When I was in San Francisco last weekend, I was accompanied by my MCFS colleague Rob Pennock. While I flew home on Sunday, Rob was flying instead to San Diego where he was to give an address to all of the incoming freshmen at UCSD. His address was part of what the university calls their Convocation Series, where each quarter a different prominent scholar is invited to speak. The speech is free, but all incoming freshmen from that quarter are required to attend the address in order to introduce them to a variety of scholarly viewpoints.
The ID folks have made a big deal out of Rob’s speech. Sal Cordova has declared it to be “Darwinian indoctrination” and he portrays it as a panicky and “drastic” reaction to a now nearly 3 year old survey that found that 40% of incoming freshmen at UCSD do not believe in evolution (without any evidence of a connection, of course, or even any acknowledgement of the fact that Rob’s speech is one of 4 speeches by different scholars in different fields every year).
Cordova also makes a profoundly silly argument about church/state separation:
If this is a one-sided lecture, this has constitutional issues. If, as Judge Jones ruled, ID is a religion, a University Provost has no business funding a lecture that denigrates someone’s religious beliefs, and professors have no business requiring the freshman class to have it shoved down their throats. If on the other hand, ID is science, then the Provost and professors have no business attacking it in this manner either….
What a neat little force field Sal attempts to build around ID. Apparently, no one at any public university can ever criticize ID – or any other idea that any religious person holds – without violating the constitution. If his legal theory were true – and frankly, it’s so silly that it hardly warrants debunking – then we would have to close down all the medical schools because, after all, there are religious groups that reject the germ theory of disease and therefore any advocacy of that theory “denigrate’s someone’s religious beliefs.”
This is quite absurd, of course. Public universities pay professors for their scholarly work. Some of those professors may well take positions that “denigrate someone’s religious beliefs”, while others may well take positions that support someone’s religious beliefs. In neither case is this a church/state problem at all, as the views expressed represent the view of the scholar, not the government. Again, if Sal’s legal theory had any validity, public universities could teach virtually nothing because almost every position on any subject is going to be critical of, or supportive of, someone’s religious belief.
But far more disturbing than the unjustified reactions of my opponents are the unjustified and dangerous reaction of at least one of my colleagues. Larry Moran is a biochemist and a long time TalkOrigins regular. He’s been firmly on the right side of the evolution/creationism debates for a long time. He’s a brilliant guy and a serious scholar in his field. Unfortunately, his reaction to this situation is profoundly disturbing and dangerous. He writes:
I agree with the Dembski sycophants that UCSD should not have required their uneducated students to attend remedial classes. Instead, they should never have admitted them in the first place. Having made that mistake, it’s hopeless to expect that a single lecture–even one by a distinguished scholar like Robert Pennock–will have any effect. The University should just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students who have a chance of benefiting from a high quality education.
I can’t tell you how unsettling and disturbing I find this to be. It annoys me to no end when ID advocates portray us pro-science types as enforcers of a “Darwinian orthodoxy” with a zeal to purge all dissent from the ideas we advocate from academia; it is far more disturbing when a few folks on our side of this debate go out of their way to actually match that crude caricature being foisted on us. Nothing good can possibly come from this.
My high school French teacher, a very important influence on my life and my thinking, told me when I graduated that education is the process of disillusionment. When I entered college at 18, I believed all sorts of things that I can now recognize at patently absurd. Did that make me an idiot at 18? Of course not. Yet Moran is here suggesting that universities expel every 18 year old who holds a single position that he considers stupid. I dare say that if Moran himself were judged by those standards at 18 years old, he would never have gone to college at all.
To be honest, I’m rapidly becoming convinced that there are two very different groups involved in fighting against the ID public relations campaign to distort science education. The distinction between the two groups is that one is fighting to prevent ID creationism from weakening science education while the other is fighting, at least in their minds, to eliminate all religious belief of any kind, even those perspectives that have no quarrel with evolution specifically or science in general, from society.
I am firmly a member of the first group, as are the vast majority of those I work with on this issue. Genie Scott, Rob Pennock, Wes Elsberry, Nick Matzke, Jack Krebs and nearly everyone I consider colleagues in this regard recognize that the dispute is over evolution and creationism, not over theism and atheism. But some, like Larry Moran, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, Gary Hurd and others, are involved in an entirely different battle. For them, it’s not enough to protect science education from the attacks of some religious people; religion itself, in any form, is to be attacked and destroyed by any means necessary.
How else to explain Moran’s earlier comments here that bluntly accuse Ken Miller, the single most effective and tireless advocate of evolution and critic of ID creationism in the nation, of being anti-science merely by virtue of the fact that he attempts to reconcile science with his religious faith? In the battle Moran is fighting, theistic evolutionists are the enemy despite their advocacy of evolution, because his battle is not for evolution or against ID creationism, it is against theism, hence theists, in any form.
A few months ago, I was accused by some members of this second group of being a traitor because my political views are not in complete agreement with theirs. To them, I am the enemy, but only because they are defining their enemies and allies in terms of their anti-theist agenda; they are simply fighting a different battle than I am. If their goal is to destroy theism, then I am indeed not on their team. Not only is that goal not mine, it is clear to me that trying to achieve it makes the battle I’m fighting, for good science education free from the influence of creationists, less achievable.
Declaring that anyone who does not accept evolution at 18 years old should be expelled from school so that “smart” people can take their place is precisely the kind of ego-driven, arrogant nonsense that feeds their caricatures of us. It does nothing but provide support for their claims of persecution, which are otherwise almost always false and exaggerated. It is the biggest favor one can do for ID advocates. It provides them with evidence for a set of claims that, in the real world, really aren’t true.
It’s simply the last thing we need, and I refuse to be associated with such authoritarian dogmatism. The fact that both groups reject ID does not mean that we are fighting the same battle. So let me go on the record right now that I find this sort of thing not only wrong, but appalling and vile. I will fight against such attempts to damage and punish those who disagree with us just as strongly as I will fight against the attempts of ID advocates to impose their views on public school science classrooms. They do not speak for me, or for the vast majority of advocates against ID creationism.