The Smithsonian/Sternberg controversy

Cast doubt on Darwin, get cast out

by Pam Sheppard (AiG-USA)

August 22, 2005

What happens when an editor of a technical biology journal decides, along with others, to publish the first peer-reviewed technical article that casts doubt on Darwin and lays out the evidence for an intelligent designer?

In the case of Richard Sternberg, a Smithsonian research associate and former managing editor of the independent journal called the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, it meant being cast out of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Shortly after publishing the article ‘The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories,’ senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution lashed out at Sternberg, calling him a ‘shoddy scientist’ and a ‘closet Bible thumper,’ according to a Washington Post article (August 19).

In August 2004, news agencies around the world reported on the controversy as Sternberg came under intense scrutiny and even persecution for publishing the article written by Stephen Meyer, a Discovery Institute fellow.

‘I was singled out for harassment and threats on the basis that they think I’m a creationist,’ Sternberg said in a Washington Times article (February 14, 2005).

Now, the incident is back in the international spotlight with the yet-to-be published report by an independent USA agency, the Office of Special Counsel. This group, which investigates cases of federal government employees who feel they have been unfairly treated or dismissed, reached the same conclusion—top scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (where the Proceedings is published) retaliated against Sternberg by investigating his religion and falsely labeling him as a creationist, as reported by the Washington Post (August 19). However, according to an article in the UK’s Independent (August 20), Sternberg insists that he is agnostic about intelligent design, is not a young earth creationist and believes that science only moves forward on controversy.

As reported by the Post, although Sternberg holds two PhDs in theoretical biology and molecular evolution, some Smithsonian scientists disseminated so much false information about him and his credentials, James McVay, the legal adviser in the Office of Special Counsel wrote in his findings, that one of his colleagues had to circulate his résumé simply to dispel the rumor that Sternberg was not a scientist.

According to an article in the National Review (August 16), the government’s findings were based largely on email traffic among top Smithsonian scientists. A lengthy and detailed letter from McVay to Sternberg includes some telling summaries, which include the following:

Our preliminary investigation indicates that retaliation [against Sternberg by his colleagues] came in many forms. It came in the form of attempts to change your working conditions ... . During the process you were personally investigated and your professional competence was attacked. Misinformation was disseminated throughout the SI [Smithsonian Institution] and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false. It is also clear that a hostile work environment was created with the ultimate goal of forcing you out of the SI.

Also included in the National Review article was another email from a scientist at the museum who gave further evidence of the contempt some evolutionist scientists have towards Bible-believing Christians. The writer of the email told of how, after ‘spending 4.5 years in the Bible Belt,’ he had learned how to deal with religious Christians. For example, he described the ‘fun we had’ when ‘my son refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance because of the ‘under dog’ [meaning presumably the ‘under God’] part.’

Furthermore, according to the Post (August 19), the special counsel accused Darwinian lobbyist group, the National Center for Science and Education (NCSE), of orchestrating attacks on Sternberg.

Eugenie Scott, the group’s executive director and herself a vocal anti-creationist, insisted that Smithsonian scientists absolutely had to explore Sternberg’s religious beliefs. ‘They don’t care if you are religious, but they do care a lot if you are a creationist,’ Scott said in the Post article.

Ironically, a frequent criticism made by the NCSE has been that scientists who support intelligent design don’t publish peer-reviewed articles and don’t make their case at scientific conferences. When an article, which is peer-reviewed, appears, then the NCSE objects.

Dr. John West, Associate Director of the Discovery Institute, spoke to this issue in a Discovery Institute News article shortly after Myer’s article was published in the journal (September 8, 2004). ‘Now an article has appeared in a biology journal that even the NCSE can’t find a way to spin out of existence.’ He goes on to say, ‘So what does it do? Claim the article shouldn’t have been published despite the fact it was approved by peer-review. Apparently politicians aren’t the only ones who do flip-flops.’

Speaking of doing flip-flops, this isn’t the first time the Smithsonian Institution has been accused of altering its stance after being pressured by Darwinists. In June 2005, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History reneged on its decision to co-sponsor a screening of the Discovery Institute’s film, ‘The Privileged Planet,’ when they determined that the content was not ‘consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian’s scientific research.’

Where’s the evidence—where’s the science?

So, where’s the science in all of this? Why is there so much name calling and game playing instead of having an open debate on origins?

Ken Ham [pointed out], ‘We have found time and time again, that it’s the creationists who use good scientific arguments and the evolutionists who often respond with ad hominem attacks—not reasoned scientific statements.’


Ham, who recently visited the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington D.C., remarked about the changing storyline of evolution he witnessed firsthand. Several signs in the Human Evolution exhibit provided proof that evolutionists frequently change their ideas as to how man supposedly evolved over time (see picture, right). One sign admitted that much of the original material on display is now out of date and will soon be replaced by a new exhibit.

‘If a creationist questions any aspect of evolution, then such people are not seen as scientists!’ Ham said. ‘But evolutionists can change their ideas all the time and that’s okay—as long as they don’t question evolution itself.’

Ham said as he walked through the Smithsonian (which in 2004 had a budget of more than $560 million for its various museums and projects, supported by taxpayer dollars) that he didn’t see any evidence of evolution in the glass cases or the other exhibits. As is the case with the Smithsonian and most other science museums, he said, ‘Evolution is the story on the labels used to try to interpret the evidence in a particular way. Such museums are really churches of humanism. The public is being brainwashed into accepting an atheistic religion and they need to wake up to what is happening to them and their children.’

Opening the door to an intelligent debate

Why is there such an emotional reaction when someone dares to allow people to even consider that there could be an intelligence behind the origin of the universe? As one who has been on the front line of this battle for many years, Ham knows it comes down to a spiritual battle.

‘To just suggest the possibility of some sort of intelligence, even if such a person is not talking about the God of the Bible, the idea cannot be tolerated by secular evolutionary humanists,’ Ham observed. ‘This would be opening a door to suggest there is more to life than just molecules—which means it could lead to the possibility that there is a God, even the God of the Bible, which means all are sinners and that all are accountable to God, not ourselves.’

As many scientists have noted, sooner or later the design issues will have to be debated in a reasoned manner.

But the bigger question is this: will the evolutionists be able to stop themselves from being the first to cast their stones in order for truth to prevail and for science to move forward? Only time will tell.

Published: 11 February 2006

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