April 9, 2007

So Smith's That Kind of Republican

Professor Roger Sloboda writes to The D this morning (sorry—no link—the site is down for a redesign) to express concern about an article that Stephen Smith wrote for the Catholic World Report reviewing the book Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education. Basically, it turns out that Smith is a proponent of intelligent design, or at least holds evolution (and modern forms of scientific inquiry) in belligerent contempt.

Smith wrote the article in 1996, so he may have reconsidered and revised his views on the matter. But Sloboda's closing point is important: "Bringing to the Board of Trustees a mindset that views with disdain an entire field of legitimate, intellectual enquiry is not what membership on the Board of Trustees is all about."

Some of the parts of the article are just embarrassing for Smith, like this:
it is difficult to imagine anyone conducting a study to determine how a woman can conceive and bear a child on her own, without natural or artificial insemination. That is so not because there would be no interest in discovering how to do so (radical feminists would be quite interested in that enterprise). Rather, such a study would not be conducted because theists and atheists alike know that if spontaneous conception did occur, it was a miracle that could only be performed by God. Thus, scientific investigation takes place on the assumption, for the sake of study, that the phenomenon under inquiry is nonmiraculous and hence subject to human study and understanding, which is precisely how science should proceed--that is, how science "really" works.
That last sentence is really remarkable for its defiance of smoothness and clarity, but the whole thing shows just how much Smith really doesn't like, trust, or know about science. He assumes that scientists wouldn't be interested in something out of the ordinary because they know they couldn't explain it. Yeah, that's really how scientists approach things. "Hey, this dark matter stuff could be angels—better stay away!!!" "Hey, there's this uniformity to the background microwave radiation all around the universe—that could be heaven—don't tell anyone!!!!"

The article makes clear that this is not just an intellectual disagreement for Smith. It's a policy disagreement:
It seems to me that the prevailing liberal orthodoxy would sooner teach students that the Earth is flat than it would teach them that God exists. Half-baked theories, after all, are harmless to an academic elite that cares little about truth. From the orthodox perspective, however, theology is positively dangerous because it challenges their "me first," "anything goes" system of morality and teaches that instead of "seizing the day," we must remember "Judgment Day." It is little wonder, then, that the elite refuses to tolerate the religious in public schools or in public life.
Smith is all about knocking the academic elite down at Dartmouth. Does that mean he has "designs" (intelligent or no) on its curriculum as well?

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  1. I knew he was that kind of Republican, but was his tenure review committee aware of this publication?

  2. Anonymous3:38 PM

    If they were, why would it matter? Should tenure review consider political and religious opinions in place of the academic work a candidate has published? That would surely be a subjective process.

  3. Anonymous6:28 PM

    Tenure review is a subjective process.

  4. Anonymous9:59 PM

    Anonymous 2,
    Subjective to what degree? Tenure review is about considering the academic work of a professor by the leading experts in his/her subject. Not the personal religious musings of the candidate. Gonzo's assertion is ridiculous, if tenure review boards started digging through candidates personal preferences whether religious, political, or otherwise the faculty would become even more politically/religiously homogenous than it already is.

  5. I don't think it's so much a matter of personal views as policy commitments. Smith is a professor of criminal law. If a tenure board feels that his views on the worth or validity of science will affect the way in which he teaches his course (i.e. discounts or downplays the role of scientific expert witnesses), then it is a valid reason for not tenuring him.