Today is the birthday of Charles Darwin, aka Darwin Day, which Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture recognizes each year as the occasion for naming a Censor of the Year, or COTY. As Darwin himself said, in a scientific context, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” But through intimidation and silencing of views counter to evolutionary orthodoxy, such a “fair result” is just what our Censor seeks to undermine.
For 2018, we’ve chosen what is I think our best, or rather worst, COTY yet: the omnipresent online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Let’s review the facts briefly.
Intelligent design poses an ultimate question: Does nature offer evidence of purpose and design, or not? All thoughtful people must ask themselves that. Today, the natural first recourse for the questioning individual is to turn to Google. Looking up ID online will bring you immediately, the first entry, to the Wikipedia article. It commences with a lie:
“Intelligent design (ID) is a religious argument for the existence of God, presented by its proponents as "an evidence-based scientific theory about life's origins", [sic] though it has been discredited as pseudoscience.”
Actually, there are three lies. Here’s the truth: ID is a scientific, not a religious argument. It is a theory of evolution, of why the forms of life originated and changed over the past 3.9 billion years. An alternative to the increasingly shaky neo-Darwinian theory of blind churning, it argues exclusively in scientific terms, never from religious authority. It’s an argument for design in biology and cosmology, not for the “existence of God.” Compatible with methodological naturalism, it candidly professes that science sheds no light on the source of the design in life, other than to say that source operates with purpose and forethought. And while it has certainly been attacked in scabrous terms, it hasn’t been “discredited.” Far from it. Even an atheist philosopher like Thomas Nagel concedes that ID poses a “fiendishly difficult” challenge.
Yet anyone looking up ID on the Internet, or asking Amazon’s Alexa, which simply regurgitates Wikipedia, will be instantly turned off and likely give up investigating. That is, unless you already know how Wikipedia works, about the pseudonymous volunteer editors who run the place, with their axes to grind, standing ever ready, on a moment’s notice, to erase changes to pages they care about. The number of innocent people who have been misled by this article alone is beyond calculation.
We’ve been aware of the problem, of course, for years. But the erasure of notable paleontologist Günter Bechly, after he came for ID, was the occasion of much discussion of censorship on the part of this ubiquitous source of information and disinformation, both here and among Darwinists and ID critics too. Another ID scholar, Walter Bradley, similarly saw his entry disemboweled.
Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, who personally rejects intelligent design, has blasted the editors for the “appallingly biased” article on ID. He adds, “I completely despair of persuading Wikipedians of the error of their ways. I’m just officially registering my protest.”
On the subject of Bechly, our view is echoed by ID critics including Alex Berezow, a founding editor of the popular news aggregator site Real Clear Science, by the Darwinist group blog Panda’s Thumb, and as far afield as the liberal, secular Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
“If a respected scientist endorses a controversial view, should he or she be erased from history? The editors at Wikipedia think so, but only if the controversial opinion is one they personally dislike.
“That's precisely what happened to a respected German paleontologist, Günter Bechly. His biography on Wikipedia has been deleted. Poof. Gone. It's like he never existed. …
“Dr. Bechly … is guilty of committing a thought-crime, and his sentence is to be purged from the Internet. This is deeply troubling, and any true free speech and free thought advocates should be alarmed.”
You go, Alex Berezow! This year’s COTY, compared to past winners (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), stands out for being widely recognized as a censor, not only by us. Wiki editors, behind their masks, also depart from the ways of past Censors in how frank they are, on their User pages, in admitting their biases.
We struggled with whether to name Jimmy Wales, the encyclopedia’s other co-founder, as Censor. But the clowns, the masked mob, who do the actual “editing” win out for their tireless, frequently spiteful dedication to misleading the public. To solve the problem would require a massive rethinking of the entire concept behind Wikipedia. But like Larry Sanger, we despair of that.
Fortunately, the public is increasingly sensitized both to fakery on the Internet (“fake news”) and agenda-driven behind-the-scenes shenanigans at online behemoths like Twitter and Facebook. And as we’ve pointed out, it’s not only ID that is misrepresented on Wikipedia. It can only be hoped that skepticism will spread, and drive Internet users to examine other sources and, yes, to think and read for themselves, without being led by the nose.
David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at Discovery Institute and editor of Evolution News & Science Today.