A professor at the University of Vermont, Nicholas Gotelli, got an invitation to debate one of the clowns at the Discovery Institute. Here’s what they wrote.
Dear Professor Gotelli,
I saw your op-ed in the Burlington Free Press and appreciated your support
of free speech at UVM. In light of that, I wonder if you would be open to
finding a way to provide a campus forum for a debate about evolutionary
science and intelligent design. The Discovery Institute, where I
work, has a
local sponsor in Burlington who is enthusiastic to find a way to make this
happen. But we need a partner on campus. If not the biology
perhaps you can suggest an alternative.
Ben Stein may not be the best person to single-handedly represent the ID
side. As you’re aware, he’s known mainly as an entertainer. A more
appropriate alternative or addition might be our senior fellows David
Berlinski or Stephen Meyer, respectively a mathematician and a philosopher
of science. I’ll copy links to their bios below. Wherever one comes down in
the Darwin debate, I think we can all agree that it is healthy for students
to be exposed to different views–in precisely the spirit of inviting
controversial speakers to campus, as you write in your op-ed.
I’m hoping that you would be willing to give a critique of ID at such an
event, and participate in the debate in whatever role you feel comfortable
A good scientific backdrop to the discussion might be Dr. Meyer’s book that
comes out in June from HarperCollins, “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the
Evidence for Intelligent Design.”
On the other hand, Dr. Belinski may be a good choice since he is a
both ID and Darwinian theory.
Would it be possible for us to talk more about this by phone sometime soon?
With best wishes,
You’ll enjoy Dr Gotelli’s response.
Dear Dr. Klinghoffer:
Thank you for this interesting and courteous invitation to set up a
debate about evolution and creationism (which includes its more
recent relabeling as “intelligent design”) with a speaker from the
Discovery Institute. Your invitation is quite surprising, given the
sneering coverage of my recent newspaper editorial that you
yourself posted on the Discovery Institute’s website:
However, this kind of two-faced dishonesty is what the scientific
community has come to expect from the creationists.
Academic debate on controversial topics is fine, but those topics
need to have a basis in reality. I would not invite a creationist
to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite
an alchemist, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a psychic, or a
Holocaust revisionist. These ideas have no scientific support, and
that is why they have all been discarded by credible scholars.
Creationism is in the same category.
Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren’t members of
your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed
journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by
scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish.
Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas
that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly
explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying
to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or
scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel
Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the
prominent mainstream journals.
“Conspiracy” is the predictable response by Ben Stein and the
frustrated creationists. But conspiracy theories are a joke,
because science places a high premium on intellectual honesty and
on new empirical studies that overturn previously established
principles. Creationism doesn’t live up to these standards, so its
proponents are relegated to the sidelines, publishing in books,
blogs, websites, and obscure journals that don’t maintain
Finally, isn’t it sort of pathetic that your large, well-funded
institute must scrape around, panhandling for a seminar invitation
at a little university in northern New England? Practicing
scientists receive frequent invitations to speak in science
departments around the world, often on controversial and novel
topics. If creationists actually published some legitimate science,
they would receive such invitations as well.
So, I hope you understand why I am declining your offer. I will
wait patiently to read about the work of creationists in the pages
of Nature and Science. But until it appears there, it isn’t science
and doesn’t merit an invitation.
In closing, I do want to thank you sincerely for this invitation
and for your posting on the Discovery Institute Website. As an
evolutionary biologist, I can’t tell you what a badge of honor this
is. My colleagues will be envious.
P.S. I hope you will forgive me if I do not respond to any further
e-mails from you or from the Discovery Institute. This has been
entertaining, but it interferes with my research and teaching.