Monday, June 30, 2008

Academic Freedom Bills: a Test Case

Academic freedom legislation has been tested in New Zealand. The story in outlines the problem thus:

Focus on the Family has sent The Privileged Planet CD and booklet to 400 high schools, asking that they be made available to science teachers and school libraries.

Waikato University biological sciences senior lecturer Alison Campbell says the material champions creationism - the belief that God created the world as described in the Book of Genesis - claiming the universe is too perfect to have been produced by chance so must be the work of an intelligent designer.

I have not seen The Privileged Planet, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, but NCSE did review it a bit back. They say this about it:

Gonzalez and Richards don't realize that unless they can show that what we actually see is more probable, given that an "intelligent designer did it," they have no case. This is because a basic rule of inference is that one has to compare the likelihood of observing evidence E under all relevant hypotheses H1, H2, ..., Hn. Then the hypothesis that has the greatest likelihood is the one best supported by the evidence. Obviously, if you don't say what your hypothesis is -- in this case by specifically describing the nature of the "intelligent designer" and the consequences for the real world if that entity exists, so that actual calculations can be made -- then it is impossible to compute the likelihood of observing E under your hypothesis, and your hypothesis never even gets to the starting gate.

This is the persistent problem of ID. Gonzalez, if you remember, was denied tenure at Baylor University last year. According to the original story the Education Ministry found nothing objectionable in the materials and will not ban them. Is this a test case for the academic freedom legislation in this country?


  1. Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State, mainly (if I read things rightly) because his research productivity declined during his pre-tenure years there and because he brought in no grant money to support research and graduate students. His ID proclivities didn't help any, but as far as I can tell were not a major factor in the tenure decision except insofar as they distracted him from doing research and mentoring graduate students.

    Baylor was where Dembski proclaimed victory over the stodgy old science faculty and as a direct consequence was left to hang around without a "Center" until his contract was up and he segued into teaching at Southern Baptist seminaries.

  2. You are quite correct. Sorry about the mix-up.