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Email Correspondence with University Dean Reveals Stonewalling Behind Latest Anti-ID Censorship


A radio interviewer and I shared a laugh this morning. We were talking about the way Wikipedia censors and distorts in its coverage of intelligent design, then stonewalls when challenged. We agreed about the online encyclopedia’s incredible influence, the fact that when you Google a prominent person or idea, the Wikipedia entry is typically the first hit you receive. She said, But can’t you protest to Google, bring some pressure to bear on Wikipedia?

I asked, “So you’re going to protest to Google?” The question is self-answering. You can’t protest anything to Google! We both cracked up.

In seeking honest discussion about the evidence for design in nature, ID hits a stone wall again and again. That was illustrated once again in the story Paul Nelson told here the other day about the ID conference that had to flee Portugal for Spain, after being canceled and chased out of two Portuguese universities, the University of Algarve and the University of Porto.

Back in 1492, the Inquisitors famously chased a controversial minority out of Spain and into Portugal (before they were chased out of there as well). In this reversal, the authorities were about as open to negotiation or reconsideration.

Dr. Nelson recounts that after the University of Algarve cancelled the conference, the organizers thought they had found ref­­uge at the University of Porto.

A university science dean, Professor Fernanda Ribeiro, agreed to participate, and was listed on the program. Good to go, right?

Except that conferences need publicity, and (again) as soon as the new location was advertised, external pressure came down hard on the University of Porto, and on Professor Ribeiro in particular. On October 15 — eight days before the conference was to occur — she cancelled the event.

At this point, our colleague Daniel Reeves got involved. He is Educational Outreach Assistant for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. He contacted the dean in an email:

Dear Dr. Ribeiro,

What is the reason for the cancellation?

Thank you.


Daniel Reeves
Discovery Institute

Perhaps she had looked up intelligent design on Wikipedia. She wrote:

Dear Sir

We’ve got the information taht [sic] the event is not a scientific one. The University decided not to host the conference.

Best regrads [sic]

Fernanda Ribeiro
Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto

Daniel was well prepared for this challenge.

Dear Dr. Ribeiro,

Thank you for your response. Unfortunately, I have to say that I don’t really understand your justification for cancelling the conference. In the history of Western civilization, the question of whether nature displays purpose and design has been debated at least since Plato and Aristotle, if not before. Moreover, the co-founder with Darwin of the modern theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace, believed that nature displayed evidence of purposeful design. So the discussion about design in nature has a long history both within science and philosophy. For example, the late physicist and Nobel Laureate Charles Townes wrote that “Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real.”

Whether one regards intelligent design as a scientific question or a philosophical one, it would seem to me that it is a question worthy of discussion and debate within universities. Moreover, the event that was scheduled to be held on your campus featured a number of distinguished scientists and scholars, including research chemist Dr. Marcos Eberlin, a member of Brazil’s national academy of sciences. It seems to me that cancelling the event is an affront of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.

Does your university not value the freedom of discussion? If so, how can you justify censoring a conference on such an important scientific and philosophical question?


Daniel Reeves

Instead of shutting down the exchange right away, Dr. Ribeiro offered an apology merely about timing and procedure. She also granted Daniel a complementary doctorate as a courtesy.

Dear Dr. Reeves

Perhaps we should have taken the decision when our Brazilian students requested the auditorium, but our services didn’t got [sic] enough information at that moment. I apologize for that.

It is not a question of censoring, but the University has the right to decide what to host or not.

Com os melhores cumprimentos

Fernanda Ribeiro

Daniel replied, pointing out that Dr. Ribeiro had dodged the issue of academic freedom on a legitimate scientific or philosophical question.

Dear Dr. Ribeiro,

Thank you for your further response. It may well be the case that your university has a legal right to exclude groups from use of your facilities. In the United States, a state-funded university would be under an obligation to treat all groups equally when it came to the rental of its facilities. That may not be the case in Portugal. But I do not think you really responded to the point I was raising. Do you not think that a university should promote the free exchange of ideas? And if so, why would you want to exclude a conference on one of the most important intellectual questions that has been debated by philosophers, intellectuals, scientists, and others during the past several centuries? You earlier said the conference was cancelled because it was “not a scientific one.” But as I pointed out, the question of design in nature is one that has been debated by many leading thinkers and scientists and philosophers. Why is THAT topic not considered a legitimate one at your university?


Daniel Reeves

How do you say “Shut up!” in Portuguese? Dr. Ribeiro was now ready to conclude the conversation, having addressed neither the point about ID’s long history as an object of scientific and philosophical inquiry, nor that about a university being a place where students and faculty should be free to pursue vital intellectual matters. Instead she focused on irrelevant details of rental versus free facility access. In other words, the stone wall had gone up:

Dear Dr. Reeves

As I tld [sic] you before, teh [sic] decision is taken.

In fact, we didn’t rent our facilities to the event organization. They would be used for free. And, yes, we have the right to decide who can use our facilities for free.

Com os melhores cumprimentos

Fernanda Ribeiro

I see that Dr. Ribeiro, who stubbornly blocked communication and the flow of scientific information, teaches in her university’s Department of Communication and Information Sciences.

As Paul Nelson recounts, the conference ultimately went forward not in Portugal but in Spain at the Paradores León Hostal de San Marcos. The lineup of speakers was distinguished, including Dr. Nelson, physicist David Saravia of the University of Algarve, and Professor Marcos Eberlin of Brazil’s Campinas State University. To get from Faro, Portugal, to León, Spain, and back again — in the same night! — the students rode on a bus for a total of 2,000 kilometers.

No doubt they learned a lot from the scientists and scholars, but that bus ride, representing ID’s repeated and arbitrary expulsion and exclusion, was an education in itself. Preceded by Fernanda Ribeiro’s stonewalling exercise with Daniel Reeves, it represents in a nutshell the posture not of openness to ideas but of censorship and intimidation faced by scholars willing to consider the evidence for design.

Whether the context is Wikipedia or the academic scene on the Iberian Peninsula, the scientific “consensus” on ID is maintained by shutting down debate and silencing scholarship. If the students absorbed no other lesson than that, they came away with an important insight.

Photo: University of Porto, by Dafema (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.