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Smithsonian Accused of “Anti-Religious” Discrimination

Agape Press reports on an Intelligent Design controversy (link added):

A congressional investigation finds the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, demonized one of its research associates for publishing a peer-reviewed article critical of Darwinian evolution. A report from the House Government Reform Committee says Smithsonian officials retaliated against biologist Dr. Richard Sternberg for publishing an article by Dr. Stephen Meyer that discussed the scientific evidence for intelligent design (ID) relating to the “Cambrian Explosion.” The report concluded that Sternberg’s civil and constitutional rights were violated…”The House report concludes the Smithsonian’s harassment of Dr. Sternberg “was reinforced by anti-religious and political motivations.”

For reasons best known to themselves, however, Agape declines to mention the one congressman responsible for the “congressional investigation”: Mark Souder, a self-described “ultra-conservative” evangelical who has long-time links with the Discovery Institute. Back in 2000, he attended a briefing on Capitol Hill in which proponents of Intelligent Design creationism sought to debunk Darwinian evolution and suggest that evolutionary scientists peddle evil. Skeptical Inquirer reported at the time:

Entitled “Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design and its Implications for Public Policy and Education,” the briefing was sponsored by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank (www.discovery.org), and its Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture…The briefing featured a number of the leading lights in the ID movement, including Lehigh University biology professor Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, Whitworth College philosophy professor Stephen Meyer, who directs the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture; Discovery Institute Fellow Nancy Pearcey, co-author with Chuck Colson of How Now Shall We Live?; and Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial. Behe and Meyer spoke first, focusing on a scientific explanation of ID theory and discussion of the weaknesses of Darwinian theory. The second two speakers, Pearcey and Johnson, focused on social and political implications of the competing worldviews represented by these two theories…[C]ongressional co-hosts listed on the press release included House Science Committee members Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (R-Texas), and Education Committee member Mark Souder (R-Indiana).

These were heady days for Intelligent Design advocates at the end of the Clinton era, as they hoped Republican political patronage would allow them to leapfrog the peer-review process: three years later, ID advocate William Dembski was crowing to Richard Dawkins that his political connections would give him access to Bush, and so allow him to direct “the future of science in the United States and the possibilities for public funding of intelligent design research”.

Souder, however, has never had a very sophisticated take on the subject, as he shows in a 2004 interview in which he explains why he is a supporter of national parks despite the bad company this puts him in:

A lot of the environmental movement has been captured by almost an antireligious segment that worships nature in and of itself. And the environmental movement also is a big promoter of evolution — that we all evolved from some amoeba, and therefore we ought to treat the grizzly bear [well] because it’s our ancestor.

Clearly, this is just the man to take on the Smithsonian.

Richard Sternberg alleges that he was subjected to various censures and humiliations after he published a paper by the Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, such as losing office space and having his keys taken from him. His claims are disputed by Ed Brayton:

What little ill-treatment Sternberg may have gotten…was largely self-inflicted, the result not only of his violation of procedures in regard to the Meyer paper, but in regard to several other instances of professional malfeasance and prior examples of poor judgement as PBSW editor…Sternberg has grossly exaggerated several alleged instances of “retaliation” in the early days of the scandal. In particular, he claimed that he had his keys taken away, his access to the Smithsonian’s collections taken away, and lost his office space. In reality, the keys and office space were exchanged as part of larger museum changes and he retains the same access today that all others in his position have…[T]his is a trumped-up report orchestrated by political allies of the Discovery Institute, particularly Rep. Mark Souder and former (I love saying that) Sen. Rick Santorum. They have put out a report that simply is not supported by the evidence and was designed, intelligently or otherwise, to support the disingenuous PR campaign that includes the attempt to position themselves as victims of discrimination.

A supporter of Sternberg named Krauze complains that Brayton has “trivialised” Sternberg’s woes; Brayton responds to that, and expands on his theme, here.

Souder’s faith does not just inform his take on science – it also guides his understanding of the Middle East conflict:

…So when you come to a question like the [separation] wall, I would prefer, just personally, that Israel handle things a little bit differently from time to time. But the bottom line is, they’re God’s chosen people. He’s going to stand with them. The question is: Are we going to stand with them? Because God’s going to stand with them…And if you really believe in a fundamentalist Bible, the Book of Revelation is pretty clear.

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