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.

 

 

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Which Americans in denial about race?

The aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal dominated news and commentary last week.  As the pleas and prescriptions from all corners reverberate, what should Americans of conscience do?  Despite long standing calls to have a national conversation on race, many remain unwilling to confront the more difficult aspects.

Take this case in point.  On the Monday after the six woman Florida jury handed in a “not guilty” verdict, The Atlantic Wire serve up this combative headline: “Richard Cohen Shows Why Racism Makes You Do Dumb Things.”  Later that day, another headline-as-testy-retort: “No, Blacks Don’t ‘Benefit’ from Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.”  The Atlantic brand should bring to mind a measured–if passionate–patrician, East Coast progressivism.  Those were its roots, at least.  But with the headlines it runs these days, The Atlantic is clearly a plebeian outlet for snarky partisan sniping.

Somewhere on the Atlantic Coast. | Photo credit: oefe / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

In responding to Richard Cohen, Elspeth Reeve fails to explain what it actually means for Cohen to say something “racist.”  It’s just an epithet meant to draw her readers into a denial of the violent crime problem in the African-American community.  She cites statistics indicating, in the past couple of decades, a steady decline in violent crimes nationally.  From this, she plucks the fact that violent crimes committed by African-Americans have also gone down.  In the world she paints, conservative commentators are crying wolf about a nonexistent epidemic.  This is a perverse inversion of what was happening six months ago.  Then, conservatives were citing declining national rates to dismiss the hysteria over an epidemic of gun-related homicides.  Now, this good news has become a liberal talking point.

Over the past week, conservative media have consistently hammered away at the issue Elspeth Reeve and her Atlantic Wire colleagues deny: African-Americans, particularly young men, commit violent crimes at a grossly disproportionate rate.  Blacks make up about 10 percent of the population, but are responsible for half of all violent crimes, including murders.  And about 90% of those murder victims are African-American.  It’s simple math then that nearly half of people murdered in America are black.

The Wall Street Journal has run a number of excellent editorials on the problem.  Black conservative Jason Riley opened the salvo by reminding us how far back the problem goes.  Consider his quoting of a prominent black civil rights leader:

“Do you know that Negroes are 10 percent of the population of St. Louis and are responsible for 58% of its crimes? We’ve got to face that. And we’ve got to do something about our moral standards,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told a congregation in 1961. “We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too. We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”

And this week, Shelby Steele–another Black intellectual off of the liberal reservation–explicated on the concept of “poetic truth,” a cudgel with which today’s morally diminished civil rights leaders try to exercise influence.  Steele authored one of the more compelling books I’ve read.  It’s full title says it all: White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.

Reading the testy headlines of the The Atlantic Wire, I was reminded of Dr. Steele’s thesis, inasmuch as I understood it.  It’s true, whites helped destroy the promise of civil rights.  It wasn’t bigots in the American South.  Rather, it was privileged whites–read, East Coast progressives–who had luxury enough to quench their feelings of guilt by demanding untenable social policies.

As Steele recounts his college years in White Guilt, it was spoiled white teenagers and militant black youth who worked together to occupy university lecture halls and chancellor’s offices across the country.  Today’s privileged, well-connected, young and idealistic white elites–politically progressive through and through–indulge the same luxury their parents and grandparents did before them.  They can afford to imagine a common cause with minorities.  They can afford to indulge white guilt fantasies with little consequence.  It is the marginalized who can’t.

How does one have real solidarity with the marginalized and the oppressed?  President Obama had a good point in last Friday’s speech.  He implored, “. . . we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys.”

It turns out, some people have already done that thinking.  The answer doesn’t lie in next entitlement program, or supporting the right to wear a hoodie.  The answer is cultural capital, earned success, a flourishing moral ecology, traditional family values, an opportunity society.  This is not racism or hate speech.  George W. Bush put it well when he warned against the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”  How does America, as one nation, raise those expectations for young African-American men?  That is the challenge.

DOMA decision: judge not, unless you’re liberal

(Sam Howzit/Foter/CC BY)

Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on Windsor v US is remarkable on a number of levels.  It’s an exceedingly rare instance where liberals celebrate an old, rich white person getting huge tax break.  In this case, it is to the tune of $363,053.  I wonder what principled reason leads the Left to applaud rather than object to the outcome.

In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy supplies that principled reason.  It seems on his view that President Bill Clinton and a sweeping majority of the 104th Congress were bigots intent on inflicting “injury and indignity” on gay couples, a “politically unpopular group.”  Does this sound a bit . . . judgmental?  It’s hard to believe that gays and lesbians are “unpopular” in 2013, a mere 17 years after the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) came into effect.  Flipping on any random television sitcom, reality show, or talk show indicates the contrary.

So what has changed in that brief span of time in America, in the hearts of Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and Chuck Schumer, high-profile Democrats who voted for DOMA but now celebrate its demise?  Perhaps there was something akin to President Obama’s “evolution.”  A subjective, personal premise for legislation.

This would explain why, when politicians and media throw about “equality” or “discrimination” in the public square, candor and lucidity seem to be in short supply.  President Obama merely asserts that DOMA was “discrimination enshrined in law.”  What is the condition where discrimination obtains?  I didn’t see Justice Kennedy supply it.  If I were to guess, that criteria likely hinges on what the Critical Race Theory professor at Harvard Law had for lunch.

The SCOTUS Windsor ruling is anything but assuring for the integrity of our democratic republic. Especially in light of growing irresponsibility in the Executive.  California Governor Schwarzenegger shirked his duty to defend Proposition 8 without consequence.  Likewise, President Obama and Eric Holder were rather . . . discriminating when it came to whether or not the Justice Department would defend DOMA in court.  This is not the rule of law.  What happened to impartiality and professionalism, let alone charity in disagreement?

There’s a rational basis for government to recognize and enforce marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman.  As a class, heterosexual relationships tend to produce children, and those children need to be protected against the parents’ inclination to terminate that commitment.  To make marriage an issue of equal protection of benefits undercuts that indispensable reality.  Inheritance issues, visitation rights, and so on–there’s an app for that.  It’s called civil unions.

Neither should government dole out marriage as a way to validate feelings or affirm dignity.  Sure, there were real dignity issues in the Jim Crow era.  That was half a century ago.

Sometimes people complain about “legislating morality.”  Never mind the incoherence of that critique; what are laws supposed to be if not moral?  But I get the point; some legislative pushes come off as offensive, judgmental, and needlessly intrusive.  Here we have not just “legislating morality,” but legislating from the bench.

When it comes to making distinctions, it seems we have a one-way street, a double standard in effect today.  Judge not, unless you’re liberal.

Bad news: national security train wreck!

[2] / Foter.com / Public Domain Mark 1.0

As a result of the deeply damaging Snowden leak, I am reminded of the principles that make me more of a security hawk than my libertarian compatriots.

Dan Mitchell at International Liberty staked a respectable position regarding the still-unfolding NSA surveillance story.  But some of the comments from his more ardent libertarian readers are real forehead-slappers.  Like the proposition that our military should consist solely of a Coast Guard and maybe an army reserve.

It seems to me that civil liberties advocates tend to have it half-right.  Judeo-Christian tradition informs the concept of Natural Law in many ways: we are equal in dignity before our Creator because we bear His image.  We ought to be suspicious of those in authority because they, like all created persons, are sinful.  Even the best of us are blinded by pride or tempted to abuse.  Indeed, this is the clearest argument from the Christian worldview against centralized, progressive technocracies.

But the forgotten half of Judeo-Christian anthropology is that there are and will always be actors–states, individuals, movements–bent on destroying our government, killing our people, and weakening our society.

On this myopia, I’m reminded of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.  Its villains, who would wreck American civilization, were either bumbling bleeding hearts or  homegrown totalitarians.  Socialism and central planning were alive and well in Rand’s imagination, but the threat of international communism was nowhere to be found.  Rather strange for a book released in 1957, the year Sputnik was launched, the year after Khrushchev barked “We will bury you!” and four years after the Soviets acquired the hydrogen bomb, thanks of course to the traitorous Julius Rosenberg.

There is no Soviet Union today, but between Putin’s desperately declining Russia, the unscrupulous authoritarians running the People’s Republic of China, the bottomless supply of Islamist terrorists, and the Pandora’s box of asymmetric capabilities at everyone’s disposal, today’s world is hardly Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Big data is everywhere, and we sure as well better have the good guys using it, because the bad guys definitely are.

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey couldn’t have put it better when he wrote in a recent op-ed :

The Constitution and U.S. laws are not a treaty with the universe; they protect U.S. citizens. Foreign governments spy on us and our citizens. We spy on them and theirs. Welcome to the world.

I’ve given a piece of my mind on intel leakers in the past.  Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are the bratty poster children for a grave generational defect. The simple reality is that our nation’s security is in the hands of Millennials, whose self-defined attributes include a sharply liberal political bent and “superior intelligence” according to a 2010 Pew poll.

Snowden’s affinities, as revealed in a Guardian interview, gel with his cohort.  He’s more cosmopolitan than patriotic:

“There are conflicts between the United States government and the Chinese PRC government, but the peoples inherently… we don’t care, we trade with each other freely, we are not at war, we’re not in armed conflict and we’re not trying to be. We’re the largest trading partners out there for each other.”

Cue Lennon’s Imagine. The view is gravely misinformed.  Acts of conscience don’t do much good when the premisses are flat out wrong.

And speaking of China, how did President Obama’s California summit with President Xi go?  I’m sure we made a sterling show of strength, unity, and integrity.  Peace through Strength, and the Shining City on a Hill.  That’s Reagan, not our bumbling Obama.

Then again, China may have had a hand in this surveillance program compromise all along.  Or, with publicly aired allegations of US hacking, maybe US-China relations will be severely set back.  Certainly, terrorists have gotten a little wiser about avoiding detection.  Any which way you cut it, nothing good comes out of this fiasco.  There is no way Snowden could possibly be a hero.

It’s beyond frustrating that such undisciplined, uninformed flunkies stumble into treason.  Who knows how many more Mannings and Snowdens have access to secrets and are all-too-willing to spill the beans?  That, not any NSA surveillance overreach,  is what should keep us up at night.

CSM editors equivocate on corporate taxes

The Christian Science Monitor editorial board spun hard the discussion of corporate tax reform Wednesday, opining under the headline: World class tax evaders need a global response. 

Tax evasion is illegal.  Are the editors implying that the folks at Apple and other firms under recent Senate scrutiny are criminal?  At minimum, The Monitor executes an Orwellian equivocation.  For them, “tax avoidance” is interchangeable with “cheating” and “legal tax evasion.”

The editors opine with unconscious irony, likening the plight of national governments to that of their taxpayers.  They’d have us believe that it’s as frustrating for governments to capture revenue from corporations as it is for taxpayers to navigate convoluted tax codes.  The world’s tiniest violin plays in response.

Waldo Jaquith / Music Photos / CC BY-SA

The Monitor quotes British Prime Minister David Cameron to no effect : “Some forms of avoidance have become so aggressive that I think it is right to say these are ethical issues.” This does nothing to elucidate the actual ethical threshold that Mr. Cameron thinks avoiders have crossed.

Moving on, the editors warn of a pernicious race to the bottom, where, absent a level playing field, corporate tax rates around the world will just be too low.  Then, quoting another British official, they deftly imply a connection between those lower rates and lack of transparency.

The solutions the editors look to are systemic, top down, and require dilligent international cooperation.  In other words, they’re impractical. More of the same nonsense that puts Libya on the UN Human Rights Council and binds Europe to a useless carbon curbing regime while the US and China continue on their merry way.

In an age of highly mobile capital and labor, competition is more a reality than ever before.  Forcing “fairness” by restricting mobility from the top down is patently illiberal.  Instead, policy makers should “reward” corporate winners as Rand Paul urged in a recent Senate hearing.  Whether countries or corporations, let competitors learn from and emulate the most successful, and global revenues–corporate and goverment– will be racing to the top.

Arizona Dems’ unreasoned defense of gun buybacks

(Wikimedia)

I have to say, the Boston bombing earlier this week makes these days sad and sobering.  Breaching insanity-as-usual, there is for a time, something approaching a public consensus on the reality of evil.

Of course, it is one thing to admit evil exists; it’s another thing to take action that combats it.  Gun buybacks definitely aren’t one of those things.  Today an AP headline tells of an amusing way to deal with them: “Ariz. bill passed makes cities sell turned-in guns.”

The law in Arizona already requires that cities sell confiscated weapons.  All the new bill does is extend this to buyback guns as well.  This move exposes the absurdity of the buyback project.  The number of guns removed by buybacks are hopelessly miniscule compared to the stock in circulation.  And, only upright, conscientious citizens think of turning their guns over to law enforcement.  This increases the ratio of bad guys with guns to good guys with guns.  So buybacks are a losing proposition on two counts.  Inasmuch as cities decide to conduct these exercises in futility, why shouldn’t the state mandate that they recoup some of the cost?

Okay, so this is a slap in the face of liberal feel-good activism.  But the rejoinder by Democrats is unworthy of being called reasonable or logical:

Democrats argued that Republicans complain about the federal government when it requires the state to take action, yet they’re quick to force local governments to do what they want. “We hate it when the federal government mandates it to the state, and we’re doing the same thing,” said Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma. They also complained about victims having to deal with the knowledge that a gun that killed a loved one could end up back on the streets.

This appears to be some sort of appeal to a double-standard.  But there’s a huge distinction between unwanted federal meddling and the state prescribing laws for the cities that are organized directly under its authority.  That distinction is the simple difference between the constitutions of the U.S. and Arizona respectively.  The Democratic senator is actually complaining about the compulsory nature of laws themselves rather than any hypocrisy Republicans might harbor.  But this is highly inconsistent coming from a party that thrives in direct proportion to the increase of government regulations, budgets, and lawsuits.

The complaint about guns ending up back on the streets is a non sequitur.  That happens already, in spite of the new bill being passed.  In fact, any gun that killed a person is more likely to have been seized than bought back.  How often does a person commit murder with a gun and then sell the weapon to law enforcement?  And if that were to happen, what is the likelihood the victim’s family would actually know or care about the ultimate fate of the gun?  Arizona Democrats sure are testing the limits of the emotional appeal.  Break out the tiny violins.

But what is most remarkable of all is that the AP reporter quotes these Democrats matter of fact, as if their statements actually made sense.

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