Academic freedom vs “Intelligent Design”

Academic freedom vs “Intelligent Design”

Complementary to my earlier post about an Assistant Professor in trouble for criticizing a religious leader, here is an Assistant Professor in trouble for promoting a religious ideology at a secular institution. The contrast is really interesting, because both universities are state institutions presumably subject to the same rules about church and state. In this case at Ball State University, a professor is facing some sort of jeopardy over his teaching of intelligent design theory in an undergraduate science class. The Discovery Institute has rushed to his aid with a lengthy letter and petition. I might speculate that the Discovery Institute could win their argument if they could manage to donate a nice new building to the university.

I’m not completely sure how I feel about the relationship between “intelligent design” and academic freedom. ID is not science; it is a mixture of wishful thinking and thin air. On the other hand, college students are adults and should be able to cope with some exposure to junk theories. On the third hand, the students pay for meaningful instruction on relevant, mainstream science, and their course outcomes (and grades) will have a lasting impact on their career options. I do think that ID can have some place in the university environment, but it would be reasonable for the university to implement some quality control — perhaps a co-instructor who can balance the presentation.

While I personally think that ID is meta-scientific motivated fantasy, I do acknowledge that some accomplished scientists take it seriously. One of my articles is actually co-authored by someone who is (or at least was) a Fellow of the Discovery Institute, someone who has maintained a competent professional reputation and doesn’t make ID a focal point of his research or teaching. My personal opinion is that if the students are pushed to study and to understand proper rigorous science, then they will be able to see that ID is just irrelevant.


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