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Censorship Is Wrong

Oklahoma State Representative Todd Thomsen has filed a resolution in the Oklahoma State Legislature asking the University of Oklahoma to dis-invite Richard Dawkins, who was invited to speak at the university as a part of the university's Darwin 200th birthday celebration. The proposed resolution reads:

WHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma is a publicly funded institution which should be open to all ideas and should train students in all disciplines of study and research and to use independent thinking and free inquiry; and
WHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma has planned a year-long celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of Darwin's theory of evolution, called the "Darwin 2009 Project," which includes a series of lectures, public speakers, and a course on the history of evolution; and
WHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma, as a part of the Darwin 2009 Project, has invited as a public speaker on campus, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, whose published opinions, as represented in his 2006 book The God Delusion and public statements on the theory of evolution demonstrate an intolerance for cultural diversity and diversity of thinking and are views that are not shared and are not representative of the thinking of a majority of the citizens of Oklahoma; and
WHEREAS, the invitation for Richard Dawkins to speak on the campus of the University of Oklahoma on Friday, March 6, 2009, will only serve to present a biased philosophy on the theory of evolution to the exclusion of all other divergent considerations rather than teaching a scientific concept.
THAT the Oklahoma House of Representative strongly opposes the invitation to speak on the campus of the University of Oklahoma to Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, whose published statements on the theory of evolution and opinion about those who do not believe in the theory are contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma.
THAT the Oklahoma House of Representatives encourages the University of Oklahoma to engage in an open, dignified, and fair discussion of the Darwinian theory of evolution and all other scientific theories which is the approach that a public institution should be engaged in and which represents the desire and interest of the citizens of Oklahoma.
THAT a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the President of the University of Oklahoma, the Dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Oklahoma, and the Chair of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma.

I share Rep. Thomsen's disdain for Dawkins, and Dawkins himself has certainly been a vocal supporter of censorship in education, but I strongly disagree with the proposed resolution and I hope it does not pass.

Dawkins has said and written many things that are deeply offensive to Christians and to all people who value academic freedom and civility in the public square. I disagree with him on many (most) issues, but it is imperative that he be allowed to speak without censorship of any kind. The issues that Dawkins raises are important issues about religion and science. We all gain by the free exchange of ideas. The intelligent design community has consistently supported unfettered discussion of these issues, and Rep. Thomsen's effort to censor Dawkins is incompatible with our consistent philosophy of support for academic freedom.

I would suggest that the legislature consider a resolution condemning Dawkin's intolerance and his personal support for censorship in academia, and the resolution could request that the Darwin 2009 events include speakers (in addition to Dawkins) representing different viewpoints in the ID/Darwinsim debate. The appropriate response to Dawkins is more discussion and presentation of a broader range of views, not censorship.

I am not arguing that the proposed censorship of Dawkins is on a par with Darwinist censorship of discussion of the strengths and weakness of evolution in public schools. The citizens of Oklahoma have the right to invite or not invite speakers to public universities in Oklahoma. Dawkins has no right to be invited to give a lecture at the University of Oklahoma (such an invitation is a privilege, not a right), but I strongly believe that he should speak and that he should be welcomed as a participant in this very important debate.

On the other hand, I believe that people in public schools have a constitutional right, under the First Amendment, to freedom of speech regarding Darwin's theory. That right is held by the citizens in a school district, acting through their elected school boards and other representatives. Neither side in this debate is free of metaphysical and religious bias, but discussion of the weaknesses as well as the strengths of Darwin's theory in public schools obviously isn't an "Establishment of Religion." A teacher's classroom comments about gaps in the fossil record have little in common with Henry the VIII's establishment of the Church of England. Both the Darwinist and the non-Darwinist viewpoints in the evolution debate have religious presuppositions and implications, but the First Amendment guarantees the right to free expression of religion (for theists no less than for atheists) and the First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of speech. The citizens in a school district have the right to exercise these rights through the normal process of curriculum development. Darwinists' efforts to enforce censorship of questions about evolution in schools are, in my view, without Constitutional warrant and are inconsistent with a commitment to freedom of speech and to academic freedom.

As an aside, I remind my Darwinist interlocutors that the anger and intolerance expressed in the Oklahoma resolution is much their own fault. Ben Stein was recently dis-invited from giving the commencement address at the University of Vermont by Darwinist censors. Ironically, Dawkins himself was one of these censors. Dawkins wrote a letter to the president of the University of Vermont in which he asked the president to rescind Stein's invitation to speak. Darwinists continue to vigorously oppose academic freedom to critique Darwin's theory, and they respond to critiques of Darwin's theory and of materialist ideology in universities with remarkable vitriol and spite. Virtually all of the censorship in this debate has been by Darwinists.

As I expressed in my recent open letter to the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology, there is a backlash building against Darwinist ideology and tactics, and Oklahoma resolution may be just the tip of the iceberg. Much of the anger and censorship expressed in this resolution is a reaction to years of Darwinist vitriol and censorship. Darwinists are well advised to remember that in our society they are on the fringe -- enormous majorities of Americans disagree with their tactics, their science, and their metaphysics. Academic freedom is good for fringe ideologies, and Darwinists oppose it at their own risk.

Censorship has no place in our society. The academic freedom of all people -- even of people like Richard Dawkins who don't respect academic freedom for others -- should be protected. I support academic freedom, and I oppose the Oklahoma resolution, just as I oppose Darwinist censorship of open discussion of evolution in public schools. Richard Dawkins should speak at the University of Oklahoma, and he should be treated with courtesy and respect. Ben Stein should have been allowed to give the commencement address at the University of Vermont, and he should have been treated with courtesy and respect. Teachers and administrators and students who have questions about Darwin's theory should speak up in schools, and they should be treated with courtesy and respect. We should hear more from Dawkins and Darwinists, and we should hear more from those who disagree with them as well. These issues should be discussed freely and vigorously in the public forum, including public universities and public schools.

Sunlight is a remarkable disinfectant.