Sunday, May 13, 2007

Academic Freedom Denied at Iowa State

This past month, Guillermo Gonzalez, internationally-acclaimed astronomer, was denied tenure at Iowa State University. This despite his far surpassing the standards (for excellence in research) for his department at ISU...
...excellence sufficient to lead to a national or international reputation is required and would ordinarily be shown by the publication of approximately fifteen papers of good quality in refereed journals.
Gonzalez has published 68 articles in refereed journals, and much of his research--including that related in the popular book he coauthored with Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet--is bold and provocative (he's boldly gone "where no man has gone before").

So why was tenure denied Dr. Gonzalez? Well, I'm not privy to the report, and--as an appeal is pending--Gonzalez is unable to discuss his case. But the problem is not hard to guess. You see, the conclusions to which the evidence about the universe that Gonzalez has uncovered and reported does not agree with the reigning paradigm, neo-Darwinian naturalism. In short, the evidence suggests that the universe is designed, and this untenured scientist has the audacity to follow the evidence where it leads. Ever since the publication of The Privileged Planet, he has been publicly and privately attacked by his fellow faculty (with this attack being led by an atheist from the religion department). This denial of tenure represents nothing other than a suppression of academic freedom.

This story--though an obvious travesty--is filled with irony. The first, perhaps, is that if national or international reputation is really what ISU is after, well Gonzalez has acheived that in spades. In fact, I have yet to encounter among my scientist colleagues anyone who can name a single additional scientist from ISU, though many acknowledge Gonzalez and his work. On that criterion, Gonzalez may be the only tenure-qualified member of Iowa State's science department.

More ironic is the fact that Gonzalez is the one conducting science the way it is meant to be done. Science progresses only by continually assessing currently-held theories, comparing them against all of the evidence. New evidence can lead to refining or--where appropriate--rejecting a theory, even a strongly-held one. And all Gonzalez is guilty of is uncovering new information about the universe that calls into question the reigning theory. It is the powers that be--at Iowa State and in the biological community at large--that are guilty of impeding scientific advance for the sake of dogmatic faith (in naturalism).

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes Bertrand Russell,
The immense majority of intellectually eminent men disbelieve in Christian religion, but they conceal the fact in public, because they are afraid of losing their incomes.
Ironically (again), just the reverse is the case in American academia today, and only atheists need apply for tenure. At issue is not, of course, Gonzalez' religion per se; it is, nonetheless, his failure to toe the particular metaphysical line that holds sway at ISU that has brought him to this juncture. Some 300 prominent scientists have signed a petition affirming that they dissent from the neo-Darwinian explanation. But they are careful to warn other, younger scientists that this sort of dissent could cost them their positions--they advise waiting until tenure is granted before identifying evidential problems
for evolutionary theory. The Iowa State travesty is just the latest example of the wisdom of this advice and of how academic freedom is denied at American universities.

Much has been made of the fact that Americans are falling behind the citizens of other countries in the various fields of science. Darwinian activists point to our failure to embrace Darwinism wholeheartedly as the explanation for this. I submit that just the opposite is true. Strict Darwinian materialism so reigns in our academic institutions (but not in those of some other countries) that many bright young people who do not embrace that metaphysical view recognize the stifling climate (especially within biology) and choose other careers instead. Jun-Yuan Chen, the principle paleontologist studying the Cambrian fossils at Cheng-jiang, finds great irony in the current situation in American universities:
In China, we can criticize Darwin, but not the government; in America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin.
Perhaps the greatest irony, however, is in Gonzalez' own story. This brilliant astronomer arrived in America as a child, a refugee from Cuba and its totalitarian (atheist) regime. What he is finding in this land of "freedom" is that naturalist ideology can be similarly tyrannous even in places like Iowa State University.


john said...

It seems maddening.

I don't like it when there is injustice in the world - no matter who is perpetrating it.

Miriam said...

Well written article.