I’m sure I’m one of the last here to have done so, but I finally got Ben Stein’s latest offering on DVD from Netflix and watched it over the weekend. I wrote a reflection on the genre of documentary over at my own blog, but here I’d like to reflect a bit on the implications of ID in the academy in particular.
American law, as Constitutional scholars often reiterate, only protects speech and text against direct governmental action. In other words, so long as a text does not fall under the categories of libel, publication of classified government information, or other rather tightly defined kinds of communication, one can produce more or less anything using a printing press or its equivalent, and law enforcement officials cannot imprison the printer or writer for it.
However, so long as an institution can convince a court that something other than the publication of an idea is at fault, it can inflict pressures other than direct government coercion. Such are the cases in Ben Stein’s documentary. He relates a number of cases in which universities denied professors contract extensions, foundations revoked funding, and other no doubt harmful but nonetheless legal actions that professors have faced in cases related to ID.
The National Center for Science Education has, incidentally, put forth a rebuttal site as a response to these claims.
At the beginning and the end of the film the audience sees two halves of a Ben Stein address to a student gathering, and that’s what I find most interesting. He appeals over and over in the speech to American traditions of free speech, something that, as I noted earlier, is a fine ideal for all sorts of institutions but only applies directly, so far as I know, to direct and coercive government action.
For that reason, I wonder whether a better approach to the questions is not through the categories of first amendment protections but rather through the resources of the academy itself, particularly the increasing flexibility in departments and disciplines. Knowing as I do that religion departments have for the most part taken over Marx’s theory where economics departments have jettisoned it, and that English departments are now the places where Freud and his disciples find a hearing now that psychology departments rarely teach him now (not to mention picking up Hegel out of the philosophy department’s dumpster), I wonder whether the solution to the philosophical monopoly in the biology department might not be sociology or other departments’ picking up courses in the philosophy of science, folks who aren’t scared of the sorts of metaphysical questions that the inquiry really demands. I wonder whether students would be able to get their lab experience and anatomical vocabulary in one place and their large-picture frameworks elsewhere (as Freudian psychologists and Hegelian philosophers have often had to do recently).
I suppose the questions that I would put to the readers are, first, whether my reading of first amendment law is valid, and second, if my preference for using the academy’s own resources is ultimately adequate to the situation in your minds. Obviously the discussion of Horowitz and other such discussions that we’ve had in recent months are in the background here, and I would like to read some opinions if you have ’em.