If you can’t beat them, ban them
A review of Slaughter of the Dissidents by Jerry Bergman
Leafcutter Press, Southworth, WA, 2008
Suppression of criticism of evolution is not a recent phenomenon. In his Preface to the 1959 (100th anniversary) edition of Origin of Species, Professor W.R. Thompson, FRS, detailed the shortcomings of evolutionary theory, and then commented:
“It is therefore right and proper to draw the attention of the non-scientific public to the disagreements about evolution. But some recent remarks of evolutionists show that they think this unreasonable. This situation, where scientific men rally to the defense of a doctrine they are unable to define, much less demonstrate with scientific rigour, attempting to maintain its credit with the public by the suppression of criticisms and the elimination of difficulties, is abnormal and undesirable in science.”
Slaughter of the Dissidents gives a detailed report on the educational establishment’s efforts to insulate evolutionary theory and philosophical naturalism from critical assessment. It describes the suppression of critical views, and the victimisation of dissenting teachers and pupils in schools, and students and faculty in universities. The report is largely confined to the situation in the US. The author uses the term “Darwin Doubter” to describe the victims, and for convenience I shall follow his usage.
Suppression by schools and colleges
Cases range from the puerile to the criminal. An example of the first involves a professor who got his students to read two articles critical of aspects of evolution from the well established Journal of Theoretical Biology. He was reassigned to the History of Science Department, and the college even cancelled its subscription of the journal, although it is hardly a creationist publication. An example of the second involves a professor who “came out of the closet” about Darwinism. He was struck with the fist by a colleague and sustained a broken nose which required surgery. No action was taken against the assailant. “The dean told me he could understand why my ideas made them mad.”
The youngest instance involves a 12 year old boy who said he didn’t believe in evolution, and was ridiculed by his teacher in front of his class. She also warned him never to say that again in her class or she would take him to the principal for discipline.
Those who get past high school and are known to be Darwin doubters are denied degrees or entry into postgraduate work, and thus entry into the science profession. Those that slip through that barrier and gain entry into the profession are prevented from publishing their sceptical views, and attempts are made to hound them out of the profession.
Good scholarship is no help to a Darwin doubter. Norbert Smith was an outstanding biology student. Shortly after graduating from Southwestern Oklahoma University, he gave a talk on the scientific evidences for creation at a local civic club. Consequently he was told that he would not be recommended for post-graduate work. But his excellent record earned him a place at Baylor University, where he published several papers in secular science journals while working on his M.S. in zoology. Two months after graduating from Baylor he published a paper in the Creation Research Society Quarterly. His professor told him that, had anyone known of his creationist beliefs, he would not have been accepted at Baylor for graduate study. Smith eventually obtained a Ph.D. in zoology at Texas Tech, during which time he published a further four papers in secular journals. Two weeks after completing his Ph.D., he published a second paper in the CRSQ. This outraged the people at Texas Tech, and Smith was unable to obtain professional employment because nobody would write letters of recommendation for him.
A particularly interesting and revealing case involved Frank Manheim, a Harvard undergraduate and orthodox evolutionist. His professor “hammered on two themes: evolution and challenging authority”. So for his term paper, Manheim chose an authority challenging theme: a critical examination of evolution. He eagerly anticipated an “A” grade, and was shocked to get a “D-”. He met his professor to discover the reason for his poor grade, informing him in passing that he did not personally doubt evolution theory, but had simply taken a debater’s position. Upon learning that, the professor changed the grade to an “A”!
Various means are used to identify Darwin doubters. Educators and students are questioned about their religious beliefs, a line of questioning which Bergman informs us is illegal. CVs are combed for mention of any religious involvement. Letters of “recommendation” are used to alert other institutions about the religious views of applicants. Atheistic students and staff inform on Darwin doubting colleagues. Even the internet is searched for relevant information.
The book includes some practical advice for students. One is not to waive their right to view letters of recommendation. Tom Jungmann, a graduate at San Jose State University, made that mistake. Then a letter of recommendation was accidentally mailed back to him, in which his professor stated that his religious views could be a major barrier to his earning a Ph.D. Even though Jungmann later managed to get the professor, under threat of a discrimination lawsuit, to write a letter retracting the offending statements in his letter of recommendation, the damage had been done and he failed to secure a place in a Ph.D. program in biology.
Another piece of advice is to retain copies of all submitted assignments. An anthropology student had expressed disagreement with evolution in a paper. His professor made horrible comments about it, and “she tried to fail me in the class by saying that I did not do the major assignments and projects, but I was smart enough to make copies. I sent them to her and I said if you still have objections about what I deserve then I will personally go to the head of the department. I received my grade promptly, a 4.0 GPA [the highest].”
A tight rein is kept on Darwin doubters and theistic teachers, while evolutionists and atheists are given free rein. Philip Bishop is a professor of exercise physiology at the University of Alabama. He has over 300 publications in refereed journals and conference publications, and was recommended for early tenure. When the University learned that he informed his students that his field provides abundant evidence for intelligent design, they forbade him from doing so. On the other hand, William Provine of Cornell boasts that the percentage of theists among his students drops from 75% at the beginning of the course to 50% at the end.
Some push their atheistic agenda in an offensive manner, such as the sociology professor at Troy State University in Alabama, who treats his students to comments like “There’s no such [expletive deleted] thing as god!”
Past success has emboldened the establishment to adopt increasingly extreme attitudes. They have been aided by the support of the public media, and above all by the judiciary.
Public media reporting is usually extremely biased and misleading, as shown by the following examples.
Misreporting by the public media
Larry Booher is a high school teacher in Washington County, Virginia. He collected a set of scientific articles that documented the problems of Darwinism, had them copied at his own expense, and handed a set to each student in his biology class “as a voluntary, extra-credit option”. This was how an editorial in a local newspaper judged the situation:
“A high school biology classroom is not the proper place to talk about the Biblical account of the earth’s creation. That has been the law of the land for more than fifteen years and public school teachers are obligated to follow it, no matter their personal religious beliefs. If their faith won’t allow them to follow the law, they can always teach at a private school or teach a different subject. School administrators have a duty, too. They must make sure that teachers adhere to the rules and that the curriculum complies with the law.”
Roger DeHart was a biology teacher at Burlington-Edison High School, not far from Seattle. He encouraged his students to evaluate the evidence for and against the naturalistic origin of life, and helped them to do so by handing out supplementary material from Of Pandas and People, a pro-ID text. When one student complained (the only complaint in over a decade), Channel 5
“ … came to Burlington and interviewed several of my students. None of the students interviewed felt that I was doing anything inappropriate. It was then out of desperation to present a controversy that the reporter cornered a special education student and asked him if religion should be taught in a biology classroom. Of course he answered that it was inappropriate to do so. The interview when aired gave the impression that the student was in my class and that he felt I was teaching religion.”
A local paper published several articles. One was given the headline “Creationism out of B-EHS classroom”, another “Teaching or Preaching?”
Similarly, when biology professor Dan Scott of Wright State University, Ohio, presented his students with the controversy over Darwinism, and assigned them a paper on it, the Dayton Daily News used the headline “Creationism Classroom Invasion Causes a Pseudo-Science Controversy”.
Such media misrepresentation is usually deliberate. For example, when the Kansas State School Board voted in 1999 to de-emphasize evolution in their science guidelines, Time magazine claimed that they had removed evolution, and refused to print a retraction when the mistake was pointed out to them, on at least three occasions.
Discrimination by the judiciary
In the end, under current American politics, it would be the court’s decision whatever the politics, wouldn’t it? The judges could be replaced, but the decision still lies with the courts. I was once told by some frequent visitors to the US that some US conservatives indeed think it necessary to replace the high court judges. In the end, it’s all down to the decisions of the courts, and the majority of the judges fully share the bias of the educational establishment and the media.
Rodney LeVake was a biology teacher in Faribault Senior High School in southern Minnesota. He told a colleague about his doubts over Darwinian evolution and that he planned to inform his biology students. When this reached the school administrators, the superintendent told LeVake that “by pointing out the discrepancies that you believe exist … You … have made it clear that you cannot teach the curriculum.” LeVake assured his superiors that he did not wish to teach creationism in his biology class, but simply wanted to present “an honest look at some of the scientific weaknesses of Darwin’s theory of evolution.” In spite of this, he was reassigned to teach general science and chemistry. LeVake sued the school district for violating his right to religious freedom and free speech, but the judge dismissed the case, saying that LeVake had no right of academic freedom and could be prevented from presenting criticisms of evolution “though they may be scientifically meritorious”. The decision was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Ironically, the Appeals Court asserted that the classroom is a “marketplace of ideas” and that “academic freedom should be safeguarded”, yet upheld the school’s action to prevent a teacher from discussing the shortcomings of evolutionary theory!
Anti-creationists often say that creationism should be taught in non-science classes such as social studies, but not in science classes. Ray Webster was a social science teacher in a junior high school in a town near Chicago. One student complained that he presented both sides of the creation-evolution controversy, thereby violating the separation of church and state. The superintendent informed him in writing that he must teach only information in favour of evolution. Webster, together with a student who supported his stance, took the matter to court. The court ruled that the school did not violate Webster’s constitutional right by not allowing him to present information that supports a non-evolutionary origin of life, and that the student concerned had no right to receive such information.
The decision in Webster’s case stands in stark contrast to the one involving a science teacher in North Carolina by the name of Moore. He told his students that he did not believe in life after death, or in heaven and hell, and that belief in the Christian God evolved from ancient beliefs in numerous tribal gods. Two students who wanted to leave the classroom were ordered to sit down. The class was so upset it was dismissed early. Several irate parents phoned the school to complain. Moore was dismissed, and sued the school. The court ruled that Moore had a right to advocate his religious views in the classroom, that any invasion of this right will tend to have a chilling effect on the exercise of the right by other teachers, and that the importance of open discussion of religious issues in the classroom is imperative.
Bergman found that the courts have always decided in favour of those who promote atheism, and against those who express theistic views. “My search of published academic freedom cases has found no exceptions to this generalisation.”
The author says he has made every effort to contact the establishments concerned as well as their victims, and always took into consideration the comments and arguments of the former. In many cases the former did not respond, or provided vague responses that weren’t informative. Several case histories were actually dropped because of feedback from the establishments concerned. “Even if two or three of the cases are somewhat flawed, this in no way negates the overall indictment illustrated by the remaining cases” and the many others not recounted in the book. There are also many who wanted to discuss their case, but desisted for fear of repercussion. In other situations those who had information to corroborate victims’ accounts would not be involved for fear of retaliation.
Bergman supports his thesis with 70 pages of documentation. Many of the cases involve victims with outstanding academic records. He challenges those who question the validity of his findings to “produce a book documenting that hundreds of out-of-the-closet Darwin Doubters sailed through graduate school, published widely, achieved tenure and promotion regularly.”
The book focuses on a dozen or so case studies spanning the last two decades and involving mostly high school teachers and university academics, but it also includes numerous other cases, although in far less detail.
Just how widespread is this situation? Bergman estimates that on average about 400 cases of blatant discrimination occur annually in America, and that the vast majority are not contested in court by the victims because they recognise the impossibility of getting justice. He quotes one employer as saying:
“If we find out we hire [a ‘fundamentalist’], especially if they start talking to the other research scientists about their beliefs, I would terminate them within the month. Usually they leave without much of a protest. And I’ve never had one bring suit, even though firing on religious grounds is illegal, and I know that it is. But who cares—several guys I told straight out. ‘We don’t want any creationists working in this lab, so if you don’t turn in your resignation letter tomorrow, we will have to fire you. You better just find a position elsewhere.’ Besides, if they appeal to the EEOC and win, we’ll just hire them back. No one has, so I’m not worried about it.”
Tenure can be decided by secret ballot alone. So even if an educator meets or exceeds all other requirements, if enough tenured faculty agree that an untenured professor’s religious or philosophical perspective is unacceptable to them, they can simply vote him out of a job.
The author ends with an exhortation by quoting Cal Thomas (Book Burning, Crossway Books, 1983):
“Our greatest enemy is the apathy of people of faith. We say we believe certain things. We memorise hundreds of Bible verses. We attend church three times a week. But we live as practical atheists. …
“Do we write letters to the editor to express our viewpoints? Do we attend public school board meetings and voice our concerns? …
“No, Secular Humanism isn’t the ultimate enemy. We are. We could use a little less noise about the evil Secular Humanists and a lot more involvement by our own people in our own country. As our old comic strip friend Pogo once observed, ‘We have met the enemy and he is US’.”
The book comes with a token which allows the purchaser to download an electronic copy of a later edition. This corrects many misprints in the hard copy, including errors in the page numbers given in the index.
Slaughter is the first volume of a trilogy. The second volume will “address in some depth many of the concerns related to this issue …”. The third volume will focus on the issue of censorship.