Saturday, July 10, 2010

Freedom of Inquiry and Expression: The paper that opened doors

 In the fall of 2008, I was enrolled in my first college class, Honors English, at IUPUI. It was a wonderful learning experience, and one in which I had the chance to expand my writing abilities beyond simply penning a thought. It allowed me to examine many views of one topic, and then make a rational decision based on the information at hand. When asked to write a paper on a topic of our choice dealing with a debateable issue, I jumped to the topic of Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution. Nice way to introduce yourself as a writer in a college atmosphere, huh?

Well, in a way, it turned out to be to my advantage. I did make a couple of people quite uncomfortable, but my professor was very good about it. I still, to this day, do not know which origins theory she believes in. But after reading this short paper on the topic, she recommended me to the head of the English and Liberal arts departments, and eventually wrote me a beaming reccommendation letter to be the youngest accepted writing tutor applicant in IUPUI's history. So, I feel that this piece is the crux of a momentous time in my life, and thus, something I should share with you all.  There may be some areas that are slightly rough, as I was only 16 when I wrote it. But I decided not to change anything for this posting of it. This is what my professor saw, and this is how I want you to view it. For once, I am fervently begging you for your comments and thoughts on this piece of writing. You can be as harsh, or as kind as you desire, as I have learned to take most criticism as constructive criticism.
Thank you! And I hope you at least find something of interest in the paragraphs of this paper.

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Freedom of Inquiry and Expression
The Scientific & Academic Community’s aversion of its roots
By Rachel Hitchings

     Throughout history, the freedoms of humanity have been fought for, taken away again, and then reclaimed. The Carthaginians vs. the Romans, the Jews vs. the Germans, the Americans vs. the English—the list goes on. Either the freedom to govern, the freedom of religion, the freedom to speak out and inquire, the freedom to live out from under the grinding foot of the would-be-conqueror, or the absolute control of a king, queen, or Caesar. These are the things that have been fought for, and that countless people have lost their lives for.

Americans came to the United States to find freedom of religion and the freedom to govern themselves without a hereditary potentate. When Harvard, “The oldest institution of higher education in the United States,” was founded in Cambridge, Mass., its goal was to bring “Veritas” or “Truth” to the students it taught. Other great American institutions of academia also had similar mottos. Duke University’s motto, “Eruditio et Religio,” meant “Knowledge and Religion”—Dartmouth’s motto “Vox Clamantis in Deserto” meant “The voice of one crying in the wilderness”—Yale’s “Urim and Thummim” or “revelation and truth,--Standford’s “Die Luft der Freiheit weht,” or “The wind of freedom blows,” and even Indiana University’s motto, “Lux et Veritas”-“Light and Truth.” All speak of the freedom to express both religious and academic preferences—the freedom to explore and to reach for more knowledge that we might progress in the world. Finally, it was with the goal to let the lone voice speak out about new truths and new ideas freely, and without retribution. These institutions of higher education stood for the American people, their progressive thinking, and the broadening of horizons, all that the students might be given the power to evaluate the evidence at hand for themselves.

Even the scientific community, renowned for its innovation and openness to new ideas that challenged the status quo, was founded in order to "investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art.” (National Academies of Sciences)
Today, sadly, both the scientific community and the institutes for higher education in the United States have infringed upon that right of their scientists, their teachers, and their authors to speak freely. They have curbed their ability to explore other avenues of explanation when their conclusions, results, and observations don’t fit an established theory or the ‘politically correct’ explanation.

Specifically, The Academy of Science, along with a few colleges and universities, and the general media, have suppressed the freedom to explore Intelligent Design in any form. Their reason? The spoken is that they feel one theory, namely evolution, is correct. The unspoken is that it is politically correct to bash anything slightly ‘religious’ in origin that raises its head in the area of ‘science’, and to be a proponent of evolution. But the fact remains that it is still only a theory, and thus, other theories should be allowed to stand up next to it for the individual to decide. The freedom to explore Intelligent Design should not be condemned automatically as ‘bad science’, or as an invalid theory, nor should the scientists, journalists, or any other personage be persecuted and publicly condemned because of looking further into the theory of Intelligent Design.

Firstly, the attack on freedom of speech by the scientific community crosses the boundaries that our founding fathers put on the government. They saw that the government could be an area of taking away those freedoms, but the probably did not imagine the other ways those freedoms could be infringed upon. Nor did they think to see the institutions that are rising to take away those freedoms, institution which as supposedly based on the freedom of speech and inquiry. Their reason for this suppression was and is to quell at least one threat to their comfortable theory of evolution, Intelligent Design. As J. Robert Oppenheimer, American theoretical Physicist, nicknamed the 'Father of the Atomic Bomb, said, “There must be no barriers for freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.”

Sadly, that mentality of science has changed, partly due to the Academy of Science, the Smithsonian, and NCSE Director Eugenie C. Scott promotion of the idea of evolution—without the tag ‘theory’. They seem to take, or at least present, evolution as an established fact, when in fact no such ‘establishment of fact’ has occurred. This has been seen in many areas of science, education, and academia in general.

World Net Daily published an article concerning the issue of ‘theory’ being included with ‘evolution’. As they reported, “Although the Florida Board of Education approved the use of the word "evolution,” it did so with the qualification that it is taught as scientific theory instead of scientific fact” (“Educators say evolution still 'theory'”). On the third of October in 2008, the Science Magazine released an article using the words “Darwinian evolutionary theory.”

Many today seem surprised that it is still considered a theory. But they seem to forget that there has been no conclusive, end-all evidence for evolution. And in the light of this apparent ‘revelation’, people are being criticized, their views called “moronic” (Mirsky “The Trials of Life” 2005), and their jobs lost for even mentioning Intelligent Design in a favorable light. The whole Darwinian Evolution proponent base becomes enraged when people even mention Intelligent Design, let alone try to teach it. But, sadly, there have not just been isolated cases of opposing an equally valid theory solely on the ground of personal preference. Specific incidents have proven that this problem has a widespread area of occurrences and influences. The Washington Post published an article on the controversy over scientist Richard Sternberg’s paper on Intelligent Design, saying
“Evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg made a fateful decision a year ago. As editor of the hitherto obscure Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Sternberg decided to publish a paper making the case for "intelligent design," a controversial theory that holds that the machinery of life is so complex as to require the hand—subtle or not—of an intelligent creator. Within hours of publication, senior scientists at the Smithsonian Institution -- which has helped fund and run the journal -- lashed out at Sternberg as a shoddy scientist and a closet Bible thumper (Powell)”

Although not fired outright, Sternberg, and many others, were unsure as to whether he would keep his position. The reason for his persecution? He challenged the theory of evolution with a different, opposing theory. Returning to the World Net Daily’s article, Fred Cutting, a retired aerospace engineer with an expertise in biology, specifically species origins and the human genome project, is quoted as saying “The proposed standards [for evolution] presume ideas to be facts and leave no opportunity to study them beyond their narrow presentation.” He goes on further to point out that students are given no opportunity or encouragement to evaluate and criticize the many theories that abound in the scientific community. He continues with the observation that educators, committees, and boards choose not to differentiate between the verified, and the hypothetical.

While it is true that many are surprised evolution is still a theory, they will be more surprised by the fact that evolution is not as much an established ‘fact’, or ‘norm’ in our society as some would like us to think. It turns out that around half the population of the United States disbelieves the Theory of Evolution, as the Scientific American bitterly pointed out. “Unfortunately, skepticism of evolution is more rampant than might be supposed” they said. The continued with the statistics which are quite startling, yet eye opening. “A Gallup poll from 1999 and a National Science Board poll from 2000 both revealed that close to half the American public rejects evolution.” (“Bad Science and False Facts” 1)

Shocking, isn’t it. Evolution isn’t as concrete, accepted, wide-spread, or unchallenged as the schools, and the scientific community would have us believe. Yet, the scientific and academic communities still generally make out other, competing theories out to be hooey, and their supporters insane, mislead, bible-thumping creationists who are trying to pollute the minds of the people!

In reality, Intelligent Design is not necessarily a theory that supports the big “No-no” in mainstream science—“God.” Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Christian science—all religions, sects, and cults, that are not atheist or humanist believe in some form of intelligent design. They have come to the conclusion that such ordinary, yet complex things as the cell, could not have formed by chance, and thus had to have a designer, just like a Volkswagen Beetle could not be formed by chance out of a pile of car parts, but had to be put together, piece by piece, by an intelligent being. Many do not know what, or who, created the beginnings of life, but they believe that their must be more than evolution claims.

In 1954, The Scientific American released an article entitled “The Origin of Life,” written by George Wald, Harvard Professor and winner of the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize in Science. In his words,
“When it comes to the origin of life there are only two possibilities: creation or spontaneous generation. There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved one hundred years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance!” (Wald).

People have tried to disprove Intelligent Design numerous times by claiming it was only ‘religion trying to make its way back into the classroom’, while Creationist and Intelligent Design believers have tried to disprove evolution. Neither have succeeded, either in the courts, the media, or the classroom. In fact, while evolutionists consider Intelligent Design to be ‘Religion’ based, H.S. Lipson, a Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester (UK), has a similar opinion of evolutionists in his article, ‘A Physicist Looks at Evolution’. He writes, “In fact, evolution became in a sense a scientific religion; almost all scientists have accepted it, and many are prepared to 'bend' their observations to fit with it.”

So, both can be argued as having ‘religious’ implications. Yet, as this ‘similarity’ in both competing theories seems to support the idea that they should be taught on equal ground, again, it is rejected. The greatest danger to the freedom of students and faculty, to journalists and scientists exploring other venues of thought, is that Intelligent Design is ‘expelled’ from classrooms, from public discourse, and in academic discussions. Where has the “Knowledge and Religion,” where has the “Light and Truth,” where has the “The voice of one crying in the wilderness” gone when the same institutions that fostered and nurtured it are now denouncing it?

The sad state of this country’s academic and scientific spheres has shocked and appalled me. If evolutionists as so secure in their theory, then why do they not further show its strength by comparing it to the competing theories? If they are pro-freedom and support enlightenment, knowledge, and informed decisions, then why not let many competing ideas battle in the classroom, and let the students learn to form their own opinions?
Instead they silence “The voice in the wilderness,” striving to crush the search for truth and understanding when questions exist. When people are afraid to voice their views, their beliefs, or what theory of origins they think is correct in the classroom, in the media, and in the company of scientists, where has our freedom of speech, thought and inquiry gone? When the established institutions condemn men like Sternberg, or fire their teachers like Iowa State University did (“'Intelligent Design' Professor Loses Final Appeal” KCCI8 Des Moines Feb. 7 2008) for “champion[ing] the theory of Intelligent Design” (KCCI 1), something has gone very wrong.

Humans, throughout history, have ‘championed’ new ideas. Consider Galileo and the condemnation he received when he said the planets did not revolve around the earth or the Roman Catholic Church. Remember Magellan who reiterated Pythagoras’s theory that the earth was indeed round, not flat? These men brought new ideas into the academic, scientific, and even religious world, only to be shot down. But were their ideas valid? Yes! Should they have been listened to with more openness and thoughtfulness? Of course!

But now it is not a pope or a king, an elected leader or a hierarchical ruler that is condemning and oppressing the thinkers of this age. It is the scientific and academic communities. It is the press whose very core is the right to free speech and expression. Expression of ideas in professions based on inquiry, and questioning the status quo, should not be eliminated from those same institutions! It has been said that “Alchemy was once the ruling theory of science[.] Newton and Galileo gave us one authoritative understanding of time, then came Einstein and relativity. The human family has been embarrassed many times by versions of the Flat Earth Society.” (World Net Daily, 2). If such great men had trouble getting their new ideas considered, shouldn’t such expression of ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking be embraced by our ‘open society? Once might think so, but as it has been shown, this is sadly not the case.

In an article on academic freedom, it was pointed out that the “American Association of University Professors (AAUP) expanded its set of principles [in 1940] and asserted that teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and publication, freedom in the classroom to discuss their subjects, and freedom to speak or write as citizens without institutional censorship or discipline." (Bernstein, 8). Such a statement by the AAUP would make the firing of a professor due to the teaching of both Intelligent Design and evolution in the same classroom wrong, not just in the teacher or a conservative’s standpoint, but also in the eyes of the Association of Professors. Their assertion still stands today, unchanged and unquestioned, and should have protected the rights of a professor in a situation such as this one. Why would academic institutions fire, or ‘disapprove’ of teachers that were given the relatively free reign to teach their subject? Colleges and universities allow teachers to supplement their basic teaching curriculum with outside material, though usually only that which is politically correct. In the early 20th century, nothing overly liberal was considered ‘proper’ in the classroom. Today, anything overtly conservative is looked down upon, and if introduced, may herald the end of a career. What we need is not such puritanical standards of conduct, but a more open-minded approach so that true ‘equality’ in classrooms and academics can be achieved.

Evolution, Intelligent Design, Creationism, and any other theory that should present itself as having any value or any scientific thought, should be taught, expressed, and explored without fear of reprobation, loss of reputation, loss of position, and definitely not loss of the ability to speak freely. These theories should be put on equal footing in both the textbooks and the classrooms until a time when one theory is given overwhelming data that unequivocally supports and explains the bulk of that theory. Such data should and hopefully would be widely accepted, and not as controversial and questioned, as evolution and its current evidence, is now.

The only thing we can do to prevent this atrocity is speak out. If you are one of those 50 percent of Americans who do not believe that evolution is the answer, or if you are a proponent of the Theory of Evolution, but do not wish to see your fundamental right to freedom of speech infringed upon and, inevitably snatched away, take a stand. We can further this change towards open-mindedness and a support of the freedom of speech by speaking out in our own social spheres, by writing to both college boards and leaders of the scientific community. We can flood the media in all its forms with a plea for the people of the United States of America to unify in the protection of their inherent rights; our rights as citizens of the USA, and our rights as human beings. Champion the freedom of expression in all its forms in every venue. Only when we recognize that there is an issue, can that issue be resolved.

Let’s see if we can remedy this situation before it erodes the basic principles of freedom to its very core.

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Works Cited

“About the National Academy of Sciences” NAS Homepage, accessed November 13 2008

"Bad Science and False Facts." Scientific American 287.1, July 2002, pg 10. 

Bernstein, Alison R. "Protecting and Promoting Academic Freedom in Perilous Times: A Philanthropist's Perspective." Change 40.2 (Mar. 2008): 7-9. 17 November 2008. .

“Educators say evolution still 'theory'” World Net Daily February 19, 2008. 

Frean, Alexandra "Put creationism on a par with evolution, say third of teachers." Times, The (United Kingdom) (n.d.) 17 Nov. 2008. .

Lipson, H.S. "A Physicist Looks at Evolution," Physics Bulletin, vol. 31, May 1980, 138 “Scientific American, The” July 2002, pg 10.

Mirsky, Steve “The Trials of Life” The Scientific American, November 2005.

Powell, Michael “Editor Explains Reasons for 'Intelligent Design' Article” The Washington Post, August 19 2005, pg A19.

Wald, George. "The Origin of Life," Scientific American, 191:48, May 1954.


Andrew said...

Phenomenal paper! A friend of mine wrote a similar paper last year on teaching origins in the classroom. Have you seen Ben Stein's "Expelled"?

Rae Hitchings said...

Yup! I saw his movie, and THEN I wrote the paper haha
Quite a choice for a first college paper, no?
And thank you!
I was lucky I had a teacher who was truly an "unbiased" critic. She did her profession proud....Amazing woman!

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