Three years ago the “Center for Science and Culture”(CSC) of the creationist no-think tank Discovery Institute (DI) named me “Censor of the Year,” an award they now confer every Darwin Day, but which started with me. And I was so happy to get it!
The reason for my award? I helped stop the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) at Ball State University (BSU) in Indiana, in courses taught by Eric Hedin. Hedin was pushing Christianity and a religious view of life in a science course at a public university, something that the courts have declared unkosher. Somehow the press got on it, and the President of BSU (who has since left) declared that ID would not be taught at her university. In view of that, Hedin, an assistant professor of astronomy and physics (he’s since got tenure) had to go back to teaching real science. My activities apparently constituted censorship, and so I got the prize. To quote the DI:
Coyne was pivotal in stampeding Ball State University president Jo Ann Gora to issue a campus-wide gag order on teaching about intelligent design in science classrooms. This involved intimidating and silencing a young Ball State physicist, Eric Hedin. That’s censorship. But something that really stands out about Coyne’s effort is the power differential between himself and his victim.
. . . So we have the powerful, prestigious and above all safe Jerry Coyne, swooping in from the next state to rile up Hedin’s employers, Ball State’s administration. Why? Because Hedin included a bibliography in an interdisciplinary class that listed some books that were favorable to intelligent design (and others that were critical of it).
Coyne was not only successful in shutting down Hedin, and getting intelligent design shut down on the campus as a whole. He was also a bully, exploiting the difference in power to tyrannize and dominate a vulnerable younger scholar.
Oy! All I did was point out the unconstitutional teaching of a religiously-based doctrine to the school and the public; Ball State University did the rest. But I’ll accept the opprobrium in return for such an honor!
I’ve not-so-secretly hoped that I’d get it again, as a double win would be unprecedented: a Linus-Pauling-like achievement. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. In 2015 the prize went to Neil deGrasse Tyson, but not for any obvious censorship. He just hosted a television series. The DI notes:
Neil deGrasse Tyson, of course, stands out this year for his command of the aptly named Ship of the Imagination, which he piloted through 13 episodes of the revived Carl Sagan science series, Cosmos. As we documented here at ENV and in a book, The Unofficial Guide to Cosmos: Fact and Fiction in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Landmark Science Series, Cosmos represented a highly imaginative rewrite of the history of science. It was designed to convey an impression that faith was always an obstacle to scientific discovery, that all legitimate scientific controversies are in the past, that skeptics of scientific orthodoxy today are fools or worse.
Censorship can involve implied or explicit threats — that’s Jerry Coyne’s style, not Dr. Tyson’s. The charming, avuncular, facile Neil Tyson is effective, far more so than other nominees this year, because he is so very likable. As a censor, he works with an airbrush. Clearly produced with an audience of impressionable young people in mind, and no doubt on its way to becoming a staple in school science classrooms, Cosmos tells a seductive story that leaves out complications and controversies around science, and casts materialism as the obvious inference from the scientific data.
. . . Tyson broadcast his photoshopped narrative of science to millions. That alone wins him our nod as 2015 Censor of the Year.
Apparently teaching evolution, and not mentioning discredited and erroneous “alternative” theories, constitutes censorship. In that case David Attenborough should be a prime candidate!
What about last year? Hold onto your horses, for the 2016 award went to the Commission on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Why? Because they barred the DI from a conference they held:
This choice, however, calls for a necessary clarification. It is unclear who on the Commission participated in deciding to exclude Discovery Institute from the church’s upcoming General Conference, and thereby censor discussion of intelligent design. When we inquired, we were told only that the “leadership” of the Commission made the decision. The UMC — with its motto of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” — refuses to disclose who made up this shadowy “leadership” group. So the best we can do is bestow COTY on the Commission.
. . . Why was the UMC Commission the obvious winner? After all, at least in the initial move to bar us, they did not set out to hurt or intimidate any particular scholar or scientist (as past COTY winner Jerry Coyne did) or to mislead the general public (as did Neil deGrasse Tyson). Instead, the Commission stands out by exemplifying what appears to be the culpable ignorance, confusion, and shiftiness of leaders who ought to know better — who should welcome insights revealing the design of life! — but who prefer to clap their hands over their ears. Who knows what these folks really had in mind, but an excessive, fawning concern about what prestige academia thinks of you, combined with intellectual laziness in researching the matter for oneself, are together the typical reasons that clergy go astray on this issue.
The DI really needs to learn what censorship is. There is no “right” for the Discovery Institute to promulgate its nonsense in schools, or even in churches. If a church takes an enlightened stand about science, as the United Methodist Church apparently did, then it’s not “censoring” ID. If there were credible evidence for ID, which its flacks keep promising to provide, then we can talk. Until then, this is surely the first time that I’ve received an award that a religious body also got.
What about this year? Well, today’s winner is. . . . .
. . . . The Natural History Museum in Stuttgart—our first foreign winner! As Evolution News & Views reports, the Museum harbored one Günter Bechly, former curator of amber and fossil insects. Bechly found himself no longer able to accept the corpus of modern evolutionary theory, and was sympathetic to Intelligent Design. He came out publicly as an ID sympathizer, and the Museum didn’t like that. They cut back his duties, and apparently told him his future at the Museum was in doubt. He quit. As Evolution News and Views reports:
This is how the “consensus” for Darwinian evolution is maintained. Oh, not only or primarily through outright censorship. Vanity is the single most effective tool that ensures uniformity of opinion. Men are monsters of vanity — males especially, but women too. The pressure to be on the prestige side of any significant disagreement is intense, a fact often unacknowledged unless you are pretty honest with yourself. This holds across science, the media, education, politics, religion, and other fields.
Dr. Bechly was among the contingent of ID-friendly scientists present at the Royal Society meeting (“New Trends in Evolutionary Biology“) in London last November. Another scientist on hand, we noted, a senior figure with views on Darwin overlapping with ours but allergic to ID itself, was visibly skittish about even being seen talking with us. So it goes.
Bechly has now become a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s CSC. Was he censored? I don’t see how, given that he was promulgating erroneous and misleading science as a representative of a big museum. It’s as if someone started promulgating the Biblical Flood theory at the Smithsonian Institution, and is equivalent to Eric Hedin teaching Intelligent Design to his students at Ball State. There is no “right” to promulgate discredited ideas as part of your job as a scientist at a public institution.
At the end of this year’s award piece, author David Klinghoffer did what the DI has always done: told us that the debunking of Darwinism is right around the corner.
Someday, a tipping point will come. Numerous closets will open in a swell of confessions: “I’ve doubted the straight Darwin story for years.” “I’ve long suspected that design or teleology of some kind must have played a role in evolution, but I would never admit it till now.” And at that time we’ll stop giving out Censor of the Year awards. But that day has not yet arrived.
They said this would happen over a decade ago, but it didn’t. I’m sorry to say that, I think, Klinghoffer will go to his Maker (disassociated molecules) before a teleological view of life permeates evolutionary biology.