This week is the American Library Association’s annual “Banned Books Week.” Given recent issues with the economy and the presidential election, Banned Books Week is probably not attracting as much media attention this year as usual. But we want to observe Banned Books Week by posting a 3-part series revisiting some recent instances of support for banning or censoring intelligent design (ID) books and ideas from libraries and student minds. In 2007, New York Law School professor Stephen A. Newman wrote a law review article in Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion praising the efforts of librarians who prevented pro-ID books from entering their school’s library collection. The article provides a telling example of how prevalent among some academics is the notion that it is acceptable and appropriate to ban the pro-ID viewpoint. Newman writes:
“Consider the experience of two librarians who received copies of two intelligent design books, Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe and Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson, as donations to their high school collections. When the librarians refused to put the books on the school library shelves, they were accused of censorship. In fact, exercising their professional judgment, they concluded that these books had ‘little or no value to our students and come from those with ulterior motives.'”
(Stephen A. Newman, “Evolution and the Holy Ghost of Scopes: Can Science Lose the Next Round?,” 8.2 Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion (Spring, 2007), internal citations removed.)
“Accused of censorship”? I wonder why! Newman praises the librarians for using their “professional judgment”–but we will analyze his endorsement of their censorship in more detail below.
In George Orwell’s famous book 1984, the authorities create a new language called “Newspeak,” which changed the meaning of English words in order to control the thoughts of the people. For example, according to the Newspeak Dictionary, the “Chocorat,” or chocolate ration, was defined as follows:
“1: The chocolate ration in 1983 was 30 grams per week. (standard Hershey Bar is 43 grams)
2: In the year 1984, the chocolate ration went up to 25 grams per week.”
As another example, “Crimestop” was a new word which meant to stop one-self from thinking “any dangerous thought.” Thus thought control was redefined as a virtue (stopping a crime) rather than a vice. Here, we present some similar examples of Stephen Newman’s own “Newspeak”:
- “Professional Judgment”: In Newman’s Newspeak, he praises these librarians for exercising their “professional judgment” by banning these books. But for those of us who aren’t interested in Newspeak, why should we consider their “professional judgment” anything less than dogmatically censoring viewpoints they don’t like? It seems that some Darwinist librarians and academics really aren’t about open access to information; they’re about using their power to indoctrinate students by censoring ideas they disagree with.
- “Access to ideas”: Newman tries to hide his censorious approach by paying lip service to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1982 case Board of Education v. Pico. He states, “Students must have access to ideas, to prepare ‘for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society in which they will soon be adult members.'” (quoting Pico, pg. 868) In Newman’s newspeak, I suppose that giving students “access to ideas” means that books that express scientific dissent from neo-Darwinism should be banned from school libraries.
- “Undermining the teaching of evolution”: Continuing his Orwellian approach, Newman asserts, “Undermining the teaching of evolution deprives [students] of access to the best ideas in science.” But no one in the ID movement is advocating that any less evolution be taught than currently is taught. And placing these pro-ID books in the library certainly won’t prevent evolution from being taught in the classroom. Let’s briefly examine the actual educational policies that the ID movement supports:
- Phillip Johnson believes that “students should learn the orthodox Darwinian theory and the evidence that supports it, but they should also learn why so many are skeptical, and they should hear the skeptical arguments in their strongest form rather than in a caricature intended to make them look as silly as possible.” (Phillip Johnson, The Wedge of Truth, pg. 82 (InterVarsity Press 1999).)
- Michael Behe encourages schools to “[t]each Darwin’s elegant theory. But also discuss where it has real problems accounting for the data, where data are severely limited…”
- Discovery Institute’s Science Education Policy similarly recommends the following: “Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned.”
Under such an approach, evolution is not censored, but it’s taught with both its strengths and its weaknesses. Call this “undermining” or give it whatever Newspeak labels you want: such a balanced approach is completely inimical to the indoctrination that takes place when viewpoints are censored so only one viewpoint will be heard.
- “prepare ‘for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society”: In Newman’s Newspeak, the way to “prepare” students to participate in scientific discussions on this topic is apparently to censor scientific viewpoints that dissent from neo-Darwinism. But most folks, including most of U.S. Congress, tend to believe that preparing students to participate in public discussions about biological evolution dictates that they should learn about more than one scientific viewpoint on this topic:
“Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”
(Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act)
If you truly seek policies that would give students “access to ideas” and “prepare [students] ‘for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society in which they will soon be adult members,'” and you aren’t interested in buying into Newman’s Newspeak, then you need look no further than the educational approaches endorsed by the leaders in the ID movement.
Final Commentary on the Librarians’ Rationale for Censorship
According to Professor Newman, the librarians rightly justified their censorship of Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box and Phillip Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial from the school library as follows: “The books did not meet the usual selection criteria, which required that books ‘support the curriculum, receive favorable reviews from professional journals, and be age-appropriate.’ Noting that intelligent design theory had been ‘repudiated by every leading scientific organization, including the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences,’ the librarians determined that teaching intelligent design ‘would be tantamount to teaching about the existence of Santa Claus.'”
Against such Darwinist censors, these books need no defense, but nonetheless it’s worth keeping the following points in mind:
- Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial was considered “exemplary” by leading non-ID evolutionary paleontologist David Raup (see Doubts about Darwin, pg. 260), and leading origin of life theorist Robert Shapiro (who also rejects ID) said Darwin’s Black Box “should be on the essential reading list of all those who are interested in the question of where we came from.”
- Most school districts have policies encouraging critical thinking and consideration of alternative viewpoints. In this regard, including these books in a public school library would certainly not fail to “support the curriculum.”
- ID critics may find it convenient to quote blanket condemnations of ID from scientific organizations in order to claim it has been “repudiated,” but what such statements actually show is that much of the opposition to ID from the scientific community is not scientific in nature, but political. After all, since when do leading scientific organizations issue press releases and edicts against an idea? Indeed, Discovery Institute senior fellow John West’s research found that AAAS “board members voted to brand intelligent design as unscientific without actually reading for themselves the academic books and articles by scientists proposing the theory.” Similarly, the NAS, whose biologist membership is ~95% atheists and agnostics, has made many fundamental misrepresentations of ID in its attacks on the theory.
- There is support for ID in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Finally, as for the “teaching intelligent design ‘would be tantamount to teaching about the existence of Santa Claus'” comment, this not only hints that these librarians have anti-religious bigotry, but it shows that they are not even capable of treating those who support intelligent design with respect. It’s no wonder that Newman liked their approach: he too bashes ID proponents as “Consciously favoring ignorance over reason” and says ID “should grate on anyone who values knowledge and uses his brains for a living.” It sure sounds like Newman is trying to encourage the practice of crimestop to me.
The fact that such abrasive language and support for outright censorship is acceptable in a respectable legal journal should concern those who oppose things like banning books and support things like intellectual freedom.