Discovery Institute: Pounding the Table

There’s an old saying that seems to have been around the legal profession forever. We’ve seen it attributed to Carl Sandburg:

If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.

That’s a good introduction to this article written by John West, the first winner of the Curmudgeon’s Buffoon Award. As we’ve pointed out before, West is a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (the DI), where he is Associate Director of their Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). That makes him one of the chief Keepers of their Wedge Strategy, and the guru of the cdesign proponentsists (a term described here: Missing link: “cdesign proponentsists”).

This is West’s article: Hypocrisy on Display at The Des Moines Register: Academic Freedom Protects Bullying Students about Religion, But Not Presenting Evidence for Intelligent Design.

The substance of the Discoveroid article isn’t very important, nor is it interesting. It’s a low-grade food fight with Rekha Basu, a reporter at the Des Moines Register, partly about something we’ve reported before: Fired Iowa Professor Bitterman Gets Settlement, and partly about creationist professors who were “unfairly” treated by academia. The Discoveroids are all worked up because, as West writes:

Academic freedom doesn’t protect a professor’s right to talk about the scientific evidence favoring intelligent design. But it does protect a professor’s right to belittle his students’ fundamentalist religious beliefs.

We’ve heard earlier versions of this story from the Discoveroids before, and they all sound like this: Oh woe is us, because our “science” of Intelligent Design is being discriminated against, and we’re being denied “academic freedom” to teach our sneaky version of creationism at universities. But at the same time, college professors are given the freedom to teach things that we don’t like (in Bitterman’s case, that the tale of Adam and Eve might not be literally true). Unfair! Boo hoo!

We’ll spare you the details that West discusses. Instead, we want to show how — like the proverbial lawyer with neither facts nor law on his side — West is left with nothing to do but pound the table. Here are some examples from his article:

When ISU [Iowa State University] denied tenure to [ID advocate, Guillermo] Gonzalez in 2007, Basu was at it again. This time she downplayed the idea that anything wrong had happened … Basu insisted that “Intelligent Design proponents are wrong to equate the exclusion of their theory from the classroom with academic bias. Professors are… not [entitled] to teach as science something that is not.”

That seems reasonable. But West pounds the table as he tries to point out the “Hypocrisy on Display” that he mentioned in his article’s title:

So according to Basu’s cribbed version of academic freedom, a university has the right to impose an outright ban on the presentation of ideas in the classroom with which it disagrees.


Or not. It turns out that Basu’s advocacy for university gag orders depends entirely on what ideas are being banned.


According to Basu in 2008, preventing Professor Bitterman from talking about his views on Adam and Eve (in a history class, by the way, not a religion class) was a fundamental breach not only of his rights, but of the rights of students …

O the horror! A reporter thinks it’s okay for a professor to be skeptical of Adam and Eve, because that’s his academic freedom; but how dare that reporter think that a creationist doesn’t have the same freedom! Unfair! Hypocrisy! [Pound, pound …]

Here’s another example of West’s table-pounding, as we continue with his article:

But the nice thing about being a Darwinist is that apparently you never have to be consistent. Academic freedom and free inquiry aren’t basic principles that apply to everyone; they apply only to the chosen few, and only to promote views with which the Darwinists agree.

Does West really think he’s got an argument here? Universities should indeed toss out would-be professors who want to teach astrology, UFO abductions, magic crystals, creation “science,” and all the other mumbo-jumbo that floats through the sillier strata of society.

West takes one final stab at pretending he has an argument, but it’s just more table-pounding:

Let’s see if I understand her argument: Universities have the affirmative duty to ban professors from speaking favorably about intelligent design in their classrooms, and such a ban wouldn’t violate academic freedom in any way. Nor would such a ban undermine “students’ freedom to hear different theories” challenging the tenets of Darwinian fundamentalism. But universities do violate academic freedom in Basu’s view when they discipline someone who may have treated his students abusively, and when they don’t allow students to hear “different theories” challenging the students’ fundamentalist religious beliefs about Adam and Eve.

Those Discoveroids sure can pound it!

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One response to “Discovery Institute: Pounding the Table

  1. Is that pounding on the table or under the table?