Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ken Miller Opposes Academic Freedom in the Name of ... Academic Freedom

The above picture was one newspaper's way of characterizing the Anti-Evolution Tennessee statute during the time of the famous Scopes Trial, which was really more about trying the statute than trying Mr. Scopes.

Ken Miller, who has been adamantly opposed to all things Intelligent Design, not only was a witness for the prosecution in the famous Dover trial, but participated in (what turned out to be) a public spectacle (during the trial) the sole purpose of which (in hindsight) was to frame the controversy with the Discovery Institute appearing to be on the side against academic freedom.

This act of media circus centered around some bad blood between the Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center, as the TMLC was representing the Dover defendants and were attempting to strongarm various members of the DI into being expert witness without the advantage of their own independent legal counsel.  (Since Judge Jones arbitrarily expanded the scope of the case to rendering judgments against the DI and the ID Movement they represented--the ID movement as a whole was judged without their representatives having the benefit of legal defense--their concerns seem to be vindicated.)  It is unclear whether the TLMC intended this spectacle to shame the DI into throwing in, or preemptively clear themselves of blame in a nearly unwinnable case. 

Biology teacher and textbook author Ken Miller, who was neither much of a friend of either the TLMC or the DI, is at this event apparently to help blame the DI for the defendants' actions and the resulting debacle.  Instead of the Devil-made-me-do-it defense, the TLMC is enlisting Ken Miller to make the DI-made-me-do-it defense for their clients.  While simultaneously drumming up sympathy for the defendants (who were selfishly abandoned by the DI according to him), Miller remarkably drums up sympathy for the poor Dover biology teachers in this way:
But one of the things that I did want to remark about is we've heard alot of rhetoric today about allowing discussion, and keeping Darwinism from being made a dogma, and don't we have the right to challenge it, and so forth and so on. It strikes me that this sort of rhetoric has a fundamental disconnect with reality. Because what actually happened in Dover, and all you have to do is read the papers, is after the board of education instructed first its teachers to read the statement about intelligent design, the teachers refused. And they deserve, I think, awards for courage, and they gave as their reason, the PA teacher code of ethics, which they all had to sign, to become teachers in the state of PA, and one of the, the provision of which is I will never knowingly present false information to a student. And if the issues here is academic freedom, how about the academic freedom of the teacher not to present false information. And in a sense that's what the case is about.  [emphases mine]
Here Kenneth R. Miller is claiming that the Dover case is really, when one gets to brass tacks, about the right of teachers to conscientiously object to teaching things that they have scientific reasons to think is incorrect.  I think I can predict what Miller would say to the question of whether teachers should be able to conscientiously object (with the support of the education faculty) to the uncritical teaching of undirected evolution without being in danger of losing their jobs.  Should teachers that do this be given "awards for courage"?  Has Miller ever gone on the record as advocating this sort of academic freedom? 

Here is the "false information" that the teachers did not want to read to their classes:
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.
The statement refers to Darwin's Theory as a "well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations" but for which explanatory gaps "exist for which there is no evidence."  Here is what Kenneth Miller does not like about it:
So it basically is a statement that is systematically designed to undermine students' confidence in mainstream science, not just the theory of evolution, but in the whole validity of the scientific process, and the scientific method. It basically tells them, you can't trust science. And I think that's one of reasons why the teachers didn't like this at all. [emphases mine]
Because, as we all know, science--kind of like magic--only works if kids really believe in it.  If you can't wholeheartedly believe a theory, then you can't trust science.  It doesn't matter whether it's true that there are evidential and explanatory gaps in that "well-tested explanation"--it has to be taught as fact, because... because Science, that's why!  Believing in the potential inadequacy of a consensus opinion will cause the scientific method to be abandoned!  Eeeeeek!  Surely you agree, Mr. Feynman
Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts.   
Oops. Perhaps Dr. Feynman didn't realize that all it takes to unseat a scientific theory (and science as a whole) is to tell kids that there is a book in the library that will give some information that will put a different spin on what they will hear in class, and they can read it on their own time! Wow!  Contra Dr. Feynman, Miller seems to think that science is the belief in the total authority of the experts.

In Miller's mind it is unconscionable to force teachers to let the kids know about a book that presents a view they disagree with.  But it's certainly okay to force teachers to teach Darwinian evolutionary theory without presenting any criticisms of that theory.

With the help of academic freedom activists like Miller, the federal court ruling for academic freedom was that a teacher is free to teach consensus thinking about biology and nothing else. This is the kind of freedom that requires a court order to silence the school boards elected by the students' parents (who, I believe, have much more of a stake in the students' philosophy of science than the teachers who are paid to teach their kids). 

Miller's sermon on academic freedom and why science-and-culture activists like the DI fellows are obligated to be witnesses (what the heck does Miller care about that?) on whatever terms the TMLC determine are best for their clients, starts with a derisive scoff at the temerity of the DI to say that their recommended policy is not to require teachers to present ID material.  Richard Thompson cites DI material saying that school boards have the right (based on the academic freedom of both teachers and school boards) to "permit, and even encourage" the teaching of Intelligent Design.  Perhaps Prof. Miller is unaware of the distinction between being encouraged to teach something and being required to teach it.  Maybe that explains why he has such a muddled view of what it means to support academic freedom.  

Thompson equivocates about the relationship of DI policy to their obligation in the Dover case: "whether they [DI] wanted the school boards to [make their teachers] teach intelligent design or [only] mention it..." Wait a minute! It really doesn't matter whether the DI was recommending to the Dover school board that they have their teachers teach it or just mention it?  They are at fault either way?  This seems to be an indirect concession on TMLC's part that the reading of the statement (about neo-Darwinism as one competing theory) by the teachers instead of presenting ID material was already a concession made by the school board to the teachers, possibly because of the pressure being put on them by the Discovery Institute.  Why let students know about a book in the library if the teachers are still expected to use that book in the classroom???  
 

Poor teachers!  Poor defendants!  BAD DISCOVERY INSTITUTE! 
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Post-Script:  Prof. Miller avows in this forum that it is disingenuous of the DI to cite Antony Flew as an advocate of design inference. However, it seems to be the case that Dr. Flew attributes his rejection of atheism to science based on a design inference:
 . . . Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.[emphasis mine]
Miller seems to believe that the DI should not cite anyone that doesn't agree with their particular version of ID.  Perry Marshall also makes Intelligent Design arguments even though he sharply disagrees, presumably like Flew, about what can be inferred about natural history with those design inferences.  I'll be examining Perry Marshall's views in the future.