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Banned Book Week and Intelligent Design Part 3: Darwinist Law Professor Supports University Censorship of Pro-ID Views (Updated)

Justify Censorship on the Back of Your Car Today:
The “Judge Jones Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” Bumper Sticker!

As we discussed last week with the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, we’re recounting efforts by and support of Darwinists to ban pro-intelligent design (ID) books or ideas from schools. Part 1 of this 3-part series recounted attempts to censor pro-ID books from public school libraries, and Part 2 discussed attempts to ban pro-ID viewpoints from high school science classrooms. But for some Darwinists, it isn’t enough to merely ban ID from public high school science classrooms or public high school libraries. In this third and final installment, we’ll discuss how some Darwinists will not be satisfied until ID is censored within the university setting as well. In fact, earlier this year, Michigan State University law professor Frank S. Ravitch wrote a law review article, “Intelligent Design in Public University Science Departments: Academic Freedom or Establishment of Religion,” suggesting that ID “must” be banned from college science courses. He even suggests that in some circumstances, pro-ID scientists should be prevented from doing pro-ID research and denied tenure simply because their research supports ID.

“Judge Jones Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It”
Before delving further into Ravitch’s conclusions, it must be noted that his entire argument depends on his claim that ID is not science but rather is religion, and huge portions of his argument in this regard cite to the Kitzmiller ruling. To justify his censorship, Ravitch essentially adopts the “Judge Jones Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” approach to ID (see above). But Judge Jones is unlikely to be the final word on the constitutionality of teaching ID, for just some problems with the Kitzmiller ruling include the facts that Judge Jones:

  • Employed a false definition of ID that presumed that ID requires “supernatural creation” — a position that ID proponents who testified in court refuted during the trial;
  • Ignored the positive case for ID and falsely claimed that ID proponents make their case solely by arguing against evolution;
  • Overstepped the bounds of the judiciary and engaged in judicial activism by declaring that ID had been refuted, when in fact the judge was presented with credible scientific witnesses and publications on both sides, showing evidence of a scientific debate;
  • Used poor philosophy of science by presuming that being wrong precludes being scientific;
  • Dangerously stifled scientific advance by taking the level of support for a theory as a measure of whether an idea is scientific;
  • Blatantly ignored and denied the existence of pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific publications that were in fact testified about in his own courtroom;
  • Blatantly ignored and denied the existence of pro-ID scientific research and data that was in fact testified about in his own courtroom;
  • Adopted an unjust double-standard of legal analysis where religious implications, beliefs, motives, and affiliations count against ID but never against Darwinism;
    (For more elaboration, see Traipsing Into Evolution (Discovery Institute Press, 2006) and also in “Montana Law Review, Winter, 2007).)

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the deficiencies in Ravitch’s primary legal authority, let’s further review his arguments.

The Poisonous Fruit of Kitzmiller
Ravitch argues that since administrators are given broad discretion by courts to restrict academic freedom when they fear an establishment of religion in the science classroom, that “university officials, as well as departmental curriculum committees, can exclude the teaching of ID if they choose to.”

According to the case law cited by Ravitch, administrators are given discretion to restrict faculty speech merely because of the fear of an Establishment Clause violation, not because one has actually occurred. For example, Ravitch cites Bishop v. Aranov, 926 F.2d 1066 (11th Cir. 1991), which did not reach the question of whether a university faculty member had actually established religion through his in-classroom instruction. Rather, the Bishop court held that if university administrators have reasonable fears about religion coming into in-class instruction, they may restrict faculty speech.

In other words, courts put the decisions about academic freedom and religious establishment into the hands of administrators … not the courts. Under such case law, if you’re a university faculty member, the Constitution does not say “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but rather it effectively says, “If your administrator reasonably fears you are establishing religion, they have the power to shut you up regardless of whether you are actually advancing religion in the classroom.” People who care about freedom of speech should feel troubled by such case law.

Such case law bodes well for jurists like Ravitch who seek means to censor ID from science classes: nevermind the question of whether ID actually is religion, all this argument needs to justify censoring ID is some administrator who fears that ID is religion. And blindly saying “Judge Jones Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” could provide the judicially necessary air of “reasonableness” to those fears, wrong as the Kitzmiller ruling may be. Thus, relying entirely upon Judge Jones, Ravitch contends that ID is religion, and therefore a university administrator may shut it down at his or her own discretion.

But what if a faculty member genuinely believes that ID is science, but some complaining administrator tries to shut her down because they believe ID is religion? Is there academic freedom for scientists who disagree with Judge Jones and believe that ID is science? Ravitch makes no defense for academic freedom for scientists who believe that ID is science, essentially capitulating to a federal judge (Judge Jones) to dictate what effectively counts and doesn’t count as science in the university setting.

People who care about academic freedom for dissenting scientific viewpoints, and who care about the autonomy of the scientific community, should be very troubled at such reasoning.

Not “May”–University Administrators “Must” Censor ID
Ravitch argues that university administrators should not just have the right to shut down faculty who advocate ID, but they have the obligation to shut it down. According to Ravitch, “ID is a religiously motivated theory” and therefore “public universities and science departments may preclude ID from being taught in science classes.” Ravitch then says that, “Establishment Clause concerns could make this ‘may’ a ‘must.'” Thus Ravitch’s argument is that if a scientist has personal religious beliefs and motives, he therefore cannot advocate his views to students in the university classroom setting.

This argument turns the First Amendment–which guarantees the “free exercise” of religion–on its head. If the religious motives of ID proponents count against ID, then why don’t the anti-religious motives of leading Darwinists count against teaching Darwinism? After all, many leading Darwinists have expressed anti-religious motives:

  • Eugenie Scott is a public signer of the Third Humanist Manifesto, an aggressive statement of the humanist agenda to create a world with “without supernaturalism” based upon the view that “[h]umans are … the result of unguided evolutionary change” and the universe is “self-existing.”
  • Richard Dawkins is Oxford University’s Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and is probably the most famous evolutionist in the world. Yet Dawkins argues that belief in God is a “delusion” and that “Darwin made it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Dawkins has stated his goal is “to kill religion” and when he received an award from the American Humanist Association, he declared that “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”
  • Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, who has been a public advocate of teaching evolution in a one-sided pro-Darwin-only dogmatic fashion in public schools, says that “I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief, and I’m all for that! One of the things that in fact has driven me in my life, is the feeling that this is one of the great social functions of science–to free people from superstition” and hopes that “this is something to which science can contribute … it may be the most important contribution that we can make.”
  • These scientists are by no means alone in their views. In November, 2006 the New York Times covered a conference held at the scientific research hub The Salk Institute. The story reported a striking agenda on the part of leading scientists present at the conference to stifle religious belief in order to promote Darwinism to the public: “one speaker after another called on their colleagues to be less timid in challenging teachings about nature based only on scripture and belief.” The scientists were worried that evolution by natural selection and other views are “losing out in the intellectual marketplace” and one scientist sarcastically said the viewpoints “have run the gamut from A to B. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?”

I do not raise these examples to argue that one cannot accept evolution and religion or to argue that neo-Darwinism is not science. And I should note that these anti-religious advocates of evolution have every right to hold their anti-religious beliefs and motives. But these examples expose the intense hypocrisy and failure of Ravitch’s harping upon the alleged religious motives of ID proponents. If Ravitch wants to argue that the religious motives of ID proponents make it unfit for the college classroom, he should consider what would happen if a fair court scrutinized the anti-religious motives of many leading neo-Darwinists.
ID Proponents Need Not Apply

Ravitch tries to Take Censorship All the Way
Ravitch doesn’t just want ID out of university science classrooms. He argues that university science departments should be able to “exclude ID research from any support or recognition.” Ravitch is generous enough (note: sarcasm) to concede that faculty could not have their tenure revoked simply because they do pro-ID research. Nonetheless, he argues that science departments could restrict academic freedom for scientists who do pro-ID research (by denying tenure, research support, etc.) because a science department could “simply decide that ID is not science, and therefore that ID research has no place in a science department.” He continues:

“This Article asserts that the general standards of science departments, which include peer review, publication, and grant requirements, would enable a public university science department to deny tenure, research support, merit increases, and other forms of support and recognition to those whose research focuses on ID.”

(Frank S. Ravitch, “Intelligent Design in Public University Science Departments: Academic Freedom or Establishment of Religion,” 16 William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 1061 (April, 2008).)

Of course any non-tenured faculty member who lacked sufficient peer-reviewed scientific articles or failed to do good research would likely not be awarded tenure, nor would any underproducing scientist be given merit increases, etc.

You could substitute any field of scientific study for “ID” in Ravitch’s argument, and if a given scientist failed to produce scholarship and research, then they would not be given rewards. Thus, Ravitch’s argument begs the question: What would happen if an untenured pro-ID scientist at a state university produced solid pro-ID research and also published sufficient numbers of peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting ID that would otherwise normally warrant tenure?

Ravitch doesn’t answer this question, but I’ll try: Guillermo Gonzalez was an untenured assistant professor of astronomy at Iowa State University (ISU) who happened to be pro-ID, and his support for ID played a major role in his denial of tenure last year. But ID wasn’t his primary focus of research–he was a highly published authority on stellar metallicity. He also didn’t teach about ID in the classroom. The only work he did on ID was a book, The Privileged Planet, that covered ID in only cosmology and was highly praised by various eminent scientists.

So here we have a highly published scientist who was denied tenure not because his research was about ID (it wasn’t), and not because he taught ID in the classroom (he didn’t), but simply because he supported ID. Gonzalez’s situation was even less controversial than the hypothetical professor described by Ravitch, and yet Gonzalez was denied tenure. It seems that Ravitch’s strategy for banishing the pro-ID viewpoint from the academy is already being implemented–and for far lesser thought-crimes than the scenario he describes.

At Gonzalez’s university, the faculty handbook said that academic freedom is the “foundation of the university,” and yet he was denied tenure. Those who care about academic freedom should be very troubled at these developments.