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Monday, June 01, 2009

Darwinism and academic culture: Not another one for the Expelled files ... ?

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe Americans are getting sick of all this Expelled stuff:
Recently, I received a rare student complaint over an e-mail I had sent to all my classes. In the e-mail, which welcomed all of my students back for a new semester, I characterized myself as an “outspoken Christian professor.” I admitted that I had been critical of some aspects of Darwinism and that I saw my students as more than mere “random mutations.” Finally, I said my Christian views would cause me to treat them differently – namely, by holding them all to a high standard that would help them find their purpose in life: a Divine purpose given to them by their Creator.

[ ... ]

In his letter to the department chair, the student claimed that it was inappropriate and offensive for a professor to reveal his religious affiliation in class. He said he was also offended by what he perceived as an inappropriate put-down of Darwinism. Finally, he expressed his concern that he would become a victim of religious discrimination because he did not share my religious views.

If he’d bothered to approach me directly, I could have told this student a little of what I know about inappropriate and offensive religious expression in the classroom. In fifth grade I had a teacher named Barbara O’Gara. Mrs. O’Gara was my favorite teacher despite the fact that I was then a Baptist and she was an atheist. Mrs. O’Gara made no secret of this fact. She mentioned it on the first day of class, and she mentioned it throughout the year.

During the course of the year, though, it never occurred to me to report Mrs. O’Gara for simply stating her religious affiliation. If it offended me, I simply dealt with it. Even as a fifth-grader, I sensed that this was how mature people handled things. She had a right to her feelings, and I had a right to mine.
Strange that a fifth grader in those days would have more sense of what North American culture is about than many postdocs do today.
As students in the 1960s, the Baby Boomers fought for the right to be treated as adults. After they became college administrators in the 1990s, they began to fight for students’ right to be treated like children. The war was waged principally with speech codes, which give almost unlimited power to college administrators who wish to control the marketplace of ideas.

Those of us who oppose these speech codes should not be angry when college administrators try to enforce them. We should thank God for the arrogance that these codes foster. They embolden these administrators in ways that seldom play well in front of a jury of their peers.
My own view is that university is a privilege for those who can tolerate ideas they don't agree with. If that is a big problem, I recommend a good trade school where one will learn only practical information and can make a good living out of it.

While we are here anyway:

- Canadian columnist to the world Mark Steyn's "Live Free or Die!" talk at Hillsdale College. (He was being sued by three different Canadian "human rights" commissions last year and was named Journalist of the Year for standing up to these new totalitarians.)

- Here, the Ontario Press Council has the good sense not to interfere with a boorish letter to the editor (against immigrants) that contains no defamation against any individual, so far as I can see. I expect that the social ostracism will be quite enough in this case.

For the record: So far as I know, everyone who has ever lived in Canada - including our Aboriginal peoples - was originally an immigrant or descended therefrom. So Canada is by definition a nation of immigrants. And indeed, for the last 10 000 years, I suppose, boors have groused about immigrants, forgetting that they themselves are the children of immigrants.

Also, re defamation, I cannot stress this too strongly: English common law on defamation (and its many ramifications) is intended to protect individuals against demonstrable harm caused by demonstrably false statements about them.

It is not intended to protect anyone from feeling bad about something someone else says about the group he identifies with/is identified with. Nor does it protect dead people (who, we must decently assume, are with God and have nothing to fear from this world). Nor abstractions like religions, philosophies, causes, or political parties. That is just not what defamation law aims to do. It is aimed against concrete personal harm, not claims about abstract harm.

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