Is the Creationist Purge Coming?

You’ve heard the hype: Mainstream colleges are fanatically biased against dissenting academics, especially conservative religious ones. The reality seems to be a little more complicated. News from a few mainstream schools seems to show that many institutions really do protect the academic freedom of conservative dissenters, but there seem to be fuzzy and inexact lines professors aren’t allowed to cross. Is creationism one of them?

If you asked George Yancey or Mary Poplin, you’d hear that mainstream higher education is blinded by “Christianophobia” or “secular privilege.” You’d think that conservative academics, especially religious ones, are common targets of institutional purges.

EPSON DSC picture

First they came for the communists…

Recent reporting from Inside Higher Ed, however, shows a more complicated picture. Virginia Tech is under pressure to fire a teaching assistant who has been accused of harboring white-supremacist feelings. Northwestern, meanwhile (my Evanston alma mater, that is, not the Minnesota fundamentalist redoubt), refuses to fire a professor for denying the Holocaust. In both cases, from what I can tell, the politically abhorrent ideas seem to have nothing to do with the accused academic’s teaching. In other words, neither of the teachers taught anyone white supremacy or Holocaust denial.

If they did, I bet the situation would be different. Consider, for example, the case of Crystal Dixon at the University of Toledo. Dixon argued publicly that discrimination against homosexuals might be acceptable. Toledo said such notions weren’t in line with Dixon’s job as a human-resources administrator. She was out.

As far as your humble editor can discern, the awkward and unclear rule of thumb seems to be that the right of professors, administrators, and students to harbor extremely unpopular ideas will be defended. Unless those ideas interfere with the written job description of the person involved. Or unless the person doesn’t have tenure protection. Or unless the idea is really really unpopular.

Where does that leave academic creationists?

I can see how the average non-creationist might think it would be a no-brainer. It might seem that protecting professors who disagree with central tenets of their own discipline would be absurd. How could a young-earth creationist teach a mainstream geology class? How could someone who disbelieves in “macroevolution” teach a mainstream biology class?

Yet in case after case, dissenting creationist scientists keep their jobs. Consider Eric Hedin at Ball State. He was granted tenure even after being accused of pushing creationism in the classroom. And what about Michael Behe at Lehigh? The prominent intelligent-design proponent has kept his job, even though his colleagues posted a disclaimer against Behe’s work on their website.

For what it’s worth, I think those strategies are correct. Purging professors for their opinions sets a terrible precedent. But I won’t be surprised if the alleged white-supremacist at Virginia Tech loses his job. For one thing, he doesn’t have tenure. For another, white supremacy is such a despised idea that I’d be hard pressed to imagine any administrators fighting too hard to defend it.

So here’s the ILYBYGTH prediction: The Virginia Tech TA will lose his job, in spite of the fact that he should seemingly enjoy the protection of academic freedom. And creationists will continue to wonder if their institutions are scheming to replace them. I don’t blame them. Ask Scott Nearing—all too often, academic freedom is only granted to those with whom we already agree.

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Hard to believe another week has come and gone so fast. It has been difficult to keep tabs on all the ILYBYGTH-related stories out there. Here are a few that SAGLRROILYGYBTH might find interesting:

If you were the principal, what would YOU do? This South Carolina teacher got suspended for having her kids defend the Klan. HT: MM

Five Wheaton College students face charges in a violent hazing assault, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Ben Shapiro on the problem with college protesters, the “idol of self.”

What should a science booster-club leader do when a parent questions his religious beliefs? One story from the National Center for Science Education.

Did the right wing come from outer space? David Auerbach looks at the sci-fi roots of radical conservatism.Bart reading bible

“More…than just big hair and money.” An interview with John Wigger, author of a new history of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

What are historians saying about Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s new Vietnam War documentary? At HNN, Professor Bob Buzzanco offers a few criticisms.

What do standardized history tests tell us? Not so much, argues Sam Wineburg and his colleagues.

Why so few conservative professors? George Yancey says there’s more to it than self-selection.

A portrait of a culture-war powerhouse: Daniel Bennett on the history of conservative legal activists Alliance Defending Freedom.

Feed ‘Em to the Lions!

HT: KP, DW

Are Christians persecuted in American culture? Two sociologists say yes. Elite attitudes, David Williamson and George Yancey say, are dominated by a vicious self-righteous “Christianophobia.”

In the pages of the Christian Post, Yancey lays out the argument of his recent book, So Many Christians, So Few Lions. There are plenty of Christians around, they say. But among certain influential elites, they noticed “unnecessary vitriol and fears” about evangelical Protestantism.

Do YOU feel persecuted?

Do YOU feel persecuted?

The problem, Yancey explained, is that this particular form of bigotry does not see itself as bigotry. Anti-Christian elites tend to see themselves as anti-bigots, fighting the forces of religious obscurantism. As Yancey put it, Christianophobes think

Christians are ignorant, intolerant and stupid individuals who are unable to think for themselves. The general image they have of Christians is that they are a backward, non-critical thinking, child-like people who do not like science and want to interfere with the lives of everyone else.

But even worse, they see ordinary Christians as having been manipulated by evil Christian leaders and will vote in whatever way those leaders want. They believe that those leaders are trying to set up a theocracy to force everybody to accept their Christian beliefs. So, for some with Christianophobia, this is a struggle for our society and our ability to move toward a progressive society. Christians are often seen as the great evil force that blocks our society from achieving this progressive paradise.

The authors note that there is also a good deal of bigotry toward atheists. It is the elite status of the anti-Christian bigots, they say, that makes it so troublesome. It is difficult to get elected to public office as an atheist, they note, because so many average voters dislike atheism. On the other hand, Christianophobia might cause Christians to have a harder time winning scholarships and admission to elite universities, where Christianophobes dominate.

Even for non-evangelicals like me, it is easy to see some intuitive truth in these claims. At a big public university like mine, it might be difficult for conservative evangelicals to avoid certain dismissive attitudes among their professors or colleagues.

Poll data also suggests some truth to these anti-Christian claims. Consider the results of a 1993 Gallup poll, for instance, in which 45% of respondents admitted they had a “mostly unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” view of “religious fundamentalists.”  Or a similar Gallup finding from 1989, in which 30% of Americans admitted they would not like to have “religious fundamentalists” as neighbors.

Such poll results, one might object, do not fairly specify the meaning of “fundamentalist.”  The folks answering such questions might have objected to living next door to Osama bin Laden as much as they did to Jerry Falwell.  The 1993 poll, for instance, found that only 25% of respondents had a “mostly unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” view of “born-again Christians” in general.  And in the 1989 poll, even 24% of the respondents who identified themselves as “evangelical” said they would not want to live next door to a “religious fundamentalist.”

Consider also, the work of prominent sociologist D. Michael Lindsay. In his 2007 book Faith in the Halls of Power, Lindsay interviewed hundreds of Christians in influential positions. If these religious folks are our leaders, we might ask, where is the Christianophobia Yancey and Williamson warn against?