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Closed Minds, Closed Doors: United Methodist Church Commission Is Censor of the Year

Censor of the Year UMC.jpg

This coming Friday, February 12, is Darwin Day, aka Academic Freedom Day. In keeping with time-honored practice -- well, a practice going back a couple of years anyway -- the occasion has come to announce the winner of our Censor of the Year (COTY) award.

Presented by Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture, COTY is a dubious honor, recognizing outstanding efforts in silencing debate about Darwinian evolution and alternative theories of life's origins. This year, nominees submitted by our readers included the Smithsonian Institution, National Geographic, Bill Nye, the National Center for Science Education, the mainstream media, and Neil deGrasse Tyson -- the last of whom would be a repeat winner, since he was also the past year's COTY.

Each of these nominations has merit, but when we thought it over, the answer seemed obvious. As you will already have grasped from the headline, this year's winner -- and the leading nominee as well -- is the Commission on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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.

Certainly, we mean no criticism of United Methodists as a whole, many of whom support ID and free speech, and have vigorously objected to their church's act of censorship. That is much to the annoyance of some UMC leaders, including Bishop Michael Coyner of Indiana, as our colleague Donald McLaughlin (himself a United Methodist) pointed out.

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 Commission deprives the people they supposedly serve of information vital for their faith. ID is a science- not faith-based argument, drawing data from biology, cosmology, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and other disciplines. It makes no appeal whatsoever to Scripture or any religious tradition. Yet a coherent notion of theism, whether Christian or Jewish, reasonably expects objective confirmation of teleology in the origins of the cosmos and of life. If there were no such available evidence, that would pose a problem -- perhaps not insurmountable but profound -- for religious believers.

If there is evidence, religious leaders owe it to members of their churches and synagogues to share that with them -- by the same token, you might say, that atheist leaders owe it to their followers to broadcast the best arguments they have for their beliefs. A church barring discussion of ID makes as much sense as an atheist group banning discussion of Darwinism.

Maybe that's why in their public explanations of the anti-ID ban, UMC leaders have offered a revolving conveyor belt of muddled and misinformed rationales. We have analyzed those here. The height of absurdity was reached when the official United Methodist News Service commented on the controversy, citing the New Testament account of Jesus tempted by Satan. After invoking Judge Jones and the Kitzmiller case, the article observed:

Because intelligent design starts with belief in a designer, who as Jesus said should not be put to the test, it doesn't offer testable hypotheses the way evolutionary biology does.

ID does not start with "belief in a designer" and it does offer "testable hypotheses," but leave that aside. They linked to a verse in Luke 4:

12 Jesus answered, "It's been said, Don't test the Lord your God." 13 After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity.

In this comparison, Discovery Institute is evidently the devil -- no less! -- rebuked by Jesus (= UMC's Commission on the General Conference, or perhaps Judge Jones?) for offering Christians and other theists objective evidence that life reflects a designer's purpose and wisdom. The lunacy of this, reported by John West on Friday of last week as we were closing nominations for Censor of the Year, surely seals the deal.

In recent weeks we have also reported polling information that is relevant here. In time for Darwin Day, we showed huge support, across the political spectrum, for introducing students not to intelligent design (something we oppose) but to scientific evidence on both sides of the Darwin debate. Censorship on evolution is also massively unpopular, across age, gender, and politically categories.

Is human life just flotsam cast up by a mindless material process? That, the picture of what man is, constitutes the ultimate question posed by the study of evolution. Without regard for what is merely politically correct, Americans want to know what science has to say about biological origins.

The "leadership" of the UMC Commission, isolated from mainstream opinion, is thus this year's COTY. They deserve it, whoever they are. The award is an occasion for sensible members of that church, and other thoughtful people of any religious persuasion or none, to rise up in protest. We have already offered an easy way of taking action. If you haven't already, please spare a moment and do so.

Image credit: © myskina6 and dule964/ Dollar Photo Club.