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Open debate in jeopardy

By: Sarah Levy and Anika Smith, Contributing Writers

Posted: 4/4/07

Academic freedom determines the quality of education liberal arts universities, but a move toward reactionary censorship threatens this. The disturbing trend has now come to SMU, as attempts to squelch dissent from majority viewpoints have come from those most responsible for protecting our academic freedom, our professors. An upcoming conference about intelligent design has raised the ire of some of the science faculty on campus. Their demands to cancel the conference are a different reaction than in the past.

Two years ago, The Daily Campus ran an opinion piece by biology professor John Wise. Wise was writing in response to Michael Behe, Lehigh University professor and proponent of the theory of intelligent design. At the time, Wise chose to engage in what appeared to be a healthy dialogue on Behe's arguments about irreducibly complex molecular machines.

While Wise disagreed with Behe's arguments, he acknowledged the pedagogical benefit of addressing the points raised by this alternative explanation. He wrote, "What makes science so useful and progress so quickly is the tradition of critically analyzing these alternatives from individuals." Wise was confident enough in his arguments to allow room for discussion of the alternative theory of intelligent design.

Now, Michael Behe is scheduled to present his arguments for intelligent design at a conference held on campus, along with fellow intelligent design proponents Stephen Meyer and Jay Richards. Three of the major science departments called for the university to cancel the upcoming Darwin vs. Design conference and renege on its contract with Discovery Institute. What led to this change in strategy, this shift away from taking opportunities to engage in civil discourse to keeping ideas that challenge your own off campus? If you have confidence in your arguments, why silence your opponents? Are some faculty threatened by ID?

If faculty at SMU feel this certain of the superiority of their position, they should take the opportunity to teach the strengths and weaknesses of the other side rather than stifling intellectual discourse and discouraging students from engaging with scientific evidence. Students have the right to weigh the evidence themselves. Those who attend the Darwin vs. Design conference can judge if ID has science on its side.

Academic freedom is vital in higher education. It allows reigning viewpoints to be challenged and discussed, which encourages students to think independently about both sides. When those who are responsible for education suppress the discussion of ideas, they betray their commitment to education and science itself.

Sarah Beth Levy is a law student at SMU. She can be reached at slevy@smu.edu.

Anika Smith is a recent graduate of Seattle Pacific University. She can be reached at anikas@spu.edu.
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