Last month, Wikipedia removed the entry on German insect paleontologist Günter Bechly, seemingly due to his position on intelligent design (ID), the scientific movement considering evidence for design behind nature — a movement opposed to Darwinian evolution. While editors claimed Bechly was not “notable” enough to warrant an entry, others with fewer career accomplishments have long pages on Wikipedia, and Bechly has a distinguished career.
“What Wikipedia did is definitely an act of censorship and an effort to suppress the free flow of ideas and information,” John West, vice president of the Discovery Institute where Bechly works, told PJ Media in an interview Tuesday. He pointed out that Wikipedia has spread misinformation for evolution and undercut the respectability of other ID scientists.
Bechly’s page was deleted on Wikipedia on October 9, after editors raised “notability” concerns on the last day of September. One editor, David Eppstein, characterized Bechly’s views as “fringe,” writing, “His turn to fringe creationist views does not seem to be notable at all.”
West suggested that the combination of Bechly’s views on intelligent design and his solid academic credentials makes him toxic to those intent on preserving a Darwinian orthodoxy.
“The issue here, I would argue, is precisely that he has such impeccable science credentials, that helps destroy the myth that they want preserved,” the Discovery Institute VP told PJ Media. “Günter Bechly is too dangerous to allow people to find out about.”
When Wikipedia editors discussed deleting Bechly’s page, the scientist posted his own credentials. He provided links to press, TV, and radio segments mentioning his work, exhibitions he designed, and a few articles from the BBC and Scientific American.
“Add to that three described new insect orders, more than 160 described species, and insect family Bechlyidae, a genus and 8 species named after me, 2 edited books and numerous book chapters, 1 book in German about me, and a ResearchGate score that is higher than 85% of ResearchGate members,” Bechly wrote.
Taking an aggressive tone, he concluded that “if this should not be sufficient to meet the arbitrary notability requirement for Wikipedia, please start with deleting the pages about atheist intellectual nobodies like Richard Carrier and Matt Dillahunty, who score much lower.”
Carrier, an atheist pro-evolution author and blogger, enjoys a lavish Wikipedia entry, running to more than 9,000 words. The entry even mentions that he is “polyamorous.” Despite criticizing the sources on Bechly as biased, the Wikipedia editors cited many biased sources in Dillahunty’s similarly long and in-depth article.
One editor in the discussion actually admitted that “determining notability, especially in borderline cases, can definitely be subjective. If it weren’t discussions like this wouldn’t be necessary.” Then again, this should not be a borderline case. Indeed, Bechly is arguably much more notable than Wikipedia editor David Eppstein.
According to West, Bechly’s scientific credentials and importance are only half of what makes knowledge of him anathema to Wikipedia editors. His powerful story of conversion and his scientific defenses of intelligent design prove equally important.
Many might dismiss intelligent design theorists as lifelong Christians trying to twist science to conform to their preconceptions. Bechly’s story powerfully contradicts this narrative, however.
The German paleontologist told his story in a six-minute video. As museum curator at the Stuttgart Museum of Natural History, Bechly organized a 2009 exhibition to honor Charles Darwin. He set up a scale with books against evolution on one side and Darwin’s The Origin of Species on the other. The scale showed Darwin outweighing the other books, but Bechly later decided to read Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe, and found it scientifically convincing.
In the video, Bechly recalled reaching out to ID theorists and finding them intellectually curious and scientifically sound. His journey to faith began with doubts about evolution, but those doubts later cost him.
“We encouraged him not to come out publicly because we knew what would happen,” West, the Discovery Institute vice president, told PJ Media.
Bechly publicly announced his sympathy for ID in 2015, and the retaliation proved instantaneous. First, he met with strange smiles, icy faces, and gossip. His applications to acquire new fossil material were suddenly blocked. A position he relied on, his amber preparator, was proposed to go unfilled after the last employee retired.
The Stuttgart museum moved Bechly’s amber collection away from his office. He was directed to resign from a position with a research-funding group. The paleontologist recalled being told that he was “a big threat to the credibility and reputation of the museum,” and so he was “no longer welcome, and that it would be appreciated if I would decide to quit.”
The museum deleted Bechly’s webpages, dismissed him as the head of a major exhibition he had conceived and designed, and forced him to report to a colleague with no experience in his area. When he asked if he was being accused of any misconduct, the museum had to admit that his seventeen years of work at the museum were exemplary.
The museum did not fire Bechly, but it effectively forced him out. As in the case of Wikipedia, the paleontologist ran up against evolutionist orthodoxy, and was struck down for it.
Evolutionists often dismiss intelligent design as being less than science, and West responded to this criticism. He noted that the co-founder of the theory of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace (no believer in God), wrote a book arguing for intelligent design, claiming that some kind of mind better explains the development of characteristics that go beyond survival value.
On a conceptual level, West noted that “Darwin designed his entire idea on the refutation of design, in an attempt to show design can be mimicked by a non-intelligent process.” Even suggesting this position means “you’re admitting that scientific evidence can help with the question of whether things are designed or not.”
“You have to admit, if you’re going to be coherent, that it might go the other way,” West argued. He noted that staunch evolutionist Philip Kitcher admitted that intelligent design is scientific. Kitcher argued that ID is “dead science” because it was refuted by the presence of so-called junk DNA, among other things. Shortly after his argument, scientists discovered that this DNA actually has important uses.
West noted that the question of whether nature displays evidence of purpose goes back throughout history, from the Roman authors Lucretius and Cicero to debates in the Middle Ages and at the foundation of modern science. “This is one of the great questions of human existence. Why would you want to say that people can’t debate it?”
In this context, the Discovery Institute vice president said Wikipedia’s censorship of Bechly is “really telling — it’s almost as if they get that their refrain ‘it’s not science’ isn’t true so they need a new way to erase people from existence.”
Wikipedia’s bias against intelligent design appears on the very entry for it. “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’, though it has been found to be pseudoscience.”
In keeping with this bias, Wikipedia edited the entry for Walter Bradley, who taught engineering for over 40 years at Colorado School of Mines, Texas A&M University, and Baylor University. He has also published over 150 journal articles and conference papers and many book chapters on engineering and on the confluence of faith and science. He has received many engineering awards.
His credentials originally appeared in his Wikipedia entry (here is the old version), but in April of this year, his accomplishments and credentials were struck down, leaving only his work in intelligent design, unsupported by his professional credentials.
“They basically disembowled his Wikipedia entry to take out anything that would make him look credible,” West explained.
In 2014, Wikipedia actually created a mythical story in which Abraham Lincoln was an avid reader of Charles Darwin. The very source quoted for this story disproved it.
Contrary to the natural opinions of most Americans, Wikipedia is not an unbiased source, on intelligent design at least. The censorship of Bechly, the biased page on ID, the treatment of Walter Bradley, and the fiction about Abraham Lincoln all suggest that Wikipedia’s head editors hold ID in contempt, and aim to enforce the evolution orthodoxy.
Evolution may be true, but this kind of bias employed against scientific theories on the other side suggests an unwillingness to consider other options — a habit of mind utterly at odds with good scientific practice.