Today's (1 December 2005) edition of USA Today included a column on Intelligent Design written by Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel. The entire column is objectionable, but Thomas' conclusion was by far the worst part. The rest of this post, which also appears at The Panda's Thumb, has been submitted in response as a letter to the editor.
On June 30, 1860 a famous (and perhaps fictional) encounter took place between the scientist Thomas Henry Huxley and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. The occasion was a discussion of Darwin’s recently published book Origin of Species, and according to legend Wilberforce concluded his remarks by asking Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his father’s side or his mother’s. This bit of ancient history popped into my mind when I read Cal Thomas’ remark at the end of the column that he and Bob Beckel wrote on Intelligent Design in yesterday’s paper.
Unlike our understanding of evolution itself, which has advanced tremendously in the last century and a half, Thomas’ idea of a clever response seems to be on a par with the good bishop. Thomas’ remark, “Maybe we can offer [scientists] some bananas as an incentive. As they eat them, they can contemplate their heritage,” does not have any more of a place in a reasonable discussion than did Wilberforce’s.
My reply to Thomas is more or less the same as Huxley’s reply to Wilberforce: if I had a choice between having a monkey as a grandfather or having as a grandfather someone who has great intellectual gifts and influence, but uses those gifts and that influence merely to inject ridicule into a serious debate, I would, without hesitation, choose the monkey.
Department of Zoology, University of Hawaii at Manoa.