Tuesday, August 11, 2009

William Dembski and Biased Academics

Little Green Footballs points us to an item that gives a new meaning to academic bias. It is the requirements for William Dembski's courses on Intelligent Design at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There are three courses for credit, with varying requirements. Here is one requirement:
This is the undegrad [sic] course. You have three things to do: (1) take the final exam (worth 40% of your grade); (2) write a 3,000-word essay on the theological significance of intelligent design (worth 40% of your grade); (3) provide at least 10 posts defending ID that you’ve made on “hostile” websites, the posts totalling 2,000 words, along with the URLs (i.e., web links) to each post (worth 20% of your grade).
There are other requirements, such as reading The Language of God by Francis Collins and critiquing it. I am guessing Dembski takes a dim view of the book. I know that Collins has a dim view of Intelligent Design. It is the last part that gets everyone's attention:
You are the Templeton Foundation’s new program director and are charged with overseeing its programs and directing its funds. Sketch out a 20-year plan for defeating scientific materialism and the evolutionary worldview it has fostered if you had $50,000,000 per year in current value to do so. What sorts of programs would you institute? How would you spend the money?
What I find surprising is not that attention is being brought to this (although I think that is a valid point), it is the surprise that it is happening. I would be willing to bet that a perusal of any of the "academic" courses at the ICR would yield material so much more biased that it would raise red flags at any established university and likely be thrown out. In fact, such a course is likely commonplace at most Christian-based schools. For example, Ozark Christian college has, as part of its Creation and Science class the following course objectives:.

  • Explain the nature and importance of both science and faith in the life of the modern Christian.
  • Impress the student with the need to be able to answer the questions of those confused about the issue of science versus faith.
  • Present the case made for both the evolutionary and creation models of origins.
  • Give the student opportunities to practice writing critical and college level papers.
  • Strengthen the Christian in faith and encourage him in his worship of the one who made all things ex nihilo.
  • Impress upon one the distinction between macro and micro evolution.
  • Introduce the student to the dogmatism present in much of science on the issue of evolution.
  • Explain the implications of accepting evolutionary theory.
  • Examine the origins of both the universe and our solar system.
  • Survey some of the evidence that points to a designer creator.
  • Analyze the problem of the age of the earth and universe.
  • Confront the student with the absurdity of the idea that extensive biological progress has been made through chance occurrences.
  • Present a critical analysis of some of the more popular proofs that have been used for evolution.
This kind of course doesn't even pretend to be objective and it is probable that the teacher has no formal training in advanced biology of any kind but is, rather, a theologian. Regarding Dembski's course, he is a mathematician and every time he ventures into biological territory, he gets blown out of the water. He just doesn't seem to notice.

What I find unusual about Dembski's course is not that it is so blatantly biased, it is how lacking it is in academic rigor. There are no scientific papers referenced and the students are asked to go to web sites. I teach information literacy to students at a local university and one of the first things that I teach is that web sites are usually not up to the standards of academic papers. Academic papers are peer-reviewed and undergo revision and rewriting before they are deemed to be worthy of any academic discipline. Web sites (like this one) have no accountability and some have notoriously unreliable information. Does he teach the difference? Does he teach how to recognize a bad website, or one that doesn't provide supporting documentation? When I was an undergrad, there were no web sites. Academic papers were what we read and critiqued. He should be using the same standards.

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