That’s my subject at Evolution News & Views, where I take on a response to the Thomas Jefferson/intelligent design connection from University of Chicago biologist Jerry A. Coyne. Read the rest there. Excerpt below:
On his blog, Coyne lashes out at “young-earth creationist” Stephen Meyer. Of course, Steve Meyer is nothing of the sort, as he writes clearly in Signature in the Cell (e.g., see p. 17) and elsewhere, and has even testified under oath. Meyer believes the information in DNA goes back around 3.85 billion years.
It’s like a kind of Alzheimer’s with these guys. I have a Darwinist email correspondent who simply can’t grasp that I’m not a young-earther. He has queried me on this more than once, and each time I respond that I am not. He then goes ahead and forgets that he asked me once before: “Do you really believe that the earth (and the universe) is roughly 6,000 years old?”
In 2005, Coyne wrote a dismissive piece in The New Republic citing Meyer’s controversial essay in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. That’s the one that resulted in the punishment of its editor, evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, by his supervisors and colleagues at the Smithsonian. Let’s assume that Coyne, as a serious scientist, wouldn’t cite a published article in a peer-reviewed technical journal without reading it. In the article, Meyer makes clear his view that life is very old. The article is about the Cambrian explosion, for goodness sake, that happened 530 millions years ago.
Yet now Coyne has forgotten all about that and asks incredulously of Meyer: “Is a 6,000-year-old Earth also an ‘inference from geological data’?” In an appended correction and apology, Dr. Coyne explains that he became confused and thought Steve Meyer was someone else — someone totally different with a different name and different beliefs. I know, it’s so painful when that happens.
In a more general way, Coyne becomes confused about what Meyer was even saying in a brief, simple, and clearly written [Boston Globe] op-ed [on Thomas Jefferson’s pro-intelligent design views]. He calls it an “argument from authority,” as if Steve were trying to somehow bolster the scientific case for modern ID from the authority of Jefferson. That would indeed be absurd, but the real point was a historical and philosophical one. Jefferson believed that nature is designed. He believed this based on reason and observation, not Scripture. He was not a Christian. In fact, he didn’t care for Christianity much at all. Yet he did believe in “Nature’s God,” that this God, accessible to all through the evidence of nature, endowed us with “certain unalienable rights.”
So whether Jefferson was right or wrong in his science, we can trace our own liberty back to his ideas, which are branches from an intellectual tree that is today called “intelligent design,” but that goes back much further than that phrase does. You could trace it to Plato and Aristotle, as you could trace Darwinism to Epicurus. Meyer’s message was: If you like the Declaration of Independence, thank intelligent design. Under the influence of Darwinism, such a noble document could not be written. Other kinds of meritorious writing could be produced — say, the short stories of H.P. Lovecraft — but not the Declaration of Independence.