January 20, 2009

Academic Freedom DayHow You Can Stand for Freedom against Darwinian Thought Control

The famous Pink Floyd song that laments, "We don't need no education / We don't need no thought control," is not just the rant of a rebellious mind; it is also a sad commentary on the lack of academic freedom in education today.

Academic freedom does not simply mean you have the freedom to agree with everyone else. True academic freedom means you have the freedom to think for yourself — even when your views run counter to the majority "elite." In the scientific community, academic freedom is vital because science only progresses when scientists are able to think for themselves and ask hard questions about the prevailing wisdom.

Few scientists understood the importance of the principle of academic freedom better than Charles Darwin. When Darwin first proposed his theory of evolution in the Origin of Species in 1859, he faced intense intellectual opposition from both the scientific community and the culture of his day. To help restore objectivity to the debate over evolution, Darwin wisely counseled that, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

Darwin was born on February 12, 1809. As most Summit alums know, February 12th used to be a day that celebrates freedom — it's the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the great American president who helped free the slaves and set America on a path towards racial harmony. But February 12, 2009 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin — a day that many now call "Darwin Day."

In recent years, the intolerant behavior of modern evolutionists (as documented in the film Expelled) has caused Darwinism to become increasingly associated with attempts to stifle intellectual freedom. As a result, two leading pro-intelligent design (ID) organizations, The Discovery Institute and the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, are reclaiming February 12, 2009, for those who love freedom by calling it "Academic Freedom Day."

For details on how you can celebrate Academic Freedom Day 2009, keep reading.

What Would Darwin Do?

One would think that adopting Darwin's approach to teaching evolution — "fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question" — would be uncontroversial. But a lot has changed in the past 150 years.

Today, one side of the debate argues that there is a real scientific controversy over the fundamental claims of neo-Darwinian evolution, and teachers deserve the freedom to teach students about both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of biological evolution.

The other side claims there are no scientific doubts over neo-Darwinian evolution and therefore evolution should be hailed in classrooms as the fundamental principal underlying all of biology. Under such a vision, Darwin-skeptics need not apply.

In January of 2008, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) weighed in on this debate, declaring that "[t]here is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution," because neo-Darwinism is "so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter" it. When top scientific organizations issue edicts dogmatically proclaiming there are no doubts about evolution, you can be sure that politics, rather than science, is driving their behavior.

Unfortunately, such behavior intimidates skeptics of Darwinian evolution, chilling intellectual freedom and freedom of speech for scientists, teachers, and students to think outside the Darwinian box. This intimidation of Darwin-skeptics is fatal to good science education: not only does it prevent students from learning the scientific facts about evolutionary biology, but it misleads them into thinking that science is about conformity and dogmatism, when it is actually based upon independence, skepticism, and the ability to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Academic Freedom Gets Expelled

The dogmatism of influential Darwinist scientific organizations is not limited to mere declarations or words. In many cases, it has taken the form of active persecution of scientists and educators who question Darwinian orthodoxy.

In the spring of 2008, the documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, featuring Ben Stein, was released into theatres and told the stories of scientists who lost their jobs because they doubted Darwinism. The film was a success, as Expelled now ranks in the top 5 political documentaries of all time, and is #12 on the list of all time documentaries. The documentary raised the public's awareness about threats to academic freedom of scientists and educators to question Darwinism.

One scientist featured in Expelled was Richard Sternberg, a biologist at the Smithsonian with two Ph.D.'s in evolution, who was harassed and intimidated because he was a skeptic of neo-Darwinism. Another biologist, Caroline Crocker, lost her job at George Mason University because she challenged evolution in a classroom lecture.

In May of 2008, Dr. Crocker's experiences inspired her — and two other professional biologists and other scientists — to testify before the Louisiana Legislature's House Committee on Education about the scientific problems with neo-Darwinism and the need to protect the academic freedom of teachers who challenge neo-Darwinism.

Their testimony helped lead to the passage of the nation's first Academic Freedom bill, signed into law by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in June 2008. The law is the first of its kind to pass, and it protects the rights of Louisiana teachers to teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of controversial scientific theories like neo-Darwinian evolution.

But opponents of academic freedom also showed up at the hearing. Immediately after Dr. Crocker and other biologists testified about problems with evolution, one Darwinist biology professor, Dr. Bryan Carstens, had the temerity to assert that, "there is no controversy among professional biologists about the fact of evolution." The glaring problem in his argument was not lost upon the legislators on the Louisiana House Committee on Education, who pressed him by asking:

"In the document you just read and gave to us, in bold print it says, 'let us be clear there is no controversy among biologists about the fact of evolution.' Did you hear the testimony of the other professors we had here that were speaking before this committee?"

Carstens knew his intolerance was exposed. But instead of responding truthfully, he compounded his error by denying the existence of biologists who doubt Darwin, claiming that the scientists who had just testified against evolution merely had Ph.D.'s in "chemistry." But that was false: only one of the Ph.D.'s who testified about scientific deficiencies in neo-Darwinism was a chemist, but three of them were biologists.

Dr. Carstens' behavior is illustrative of the climate of intolerance in the academy that stifles any dissent from Darwinism. No wonder Darwinists confidently assert there is no controversy over evolution: They actively shut down such scientific debates from taking place, and unashamedly deny the existence of scientists who doubt Darwin.

Academic Freedom Day

Academic freedom to dissent from neo-Darwinism is clearly currently under attack in the academy. There are many ways that students and others can support academic freedom by celebrating Academic Freedom Day 2009:

  1. You could start an "IDEA Club" on your high school or college campus to foster good-spirited discussion, debate, and dialogue over intelligent design and evolution. (For details, see http://www.ideacenter.org.)
  2. You can host speakers or events on your campus or community celebrating academic freedom to challenge evolution, and perhaps even show the Expelled documentary.
  3. If you're a student, you can enter a video contest by submitting short video-entries that explain the importance of academic freedom in evolution-education. The videos will be judged by leading pro-ID scientists such as Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, and Guillermo Gonzalez. The student who submits the winning video will receive $500.
  4. Anyone can also sign an online petition supporting academic freedom at http://www.academicfreedompetition.com.

Details about these and other Academic Freedom Day activities — including information about the $500 video contest — are available at the website http://www.academicfreedomday.com.

If Darwin were alive today, I think he would agree with Pink Floyd that we don't need education that is muzzled by Darwinian thought control. What we need today is academic freedom for scientists, teachers, and educators to follow the evidence wherever it leads — even if it leads some to the conclusion that Darwin was wrong.

Help people understand this fact by celebrating Academic Freedom Day 2009.

Resources for Further Study

Mr. Luskin is an attorney who received his B.S. and M.S. in Earth sciences from the University of California San Diego, having studied at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and his law degree from the University of San Diego. He is co-founder of the IDEA Center (ideacenter.org) and currently works in Public Policy and Legal Affairs for the Discovery Institute in Seattle (intelligentdesign.org). For more details on Academic Freedom Day, visit http://www.academicfreedomday.com.

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