Montana Tech Faculty: Conservatism YES, Creationism NO

H/T: LMW

Can a science-oriented public museum welcome creationists as commencement speakers? No way, says a faculty group at Montana Tech.

According to an article by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed, the controversy at Montana Tech revolves around the coming commencement address by Greg and Susan Gianforte. No matter which way we slice it, this discussion raises crucial questions about the values of diversity, the politics of creationism, and the nature of science.

According to the university’s Chancellor, Don Blackketter, the Gianfortes are the perfect choice. After all, Montana Tech is a science-oriented subunit of the University of Montana. Ms. Gianforte has engineering degrees from fancy schools including Cornell and Berkeley and the couple together has a long record of success in software entrepreneurship. As Blackketter gushed on the school’s website,

Greg and Susan are a great example of passionate individuals and entrepreneurs who have had much success and have given back in so many ways. Their messages will resonate well with our students who will be leaving Montana Tech to make their mark out in the world. We are honored they will be a part of our event.

If you ask some of the faculty, however, you’ll likely get a different story. In addition to supporting conservative causes such as the Milton Friedman Foundation and the Association of Classical Christian Schools, the Gianfortes have donated to the creationist Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum. The museum endorses a vigorously creationist vision of the origins of the earth and of humanity.

According to journalist Scott Jaschik, faculty protesters insist they do not have a beef with the conservative politics of the Gianfortes. But the faculty faction DOES object to the Gianfortes’ support for creationism. Pat Munday, department chair for technical communication and a professor of science and technology studies, told Jaschik that a “publicly funded, science-based institution” like MT could not seem to condone such anti-scientific beliefs. More provocatively, Henry Gonshak of the English Department told Jaschik that the Gianfortes could not cut the mustard. Though they promised not to discuss their political activism, Gonshak was not convinced. “If Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden promised not to mention their own political and religious beliefs,” Gonshak asked, “would we pick them as commencement speakers?”

Though I find Gonshak’s comparison excessive and counterproductive, I agree with him that inviting creationist-supporters to speak at a public science school’s commencement raises some difficult questions. First of all, are the Gianfortes automatically “anti-science” for their support of a creationist museum? Chancellor Blackketter doesn’t think so. He told Jaschik the Gianfortes were “great supporters of science and . . . science and math have been part of their successful business ventures.” As we’ve argued time and time again, the notion among some mainstream scientists that creationists are incapable of learning or using “real” science just doesn’t hold water. The Gianfortes seem like an example of successful creationist engineers.

Second, does it suppress the university’s mission of intellectual diversity to ban commencement speakers of any kind? What if the university wanted to ban prominent science pundit Jerry Coyne due to Coyne’s in-your-face atheism and unapologetic dismissal of religious beliefs? Wouldn’t that seem outrageous? How can we ban one sort of speaker and not another?

Third, should we think about this as a political question? That is, must we who want more evolution taught in our nation’s public schools fight against any event that lends scientific credibility to evolution deniers? If so, the faculty’s move at Montana Tech seems appropriate. Hosting the Gianfortes as commencement speakers at a public science university sends a message. If science does not include creationism, the Gianfortes should not be invited to speak.

Fourth, does it matter that the Gianfortes are charged with supporting a creationist institution, rather than promoting creationism directly? It seems an illegitimate McCarthyite tactic to dig through the record of public figures to denounce them by association. Do we know if the Gianfortes themselves are creationists? I’ve given money to the Catholic Church, for example. But I would not consider it fair to label my politics as anti-contraception because of that. People should be judged on their own merits, not smeared by tenuous affiliations.

The ultimate question, I suppose, is this: Would you sign a faculty petition to oust the Gianfortes as commencement speakers?

 

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7 Comments

  1. I support diversity. I would not sign such a petition. It doesn’t sound like the couple is overtly out in the world proselytizing.

    Reply
  2. Playful Lutra

     /  April 3, 2014

    From the Glendale Dinosaur & Fossil Museum website – “What we believe” – It speaks for itself …….Lutra

    All things were supernaturally created by the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    The Bible is the divinely inspired revelation of the Creator, completely free from error in the original manuscripts.

    Each type of plant and animal was specifically created “after its kind” by God; none came from chance or natural processes, nor did any develop from some other plant or animal.

    The first humans, Adam and Eve, were specially created by God; all others are their descendants. In Adam, mankind was given dominion over all other creatures and the earth itself. “marriage is ordained by God and is only between one man and one woman.”

    The creation of all things occurred in six natural days and was originally “very good.”

    The entrance of sin into the world, through Adam, brought God’s curse on all creation, culminating in death and separation from God. No suffering or death existed prior to this.

    The Biblical record of the beginning of the world is authentic history. This includes the recent creation of all things, the fall, the curse, the global flood, and the dispersion of nations at Babel. Evidences in the earth’s crust and in human legends are to be interpreted in light of this true history.

    The separation of man from God can only be remedied by the Creator Himself, who became man in the person of Jesus Christ – virgin-born and sinless. His substitutionary death paid the price of man’s redemption and His bodily resurrection proved His victory over death.*

    Reply
  3. Dale

     /  April 5, 2014

    Hello,

    I live in this area. Montana has had a strong secular culture and many of us react strongly to public displays of bigotry.
    Ms Gianforte just recently made quite a spectacle of herself at a Bozeman City council meeting in which she claimed that she would rather go to jail than be prevented from continuing her religiously inspired discrimination against others, i.e. LGBT people in this case. The Gianfortes also fund the so called Montana Family Foundation which actively works to obtain State funding for religious schools and lobbies to prevent passage of non discrimination policies.

    Yes, to be openly creationist is to be anti science, especially biology, geology, astronomy, and cosmology. It’s vitally important to distinguish between scientists and engineers. (I do both). Scientists are educated where engineers are trained. This is the science that Creationists are unable to learn and could not possibly teach without misleading. Your point is wrong.

    It is testament to the efficacy of the scientific method that technicians who otherwise believe in nonsense can apply scientific knowledge that they don’t understand but still get reliable, repeatable results. But that doesn’t make a technician a scientist.

    Gianforte was a very poor choice for a commencement speaker, especially at a science based, secular educational institution. Creationism is a form of intellectual bigotry that has no place in our schools. There is no comparison of Jerry Coyne with Gianforte. Dr. Coyne is a real scientist, a research biologist, not a technician, and would make a great choice as a commencement speaker despite of how you might regard his lack of religious views.

    Further, atheism is not religion, but simply the lack of it, and creationism is not science, but religion. These ideas are strongly orthogonal with respect to each other. There is no need for faith or belief in either atheism or science.

    Do we know that Gianforte is a creationist? Yes we do. He didn’t give millions to our secular Museum of the Rockies here at MSU in Bozeman to further the world renowned research of paleontologist Dr. Jack Horner. Instead he gave it to support an anti science public hoax in Glendive.

    You say that you are interested in objectivity but this post doesn’t read that way.

    Reply
    • Dale, Thanks for weighing in. Personally, I agree with many of your positions. If I had the chance, I would probably sign the faculty petition to rescind the Gianforte’s commencement-address invitation. But that is a political decision, not a moral or intellectual one. If we treat the question as an academic one, we can see it in a different light. Who defines the boundaries of science? I agree that young-earth creationism has not (and will not) establish itself as a scientific competitor with mainstream science. But there are many people who disagree with those boundaries. Why can’t a college of science be precisely the forum in which those boundary issues are addressed by the inclusion of folks such as the Gianfortes? And who decides what the acceptable limits of intellectual diversity should be? Surely there are religious students at Montana Tech who might be inspired to hear from successful engineering entrepreneurs who share their religious beliefs. The fact that those beliefs are not ones that I share is not enough, IMHO, to ban someone from giving a commencement address. Finally, who decides what is moral social activism and what is immoral? Just because Ms. Gianforte is a strong supporter of causes with which I disagree strongly, I can still admit that she might be acting morally. On any of these grounds, I don’t see justification in barring the Gianfortes from MT’s commencement. As I said above, however, I would still sign the petition to bar them if I had a chance. Why? Because this is a political question. The definition of science may be a troubling one philosophically, but politically it is not. Politically, we have a strong interest in presenting a simplified definition, presenting boundaries that clearly demarcate the dead-science nature of young-earth creationism. On those grounds, I agree that young-earth creationists should not be given mainstream scientific legitimacy.
      Last word: I do strive for objectivity. I can’t always get there, I know. My motivation is always to challenge my own assumptions and prejudices.

      Reply
  4. Dale

     /  April 6, 2014

    Hello Adam,

    Thanks for your polite reply. I don’t mind helping you challenge your assumptions, especially in this case.

    You asked,

    “Why can’t a college of science be precisely the forum in which those boundary issues are addressed by the inclusion of folks such as the Gianfortes?”

    I ask, “What boundary issues”? You see this is the problem – there are no such “boundary issues” and we should not be pretending that there are. Religion and science are entirely orthogonal to each other. This is very much an intellectual issue dealing with the philosophy of science. It is the creationist position which is political, and divisively so.

    You asked,
    “Surely there are religious students at Montana Tech who might be inspired to hear from successful engineering entrepreneurs who share their religious beliefs.”

    This at once confuses science with engineering and engineering with business and all of these with religion. No I don’t think it’s a good idea to present this confusion of disparity to students.
    “Success” in business, (making lots of money), and success in engineering or science are very different and should not be confused but expressly differentiated from each other, especially for students. Any science the Gianforte’s have ever practiced is bogus, (dinosaur museum), and they were responsible for no engineering advances, in fact they made millions selling what is actually mediocre software. Oracle bought their customer base, not their “technology”. They may very well be appropriate for commencement speakers at a business or religious school but in no way are creationists welcome at a university that teaches science, especially the natural sciences including geology.

    Religion is not compatible with engineering. A “religious engineering student” is just showing off and defending an enormous ignorance of the science that she is supposed to be practicing. Religious technicians like Gianforte that pose as representative of science provide these students with a pass for ignorance, allowing them to pick and choose the science that suits their absurd beliefs otherwise.

    By funding absurd roadside attractions like the Glendive museum, and actively pushing for state funding of religious “education”, and funding the persecution of LGBT community, the Gianfortes act as a force for religious and intellectual bigotry. This is not just a political observation but has clear moral and intellectual implications.

    Again, I don’t know where you get the notion that the definition of science is so “troubling philosophically” as to promote the idea that religious misfits like the Gianfortes would give commencement addresses to actual educational institutions, their “success” in business not withstanding.

    Reply
  5. The Gianfortes should be invited to debate these issues at Montana Tech, I agree. But no, they should not take the stage as graduation speakers. Here is the link the petition to rescind their invitation: Yes, in all probability, Gianforte is running for Guv. Note that there is a petition seeking to disinvite him from speaking at Tech’s graduation: http://www.change.org/petitions/don-blackketter-rescind-the-offer-of-speaking-at-the-montana-tech-commencement-to-susan-gianforte-and-greg-gianforte?recruiter=88426620&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition

    Reply
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