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Do Scientists Have Freedom to Question Darwinism?

John G. West
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Photo credit: Alem Omerovic, via Unsplash.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from a chapter in the newly released book The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos.

The list of scientists, teachers, students, and others who have faced retaliation or discrimination for their public skepticism of Darwinism is long and growing. 

A Fortunate Darwin Critic

At San Francisco State University, tenured biology professor Dean Kenyon was removed from teaching introductory biology classes. Once an influential proponent of Darwinian evolution, Kenyon had come to doubt key parts of Darwin’s theory and expressed those doubts to students in class, including his belief that some biological features exhibited evidence of intelligent design. Kenyon was more fortunate than many academic critics of Darwin. After his plight was publicized by an article in the Wall Street Journal, the university was shamed into reinstating him.1

Biology professor Caroline Crocker at George Mason University was “barred by her department from teaching both evolution and intelligent design” after committing the crime of mentioning intelligent design in a course on cell biology. “It’s an infringement of academic freedom,” she told the journal Nature.2 Subsequently her contract was not renewed.3

Oregon community college instructor Kevin Haley was terminated after it became known that he criticized evolution in his freshman biology classes. Haley’s college refused to state why his contract was not renewed, but some of Haley’s colleagues were upset that students who took his biology class were starting to challenge evolution in their classes.4 Before the controversy over evolution, Haley had been regarded as an excellent teacher. Indeed, his former department chair had praised him in glowing terms, saying that students “perceive that he is interested in them. He generates curiosity and stimulates their thinking. Those are things that I think are not always there in a professor.”5

Discrimination and Bullying

Scientists outside of biology who express skepticism about Darwinism can also face discrimination and bullying. At Baylor University, mathematician William Dembski was fired as director of an academic center he had founded to explore the idea of intelligent design as an alternative to unguided Darwinian evolution. Eventually his faculty contract was not renewed as well, and he lost his job. Dembski, who holds doctorates from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago, had exemplary academic credentials and publications, but his research center had been strenuously opposed by Baylor’s biology faculty.6

Chemistry professor Nancy Bryson was removed from her post as head of the science and math division of Mississippi University for Women after she delivered a lecture to honors students about some of the scientific weaknesses of chemical and biological evolution. “I was harshly attacked by Darwinist colleagues,” she explained later. “…students at my college got the message very clearly, do not ask any questions about Darwinism.”7

Blacklisted for Openness

Sometimes scientists can find themselves blacklisted if they merely express openness or sympathy to a critical examination of Darwinism. Astronomer Martin Gaskell was a top applicant to become the head of an observatory at the University of Kentucky. In the words of one university faculty member there, “his qualifications…stand far above those of any other applicant.”8 But Gaskell was ultimately rejected for the job after the biology faculty waged an internal war against his hiring. Why did they want to prevent him from getting the job? First, Gaskell was perceived by other faculty to be “potentially evangelical.”9 Worse, although he identified himself as a supporter of evolution, in online notes for a science and faith talk, Gaskell respectfully discussed the views of intelligent design proponents and acknowledged that modern evolutionary theory had unresolved problems — just like any scientific theory. 

The Gaskell case illustrates how some Darwinian biologists are not content to stop dissent over their theory within their own field. They want to censor disagreement with Darwin in other scientific disciplines as well. Indeed, sometimes they try to silence other scientists from raising the issue of intelligent design outside of biology without any reference to evolution. Eric Hedin was an assistant professor of physics at Ball State University. Like Gaskell, he had a long list of peer-reviewed science publications.10 For many years, he taught an interdisciplinary honors class at Ball State called “The Boundaries of Science,” which explored the limits of science. 

During one small part of the course, Hedin discussed the debate over intelligent design in physics and cosmology — not biology.11 Hedin’s course received positive student reviews.12 However, atheist evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago and the Freedom from Religion Foundation filed complaints.13 Ball State then violated its own procedures and appointed an ad hoc committee stacked with avowed critics of intelligent design, including two who spoke at a previous Darwin Day conference organized by the Ball State Freethought Alliance,14 a group whose “original goal,” according to its president, was “belittling religion.”15 Hedin’s class was eventually cancelled by Ball State. In addition, the university president issued a campus speech code not only banning professors from covering intelligent design in science classes but also from expressing support for the concept in social science and humanities classes.16

Next, “Do Non-Scientists Have Freedom to Question Darwinism?”

Notes

  1. Stephen Meyer, “Danger: Indoctrination, a Scopes Trial for the 90s,” The Wall Street Journal (December 6, 1993), https://www.discovery.org/a/93/(accessed November 24, 2020).
  2. Geoff Brumfiel, “Intelligent design: Who has designs on your students’ minds?,” Nature 434 (April 28, 2005), 1062-1065.
  3. See “Intelligent Design and Academic Freedom,” All Things Considered, National Public Radio (November 10, 2005).
  4. See Gordon Gregory, “Biology instructor’s doctrine draws fire,” OregonLive.com (February 18, 2000); Gordon Gregory, “Creationist instructor likely will lose his job,” OregonLive.com (March 28, 2000); Julie Foster, “Biology professor forced out; Pointed to flaws in theory of evolution, encouraged critical thinking,” WorldNetDaily.com (April 14, 2000), https://web.archive.org/web/20010427122836/http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=17856 (accessed November 25, 2020).
  5. Haley’s former department chair Bruce McClelland, quoted in Gregory, “Biology instructor’s doctrine draws fire.”
  6. Fred Heeren, “The Lynching of Bill Dembski: Scientists say the jury is out—so let the hanging begin,” The American Spectator 33 (November 2000), 44-51.
  7. Testimony of Nancy Bryson before the Texas State Board of Education, Transcript of the Public Hearing Before the Texas State Board of Education, September 10, 2003, Austin, Texas (Austin, TX: Chapman Court Reporting Service, 2003), 504-505.
  8. Email from University of Kentucky physicist Thomas Troland, quoted in Casey Luskin, “E-mails in Gaskell Case Show That Darwin Skeptics Need Not Apply to the University of Kentucky,” Evolution News and Views (February 10, 2011), https://evolutionnews.org/2011/02/e-mails_in_gaskell_case_show_t/ (accessed November 24, 2020).
  9. Casey Luskin, “Evidence of Discrimination Against Martin Gaskell Due to His Views on Evolution,” Evolution News and Views (December 15, 2010), https://evolutionnews.org/2010/12/evidence_of_discrimination_aga/ (accessed November 24, 2020).
  10. “Refereed Publications [of Eric Hedin],” Ball State University, https://web.archive.org/web/20130526183917/http://cms.bsu.edu/-/media/WWW/DepartmentalContent/Physics/PDFs/Hedin/PublicationsHedin%20(3).pdf (accessed November 24, 2020).
  11. John G. West, “Misrepresenting the Facts about Eric Hedin’s ‘Reading List’,” Evolution News and Views (July 11, 2013), https://evolutionnews.org/2013/07/misrepresenting/ (accessed November 24, 2020).
  12. Joshua Youngkin, “What Does Eric Hedin Really Teach? Self-Professed Agnostic Speaks Out About ‘Boundaries of Science’ Seminar,” Evolution News and Views (August 2, 2013), https://evolutionnews.org/2013/08/what_does_eric/ (accessed November 24, 2020); Joshua Youngkin, “Hedin Witness #3: ‘This Course Made Me a Better Learner,’” Evolution News and Views (August 9, 2013), https://evolutionnews.org/2013/08/hedin_witness_3/ (accessed November 24, 2020); Joshua Youngkin, “Dr. Hedin’s Student Could Teach Ball State University a Thing or Two,” Evolution News and Views (July 16, 2013), https://evolutionnews.org/2013/07/what_happened_i/ (accessed November 24, 2020).
  13. David Klinghoffer, “At Ball State University, Intimidation Campaign Against Physicist Gets Troubling Results,” Evolution News and Views (May 22, 2013), https://evolutionnews.org/2013/05/at_ball_state_u/ (accessed November 24, 2020).
  14. John G. West, “Questions Raised About Impartiality of Panel Reviewing Ball State University Professor’s Course,” Evolution News and Views (June 25, 2013), https://evolutionnews.org/2013/06/review_panel_or/ (accessed November 24, 2020); Joshua Youngkin, “Indiana Professors Question Ball State University’s Disregard For Rules on Academic Freedom,” Evolution News and Views (August 25, 2013), https://evolutionnews.org/2013/08/indiana_profess/ (accessed November 24, 2020); John G. West, “Clarifying the Issues At Ball State: Some Questions and Answers,” Evolution News and Views (September 13, 2013), https://evolutionnews.org/2013/09/clarifying_the_/ (accessed November 24, 2020).
  15.  “Atheist Rift!!,” BSU Freethought Alliance: The Official Blog of Ball State University Freethought Alliance (October 23, 2009), http://freethoughtbsu.blogspot.com/2009/10/atheist-rift.html (accessed November 24, 2020).
  16. John G. West, “Ball State President’s Orwellian Attack on Academic Freedom,” Evolution News and Views (August 1, 2013), https://evolutionnews.org/2013/08/ball_state_pres/ (accessed November 24, 2020).