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Evolution News and Views
Academic Freedom/Free Speech NEWS
6.13.2016 8:49PM

Tolerate Differences in Scientific, Not Just Political, Viewpoints


In his New York Times column recently, Nicholas Kristof offered "A Confession of Liberal Intolerance." A liberal himself, Kristof acknowledges that universities welcome many kinds of diversity -- except the political and philosophical kind. We could add another: viewpoints on evolution and intelligent design.

Kristof paints a stark picture of discrimination directed against conservatives and Evangelicals:

"Outside of academia I faced more problems as a black," he [George Yancy, a black Evangelical sociologist] told me. "But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close."


"I am the equivalent of someone who was gay in Mississippi in 1950," a conservative professor is quoted as saying in "Passing on the Right," a new book about right-wing faculty members by Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr. That's a metaphor that conservative scholars often use, with talk of remaining in the closet early in one's career and then "coming out" after receiving tenure.

This hostile environment sounds uncannily like the one ID proponents face. Think of Richard Sternberg, who as editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington faced retaliation after publishing a peer-reviewed article favorable to intelligent design. Scientific orthodoxy in academia poses a threat to anyone who may not have the "correct" Darwinian perspective. At Discovery Institute, we're very cognizant of this. Take, for example, this note by David Klinghoffer:

Young and vulnerable researchers with iconoclastic ideas about Darwinian evolution can face threats of career devastation if they open their mouths imprudently. That's one reason we are very careful about protecting the identity of students and scholars who are accepted to participate in our Summer Seminars...I recall being overzealous once about cropping out students in a photo of a seminar session to published here at Evolution News. I worried that someone might be recognizable by the back of his or her head. A colleague reminded me, "We don't worry about backs of heads."

Actually, of late, we've revised that policy. We do worry about backs of heads! Such is the unfortunate reality when it comes to academic freedom on American campuses.

But Kristof rebukes universities for their political intolerance:

The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself. When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren't at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards -- and we all lose.


Jonathan Haidt, a centrist social psychologist at New York University, cites data suggesting that the share of conservatives in academia has plunged, and he has started a website, Heterodox Academy, to champion ideological diversity on campuses.

"Universities are unlike other institutions in that they absolutely require that people challenge each other so that the truth can emerge from limited, biased, flawed individuals," he says. "If they lose intellectual diversity, or if they develop norms of 'safety' that trump challenge, they die. And this is what has been happening since the 1990s."

In other words, education benefits from consideration of multiple viewpoints. Indeed, testing ideas against each other is vital. That absolutely requires intellectual diversity.

Yet we've seen case after case of universities that have forgotten this. It's interesting, for example, to reflect on how differently Baylor University would have treated advocates of intelligent design and evolution skepticism if scholars and administrators valued such diversity in science. Perhaps Baylor wouldn't have removed William Dembski from his post leading the Michael Polanyi Research Center, which engaged in ID-related research, initially denied legal scholar Francis Beckwith tenure before deciding to reverse that decision, or taken off their website Dr. Robert Marks's grant-funded research project in evolutionary computing (the Evolutionary Informatics Lab).

Few have, like Kristof, recognized the importance of political diversity in higher education. But thankfully that is changing, slowly. Fewer accept the value of diverse views on origins science. But one hopes that will change too.

Image credit: © weerapat1003 -- stock.adobe.com.

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