Academic Freedom: The Real Story?

Posted: April 19, 2008 in Atheism, Education, Evolution, Religion
Tags: , , ,

I don’t often do this but I am going to simply link to another story I found, simply because this one seems to be well researched and written. Why am I linking to it? Certain organisations, such as the Discovery Institute and the makers of Expelled, would like to have you believe that there is widespread academic discrimination against Creationists and ID Proponents. Well, they have yet to produce even one case that stands up to any sort of scrutiny but what about the other side of the coin? This story, labelled Creation, Power and Violence, lists a number of people who have clearly been discriminated against in form or another simply for teaching actual science. I wonder if all those supposedly Intelligent Design proponents can defend these, hm?

Just to list those cases the story refers to, for ease of reference:

Mohammed Halim: Drawn and quartered by Motorbikes (by Taliban aligned forces) for teaching female students.

Steve Bitterman: Fired for not teaching that the Adam and Eve story as literal truth.

Alex Bolyanatz: Got fired for saying that his faith and Evolution did not exclude each other.

Howard J. Van Till: Eventually cleared of the horrible crime of claiming that Evolution has been scientifically proven after four years of inquiry.

Richard Colling: Stated his faith and Evolution didn’t exclude each other, suddenly found himself banned from teaching biology at his school any longer.

Nancey Murphy: Gave a pro-ID book a bad review (which is fair enough, basic analysis the book’s author didn’t have a clue) and had to suddenly fight to keep her job.

Gwen Pearson: Suffered numerous forms of abuse and discrimination.

Chris Comer: Was forced to resign after simply forwarding an email stating that a philosophy talk was going to be held.

Paul Mirecki: Was forced to step down after planning to do a talk called Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.

Eric Pianka: Received death threats after creationists such as Forrest Mims and William Dembski made up nonsense about him wishing to unleash the Ebola virus to kill 90% of humanity.

More are listed but are more indirect.

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Comments
  1. ozatheist says:

    and the poor little IDers want us to believe they are the oppressed ones.

  2. Berny says:

    Shouldn’t Christian institutions be allowed to regulate their staff’s adherence to the school’s confessional identity?

    For example, Wheaton College is an evangelical institution. To disavow creationism or to promote Darwinian evolution is tantamount to breaking the contract agreement the teacher signs to the school.

    By making this analogy are you insinuating that the secular institutions have their own dogmas, the same as evangelical institutions? You’re going to need to reevaluate this analogy in light of the fact that it implies that secular institutions have their own (un)written dogmas, not to be questioned or challenged, the same as religious institutions.

  3. AV says:

    I think you’re missing the point of Matt’s post, and you also seem to be engaging in a big double-standard: it’s “academic discrimination” (as Expelled asserts) when pseudosciences like creationism, intelligent design, astrology, dowsing, etc. aren’t presented as “science” in secular science classrooms, but you’re OK with Christian schools firing science teachers for teaching science (as opposed to religious dogma) in the science classrooms of Christian schools.

    (As it happens, I’m OK with Christian schools doing that, as long as it isn’t supported with any tax dollars, and as long as secular tertiary education institutions are not compelled to recognise pseudoscience-heavy fundamentalist/evangelical “science” curricula as providing sufficient preparation for college-level science courses.)

    It may be the case fundamentalists believe that the science classroom, like any classroom, should merely serve as another vehicle for proselytism and religious indoctrination–but if so, I don’t see why secular schools should implement this model of “education.”

  4. Berny says:

    Several problems

    1) By calling Intelligent Design “psuedoscience” you’re begging the question in your favor. Whatever you think of the Intelligent Design movement is irrelevant. The point is that secular institutions are blackballing those who even hint at the possibility that Darwinism is not the best explanation for how we got here, which is academically dishonest.

    2) Christian institutions operate with a confessional identity. To deviate from the school’s written doctrinal and educational distinctives is to breach contract.

    3) If you want to make the analogy between the Christian institutions and the secular institutions I’m all too willing to grant this request. Remember that this equation implies that secular institutions have their own dogmas, agendas, and as someone else put it, their own heresies and witch trials.

    4) You know very little about the current Christian landscape across institutions. “Fundamentalism” has largely died out save a few places, e.g. Bob Jones University. You’re chasing shadows.

  5. AV says:

    Whatever you think of the Intelligent Design movement is irrelevant.

    That’s true. But the case remains that the definition of science would have to change radically in order for Intelligent Design (the presupposition that God-oops-I-mean-the-Designer-did-it should be accepted as an explanation for a given phenomenon before natural explanations have been absolutely and for all time ruled out (the Argument from Ignorance fallacy)) to count as science. In other words, the goalposts would have to be moved.

    The problem here is that if the definition of science wrt biological phenomena has to change in order to appease the ID crowd, it has to change wrt to all natural phenomena. Germ theory? Epilepsy? Those are just examples of how secular science blackballs those who even hint at the possibility of demonic possession. Meteorology and climate science? Those are just case studies in how secular science blackballs those who suggest that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for rampant homosexual decadence in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

    Are you getting this? If you demand that science abandons methodological naturalism in favour of supernatural explanations, anything goes.

    The point is that secular institutions are blackballing those who even hint at the possibility that Darwinism is not the best explanation for how we got here, which is academically dishonest.

    No. What’s academically dishonest is failing the acid test of peer review, and then claiming that this failure is evidence of bias and wailing about persecution.

    If you want to make the analogy between the Christian institutions and the secular institutions I’m all too willing to grant this request. Remember that this equation implies that secular institutions have their own dogmas, agendas, and as someone else put it, their own heresies and witch trials.

    No. That’s projection on your part. Whatever the purpose of educational institutions is deemed to be in the fundamentalist universe, the purpose of secular public schools should be to educate. And it would be doing students a grave disservice to tell them lies about what counts and what does not count as science.

  6. Berny says:

    “But the case remains that the definition of science would have to change radically in order for Intelligent Design (the presupposition that God-oops-I-mean-the-Designer-did-it should be accepted as an explanation for a given phenomenon before natural explanations have been absolutely and for all time ruled out (the Argument from Ignorance fallacy)) to count as science. In other words, the goalposts would have to be moved.”

    I reject your atomistic definition of science. Darwinian evolution appeals to many on the grounds that it has great scope and comprehensive explanatory abilities across many different lines. Yet I notice that the scientism of, say, Dawkins, is a functional empiricism. Nothing outside of the scientific method can account for any truth (not incidentally, this statement fails to be validated empirically). That’s fine if you’re an eliminative materialist, but if you reject these presuppositions as a scientist, you’re forced out of the scientific community and must find some other way to do your research. We all bring presuppositions to the table. Empiricists and naturalistic scientists have deluded themselves into thinking that no guiding worldview informs their reading of the evidence.

    The scientific method does not necessitate naturalism. To say so once again plays into the hands of those who charge secular establishments with having their own creeds, dogmas, and heresies. Yet this is inimical to the very idea of scientific exploration.

    “The problem here is that if the definition of science wrt biological phenomena has to change in order to appease the ID crowd, it has to change wrt to all natural phenomena. Germ theory? Epilepsy? Those are just examples of how secular science blackballs those who even hint at the possibility of demonic possession. Meteorology and climate science? Those are just case studies in how secular science blackballs those who suggest that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for rampant homosexual decadence in the French Quarter of New Orleans.”

    There is no standard definition of science. If what you mean by this is the generally accepted rules of scientific investigation then we can continue. And these examples are disanalogous. Epilepsy is a current phenomenon and can be studied at great length today. This is not the case with the fossil record, which must be analyzed using ad hoc measuring methodologies to reconstruct a historical scene. Also, demonic possession typically falls outside the realm of scientific inquiry for it possesses (no pun intended!) elements that cannot be measured scientifically. Yet inferring design from the natural world is directly germane to the task of natural science.
    God’s intentions for Katrina? Are you kidding me? You might consider informing yourself of serious theological positions on questions of natural disasters. The newspapers who report Pat Robertson’s holy pronouncement of the week don’t exactly present the majority academic theodicies. No Christian would deny that natural disasters arise…naturally! This is a false dichotomy; an either/or. Yet Christians can accept both that the disaster arose naturally and that God intended it to hit. In the case above, of Darwinian evolution vs. Intelligent Design, it is an either/or, not a both/and like your last example.

    “Are you getting this? If you demand that science abandons methodological naturalism in favour of supernatural explanations, anything goes.”

    Ah, slippery slope arguments.

    The problem is that no Intelligent Design scientist that I’m aware of believes they should accept the theory without evidence. They are in favor of producing evidence, and even publishing in peer-reviewed journals, yet if they are being systematically blocked from doing so, it is hindering the scientific process.

    “Supernatural explanations” is your phrase, not theirs. You’ve poisoned the well repeatedly here. You’re entitled to your opinion, as I’ve already mentioned, but what the discussion was originally on was whether or not ID proponents should be free to make a case for their position using standard scientific procedures. You seem to think they shouldn’t, which again juxtaposes secular institutions with Christian ones, each having their own dogmas.

    I’m not sure if I’ll be able to respond further. My time is very limited. Good day.

  7. Matt says:

    Um, the scientific method (and science in general) does necessitate naturalism. It’s what science is all about; finding the natural mechanisms through which the universe as we know it operates.

    One thing that science never, ever does is use unnecessary mechanisms and with good cause. If you start trying to introduce mechanisms which have no evidence to support them (as with ID and Creationism) then it truly is a very slippery slope which ends with supernatural agents being responsible for just about everything.

  8. AV says:

    I reject your atomistic definition of science.

    It’s not my definition (by which I mean, I’m not making it up).

    Yet I notice that the scientism of, say, Dawkins, is a functional empiricism. Nothing outside of the scientific method can account for any truth (not incidentally, this statement fails to be validated empirically). That’s fine if you’re an eliminative materialist,

    Whatever you mean by the term “functional empiricism,” and whether you personally believe Dawkins is an “eliminative materialist” is irrelevant to this discussion. Methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism (a.k.a. philosophical naturalism) are not the same thing. Methodological naturalism and eliminative materialism (a monist theory in the philosophy of mind) are not the same thing. MN does not claim that only natural phenomena exist; it merely assumes this for the purposes of scientific inquiry.

    but if you reject these presuppositions as a scientist, you’re forced out of the scientific community and must find some other way to do your research.

    There’s a very good reason why the scientific community dislikes what we might call “methodological supernaturalism”–the idea that for a given natural phenomenon, goddidit (or TheDesignerdidit). It’s a science stopper. It’s an inquiry stopper. It assumes–on no evidence whatsoever–not only that the current state of scientific knowledge is incapable of explaining x, but that no future state of scientific knowledge will ever be capable of explaining x, so we might as well throw our hands up in the air and defer to the supernatural explanation.

    We all bring presuppositions to the table. Empiricists and naturalistic scientists have deluded themselves into thinking that no guiding worldview informs their reading of the evidence.

    Strawman. Individual scientists may bring all kinds of presuppositions to the table, but once they are at the table their claims (and their presuppositions) are subject to the scrutiny of peer review, which is supposed to iron these things out (to the extent that they can be ironed out). Intersubjective verifiability: it’s the whole point of having a scientific community.

    The scientific method does not necessitate naturalism.

    If by “naturalism” you mean “philosophical naturalism” (as opposed to methodological naturalism) then no, the scientific method does not necessitate philosophical naturalism.

    And these examples are disanalogous. Epilepsy is a current phenomenon and can be studied at great length today.

    But we needed methodological naturalism to get there. Otherwise, what reason would there have been to abandon shamanism, or demonic possession, or the curse of the gods (depending on the place and time) as explanations for this condition?

    This is not the case with the fossil record, which must be analyzed using ad hoc measuring methodologies to reconstruct a historical scene.

    Why “ad hoc?”

    Also, demonic possession typically falls outside the realm of scientific inquiry for it possesses (no pun intended!) elements that cannot be measured scientifically. Yet inferring design from the natural world is directly germane to the task of natural science.

    Inferring design presupposes the existence of an entity–a designer–that cannot be measured scientifically. As far as scientific explanations go, like demonic possession, it explains nothing.

    The problem is that no Intelligent Design scientist that I’m aware of believes they should accept the theory without evidence.

    That’s nice. What evidence do they have in support of their theory?

    They are in favor of producing evidence, and even publishing in peer-reviewed journals, yet if they are being systematically blocked from doing so, it is hindering the scientific process.

    What is the evidence that they are being “systematically blocked” from publishing in peer-reviewed journals? Why presuppose a grand conspiracy, when the most likely explanation is that they haven’t produced any evidence, and that they haven’t produced anything capable of passing editorial muster?

    “Supernatural explanations” is your phrase, not theirs. You’ve poisoned the well repeatedly here.

    One of the two governing goals of the Discovery Institute, as set out in its Wedge Document, is “to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.”

    You’re entitled to your opinion, as I’ve already mentioned, but what the discussion was originally on was whether or not ID proponents should be free to make a case for their position using standard scientific procedures. You seem to think they shouldn’t,

    And you seem intent on levelling strawman arguments. …

  9. AV says:

    (Matt: I may have posted too many links in my most recent comment)

  10. ozatheist says:

    Shouldn’t Christian institutions be allowed to regulate their staff’s adherence to the school’s confessional identity?

    To a point, if the school is regulated by an education governing body (as private primary and high schools are – at least in Australia) then they still have to teach to the state’s curriculum. So they shouldn’t be allowed to fire someone for teaching Evolution.

    are you insinuating that the secular institutions have their own dogmas

    No, they have to teach to the curriculum, so that’s what they do. ID has, so far, failed all tests to be labelled as a science subject; hence it’s not taught in science classes. Get as good as proofs that evolution has, and perhaps it will get added to the curriculum. Till then, goddidit remains in religious or philosophical studies.

  11. AV says:

    ID has, so far, failed all tests to be labelled as a science subject; hence it’s not taught in science classes.

    But that’s just evidence of TEH EVIL GOD-HATING MILITANT FUNDAMENTALIST ATHEIST BIG SCIENCE CONSPIRACY THAT HATES GOD.

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