Opinion piece by Stephen C. Meyer (of Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington) which app
Opinion piece by Stephen C. Meyer (of Whitworth College in Spokane,
Washington) which appeared in the 6 Dec 93 Wall Street Journal:
When most of us think of the controversy over evolution in the public
schools, we are likely to think of fundamentalists pulling teachers from
their classrooms and placing them in the dock. Images from the infamous
Scopes "monkey" trial of 1925 come to mind. Unfortunately, intolerance of
this sort has shown itself in California in the 1990s as a result of
students complaining about a biology instructor. Unlike the original Scopes
case, however, this case involves a distinguished biology professor at a
major university - indeed, an acknowledged expert on evolutionary theory.
Also unlike Scopes, the teacher was forbidden to teach his course not
because he taught evolutionary theory (which he did) but because he offered
a critical assessment of it. The controversy first emerged last fall
after Dean Kenyon, a biology professor at San Francisco State University,
was ordered not to teach "creationism" by John Hafernik, the chairman of
his biology department. Mr. Kenyon, who included three lectures in
biological orgins in his introductory course, had for many years made a
practice of exposing students to both evolutionary theory and evidence
uncongenial to it. He also discussed the philosophical controversies
raised by the issue and his own view that living systems display evidence
of intelligent design - a view not incompatible with some forms of
evolutionary thinking. Mr. Hafernik accused Mr. Kenyon of teaching what
he characterized as biblical creationism and ordered him to stop. After
Mr. Hafernik's decree, Mr. Kenyon asked for clarification. He wrote the
dean, Jim Kelley, asking what exactly he could not discuss. Was he
"forbidden to mention to students that there are important disputes among
scientists about whether or not chemical evolution could have taken
place on the ancient earth?" Mr. Kelley replied by insisting that Mr.
Kenyon "teach the dominant scientific view," not the religious view of
"special creation on a young earth." Mr. Kenyon replied again (I
paraphrase): I do teach the dominant view. But I also discuss problems
with the dominant view and that some biologists see evidence of
intelligent design. He received no reply. Instead, he was yanked from
teaching introductory biology and reassigned to labs. There are several
disturbing aspects to this story. First, Mr. Kenyon is an authority on
chemical evolutionary theory and the scientific study of the origin of
life. He has a Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford and is the co-author of a
seminal theoretical work titled "Biochemical Predestination" (1969). The
book articulated what was arguably the most plausible evolutionary account
of how a living cell might have organized itself from chemicals in the "
primordial soup." Mr. Kenyon's subsequent work resulted in numerous
scientific publications on the orgin-of-life problem. But by the late
1970s, Mr. Kenyon began to question some of his own earlier ideas.
Experiements (some performed by Mr. Kenyon himself) increasingly
contradicted the dominant view in his field. Laboratory work suggested that
simple chemicals do not arrange themselves into complex information-bearing
molecules such as DNA - without, that is, "guidance" from human
experimenters. To Mr. Kenyon and others, such results raised important
questions about how "naturalistic" the origin of life really was. If
undirected chemical processes cannot produce the coded strands of
information found in even the simplest cells, could perhaps a directing
intelligence have played a role? By the 1980s, Mr. Kenyon had adopted the
second view. That a man of Mr. Kenyon's stature should now be forced to
lobby for the right to teach introductory biology, whatever his current view
of origins, is absurdly comic. Mr. Kenyon knows perhaps as much as anyone
in the world about a problem that has stymied an entire generation of
research scientists. Yet he now finds that he may not report the negative
results of research or give students his candid assessment of it. What is
more, the simplistic labeling of Mr. Kenyon's statements as "religion" and
the strictly materialistic view as "scientific" seems entirely unwarranted,
especially given the philosophical overtones of much origins theory.
Biology texts routinely recapitulate Darwinian arguments against intelligent
design. Yet if arguments against intelligent design are philosophically
neutral and strictly scientific, why are Mr. Kenyon's arguments for
intelligent design inherently unscientific and religiously charged? In
seeking the best explanation for evidence, Mr. Kenyon has employed the same
method of reasoning as before he changed his view. His conclusions, not his
methods, have changed. The problem is that in biological origins theory,
dominant players currently insist on a rigidly materialistic mode of
explanation - even when, as Mr. Kenyon maintains, explanation of the
evidence requires more than the limited powers of brute matter. Such
intellectual strictures reflect the very essence of polictical correctness:
the suppression of critical discourse by enforced rules of thought.
Fortunately, San Francisco State University's Academic Freedom Committee has
come to a similar conclusion, ruling decisively this summer in Mr. Kenyon's
favor. The committee determined that, according to university guidelines,
a clear breach of academic freedom had occurred. Apparently, however, Mr.
Hafernik and Mr. Kelley disagree. Mr. Hafernik has emphatically rejected
the committee's recommendation to reinstate Mr. Kenyon, citing his own
freedom to determine scientifically appropriate curriculum. In response,
the American Association of University Professors informed the university
last month that they expect Mr. Kenyon's mistreatment to be rectified.
Meanwhile, as SFSU considers its response, a world-class scientist waits -
yet another casualty of America's peculiar academic fundamentalism.
Some Information Relevant to the 1992/1993 Science vs
(Prepared by John Hafernik)
In 1980/1981, the Department of Biology had its first Creationism
Controversy. This controversy centered on the presentation by Dr.
Kenyon of creationism, then called "scientific creationism," in
Biology 337 Evolution. At that time, Dr. Kenyon challenged anyone
on the faculty to a debate on the merits of evolutionary theory
versus "scientific creationism." There was much discussion in
faculty meetings as well. Eventually the faculty voted (none
opposed, seven abstentions) not to alter the description of
Biology 337 to include creationism. The precedent set, in the
context of the 1980 discussions, was that the Department did not
support teaching creationism.
When the controversy arose anew in the fall of 1992, I acted in a
way that was in line with the views of the faculty expressed in
The present controversy began when students in Dr. Kenyon's
Biology 100 class complained to me that he included unscientific
material (creationism) in his lectures. They also complained
about other aspects of Dr. Kenyon's class.
Some points to keep in mind are as follows:
1. The Department of Biology, through its chair and biocouncil,
is not saying that there should be no place for the discussion of
Dr. Kenyon's philosophical views within the University's
curriculum. No one is attempting to restrict the expression of
his views in his personal professional endeavors. What is being
said is that students in an introductory general studies science
class should learn the ways of science. To mix science and the
views of oneUs religion together does students a disservice.
2. The University Guidelines for Academic Freedom and
Responsibility include the following statement: "Students have the
right to the instruction promised them in official University
publications." In this case instruction in science and not
religion. Students are entitled to truth in advertizing.
3. The topic of evolution, as used in the course description of
Biology 100, is not generally considered synonymous with the topic
of "origins" as used by Dr. Kenyon and the Academic Freedom
Committee. "Origins" is a more politically correct term used by
creationists for special creation.
4. "Intelligent design" as used by Dr. Kenyon is a concept
historically associated with "creationism."
5. If there is a dispute as to what constitutes science or
appropriate application of scientific standards, the dispute
should be resolved by those who are most knowledgeable, peers
within the discipline.
6. Decisions about the specifics of the class schedule for the
Biology Department must be made by the Department not by a
committee composed of faculty members from other departments, nor
by upper level administrators.
The Published Record
In their book Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of
Biological Origins (first edition 1989, second edition 1993)
Percival Davis and Dr. Kenyon present their views of evolutionary
biology, point out difficulties they have with modern theory, and
present the intelligent design paradigm as a scientific
alternative. This book provides a written account of Dr. Kenyon's
views on the topics he covers in his Biology 100 lectures on
"origins." In my discussions with Dr. Kenyon, he suggested I
read his book to learn more about his objections to modern
evolutionary theory and about the scientific support for the
"intelligent design paradigm." Although the words God, Creator,
and creationism are never used in the work, it has been
extensively criticized by biologists and philosophers of science
as: (a) presenting a religious view, special creation/intelligent
design, as science; (b) presenting an inaccurate and distorted
view of evolutionary biology, genetics, and other areas of
biology; and (c) being seriously flawed in its philosophical
The AAUP: Creationism and Academic Freedom
1. At its 1981 annual meeting, the AAUP endorsed a resolution in
opposition to an Arkansas law that called for "balanced
treatment" of "creation science" and evolution in public schools.
The resolution includes the following:
a. "This legislation by requiring that a religious doctrine
(sometimes disguised) be taught as a condition for teaching of
science, serves to impair the soundness of scientific education
preparatory to college study and to violate the academic freedom
of public school teachers."
b. "Members of college and university faculty in Arkansas and
elsewhere should be able to teach and criticize freely in accord
with professional standards".
c. In the March-April issue of Academe, devoted to the issue
of creationism, Matthew Finkin writes that the resolution allows
that "The idea of special creation can be treated extensively in
courses in religion, anthropology, intellectual and social
d. In the same issue of Academe John Moore clearly shows why
the claims of "scientific creationism" do not meet the test of the
professional standards of science.
Would the AAUP now take the position that it's okay to teach
creationism as science in a general studies biology class in a
public university, as long as it's taught by a tenured professor?
I don't know, but it seems they would have to assess their
2. In July-August 1993 issue of Academe, Cass Sunstein Professor
of Jurisprudence, University of Chicago Law School and Department
of Political Science discusses Academic Freedom issues on
University campuses. In his article, he points out "Subject
matter restrictions are part of education. Irrelevant discussion
is banned. Students cannot discuss the presidential election, or
Marx and Mill, if the subject is math. Schools are allowed to
impose subject matter restrictions that would be plainly
unacceptable if enacted by states or localities." Professor
Sunstein does not specifically address the issue of teaching a
religious belief as science, but the parallel to the point he
makes seems clear.
1. Judge William Overton in his 1982 ruling overturning the
Arkansas equal time law made the following points:
a. Creation science is not science but a religious belief. It
is not science because it does not meet the essential
characteristics of science. These characteristics of science are:
1) It is guided by natural law;
2) It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law;
3) It is testable against the empirical world;
4) It conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily
the final word; and
5) It is falsifiable.
b. "The emphasis on origins as an aspect of the theory of
evolution is peculiar to creationist literature."
c. "Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology...Any
student who is deprived of instruction as to the prevailing view
of scientific thought on these topics will be denied a significant
part of science education. Such a deprivation through the high
school level would undoubtedly have an impact on the quality of
education in the State's colleges and universities including the
pre-professional programs in the health sciences."
d. "The application and content of the First Amendment
principles are not determined by public opinion polls or majority
vote...No group, no matter how large or small, may use the organs
of government, of which public schools are the most conspicuous
and influential, to foist its religious beliefs on others."
Judge Overton is clear Rcreation scienceS is religion and not
science. In public institutions, students are entitled to be taught
science in science classes. Teaching religion is not appropriate
under the Constitution. Science, the leading journal of science in
the United States, published Judge OvertonUs decision in full as a
2. In 1987 the Supreme Court overturned a Louisiana Law requiring
that "creation science" be taught on an equal basis with
evolution science (sic) whenever evolution is taught in the public
schools. The court found this statute unconstitutional because
the statute had no clear secular purpose, but rather was designed
to promote one particular religious view. The decision appears,
to the layman, to be narrower in scope when compared to Judge
Overton's ruling. The lower court used Judge Overton's decision
in striking down the Louisiana law without trial. Justice Powell
in his concurring opinion makes some interesting points based on
previous court decisions. "[C]oncepts concerning God or a supreme
being of some sort are manifestly religious... These concepts do
not shed that religiosity merely because they are presented as
science or philosophy." 'Creation ex nihilo' means creation from
nothing and has been found to be an 'inherently religious
concept'. The argument that creation from nothing does not
involve a supernatural deity has no evidentiary or rational
support. To the contrary, 'creation out of nothing' is a concept
unique to Western Religions."
The case brought against the statute included an Amici Curiae
brief filed by 72 Nobel Laureates et al. refuting the claim that
"Creation Science" was science.
Justice Scalia in his dissenting opinion relied, in part, on
testimony from Dr. Kenyon that "Creation Science" is a strictly
scientific concept that could be presented without religious
reference and that it was accepted as valid by "hundreds and
hundreds of reputable scientists."
3. In 1987, an exercise physiology professor at the University of
Alabama referred to his religious beliefs in his exercise
physiology course. He also organized an optional after-class
meeting for his students and other interested persons wherein he
lectured on Evidences of God in Human Physiology." His lecture
included the notion that man was created by God and was not the by-
product of evolution. The University told him to stop expressing
his religious views in class or in class meetings associated with
his class. He sued citing infringement of his First Amendment
rights. In 1991, the United States Court of Appeals for the
Eleventh Circuit ruled, and the Supreme Court allowed to stand,
that the University of Alabama could instruct a faculty member
that he could not interject his religious beliefs into class
lectures. In that decision, the court made the point that "free
speech does not grant teachers a license to say or write in class
whatever they may feel like, and ... the propriety of regulations
or sanctions must depend on such circumstances as the age and
sophistication of the students, the closeness of the relation
between the specific technique used and some concededly valid
educational objective, and the context and manner of
Letter to the Editor of the Wall St. Journal in rebuttal to the original
opinion piece. Printed 12/15/93:
Editor December 6, 1993
Wall Street Journal
200 Liberty St.
New York, NY 10281
In his op-ed piece on professor Dean Kenyon's troubles at UCSF, Stephen C.
Meyer exhibits serious misunderstandings of science, academic freedom, and
the creation/evolution controversy. First, either life originated naturally
or supernaturally. Science is limited to only natural explanations. Yes,
theoreticians in this area rely on materialist explanations: they are doing
science. Kenyon's teaching of "intelligent design" is indeed religion, not
science. Further, if today we don't know all the steps involved in the
origin of life, this doesn't mean we have to leap to a supernatural
explanation, or to conclude that evolution didn't occur, which is Kenyon's
message and why he is opposed by his chairman and other scientists.
Second, academic freedom also requires academic responsibility. The first
responsibility is to students, who should get what they sign up for. In a
biology class, students should be taught state of the art biology, not
theology. Regardless of its lukewarm support in the general public,
evolution is the foundation principle of biology and teaching that it didn't
occur is equivalent to teaching flat-earth geography. It is not a
violation of Kenyon's academic freedom to ask him to teach standard
biology. In fact, he teaches his non-standard biology in upper division
classes and in graduate seminars. It is only in a freshman course, where
students are least prepared to understand why Kenyon's ideas are wrong, that
he is restricted. Doesn't sound too onerous to me.
What Kenyon is teaching, by his own admission and the testimony of students
in the class, is a view of evolutionary theory exemplified in his book, Of
Pandas and People, which presents "intelligent design theory," a mutation,
so to speak, of scientific creationism which reflects the same
religiously-inspired caricature of evolutionary theory and bad biology as
its ancestor. Kenyon claims in Pandas that "two completely hybrid (sic)
individuals could produce offspring exhibiting the complete range of
possible skin colors," a statement breathtakingly ignorant of genetics, but
"explaining" how the great range of human skin colors could arise from Noah
and his family. Students deserve better.
Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D.
Executive Director, NCSE
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank