Ball State incinerates academic freedom

At first glance, this recent headline from Inside Higher Ed looks like a piece of good news: “Taking a Stand for Science.” Or, consider the alternate title, “Scientists Applaud Ball State President’s Position on Intelligent Design.” Fighting for truth, and earning accolades are good, right?  To the contrary, the university’s mandate is of grave concern for those who value critical inquiry and academic freedom.

(Wikimedia Commons)

The story is that, after an inquest by an appointed faculty panel, Ball State physics professor Eric Hedin will take remedial measures to ensure that his course, The Boundaries of Science, will be in line with Ball State’s “view that science instruction should be about science and not religion.”  This scrutiny results from a complaint and threat of legal action by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

On Wednesday, University President Jo Ann Gora released a statement reading, in part:

Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory. Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies’ independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science. The list includes societies such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, theAmerican Astronomical Society, and the American Physical Society.

What’s striking about the Inside Higher Ed article is it’s uncritical coverage of the university’s decision.  To the author’s credit, she inserts virtually zero commentary; the piece is straight reporting.  But, the bias lies in her decision to cite President Gora, and two supportive partisans, while only featuring one voice of opposition.

Sadly, the author does not provide comments from informed outsiders on the issue proper.  What do philosophers of science and religion think of President Gora’s ruling?  What about Constitutional scholars and experts in academic freedom issues?  We’re left with a “she said, he said,” tilted three to one.

In terms of information, the article leaves much to be desired.  What does the Ball State administration mean by “teach,” “science,” and “religion?” Do Neo-Darwinian mechanisms credibly explain the origin of phyla, or might they be the same kind of “speculation” that Gora alleges intelligent design to be?  Why does religion “have its place” in the social sciences and humanities, but the scientific establishment gets to determine not just what is science, but what is “religion” as well?  While the report remains under wraps, it looks as if scientism is bullying the ivory tower.  Thanks to the ever-handy threat of litigation.

As for intelligent design itself, I don’t see what’s religious about the theory, or how it’s not a hypothesis that’s at least a valid candidate for becoming a scientific theory.  Stephen Meyer advances a case for ID as science in Darwin’s Doubt.  In making the radio interview rounds, I’ve heard him repeatedly describe the theory as an inference to the best explanation, drawn from uniform and repeated experience.  These same inference principles are used in evolutionary anthropology, forensic science, and the increasingly popular study of animal cognition.  Maybe these are just speculations that have their place too.

Given that ID draws from the same fossil record used to support the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, it certainly seems that its proponents will be able to make predictions with respect to future discoveries.

If we are to take the thesis of Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies seriously, a case could be made that some retrenched Neo-Darwinian defenders are propagating a religion of metaphysical naturalism.  This is an unnecessary step beyond the epistemic naturalism that has been a cornerstone of modern science.

If Ball State is in danger of transgressing upon the First Amendment, it is for establishing a church of atheism, consistent with the beliefs and dogma of the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  As John West at the Discovery Institute points out, FFRF initiated this scrutiny to squelch critical inquiry–essential to academic freedom–in the name of Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy.  He finds the move is simply Orwellian.

Meanwhile, Wintery Knight characterizes Ball State’s clamp down as an inquisition.  This is sufficient, but to describe Ball State’s retrograde policy as McCarthyism or a witch hunt would be just as apt.

 

 

Does floating unfounded allegations of racism help Obama?

The other day I came across a commentary in the Christian Science Monitor that absolutely floored me.  Offered by two academics, McIlwain and Caliendo, its headline questions: “Is a pro-Romney ad racist? Five questions to ask yourself.

Apparently, the coauthors don’t think Democrats can ever make a racist appeal, so they only focus on the Romney campaign.  To them, it’s not a question of if but which of his ads will be racist.  As we’ve seen with Joe Biden’s  “unchained” appeal,” this myopic model leaves voters unable to account for racism when it actually happens.

You can’t find racism from the left if you’re only looking right.  But with advanced degrees in the humanities and social sciences, the coauthors command a toolkit that enables them to pick out the finest notes of that pesky racism “dog whistle.”  Funny though, only a self-selecting pool of liberal academics have the authority or ability to discern them.  Good thing they’ve taken the time to help the rest of us out!

The examples the coauthors provide in their commentary are tenuous at best.  They advance their arguments on mere possibilities.  Does this sound familiar?  Elements of Romney’s ads “could be interpreted” or might “imply” some kind of racism.  A string of possible but weakly supported claims puts the piece just a notch above Harry Reid’s completely groundless claim that Romney didn’t pay ten years’ worth of taxes.

In one section of their commentary, the authors warn against the deployment of stereotypes.  Their metric for determining a potential stereotype is wide, vague, and subjective.  They bar Romney from any avenue of attack, while allowing Obama to proceed. Consider this passage on criminality:

For instance, while the Obama campaign might charge that Romney is a felon – a strong attack to be sure – there is no historical association between whites – as a group – and criminality. That association is present with respect to blacks, however. Thus, the message functions as a stereotype, not merely a criticism of one individual.

Have you ever watched a Hollywood action movie?  The villain is always some rich white guy in a suit!

Or, think of the TV series 24.  Each season, there are two levels of bad guys.  The first wave of villains might be terrorists from a fictitious Middle Eastern country, a Mexican drug cartel, or maybe opportunistic African warlords.  But then, somewhere around hour 10 or 12, the ultimate culprit emerges: always a cold, well-heeled white guy who is an unscrupulous industrialist, a crackpot defense hawk, or otherwise a liberal’s gross impression of Dick Cheney.  And this from a show with supposedly conservative leanings!

Although not matching McIlwain and Caliendo’s cherry picked “historical” or “group” criteria, Team Obama’s felon accusation against Romney exploits a real Hollywood stereotype embedded in the American consciousness.

Indeed, racism was a serious problem fifty years ago, but some folks haven’t gotten the memo that things might have improved just a bit.  This fact is easily missed by those who can’t put down their Critical Race Theory books.

It is sad that unsubstantial claims of racism get undying attention in the media.  The effect, whether intended or not, is to silence genuine criticism and steer the conversation into divisive, unproductive territory.  Just by running McIlwain and Caliendo’s commentary, the Christian Science Monitor sanctions a free tarring of conservatives, a gift to Democrats and their allies.

%d bloggers like this: