Darwinism

Darwinism and academic culture: Not another one for the Expelled files … ?

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Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe Americans are getting sick of all this, Expelled stuff:

Recently, I received a rare student complaint over an e-mail I had sent to all my classes. In the e-mail, which welcomed all of my students back for a new semester, I characterized myself as an “outspoken Christian professor.” I admitted that I had been critical of some aspects of Darwinism and that I saw my students as more than mere “random mutations.” Finally, I said my Christian views would cause me to treat them differently – namely, by holding them all to a high standard that would help them find their purpose in life: a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator.

[ … ]

In his letter to the department chair, the student claimed that it was inappropriate and offensive for a professor to reveal his religious affiliation in class. He said he was also offended by what he perceived as an inappropriate put-down of Darwinism. Finally, he expressed his concern that he would become a victim of religious discrimination because he did not share my religious views.

If he’d bothered to approach me directly, I could have told this student a little of what I know about inappropriate and offensive religious expression in the classroom. In fifth grade I had a teacher named Barbara O’Gara. Mrs. O’Gara was my favorite teacher despite the fact that I was then a Baptist and she was an atheist. Mrs. O’Gara made no secret of this fact. She mentioned it on the first day of class, and she mentioned it throughout the year.

During the course of the year, though, it never occurred to me to report Mrs. O’Gara for simply stating her religious affiliation. If it offended me, I simply dealt with it. Even as a fifth-grader, I sensed that this was how mature people handled things. She had a right to her feelings, and I had a right to mine.

Strange that a fifth grader in those days would have more sense of what North American culture is about than many postdocs do today:

As students in the 1960s, the Baby Boomers fought for the right to be treated as adults. After they became college administrators in the 1990s, they began to fight for students’ right to be treated like children. The war was waged principally with speech codes, which give almost unlimited power to college administrators who wish to control the marketplace of ideas.

Those of us who oppose these speech codes should not be angry when college administrators try to enforce them. We should thank God for the arrogance that these codes foster. They embolden these administrators in ways that seldom play well in front of a jury of their peers.

My own view is that university is a privilege for those who can tolerate ideas they don’t agree with. If that is a big problem, I recommend a good trade school where one will learn only practical information and can make a good living out of it.

While we are here anyway:

– Canadian columnist to the world Mark Steyn’s “Live Free or Die!” talk at Hillsdale College. (He was being sued by three different Canadian “human rights” commissions last year and was named Journalist of the Year for standing up to these new totalitarians.)

– Here, the Ontario Press Council has the good sense not to interfere with a boorish letter to the editor (against immigrants) that contains no defamation against any individual, so far as I can see. I expect that the social ostracism will be quite enough in this case.

For the record: So far as I know, everyone who has ever lived in Canada – including our Aboriginal peoples – was originally an immigrant or descended therefrom. So Canada is by definition a nation of immigrants. And indeed, for the last 10 000 years, I suppose, boors have groused about immigrants, forgetting that they themselves are the children of immigrants.

Also, re defamation, I cannot stress this too strongly: English common law on defamation (and its many ramifications) is intended to protect individuals against demonstrable harm caused by demonstrably false statements about them. It is not intended to protect anyone from feeling bad about something someone else says about the group he identifies with/is identified with. Nor does it protect dead people (who, we must decently assume, are with God and have nothing to fear from this world). Nor abstractions like religions, philosophies, causes, or political parties. That is just not what defamation law aims to do. It is aimed against concrete harms, not claims about abstract ones.

12 Replies to “Darwinism and academic culture: Not another one for the Expelled files … ?

  1. 1
    Lenoxus says:

    I’m pretty sure that declaring to students that, unlike those heartless Darwinists, you cherish them because — and only because — they have been given purposes by your particular god… well, I see that as going beyond merely declaring one’s religion. Suppose he wrote to all of his students to tell them explicitly that, unlike those heartless Christians, he doesn’t think any of them are deservedly going to suffer forever after they died…? Obviously the second statement is snotty too, maybe more so, but my point is that there’s no reason for anyone in his position to go out of their way to broadcast why his philosophical views are morally superior. Aren’t there better things to do with a mass mailing, like directing students to a blood drive or something?

  2. 2
    Legendary1 says:

    Yeah, it’s pretty clear that the teacher was out of line, just as an atheist teacher would be out of line if he sent out a mass email declaring his atheism. The student was right to complain.

  3. 3
    O'Leary says:

    “just as an atheist teacher would be out of line if he sent out a mass email declaring his atheism.”

    Lots of my teachers did that. And it never occurred to anyone to complain.

    In those days, we thought we were a free society.

    I don’t think that anyone who has a problem with people dissing Darwin or Jesus – or whoever – should be at a university.

    I won’t willingly pay taxes to support people who will only go away, pleased that the system rewards their lack of imagination.

    They should in fact be subject to such strenuous argument that they go find a good trade school somewhere that teaches them how to make a responsible living, without being bugged by Big Ideas that just upset them anyway.

  4. 4
    Kyrilluk says:

    Personnaly I would prefer the University to be a religion and political activism free zone. If you want to know why, just consider what’s happening in England and in France.
    In England, muslim extremist recruit graduates in chimistry and in France, extreme left recruit students to organize soviet-style blockade to prevent everyone to study or work (Some university have been closed for nearly 4 month now and a lot of students are going either going to loose their year or have a useless diploma).

    As for critical thinking, you really can’t seriously expect students that have never work, don’t know much about life, drunk half of the time to develop it during their university year in contact with academic staff that have loose touch a long time ago with reality.

  5. 5
    Graham says:

    To O’Leary,
    I don’t think that anyone who has a problem dissing Darwin or Jesus should be at a university

    Thats certainly true, but in its place. Sending a blanket letter to your students, declaring your religious position at the outset and hoping for a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator strikes me as highly innapropriate.

  6. 6
    djmullen says:

    Recently, I received a rare student complaint over an e-mail I had sent to all my classes. In the e-mail, which welcomed all of my students back for a new semester, I characterized myself as an “outspoken Islamic professor.” I admitted that I had been critical of some aspects of Darwinism and that I saw my students as more than mere “random mutations.” Finally, I said my Islamic views would cause me to treat them differently – namely, by holding them all to a high standard that would help them find their purpose in life: a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator, Allah.

    I don’t see why anybody would be offended by an email like this.

  7. 7
    russ says:

    I’m pretty sure that declaring to students that, unlike those heartless Darwinists, you cherish them because — and only because — they have been given purposes by your particular god… well, I see that as going beyond merely declaring one’s religion. Suppose he wrote to all of his students to tell them explicitly that, unlike those heartless Christians, he doesn’t think any of them are deservedly going to suffer forever after they died…? Obviously the second statement is snotty too, maybe more so, but my point is that there’s no reason for anyone in his position to go out of their way to broadcast why his philosophical views are morally superior.

    The professor didn’t imply Darwinists are “heartless”, and he does not say “cherish you only because”. “I will treat you well because of my worldview” is not a condemnation of all other worldviews. Darwinists and Atheists are probably free on most campuses to explain why their worldview promotes a better teaching experience. Let them do so.

  8. 8
    ScottAndrews says:

    I can’t see this as a primarily theist vs. atheist issue. When the professor says

    holding them all to a high standard that would help them find their purpose in life: a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator.

    he’s crossing the line and stating not just his own affiliation, but how his expectations of his students are shaped by his beliefs. If I were an atheist, who’s going to decide what the creator’s purpose is for me? Me, the atheist, or the professor?
    As a wise man named Chandler once said, “Can open. Worms everywhere.”

  9. 9
    JTaylor says:

    It’s one thing for a teacher to express their personal opinion or views in the classroom – perhaps in response to a question from a student, and hopefully in the context of what was being taught. I think in a University setting this would be appropriate and at times even helpful (again though if it is relevant to the material being taught – if not it should be done in an extra-curricula setting).

    But it’s another matter altogether where the professor deliberately and proactively communicates his personal religious (holier-than-thou?) views to all of his students prior to even any classes being conducted. How is this relevant or pertinent to what the professor was teaching?

    Besides, if this professor beleives he holds himself to a “higher standard” one woulld hope this would be demonstrated by his teaching ability, and that he would not have to announce it.

    If this professor was an atheist and had promoted materialistic “darwinist” opinions in the email, would Ms O’Leary look on it as favorably?

  10. 10
    O'Leary says:

    jtaylor 9, “If this professor was an atheist and had promoted materialistic “darwinist” opinions in the email, would Ms O’Leary look on it as favorably?”

    Yes, insofar as he made his opinions known up front, and therefore they were entered into the record, in case of any subsequent dispute.

    A bigger problem is with persons who do not make their opinions known, but simply assume that all reasonable persons agree with their prejudices.

  11. 11
    JTaylor says:

    O’Leary “Yes, insofar as he made his opinions known up front, and therefore they were entered into the record, in case of any subsequent dispute.”

    But what does this Professor’s personal philosophical or religious opinions have to do with teaching criminology? (which apparently is this person’s field). Isn’t the email he sent tantamount to proselytizing?

    I work for a large American corporation. I happen to be both gay and an atheist. Neither of these traits are in any way relevant to my work and I do not advertise them. Shouldn’t the Professor do the same? He is after all operating in a work place just like myself. I’m quite certain that in my work place if I sent an email to my colleagues announcing my political, religious or philosophical opinions, I would most certainly be hauled in front of HR. And that’s how it is probably in all of corporate America – and for good reason.

    Isn’t his mission at the University to teach criminology and only that? Sounds like he would be more comfortable in a more overtly religious institution.

  12. 12
    motoservo says:

    Ms O’Gara (Miss O, we called her) was also my favorite teacher. And I mean favorite as in all my educational experience, including up to and through college. I can still recite the Preamble to the Constitution because of her. Somehow, she made it feel not only important, but fun.

    Was just curious if I could see where she is in life with a quick search on Google and that brought me here. Anyway, nice to see she had the same affect on others. But no surprise, really.

    Cheers.
    Troy Dalmasso

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