I was browsing the pages of Science (24 December, 1993, Vol 262, pp 19452108) when I notic
I was browsing the pages of _Science_ (24 December, 1993, Vol 262, pp
1945-2108) when I noticed in the Random Samples Column (pp 1976-1977) an item
interest to talk.origins. (Reprinted without permission)
"Intellegent Design" at San Francisco State
Two important concepts -academic freedom and the theory of evolution-
are currently clashing at San Francisco State University. The
question: Does the school have the right to stop a biology professor
from expounding on creationist ideas?
Hostilities commenced last spring when, in response to complaints by
five students, the chairman of the biology department moved Dean
Kenyon, a tenured professor, out of the introductory class he had
been teaching for almost a decade. Kenyon devotes two course
sessions to explaining how it is unlikely that aspects of chemical
evolution could have occurred by chance. He insists he's no Biblical
fundamentalist, but he has become an advocate of the theory that
"intellegent design" must be behind the emergence of life.
University officials have their doubts about having this laid on
freshmen who may never see anoither science course.
After his removal, Kenyon claimed his intellectual freedom had been
abridged and appealed to the faculty senate's Academic Freedom
Committee. The committee agreed with him, but the department
demurred. Tensions escalated in November, when the American
Association of University Professors weighed in, praising the
committee's report and urging resolution of the issue. And finally
came the endorsement of Kenyon's reinstatement by the Academic Senate.
His defenders, all but one of them nonscientists, say Kenyon shouldn't
be penalized for exposing his students to alternative interpretations
of events. And they feel the department violated "due process" by
replying on student reports rather than engaging in systematic
information-gathering on his teaching.
But Kenyon's views have been a matter of chronic concern since he
began injecting them into his teaching more than a decade ago, says
university dean James Kelly, an oceanographer. So "18 years of
student complaints" seemed like enough evidence. Department chairman
John Hafernik adds that there was no due process to violate. He calls
Kenyon's reassignment a "scheduling decision" that shoukld never have
gone outside the department. But it did and now it's back. Kelly
said Kenyon (who is now teaching only labs) has been offered a chance
to conduct an advasnced seminar where his ideas can be explored. But
Kenyon wants his into course back, saying "I'm not going to drop this
issue." He won't get more specific, but university officials fear a
lawsuit in the making.
(end _Science_ article)
Okay, now a few thoughts of my own.
First of all, Kenyon isn't "exposing his students to alternate
interpretations of events" but is rather lying in his teeth and
demonstrating massive incompetance. I'm going to dust off my
own academic credentials (PhD, mathematics) here and state,
athoritatively, the TRUTH (tm):
We do not have sufficient information, either hard data or models,
to come anywhere close to being able to establish the a priori likely-
hood of early chemical evolution. Any claims or estimates of it's
probability must of logical necessity be founded on philosophical
premises like "God doesn't exist" or "God must be responsible", or, more
likely, grotesque mathematical incompetence. I might, on a good day
be willing to entertain claims that the probability was nonzero. No
Second, speaking as someone who just finished teaching an introductory
course for unwashed Freshmen (Math 150, discrete math for business majors) I
suspect that Kenyon is no scientist and is uninterested in verifying the
accuracy of his intellegent design assertions. When offered an advanced
research seminar focused on one's own interests a researcher leaps at it.
Introductory classes are little use in exploring ones ideas. They can serve as
useful platforms for indocrination, for those who wish to try the accuracy of
their scientific ideas in the legislature. Sound familliar?
Third, I wonder at Kenyon's lack of ties to the religious arm of the
creationist movement. Are these non-ties a proforma attempt to avoid the
problems involved in using a publically funded university biology course to
push a particular religious viewpoint or do we actually have someone who
arrived at these conclusions from a non-religious perspective? The score is
"lying religious fanatics 20, objective scientists 0" in this area but I
suppose it could happen. The timing coincidence is remarkable, that a
researcher should arrive at the notion of intellegent design at the same point
in history that the liar's club (ICR) is pushing the idea with warp drive.
Anyone in net.land know more?
Dan Ashlock (Danwell)
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank