Pharyngula

Here’s another twist on the problematic trend to hire more temporary/part-time/adjunct faculty at universities. It’s a disgraceful abuse of skilled academics and good teachers — would you believe that some schools hire adjuncts to teach four courses a semester (a brutal load, let me tell you) and pay them $16,000 per year? Who would be insane enough to accumulate all that college debt, then invest 4+ years in an advanced study program to get a Ph.D., for a poverty-level income? But that’s where we stand.

Here’s the other ugly side of the problem. The University of Idaho needed someone to teach microbiology, so they carried out a ‘national’ search for a temporary microbiologist, offering $6-8,000 per semester for a one year position with no promise of a continuation. Moscow, Idaho is a truly lovely place, but would you pack up and move across the country to spend one year in Moscow for maybe $16,000, and then probably have to move somewhere else again after that year was up?

No, you would not, if you had a choice. If you were really desperate, maybe.

But they hired someone. Someone local. They got Gordon Wilson who teaches at the New Saint Andrews College in Moscow. New Saint Andrews got some fame from Christopher Hitchens; Hitchens did a debate tour with Doug Wilson, the founder of the school. It’s notorious for a number of other reasons, too, including this stunning list:

  • In some circumstances, the penalty for adultery should be execution.
    Women should be permitted to date or “court” only with their fathers’ permission and, if they’re Christian, date and court with only other Christians.

  • Woman “was created to be dependent and responsive to a man.”

  • A rapist should pay the victim’s father a bride price and, if the father approves, should marry the victim.

  • Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people are “sodomites” and “people with foul sexual habits.” He favors the “exile [of] some homosexuals, depending on the circumstances and the age of the victim.”

  • Cursing one’s parents is “deserving of punishment by death. Parental failure is not a defense.” Christian parents “need not be afraid to lay it on” when spanking their children. If fact, in Wilson’s world view, “godly discipline” should include spanking 2-year-olds for such “sins” as whining.

  • “A rapist should pay the victim’s father a bride price and, if the father approves, should marry the victim.”

  • “Slavery as it existed in the South … was a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence. … There has never been a multiracial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.”

It’s also an incestuous little place of marginal academic credibility.

The faculty at New St. Andrews is hardly diverse. Several are N.S.A. graduates who went on to do master’s degrees elsewhere and came back to teach. Only 4 of 17 faculty members have Ph.D.’s (those few are always addressed as “Doctor” — proof that N.S.A. has not entirely escaped the intellectual insecurity typical of evangelical colleges). Doug Wilson’s son, son-in-law and youngest brother teach at the college. “Someone’s going to say, ‘Isn’t that a little cozy?’ ” Wilson admits. “Part of modernity’s negative legacy is the pretense of objectivity. All institutions thrive on interconnectedness, affection and loyalty.”

Read their statement of faith. Of greatest relevance is that they say:

In the beginning, God created the material universe from nothing in six ordinary days. He spoke, and by the Word of His power, it was. Our science on the nature and time of this event must be determined in full submission to the Word of God.

That’s right. The University of Idaho has just hired a young earth creationist, biblical literalist, and racist evangelical Christian to teach microbiology. UI biology students: you are getting ripped off.

For a sample of the mental gymnastics involved in creationist “science,” look no further than Wilson’s contribution [PDF] to a 2004 conference, in which he posits that God created every living thing with extra “gene sets” for carnivory, venom, pathogenicity, and other “natural evils,” which were, metaphorically, stored under glass to be activated by the Deity in the event of human malfeasance.

He’s going to be teaching microbiology.

He says he won’t be teaching creationism in the class — I don’t believe him — but this is what he does consider legitimate to teach.

I made it clear 9 years ago and this semester that I wasn’t going to promote my views or disparage evolutionary views in class. That said, I have stated that I do not share the views of common descent held by the main stream scientific community. Which is well with in my rights to do. The only thing that I have presented (briefly) is a distinction between historical science and empirical science, and that conclusions drawn from the former don’t have the high level of certainty as conclusions drawn from the latter. This distinction is not a creationist invention. Ernst Mayr holds to this as well. The conclusions drawn from historical science are as good as the presuppositions on which they are based. This was simply a moment to encourage students to exercise some critical thinking skills in assessing truth claims of the scientific community.

That should sound familiar — it’s the same bogus rhetorical ploy Ken Ham uses.

I do not consider Mayr the sine qua non of the science of philosophy (pretty far from it, actually), but you don’t get to use him to defend Ham’s idiocy. All biologists acknowledge a historical component to our science, but we don’t treat it as a pejorative, nor do we claim that it lacks observational power. Mayr’s thoughts on the subject are quite clear.

Despite the passing of a century before this new branch of philosophy fully developed, its eventual form is based on Darwinian concepts. For example, Darwin introduced historicity into science. Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

For example, three different scenarios have been proposed for the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous: a devastating epidemic; a catastrophic change of climate; and the impact of an asteroid, known as the Alvarez theory. The first two narratives were ultimately refuted by evidence incompatible with them. All the known facts, however, fit the Alvarez theory, which is now widely accepted. The testing of historical narratives implies that the wide gap between science and the humanities that so troubled physicist C. P. Snow is actually nonexistent—by virtue of its methodology and its acceptance of the time factor that makes change possible, evolutionary biology serves as a bridge.

So basically, Wilson is saying, Mayr used the word “historical”, therefore our wacky weird abuse of the word “historical” is valid. He’s an idiot.

The University of Idaho just hired an incompetent religious crackpot who thinks black people were happier as slaves and who despises women to teach a biology course.

And everyone is going to sit back and be fucking fine with it. And if you point out that this man isn’t fit to be pretending to be a microbiologist, he’s going to whine about the persecution of Christians.

Comments

  1. #2 Jim
    March 19, 2014

    The American writer Leo Rosten said it so succinctly:

    Second-rate people hire third-rate people.

  2. #3 oldebabe
    March 19, 2014

    In other words, you get what you pay for – an old saying.

  3. #4 James Foster
    University of Idaho
    March 20, 2014

    PZ, you are right on all counts but one. UI has one of the best evolutionary biology programs in the country, and many of us do, in fact, give a damn. This course was NOT offered by the Biology department. We had nothing to say about this hire, or about the disgraceful act of hiring instructors on such obscene terms.

  4. #5 G
    March 21, 2014

    PZ, stop complaining. If universities pay professors more than poverty wages, they won’t be able to hire world-class administrators at salaries (and benefits) that are competitive with private industry. If that means the only faculty they can hire are crackpots with near-Nazi views about race and gender, oh well. Administration = ownership, faculty = worker-bees who do what they’re told. What are you, a socialist?

    (In case anyone’s Snark-O-Meter isn’t working, the above was fine-tuned on a properly calibrated lab workbench Snark-O-Meter to register a 10. Now I’ll get serious.)

    What makes Gordon Wilson unsuitable for a teaching job at a public university isn’t that he believes in creationism, if he’s willing to pledge to keep his personal beliefs separate and distinct from what goes on in the classroom. The obligation to know the material in order to teach it, does not carry a corresponding obligation to agree with it.

    What makes Gordon Wilson unsuitable for teaching in any public university is his near-Nazi attitudes about race and gender, which amount to direct support of violence against identified groups (women and African Americans) that further are protected categories (race and gender). Support of violence is beyond the pale and does not deserve the endorsement of employment. Support of those kinds of violence qualifies as a terrorist ideology, as surely as if he was urging students to throw Molotov cocktails.

    As I often say, “substitute the words ‘Jews’ and ‘Jewish’ in his sentences and listen to what they sound like.” If you do the thought-experiment, what they sound like is Naziism.

    Students, particularly black students and female students and gay students, should sue the pants off the university and the administrators who made that hiring decision, on the grounds that it imposes upon them (the students) a hostile environment. The mere threat of such a suit and the adverse publicity it will generate, will constitute a win regardless of the outcome in court.

    Grrrr, grrrr, grrrr.

  5. #6 Shay Gaetz
    Chelm, Canada
    March 24, 2014
  6. #7 Chris
    Montana
    March 29, 2014

    I worked in the Department of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho in the spring/summer of 2009 while working on a macroinvertebrate fisheries project and can attest to the strength of their biology programs and the integrity of their professors. This is shameful.

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