Many Americans find their introduction to the debate over evolution by watching Inherit the Wind, a movie based upon the Scopes Trial from 1925 which casts Darwin-skeptics as constantly trying to shut down scientific discussion. Today, in 2013, the situation is very different – what Justice Scalia once called “Scopes-in-reverse.”
Academic freedom is now threatened for credible scientists to teach and publish dissent from neo-Darwinian theory. I’m not talking about Uncle Joe who runs the Bible-science museum out in Montana. And I am not merely complaining about a lack of academic freedom at the high school level. I’m talking about scientists who work at, and hold Ph.D.’s from, the same research establishments as leading evolutionary biologists.
Some of the most prominent examples of discrimination against Darwin-doubting scientists in the past decade have occurred at respected institutions like Iowa State University, the Smithsonian, and Jet Propulsion Lab. Indeed, three recent incidents show this is a growing trend that isn’t going away.
In June of 2011, scientists from around the world convened at Cornell University to present original research which challenged the ability of neo-Darwinian evolution to create new biological information. Those papers were then collected into a peer-reviewed volume, Biological Information: New Perspectives, scheduled to be published by Springer-Verlag, one of the top scientific publishing houses in the world.
Materialists often charge that proponents of intelligent design don’t publish peer-reviewed scientific research. But in this case they didn’t praise these ID-friendly scientists for meeting high standards. Instead, they tried to censor them.
In February 2012, just before the book was about to go to print, a popular pro-Darwin blog discovered the Cornell volume being offered for sale on Springer’s website. In a short post titled “Springer gets suckered by creationist pseudoscience,” UC Berkeley graduate student Nick Matzke insinuated threats of an economic boycott against Springer if they published anything by these “cranks.”
Inspired by Matzke’s call to action, Darwin defenders on the Internet fumed that the prestigious company would dare publish a book endorsing ID, and pressured the publisher to abandon the project. A few months later, Springer cancelled the publication contract and refused to publish the book.
This past spring, Eric Hedin, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Ball State University, was quietly teaching a course he’d taught since 2007. Titled “The Boundaries of Science,” the interdisciplinary course aimed to “give a scientifically accurate introduction to the origin and development of the physical universe (cosmology) which has led up to the formation of Earth as a uniquely suitable environment to support life.” As part of this investigation, the course would allow students to learn about intelligent design.
In April, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, a leading “new atheist,” learned about Hedin’s course. He stated on his blog, Why Evolution is True, that the class “violates the First Amendment” because it’s “heavily larded with the works of Intelligent Design advocates.”
Stirred by Coyne, angry ID-critics bombarded BSU with e-mails urging the university to cancel the course. The Freedom from Religion Foundation got involved, charging the class “crosses ethical and constitutional lines” because it failed to emphasize that “[t]he vast majority of scientists are nonreligious and many take the view that science disproves a creator-god.” Under implied threats of an impending lawsuit, they pressed the university to investigate and cancel the course.
Ball State administrators got the memo. On July 31, president Jo Ann Gora announced a speech code prohibiting ID from being taught in BSU science classrooms since that “would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.”
This past August, Stanley Wilson was scheduled to teach a non-credit, personal enrichment course, “Evolution vs Intelligent Design,” in the continuing education program at Amarillo College in North Texas.
You can guess what happened next.
The president of a local atheist group, euphemistically named the “Freethought Oasis,” boasted on Facebook that the “course on Intelligent Design has been cancelled following my meeting with the VP of Academic Affairs.” We don’t know exactly what was said at that meeting, but in a news article soon thereafter, the administration claimed they scuttled the course because of fears “there could be a disruption.”
These incidents mark a disturbing trend. Darwin defenders – from elite scientists to rank-and-file activists – are using a heckler’s veto to intimidate academic institutions into shutting down scientific inquiry over life’s origins.
The incidents begin when scientific skeptics of Darwinian evolution merely seek to publish or teach their views, but then follow a predictable arc. Darwin defenders demand – under penalty of threats of making a great fuss – that ID-friendly viewpoints must be suppressed. Wary of controversy and offending the wrong people, academic institutions quickly cave to the censors.
People who are confident the evidence is on their side don’t normally seek to deny academic freedom to those who hold dissenting viewpoints. But students and the public are losing out on important opportunities to investigate the how humans arose.
The real loser, however, is free speech and freedom of scientific inquiry. In their eager crusade to shut down scientific debate over evolution, Darwin Lobbyists may be sacrificing the very values that undergird our free and prosperous society.
Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law. He works as Research Coordinator at Discovery Institute and is also a senior editor at Salvo Magazine. This is an original column written exclusively for The College Fix.