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Joshua Swamidass and the Cancellation of Christian Colleges

Michael Egnor
Photo: Joshua Swamidass, by J. Nathan Matias, via Flickr (cropped).

My colleague David Klinghoffer has a superb post on a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Joshua Swamidass, a computational biologist who believes that colleges and universities that include “creation science” (undefined) in their curriculum should be blacklisted by the educational and scientific community and potentially lose their accreditation. He argues that only science courses that adhere to “national norms” (also undefined) should count for credit toward science degrees. It’s clear from the context that one workable definition of national norms is “what Darwinists believe.” 

Presumably, evolutionary psychology, multiverse theory, materialist neuroscience, transgender pediatrics, and the emerging rivulets of woke science and woke mathematics could nestle on the “national norms” pedestal, whether Swamidass wants them to or not.

Not only is Swamidass’s proposed censorship, directed against Christian colleges, an affront to academic freedom on scientific questions of evolution and human origins, it is a gateway to unlimited litmus tests for the latest fashionable atheist and woke science. You don’t think “survivors survived” explains life? You don’t think there are more than two sexes? You don’t think the “multiverse” is testable science? You don’t think the mind is more than meat? No graduation or scientific career for you!

Outcome Metrics

Notably, Swamidass completely leaves out the one criterion that is the cornerstone of accreditation of educational institutions: outcome metrics. Accreditation generally hinges on the question: how do graduates of an institution compare with other graduates on standardized tests, graduation rates, professional employment and accomplishments, etc.? I don’t know (and Swamidass has nothing to say about it) how students from Christian colleges compare, but is it well established that homeschooled kids (who are disproportionately taught by conservative Christian families) score almost 100 points higher on the SAT and score correspondingly higher on the ACT than the national average. Christian colleges and universities that teach creation science (I use the term loosely, as does Swamidass) may also teach evolution, but they treat Darwinism as a theory, and they examine it critically. 

How do undergraduates from Christian colleges perform on the science portions of GRE exams? If we are to accredit based on curricular content, we must examine all curricular content (let’s start with implicit atheism, materialism, and wokeness) and let’s use outcome metrics as the gold standard. My suspicion, based on the outstanding performance of homeschooled students on standardized testing, is that students from colleges that teach creation science do very well in comparison with their peers from colleges that teach atheist science. 

It is certainly possible — and I believe likely — that students in universities that teach creation science understand more about Darwinism, not less, because they are taught to examine Darwinian theory as science, not as dogma. 

Science and Creation

It’s noteworthy that among developed countries the United States is both the most “creationist” nation and the uncontested leader in science. For myself, I think there’s a clear cause-and-effect relationship. Inference to God’s design is a powerful engine for scientific investigation, and has been since the Scientific Revolution, which was led largely by devoutly Christian scientists. In any case, it is certainly hard to credibly argue that “creationism” has held back science in any meaningful way. Compare the scientific productivity of the predominately Christian United States to the scientific productivity of the atheist Soviet Union. Compare the scientific productivity of largely Christian South Korea to atheist North Korea. Compare the scientific productivity of tiny largely Christian Taiwan to the scientific productivity of atheist China. Christianity is the most powerful engine of modern science in my view, and atheism is everywhere a science-killer (and people-killer, but that’s for another discussion). 

Physics Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman noted that “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” Swamidass’s demand that science be handcuffed by “national norms” is exactly the opposite of what is necessary for good science. Every orthodox but false scientific theory in history was a “national norm” at one time or another. Science has been and remains beset with countless false theories — eugenics, the imperative for population control, global cooling, and junk DNA were in their day the “national norms” in science. It was academic freedom and diversity of opinion that allowed science to advance beyond these historic errors. 

The Hallmarks of Science

The only way to truth in science is to permit and even encourage challenges to orthodoxy. Science is inherently the process by which orthodox beliefs about nature are challenged, and indoctrination of students in atheist and materialist dogma is the antithesis of science. Students educated in creation science, unlike their counterparts in explicitly or implicitly atheist institutions, understand the issues and controversies in science, and this understanding is the hallmark of real scientific knowledge. 

Swamidass’s demand that accrediting agencies blacklist Christian universities that challenge the atheist dogma that plagues modern science is reprehensible, and if enacted would trample on the rights of Christians and on the quality of American science. Diversity of opinion and inclusion of unorthodox perspectives is the indispensable ingredient of good science. Whatever he may have intended, Josh Swamidass calls for what amounts to the “cancellation” of Christian colleges.