asked, “Do you have a scientific hero?” Only a short answer was considered necessary: “Charles Darwin.  I hope I do not need to say more.”
    Yet Darwin continues to elicit controversy 146 years after the publication of his influential book.  Alan Boyle on MSNBC rated “Darwin vs. Design” as #1 of the top five science-related social controversies.  Robert Crowther on Evolution News said that academic persecution of scientists investigating intelligent design is a dangerous and growing trend.  Despite the risk, more schools are poised to look at ID favorably and Darwin with a critical eye.  After the debacle of the ID-mocking class at U. of Kansas (see next entry), Knox College in western Illinois will be offering a more balanced philosophy class on ID, reported the Daily Review Atlas, and depending on how the Dover trial goes, school boards may be lining up to give ID more exposure in science classes.  Lisa Anderson wrote for the Chicago Tribune that no matter which way Judge Jones rules, the controversy will not be quieting down.  And if the judge rules that ID is constitutional, “we’re going to have school boards across the country trying it (introducing ID) the next day,” she quoted one analyst.  Anderson’s title summarized what might happen: “Dover ruling could be its own genesis.”

1Alan Packer, “Exhibition: A close look at Darwin,” Nature 438, 741 (8 December 2005) | doi:10.1038/438741b.
2John Raven, “Q&A”, Current Biology, Volume 15, Issue 22, 22 November 2005, Pages R905-R906.

Despite their attempts to get the focus off Darwin and onto the word evolution, and claim scientific legitimacy for the bits and pieces of evidence of microevolution here and there that they can extrapolate to support the idea that humans descended from bacteria through numerous, successive, slight modifications over millions of years, the antics of the Darwin Party really boil down to Charlie worship.  John Raven is not the first evolutionist interviewed in a magazine that immediately pointed to Charlie as a scientific hero.  They really, really love the guy, because he is the patron saint of storytellers.  His Moses-like face, shining with the glory of naturalism, led them to the promised land of endless scientific funding for lazy speculations (12/22/2003).  Notice how Larson (a man who personally helped overturn the Inherit the Wind stereotype about the Scopes Trial) worried about how the controversy has not yet affected funding.  The Darwin Party has reason to worry.  A lot of useless speculative projects that get nowhere and produce nothing but vaporware on back order will be scrutinized carefully if the presumed authority of Pope Charlie falls into disrepute (ex., 11/05/2005).
    Charlie had a moderately interesting life, piddling around his garden, getting people to make funny faces on camera (11/22/2005) and other things, but he only had a degree in theology, no PhD, and lived off his wife’s family’s fortune.  Sickly and private, prone to self-centeredness, he was not that admirable a person.  Maybe it’s because his ethical reputation is the best of the worst among his tribe (see 09/02/2004) that museums like to have exhibits on him instead of Haldane, Fisher, Wright, J. M. Smith, William Hamilton and the later lineup of reckless communist zealots and prima donnas that have held up the standard of evolutionary theory.  At least Charlie as an old man, like Santa, looked cuddly and innocent (but see 11/30/2005 entry).

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