J Walking

J Walking


Dissent in the academy allowed?

posted by J-Walking

An interesting article this morning about a very, very popular professor at Iowa State who was apparently denied tenure because he held positive views about intelligent design:

An assistant professor who supports intelligent design and was denied tenure at Iowa State University (ISU) was found to have the highest score among the entire faculty, according to the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS),which calculates the scientific impact of scientists in astronomy.

…The ranking system is devised on how much a scientist impacts other colleagues’ research. The more times a person’s papers are cited in other scientific articles or research, the more weight that person receives.

The citation index is normalized since multiple people often author an article, so an article that is cited with more than one author will be weighted less than a paper which has only one author.

The score here looked at articles published from 2001-2007. Calculating Gonzalez normalized index, he received a score of 143. The next closest professor on the ISU staff had a score of 103 and the next best tenured astronomer was 68.

Should a professor – who doesn’t even teach a class on intelligent design – be denied tenure simply because he happens to believe in it? I think not.

I had an interesting conversation last week with a good friend who is an editor for a major New York publishing house. They are considering a manuscript from a very well respected scientist about intelligent design. They have passed it around to scientists that they have worked with in the past and it has been given positive reviews – the science is strong. Now it is very important here to stress that this book is not a book about creation science. It would actually be offensive to those who believe God created the earth much as we see it now. It does argue, however, that there was a designer to this world and to all life – even if that life does have a common ancestor.

The biggest problem my friend has run into, however, is getting any of the scientists to publicly say anything good about the book. The reason? They would probably be fired from their jobs simply for saying anything positive about the book – no matter how good.

The academy should be about the free exchange of ideas – there is even a well-respected professor at Princeton who believes infanticide is tenured. Shouldn’t that same free exchange of ideas and tolerance apply to someone who believes in intelligent design?



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Doug

posted May 29, 2007 at 4:02 pm


I agree that the academy should be about the free exchange of ideas and there certainly were a lot of viewpoints, including Christian and Conservative available to discuss. I would say one word about the “scoring,” though. When I was in school, the most influential economist in the country by a similar review was a judge with no formal economic training. He had said some provacative things frm the bench that had been quoted in a lot of journals. Of course no one should be denied tenure for their beliefs. Maybe for their ability to express them, though. That said, I’ve noticed that relativism has been taken from the right by the left. Not every opinion deserves a forum. If a professor wanted to teach a science class on ID and was denied the opportunity, that would not be bias or censorship.



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canucklehead

posted May 29, 2007 at 6:47 pm


Congratulations to infanticide on being tenured.



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Thinker

posted May 29, 2007 at 8:09 pm


The “Academy” is a rather pretentious thing. Ancient ways of relating, heirarchies that are often unjust and narrow, even gowns and stoles and strange little caps to make clear where we belong in the heirarchy of thinking. Perhaps that is the reason, I don’t take it very seriously. it’s a bit like my church – hierarchical, dressed up in ancient styles, and don’t think too originally or you’ll be a heretic. That said, the ‘academy’ is essential to the discipline of academics. The boundaries created by science and social sciences and the arts, literature, theology, etc, etc make progress a careful thing – disciplined by other disciplined minds. Unfortunately, like church and government – ambition often rules that governing – the ambitious among us in church, academics, government etc often bend the rules, bend the disciplines, are driven by resentment and envy. I guess I want to believe the academy and the church are capable of more. I just don’t see it very often.



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aquaman

posted May 29, 2007 at 8:35 pm


Why is the free exchange of ideas important? Consider Peter Singer, the Princeton professor David mentions. He enjoys a prominence he does not deserve, mainly because influential people (Steve Forbes, among others) have tried to silence him. For those of us who have read Singer’s work, however, his failure to create a workable system of ethics based on utilitarianism is instructive. Some of his conclusions (e.g., tolerance of infanticide) are repugnant, but they starkly illustrate why Judeo-Christian morality remains the necessary foundation of Western ethics. Instead of demanding that Singer be silenced, we should demand that secular ethicists respond to Singer’s conclusions, which are logically quite sound if one disregards the moral foundations of ethics. On a related note, I hope Donny will return to this forum soon, even though I disagree completely with both his worldview and his interpretation of the faith we share. Free exchange of ideas is important– much more so than our supposed “right” not to be offended.



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Jillian

posted May 29, 2007 at 10:36 pm


Personally, as a person in the academic side of the biosciences I have to utterly disagree with the view taken of Gonzalez and Singer. Science is not a perfect endeavor, and scientists are far from perfect people. But a person who writes, publishes, and stands by a book that advocates or defends pseudoscience cannot be respectably promoted to official standing by other scientists. Ironically, there would be more slack available were Gonzalez in New York or London or Berkeley, where ‘creationism’ is not a serious public issue the universities have to deal with. In places like Iowa, scientists have to maintain a hard line, because what concession to ‘creationism’ undermines is the commitment to rigorous thinking that defines proper science. If Gonzalez is as a good a research scientist as is claimed in that article, he really shouldn’t have any trouble finding another (and better) job. If he’s merely a very adept publicity hound piggybacked on a productive team, chances are the Discovery Institute will find him an excellent addition to its ‘faculty’. Or maybe he can work at that new ‘museum’ in Kentucky where they show how dinosaurs were passengers on Noah’s Ark. Singer…well, that’s a different angle, but the theological problem at very bottom roots in a similar place. In fact, Singer’s view is the one practiced in my grandmother’s very pious Christian Central European farming village up to the 1920s or 1930s. Neonates with obvious fatal physical defects- ‘blue’ babies (i.e. heart defect), those with spina bifida, gross cleft lip/palate, or hydrocephalus mostly- were, by strict convention, never even given to their mothers to hold. They weren’t killed outright, but relatives or the midwife put them in a side room or a stable and let die. This was also done with some simply unwanted neonates by families/clans that felt they had enough mouths to feed. Some unwanted infants- children of rape, or adultery, or unmarried and abandoned mothers- were known to have been put to death by their relatives by feeding them goat milk (which results in a fatal immune reaction). Spina bifida, I should add, was actually a nearly epidemic birth defect in the area at the time, due to dietary lack of vitamins. That is the tradition of millenia in Christian history. There is a great deal of revisionism and a theological denial of the pagan origins of most of the mores in which ‘Christian tradition’ differs from the Jewish tradition. They ought to be nearly identical, or only differing by the application of the Law of Love, if both were as Biblical as claimed, after all. For the person who has an accurate picture of pre-Christian Anatolian and European religions and mores (especially the northern European versions, when looking at American Christianities), and who has lived in rural Europe for long, the American and European ‘Christian tradition’ which deviates from Jewish tradition is familiar- and very much tradition. But coming up with Biblical facades and rationalizations for it is a theological industry and dispute/heresy generation mechanism that began with Christianization itself. To an unblinkered and well informed eye, the American ‘Christian Right’ is merely the latest revival and championing of the pre-Christian beliefs long syncretized into or tolerated by Christian tradition.



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cs

posted May 30, 2007 at 1:48 am


Jillian, This is a side note, but do you have any citations that infanticide was tolerated/accepted in European Christianity? Back to the topic at hand- you are dismissing his work as “pseudoscience” and indicating that if he is denied tenure, he should be able to find work elsewhere. This is blatant discrimination which would not be allowed in most work settings. The fact that his opinions in the area of ID- not his area of teaching responsibility, apparently- is outside the consensus is not a good reason to deny tenure.



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Thinker

posted May 30, 2007 at 2:16 am


Actually, I do have citations for that one. The two books are at school and I’ll get them tomorrow. One of them was “When Children Became People”



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matt

posted May 30, 2007 at 2:46 am


I suspect we don’t have enough information here to make an informed judgment.



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dolgre

posted May 30, 2007 at 4:39 am


Sigh. It doesn’t surprise me that the guy in question is an Astronomer or whatever. As a grad student in medical biology, I am willing to bet that between his 15 higher level mathmatics courses, and his many credit hours in optics or computer science or astronomic calculations or quantum physics, he has not had even a SINGLE science class on evolutionary theory and history. It’s the nature of science education today: we have so much to learn just within our own branches of study that no one outside of the life sciences or biology field has the time or inclination to study what we actually do and don’t know about evolution today. Yet it is the intellectual foundation of almost everything we know or assume in science. Which just goes to show that even the smartest people, by their own lack of knowledge, can be dumber than a doorknob. Look, folks. Intelligent design is not Astrophysics. It’s not Chemistry. It’s not Geology or Biology or Genetics or any of the disciplines in the sciences. It is a mystical or religious philosophy. At best, it’s a creative and deeply emotionally compelling way of talking about the aspects of your particular scientific specialty for which you have no verifiable data, those things that seem unanswerable and magnificent which are at this time in our human history, mysterious. At worst, in it’s most common form, it’s the uniformed person’s way of throwing up their hands and chalking everything up to God because it is WAY easier than actually educating yourself.Problem is, the minute you start to chalk all the mysterious stuff up to some form of “intelligent” design, you snuff the life out of the possibility of any scientific study. Can’t figure out the elaborate exquisiteness with which your genes maintain order? God made it that way. Grand Canyon look too big to you? God made it–or made it LOOK like a river wore down those cliffs. Either way, stop your silly researching and get back to the Bible, sonny.Intelligent design is an intellectual conversation killer. It closes the door to further inquiry, much the same as we no longer can question the beliefs of a person who throws “it’s just my religion” in our faces as a justification for something that makes no sense. Sure you can be religious and spiritual AND be a scientist. But the bottom line is, you MUST keep those things separate, even if tempted to do otherwise or they will destroy the integrity of one another. if you purport to be a scientist, you simply cannot pull out “intelligent design” as the final answer for everything you don’t yet understand. Not that anyone blames anyone for the temptation for doing so. It’s what humans have done since the beginning of time–create an all encompassing mystical or religious explanation for those things they didn’t understand or couldn’t yet comprehend. Whether it was in in well-meaning ignorance, or in thinly veiled justification for evil, throughout history human beings have done stupid things they rationalized as necessary or true because they were part of a bigger plan or design on the part of God. So, yes, if I had a truly secular university, with a high standard for academic excellence and rigor, I would question the ability of a particular candidate for tenure who espoused intelligent design as a way of explaining any scientific phenomenon. If he wants to go to church and discuss it, go ahead. If he wants to become a professor of science philosophy, so be it. If he wants to go to divinity school, I’m all for him. But if this guy is an ID’er, then that tells me something is terribly wrong with his qualifications as a scientist.



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Reddopto

posted May 30, 2007 at 5:03 am


Doug claims some ideas don’t deserve a forum for expression. Who determines that? What are the criterion for belonging to the brain police. I think we’d all like to know that before we send our kids off to college. If the proposition that there is no God is no more provable philosophically than the proposition that there is a God, why must an underlying postulate for science be materialism? Certainly it’s easier to limit science in that way, but why is that considered academic rigor? If one limits one’s possibilities of thinking, that constitutes non-rigor, not rigor. What irrefutable evidence is there that there isn’t a God that makes the materialist position sacrosanct? They allow thousands of Marxists to ply their trade in academia, and one would have to look long and hard to find a more thoroughly discredited system of thought than that. Why not Christians? Because these faculties are as blind to their own personal prejudice as the hayseed pushing his plow.



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Unsympathetic reader

posted May 30, 2007 at 5:24 am


David Kuo: “Should a professor – who doesn’t even teach a class on intelligent design – be denied tenure simply because he happens to believe in it? I think not.” I agree, but that’s a *hypothetical* question. It’s not at all clear that this is the case with Dr. Gonzalez. There are other reasons why tenure may have been denied, such as the inability to acquire research grants, a necessary determinant of success in a research university.



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Doug

posted May 30, 2007 at 5:43 am


Reddopto, I didn’t say some ideas don’t deserve a forum. I sure didn’t say some don’t deserve expression. My point is that no individual or institution is required to provide a forum for all of them. At some point, someone or someones decide that certain courses belong in their university and others don’t. Bob Jones University probably doesn’t offer a lot of classes in Kabbalah and ISU probably doesn’t offer many in Intelligent Design through the Physics department. Reading the course catalog before sending your kid to a college sounds like a swell idea.



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Unsympathetic reader

posted May 30, 2007 at 5:43 am


Reddopto: “If the proposition that there is no God is no more provable philosophically than the proposition that there is a God, why must an underlying postulate for science be materialism? Certainly it’s easier to limit science in that way, but why is that considered academic rigor?” Methological naturalism (aka ‘science’) is not the same beast as philosophical naturalism. Science is the pursuit of understanding how regular causes may operate to explain physical phenomena. As such it distinguishes between ‘explained’ and ‘unexplained’ phenomena, not ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ events. Supernatural events would likely fall into the ‘yet unexplained’ bin. This is why scientists, regardless of their personal religious beliefs, can produce the same work. Science performed by Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and atheists doesn’t look all that different.



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Jillian

posted May 30, 2007 at 12:16 pm


cs- I’m not sure you understand the degree of selfcontradiction Gonzalez has created for himself. It’s one thing to have a private thought incongruous with your work and standing. It’s another to publish a work- and publicly stand by it- that reveals a gross flaw or irreconcileable problem in your thinking. An analogy would be a Protestant minister with a church and congregation who sneaks off and attends Catholic masses. That is tolerated, even if not really condoned. But if this minister publishes writings in the local Catholic journal attacking the creed of his denomination and suggesting that his denomination was founded on a fraudulent reading of the Bible, can or should he stay installed as minister of a that congregation? Of course not. As a caveat, it is my opinion that Creationism is built into a lot of peoples’ Christianity, but it isn’t per se Christian. American Creationism is largely buttressed by use (or abuse) of Biblical authority. But worldwide, significant politically active Creationisms are forming in traditional African religion, Islam, and iirc Hinduism. A the more significant point, ‘pseudoscience’ is really just a nice way of saying ‘occultism’. Creationism as it is practiced as a contemporary belief system is an occultism. I once wrote out a complete ‘proof’ of it, i.e. demonstration of how it conforms to the three dogmas of occultism of Henri Constant. It’s a bit long to lay out in detail in a mere’comment’ post. But the three dogmas are those of existence of an ‘Astral Plane’/Other World from which ours emanates, the Analogy Of Above And Below, and the Omnipotence of the trained Will. Evelyn Underhill adds a corollary in ‘Mysticism and Magic’, the loveless selfassurance of the true initiate- which is source of his sense of not being bound to truthfulness or account to any but his initiated equals. I’ll leave it to the reader to have a look at the trial and findings in the Kitzmiller v Dover lawsuit about ID and see whether this theological frame fits. My experience says it does, but these are recorded findings in the public record, based in clearcut evidence, behaviors, and answers under oath. The case- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v_Dover Judge Jones’s findings about ID and its proponents- http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District_et_al. What I find most informative about the Opinion is the clear laying out of the historical sequence of jurisprudence about Creationism between the Scopes trial and the Dover trial. My personal opinion about the creation(s) described in the Book of Genesis is that they are not about physical/material creation of the planet and lifeforms in the first place. I think they are wonderful and say something more important- that the world we live in with our bodies and by our senses is somewhat incidental, and that all significant and fully lived human life begins in ‘the garden’. In the Song of Songs ‘the garden’ is symbol/allegory for that place in prayer in which there is spiritual encounter or presence.



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Pacific231

posted May 30, 2007 at 12:49 pm


dolgre wrote: ( http://www.haloscan.com/comments/jwalking/75377191973521183/#49857 ) Look, folks. Intelligent design is not Astrophysics. It’s not Chemistry. It’s not Geology or Biology or Genetics or any of the disciplines in the sciences. It is a mystical or religious philosophy. … Grand Canyon look too big to you? God made it–or made it LOOK like a river wore down those cliffs. Either way, stop your silly researching and get back to the Bible, sonny. … (I)f this guy is an ID’er, then that tells me something is terribly wrong with his qualifications as a scientist. I think Dolgre hit the nail on the head with his above post. “Intelligent design” is NOT science, no matter how fervently its followers, including those who just opened the ‘creationism museum’ in Kentucky want it to be. And thank you to Jillian for the links to the court case in which Judge John E. Jones put this to rest so decisively. Without this court decision, can you imagine the havoc that would have been wreaked on our schools?



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cs

posted May 31, 2007 at 11:01 pm


Let’s look at this a bit deeper, shall we? Gonzalez was denied tenure over holding controversial views in a field outside the scope of his teaching practice. Singer holds controversial views on a subject within the realm of his teaching field, bioethics. When you place these situations side by side, it is hard to avoid the impression of improper discrimination.



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K.Bitner

posted June 4, 2007 at 3:05 pm


“Let’s look at this a bit deeper, shall we? Gonzalez was denied tenure over holding controversial views in a field outside the scope of his teaching practice. Singer holds controversial views on a subject within the realm of his teaching field, bioethics. When you place these situations side by side, it is hard to avoid the impression of improper discrimination.” This isn’t a deeper look, it’s extremely superficial. You are assuming that because the man says he was discriminated against because of his belief in ID it is the truth. I don’t see any empirical evidence of that. You are also not taking into consideration the other possible variables, in either case, that may explain why one was denied tenure and the other granted it. The fact is, we certainly don’t have enough information to judge.



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