Home| Letters| Links| RSS| About Us| Contact Us

On the Frontline

What's New

Table of Contents

Index of Authors

Index of Titles

Index of Letters

Mailing List

subscribe to our mailing list:


Critique of Intelligent Design

Evolution vs. Creationism

The Art of ID Stuntmen

Faith vs Reason

Anthropic Principle

Autopsy of the Bible code

Science and Religion

Historical Notes


Serious Notions with a Smile


Letter Serial Correlation

Mark Perakh's Web Site

The DI and the smoking gun that wasn't

By Dr. Hector Avalos
Iowa State University

Posted December 18, 2007

I needed to look no further than the following post in Evolution News and Views (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2007/12/cataloguing_darwinist_denials.html) to see clearly how the Discovery Institute misleads readers by selectively quoting the supposed smoking gun e-mails from ISU. I know because, in this case, they are quoting e-mails of mine.

The DI held a news conference on December 3 in Des Moines that revealed -- drum roll, please—scientists do not like other scientists portraying non-science as science. And from this mass of e-mails they only managed to find this supposed inconsistency in my position.

Hector Avalos, outspoken atheist Professor of Religion at ISU: Then: In the summer of 2005, Avalos e-mails ISU faculty, inviting them to sign a statement calling on "all faculty members to ... reject efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science" because of the "negative impact" due to the fact that "Intelligent Design … has now established a presence … at Iowa State University." Guillermo Gonzalez, being the only well-known ID proponent who has "established a presence" at ISU, is the undeniable target of such a statement. Later: Avalos asserts publicly in the ISU Daily, "The statement we wrote was in no way targeted specifically at Gonzalez."

First, they are wrong about Gonzalez being the ONLY one who had established a "well-known" ID presence at ISU. Another advocate of ID at ISU is Thomas Ingebritsen, who was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in the fall of 2005, and who has been open about his support for ID. He was the one actually teaching a course that was quite favorable to ID.

The DI scribes should know this because they said it themselves in a post dated December 13, 2005 (http://www.evolutionnews.org/2005/12/for_darwinists_there_is_no_pre.html)

On the hand, Dr. Tom Ingebritsen, associate professor of genetics in Iowa State's The Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology (GDCB) has been teaching a course called "God and Science" for the past five years that presents intelligent design in at least a more neutral, if not favorable, light.

Do the math -- "for the past five years" would mean Ingebritsen was known to be advocating ID at ISU in 2000 and BEFORE Dr. Gonzalez arrived at ISU in 2001.

Second, the DI does not tell readers how it is combining sentences from different sections of a document in order create a fragmented syntax that appears to target Gonzalez, if that means his tenure status. Here is the three original sentences, snippets of which were recombined by the DI:

  1. Intelligent Design has become a significant issue in science education, and it has now established a presence, even if minimal, at Iowa State University.
  2. Accordingly, if you are concerned about the negative impact of Intelligent Design on the integrity of science and on our university, please consider signing the "Statement on Intelligent Design by Iowa State University Faculty" below.
  3. We, therefore, urge all faculty members to uphold the integrity of our university of "science and technology," convey to students and the general public the importance of methodological naturalism in science, and reject efforts to portray Intelligent Design as science.

In none of those sentences, nor anywhere in the whole document, is Dr. Gonzalez named. At that time our statement began to circulate, Dr. Gonzalez was not well-known as an ID advocate to most faculty even at ISU, but only to the few of us who studied ID or those in his department. The nature of "the presence at ISU" was left unspecified in order not to draw attention specifically to Dr. Gonzalez.

It was Dr. Gonzalez who subsequently made his name well-known by identifying himself very publicly as the supposed specific target of that faculty statement. He made himself the issue at a time we were trying to make ID the issue as our Statement plainly states.

Had he kept quiet, I doubt many faculty outside of his own department would have even known who was advocating ID at ISU. I did not get e-mails wondering "who is the presence?" Or "what does presence mean?"

Note that in sentence #2 we express our worry about the impact of ID on the integrity of science and on our university. We said we wanted to educate the public. Now that is what the faculty cared about. The DI leaves that all that out of its recombined syntax.

Third, there is no inconsistency in my position quoted: "The statement...was in no way targeted specifically at Gonzalez."

Let's read the beginning of our faculty statement again: "We, the undersigned faculty members at Iowa State University, reject all attempts to represent Intelligent Design as a scientific endeavor." See http://www.biology.iastate.edu/STATEMENT.htm

The Statement does not say "we reject Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez" or "we reject Dr. Gonzalez's tenure." It is ID we reject, and so how is that specifically targeting Dr. Gonzalez unless Dr. Gonzalez embodies the whole of the ID movement?

Of course what the DI did not reveal is my fuller account of the rationale for that faculty statement, which eventually was signed by over 130 faculty members at ISU, and about 400 faculty members in Iowa's three regent's universities. In an e-mail (dated 6-3-07) I submitted as part of the open records request, and presumably also obtained by the Discovery Institute, I presented the following more complete rationale to Dr. John Hauptman, a professor in Dr. Gonzalez's own department:

I cannot speak for every signatory, but I can tell you my motives had as much or more to do with what was going outside of Iowa, on the national scene, than what was going on here.

First, in my mind, was the fact that the Discovery Institute had been using ISU's name when trying to introduce ID into school curricula in Texas, among other states for years.

One case in point is the 2003 textbook hearings in Austin, Texas in which William Dembski, the most prominent advocate of ID, used the ID research taking place at ISU to justify the introduction of ID into school textbooks.

See, for example, this extract from p. 34 of Dembski's portfolio as an expert witness in such hearings: http://www.designinference.com/documents/2005.09.Expert_Report_Dembski.pdf

"Cosmological Fine-Tuning and Anthropic Coincidences. Although this is a well worn area of study, there are some new developments here that derive from a specifically design-theoretic perspective. Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University, and Jay Richards, a senior fellow with Seattle's Discovery Institute, have published The Privileged Planet in which they make a case for planet earth as intelligently designed not only for life but also for scientific discovery. In other words, they argue that our world is designed to facilitate scientific discovery of its own design. This work has been featured on the front cover of the October 2001 Scientific American. It connects intelligent design in biology to intelligent design in cosmology."

Second, in June, the Smithsonian Institute featured a movie based on The Privileged Planet, in an event which was again meant to highlight how research at Iowa State was validating ID.

A third development was the Dover trial which was about to begin in Pennsylvania in September of 2005. That is still the most significant federal court case regarding ID.

Fourth, President Bush had issued a statement on Monday, August 1 stating that he favored introduction of ID into science classes as a way of teaching "both sides." See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/02/AR2005080201686.html

Our petition began circulating on Tuesday, August 2, the day after Bush's statements, even though it had been drafter prior to that.

Given all of these factors, I wanted to say that we, at ISU, did not think ID was either a "new development" or science. Otherwise ID advocates were using our silence to validate themselves, especially in states where they wanted to introduce it into schools.

As long as a lot of us were on record saying we did not think ID was science, then Dr. Gonzalez's work on ID was not so much the issue. His tenure was not an issue. What we wanted to stop is the unchallenged use of ISU's name to validate ID.

So, it was not at all about Gonzalez's tenure, but rather about the use of our university's good name to market ID. Gonzalez can say ID is science, but we can also say it's not.

Talk about flip flops

And lest we think that the DI has no flip-flops of its own, let's play the same game with them, shall we?

On the one hand: Intelligent Design is scientific, not religious.

On the other hand: Being against intelligent design constitutes religious discrimination

On the one hand: We want academic freedom declare Intelligent Design to be science.

On the other hand: We will cry viewpoint discrimination if someone expresses the opinion that ID is not science.

On the one hand: We want scientists, not judges or politicians, to define science

On the other hand: If scientists do not define ID as science, then we will take our case to court and court politicians to achieve our ends.

On the one hand: ID advocates are not creationists

On the other hand: "cdesign proponentsists" (need we say more?)

Honesty and secrecy

In general, the December 3 news conference was more of a bust than the DI anticipated. And while the DI complains that newspapers who do not agree with their position are tools of ISU (see Evolution News and Views, December 6, 2007), they forget that a local pastor admitted to being a puppet of a DI fellow.

Weighing in on ID debate
Posted by Tim: 08/24/2005 :: Ministry News :: 1 comments on 002782

Well, my arm was twisted. Rather than working hard on campus ministry stuff, I was coerced into writting a letter to the editor of the D.M. Register regarding the Intelligent Design debate. It went through a major revision after Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez himself advised me multiple times as to what to say and what not to say. This one got his blessing.

Hmm. Coerced? Arm twisted? Others would call it hypocrisy and a blatant attempt to hide the author's true identity. Reminds one of the famous Wedge Document that the DI secreted for a while. So much for open records and truthfulness. So much for higher ethical standards that ID would supposedly bring to our society.

So, let the DI explain why it withholds information of its own when quoting those e-mails. Why not give the whole context so that people can make up their minds? Why not quote the other side, and truly teach the controversy.