Sunday, March 27, 2005

Academic Freedom Bill of Rights - ye of little faith part II

So, David Horowitz, Front Page editor, former red diaper baby, reborn as a right wing crusader and tilter at windmills (well, man's got to have a cause, any cause), has spawned a genuine piece of moronicness in his latest toils - the fight against leftie dictator professors has lead to a bill passing committee in the Florida legislature, providing for "Student and Faculty Academic Freedom"
Well, with a title like that you know it has to something really dumb. JJ King on Channel 4 (UK) has a good succinct review. The bill provides students with a legal right to challenge faculty who expose students to "controversial" things they don't like to hear - like evolution, or the geological evidence for the age of the Earth, or the Big Bang (a Bill sponsor - Rep Baxley, uses evolution as an explicit example of the sort of academic "controversy" forced upon poor unsuspecting students, and which should be legally challenged).

If this piece of anti-intellectual garbage passes the full legislature, I truly feel sorry for my Florida colleagues. If it spreads to other States, then the US is dead as a modern industrial civility. Further, faculty at any self-respecting university will have no choice but to defy the law - and any university that fails to legally back up its faculty should be de-accredited and expect mass resignations. While a case can be made that society may have some control on higher education institutions and matriculation requirements, such control is limited - even if the State provides the funding (and the reality is that most States provide so little funding to higher education that they have no right, nor leverage, to impose control on universities).
So, if Florida legislature wanted to mandate a semester credit in Religious Studies, or Comparative Theology as a graduation requirement from the State universities, I suppose they legitimately could. They would be stupid to do so, the universities would be worse for it, it would probably be unconstitutional in the US, but there would be some legitimacy to it.

As is, the law is unenforcable and unacceptable. Students have no right to feel any comfort in their beliefs. If their beliefs are so shallow and poorly established that they can't handle hearing scientific evidence that challenges their beliefs, then their churches and parents have failed. Their belief is simply inadequate and they must go in with their lives with that established. Scientists have a professional responsibility to present the best science known, the scientific method and the evidence accumulated. As revealed by inspection of nature and the best inference about what has happened. Whether or not some random student feels "comfortable" about that or not. To do less would be fraudulent, anti-intellectual, and completely destructive of the essential knowledge base on which US society rests. Any faculty member who backed off or toned down their presentation by one bit because of such law would have betrayed everything modern society stands for and 350 years of enlightenment and progress.

And of course that is the intent, not to actually pass moronic laws, but to establish a climate of fear and concern where liberal faculty back off and pre-emptively hold off on doing anything that might make these ignorants uncomfortable.
The instinctive thing to do is to pre-emptively fight back, to be even more in your face on the essential Truth of scientific knowledge in contrast with the Faith of religion. But there also lies a trap, too strong a backlash, or pre-emption, plays into the whole memetic corruption of the intolerant leftie dictator professor. Nasty, almost Clever.

So, we take the high road, tell the truth, present the facts and uncompromisingly challenge beliefs, while trying to be sensitive. This is hard, it is so easy, so reasonable, to yield to deism, or the "God-in-Nature" shell of the Intelligent Design advocates. But it is not science, and it is not right.

Why though we wonder, do these people want to destroy the US as a society? Is their faith so shallow that they would rather destroy all their forebearers worked for, than see a Truth revealed that contradicts their prejudices.


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