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Discovery Institute’s Chapman, Buri, and West Sign Joint Statement on Academic Freedom

Donald McLaughlin

Academic Freedom statement

Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture has as one of its main goals the defense of academic freedom. While our primary focus is on science — the freedom to teach and research about evolution objectively, to explore evidence for intelligent design without fear of retaliation — we of course also believe that freedom should extend to every discipline. Voices challenging long-held views are to be found in all scholarly fields, not just biology.

Academic freedom has become a hot-button issue nationally in recent months. Of late, hardly a week has passed without some major news story highlighting demonstrations on college campuses by those who are not only opposed to certain political views, but who will not tolerate anyone advocating views that some students and faculty do not wish to hear.

A notable, recent example was the abominable treatment of speaker Charles Murray and his host Allison Stanger at Middlebury College. David Klinghoffer wrote about that here yesterday. We have highlighted many stories over the past few years of science professors being threatened, disciplined, and silenced for having the temerity to publicly question Darwinian orthodoxy or show an openness to ID as a legitimate scientific alternative.

Now, prompted to speak out by the Middlebury incident, two well-known scholars, Cornel West of Harvard and Robert P. George of Princeton, have just released a joint statement expressing support for academic freedom and opposition to the “illiberalism” prevalent on campuses today. Discovery Institute chairman of the board Bruce Chapman, president Steve Buri, and vice president John West have signed the statement.

As Inside Higher Ed observes, the statement’s two authors are themselves philosophical opponents.

[They] don’t have much in common. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, is one of the country’s most prominent conservative intellectuals. West, a professor of the practice of public philosophy and African and African-American studies at Harvard University, is a self-described “radical Democrat” who, in addition to many books, once released a spoken-word album.

The opening paragraph by Dr. George and Dr. West says:

The pursuit of knowledge and the maintenance of a free and democratic society require the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth. These virtues will manifest themselves and be strengthened by one’s willingness to listen attentively and respectfully to intelligent people who challenge one’s beliefs and who represent causes one disagrees with and points of view one does not share.

This admonishment is eloquent, important — and frankly, considering all the abuses we have observed in the areas of science and science education, long overdue. It would be welcome if critics of the theory of intelligent design were to take heed. Instead of the usual vitriol and ad hominem attacks directed at anyone who questions Darwinian orthodoxy, let them hear us out and then respond in a civil, substantive manner.

Image: Middlebury College, Tichnor Brothers, Publisher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.