Thursday, July 10, 2008

John West on Academic Freedom in Louisiana

John G. West has written a piece in National Review (a magazine that clearly does not know its own mind on this issue) on the passing of the legislation in Louisiana allowing for "academic freedom." His viewpoint is stark and clear in the first paragraph:

To the chagrin of the science thought police, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has signed into law an act to protect teachers who want to encourage critical thinking about hot-button science issues such as global warming, human cloning, and yes, evolution and the origin of life.

Opponents allege that the Louisiana Science Education Act is “anti-science.” In reality, the opposition’s efforts to silence anyone who disagrees with them is the true affront to scientific inquiry.

The "science thought police." I wonder who those people are? No matter. Onward:

And lessons about evolution present a caricature of modern evolutionary theory that papers over problems and fails to distinguish between fact and speculation. In these areas, the “scientific” view is increasingly offered to students as a neat package of dogmatic assertions that just happens to parallel the political and cultural agenda of the Left.

What exactly are these problems? He doesn't say. Further, he indicates that he thinks that evolutionary theory is more ideology than science, once again, without any indication of why this is so. He notes the support of several scientists:

At a legislative hearing in May, three college professors (two biologists and one chemist) testified in favor of the bill, specifically challenging the claim that there are no legitimate scientific criticisms of Neo-Darwinism, the modern theory of evolution that accounts for biological complexity through an undirected process of natural selection acting on random mutations.

I certainly hope that is not what they testified to, since that is an erroneous definition of evolution, which is anything but random. He compounds his error further in the following paragraph:

First, the idea that a firewall exists between scientific “facts” and their implications for society is not sustainable. Facts have implications. If it really is a “fact” that the evolution of life was an unplanned process of chance and necessity (as Neo-Darwinism asserts), then that fact has consequences for how we view life. It does not lead necessarily to Richard Dawkins’s militant atheism, but it certainly makes less plausible the idea of a God who intentionally directs the development of life toward a specific end.

Neo-darwinism (whatever that is; he doesn't define it and no evolutionary biologist uses the term) asserts nothing of the sort. The militant atheism of Richard Dawkins proceeds not from a reading of evolution but an animosity toward theology and religion. It does not make less plausible the idea of God because belief in God is faith. Acceptance of evolution is science. As far as the idea that a firewall exists between facts and their implications goes, I don't know anyone who actually thinks that. Of course facts have implications. But scientific facts have to be properly understood and Mr. West has not done so here.

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