Academic Freedom and Evolution

The effort to purge the teaching of evolution in biology classes is a kind of American Wahhabism: An effort to sneak religious instruction, in the dress of secular reasoning, into science courses. The threat to academic freedom is that professors and other teachers should determine their course content. On the university level, supposedly free from state-wide curriculum requirements, academic freedom, if it means anything, is the autonomy to define one’s teaching in front of a classroom. While peer revue is useful in assessing teaching competence, academic freedom must not be tethered to external constituencies that have not earned the right to be in that professor’s classroom.

Evolution states that life shares common ancestry and that survival and development are the product of random mutation and natural selection. Humans are not descendants of apes but apes and humans share some kind of common ancestral link.

Intelligent design is a form of creationism that was outlawed by the Surpreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) that forbade the teaching of a god as creator of the universe in the public schools. The Scopes monkey trial in Dayton, Tenn. in the 1920s resolved nothing in the growing battle between secularism and clericalism in the U.S. Intelligent design proffers the notion that evolution is too limited in explaining patterns or complexities that can only result from an intelligent designer: namely a monotheistic god who designed the world and created its outcomes. While I.D. does not mention God, that is its essential guiding principle.

Academic freedom is a bulwark in preventing any ideology or faith from intruding and subverting the very notion of liberal education and the pursuit of truth.

For the record:

I would not prohibit a science teacher from discussing Intelligent Design. It may very well be an interesting topic when evolution is taught.

I would not require a teacher or a student to accept evolution. Yet evolution should be taught by a competent biology teacher as the prevailing theory of “creation” in the scientific community. It should not be taught as mere theory; it is not a hunch or a guess but almost unassailable, in its core posits, as Darwin’s gift to the world.

Eliminating the teaching of evolution in a biology course would raise issues of teacher competence. Mandated excision of biology would raise issues of external publics destroying the academic enterprise due to religious fanaticism. Voluntarily refusing to teach evolution would be a form of student abuse in that a core concept of a teacher’s discipline is abandoned due to ideology. Again, a teacher may not accept evolution but to simply avoid teaching it would raise questions of competence and capacity to educate adequately one’s students.

Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (I.D.E.A.) Centers are sprouting up at universities such as Cornell and the University of Illinois. They are pushing for I.D. Students have a right to demand courses and course content but they do not have the authority to dictate outcomes. Academic freedom gives students a voice that should not be silenced; yet it gives professors the final judgment on course content. Or at least it better.

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