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Boycotting Bloggingheads

Reaction to an Intelligent Design debate shows limit to public discussion.

An online clearinghouse for intellectual debate has discovered the apparent boundary for its controversial conversations: Intelligent Design.

Bloggingheads.tv posted a video interview between journalist John McWhorter and Intelligent Design proponent Michael Behe in late August focused on the Lehigh University biochemistry professor's 2007 book The Edge of Evolution. It was taken down the same day after the website received a barrage of online criticism for not asking tougher questions of Behe and for hosting him at all.

The explanation given for pulling the interview: "John McWhorter feels, with regret, that this interview represents neither himself, Professor Behe, nor Bloggingheads usefully, takes full responsibility for same, and has asked that it be taken down from the site. He apologizes to all who found its airing objectionable."

Bloggingheads editor-in-chief Robert Wright reposted the interview four days later upon discovering the incident, but Behe says that action didn't erase what happened.

"Reposting the interview didn't make everything better," says Behe. "Yanking it down in the first place sent the strong message that this is a topic that can't be discussed rationally; it is beyond the pale, and an interviewer like McWhorter risks his career if he does otherwise."

The decision to repost the interview prompted notable scientists Carl Zimmer and Sean Carroll to publicly disassociate with the website because they believe Intelligent Design is not a serious scientific idea worthy of debate.

Some religion history experts noted the ironic adaptation of Fundamentalist techniques on the opposite side of the evolution debate. "Recently 'the new atheists' have been characterized, even in some of the mainstream media, as like fundamentalists in their dogmatism," said George Marsden, a noted professor of American religious history at the University of Notre Dame. "Breaking relations with those who associate with your enemies sounds a lot like classic American fundamentalist 'second-degree separation.' "

Others share similar criticisms of Intelligent Design yet disagree with such abandoning the debate. John Horgan, director of The Center of Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology, does not support Intelligent Design, but neither does he want to stop the conversation. "As long as these ideas remain influential, we need to keep arguing about them," he said.

"If I had the money to invite Mike Behe to my university, I would, and the room would be filled. I have no trouble with presenting ideas," said Denis Lamoureux, an evangelical professor at St. Joseph's College in Alberta. "But it's important to underline that the other side of the id gang, we've been blocked out as well." Lamoureux says he has been fired from an evangelical college for his belief that God used evolution, and disinvited to a university lecture series for the same reason.

Eastern Nazarene College professor Karl Giberson, author of Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, says it's unfair for "scientific watchdogs" to say the Behe conversation should be suppressed. "This is not a conversation in the scientific community," he says. "But it's a very important conversation in American culture. Wright is under no obligation to constrain his coverage of this topic to serve the interests of the scientific community. … America is still trying to reconcile faith in God with faith in evolution."

Related Elsewhere:

Bloggingheads.tv reposted the interview between John McWhorter and Michael Behe. Behe wrote about the interview on his blog.

Christianity Today and Books & Culture previously reviewed Behe's The Edge of Evolution. CT profiled Behe's work in a two-part 1997 article, and Behe's Darwin's Black Box won CT's Book of the Year award in 1997.

The Discovery Institute offers articles from Behe.

CT's previous coverage of science, evolution, and Intelligent Design includes:

ID Tagged | Faculty member at Iowa State University denied tenure for supporting intelligent design. (January 10, 2008)
Living with the Darwin Fish | Why the discovery of yet another 'missing link' doesn't destroy my faith. (March 12, 2007)
The Other ID Opponents | Traditional creationists see Intelligent Design as an attack on the Bible. (April 25, 2006)
Science in Wonderland | Getting some perspective (250 million years' worth) on the evolution controversy. (April 25, 2006)
God by the Numbers | Coincidence and random mutation are not the most likely explanations for some things. (March 10, 2006)
Intelligent Design Is Too Religious For Schools, Judge Rules | "Abundantly clear" that it's updated creationism, he says. (Dec. 21, 2005)
Design Film Sparks Angst | Under fire, Smithsonian disavows presentation on Intelligent Design. (July 6, 2005)
Verdict that Demands Evidence | It is Darwinists, not Christians, who are stonewalling the facts. (March 28, 2005)
Were the Darwinists Wrong? | National Geographic stacks the deck. (Nov. 23, 2004)
The Art of Debating Darwin | How to intelligently design a winning case for God's role in creation. (Sept. 08, 2004)
Your Darwin Is Too Large | Evolution's significance for theology has been greatly exaggerated. (May 25, 2000)

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