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Attacks on journal editor raise questions about academic freedom and intelligent design

.- The editor of a small, scientific journal, loosely associated with the Smithsonian Institute, has come under tremendous fire recently, for his publication of an article supporting the theory of Intelligent Design--and he doesn’t even believe the theory himself.

Intelligent design, the burgeoning theory which suggests that the universe is too complex to have been created at random, and that an intelligent hand lies at its genesis, has garnered considerable attention in recent months.

The attention largely comes from two U.S. school districts who want (or don’t want) to include a note about the theory as an alternative to certain aspects of evolution in their biology classrooms.

Richard Sternberg, a staff scientist at the National Institutes of Health, found himself at the center of the debate over science and academic freedom when he published an article by university professor and Intelligent Design proponent Stephen Meyer last year.

Meyer, a Cambridge-trained professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University and Senior Fellow at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, a think tank for determining the place of a creator in the universe, wrote the peer-reviewed article called, “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories.”

According to National Public Radio, Sternberg published the piece, despite his skepticism "because evolutionary biologists are thinking about this. So I thought that by putting this on the table, there could be some reasoned discourse. That's what I thought, and I was dead wrong."

Sternberg, who edits the small, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, reports that not only were his colleagues furious, but some tried to smear his scientific reputation by accusing him of fraud and saying that the piece was not really peer-reviewed.

He filed a complaint with U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which protects federal employees, but after investigating--and backing up many of Sternberg’s claims--they decided they could not take action because he was not technically an employee of the Smithsonian.

While Sternberg’s critics say that no real harm was done to him, the incident highlights what many see as a hypocritical attack on academic freedom from strict evolution proponents.

Many supporters of intelligent design hold and admit that while it is widely accepted and largely unquestioned, Darwin’s theory of evolution contains serious holes which defy explanation.

Terry Mattingly, a religion writer for the Scripps-Howard news service recently criticized an article in the Columbia Journalism Review which suggested that “all the [evolution] critics are religious nuts and there is no need to take their claims seriously or present their arguments accurately.”

Earlier this year, Vienna’s Cardinal Christof Shoenborn wrote in a New York Times editorial that, “Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science.”

Evolution, in the sense of common ancestry may be true, the Cardinal wrote, but neo-Darwinism, or what he describes as “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection”, is completely false in the eyes of the Church.


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April 20, 2014

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Lk 24:13-35

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