Sunday, December 4, 2005

Bashing Fundies With Public Money

You may have heard that the University of Kansas was initiating a course to be taught by the chairman of their religious studies department who is, of course, an atheist. The class was intended to be a parody of Intelligent Design and creationism - as if having an atheist chair the religious studies department isn't parody enough for one university - with a rollicking assault on students' religious beliefs thrown in. Denis Boyles captures the flavor of the course and the professor who proposed it in an article in National Review Online:

Personally, I think it's a good thing that universities are finally being used for satire rather than self-parody, and on this point I appear to agree with the chairman of KU's religious-studies department, Paul Mirecki, and the campus group he mentors, the 120-member "Society of Open-minded Atheists and Agnostics" - a.k.a. SOMA.

Mirecki announced plans earlier this month to teach "the fundies" - as he referred to his theological enemies - a lesson by offering a course called "Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies." The course announcement was instantly picked up by AP, CNN, and a bunch of daily papers and TV stations across the country. "The KU faculty has had enough," Mirecki told reporters with gusto.

Conservatives were irate, of course, but universities - well, what can you do? The class would have passed into the archive of goofy courses all colleges offer for whatever reason. However, Mirecki had made the strategic error of using SOMA's Yahoo usergroup to post his view that the purpose of the course was not education. It was theater:

"To my fellow damned," he wrote to the students, "Its [sic] true, the fundies have been wanting to get I.D. and creationism into the Kansas public schools, so I thought 'why don't I do it?' I will teach the class with several other lefty KU professors...The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face...I expect it will draw much media attention. The university public relations office will have a press release on it in a few weeks, I also have contacts at several regional newspapers.

The forum post was forwarded to an ad-hoc group of conservative Kansas bloggers and writers led by John Altevogt, a former Kansas City Star columnist and a political activist. Altevogt blew the whistle and the embarrassing post caused KU chancellor Bob Hemenway - a fervent backer of the course - to blink. Calling voters "fundies" wasn't helpful to a public university.

After nearly a week of backpedaling, Mirecki apologized for the statement: "I have always practiced my belief that there is no place for impertinence and name calling in a serious academic class," he wrote. "My words in the email do not represent my teaching philosophy or the style I use in class." The word "Mythologies" was dropped from the description. The chancellor said he would conducting a "review" of Mirecki's e-mail. The university insisted the show would go on.

But the cat was out of the bag. As Hemenway was telling reporters the course was "serious," Mirecki was telling readers of his SOMA list - at least until a few days ago apparently open to any who wished to join and read it - "This thing will be a hoot." Conservatives had set about conducting a review of their own, sorting through and circulating the rest of Mirecki's SOMA posts on the Internet, and they came away more concerned than ever. "These aren't just lighthearted messages," said Altevogt.

There's much more to the story, and indeed it gets better. It is astonishing, as Boyles' article informs us, that the entire religious studies department at Kansas is comprised of atheists and agnostics. As Boyles puts it, it's like having a bunch of David Dukes in the African-American Studies department. Paul Mirecki sounds like a pretty sorry excuse for a college professor although he's probably fairly typical of the left-wing genre.

Anyway, for the condign denouement of this sordid tale go here.

Keeping People Passive and Obedient

This sounds like it was written by someone in the scientific establishment talking about Neo-Darwinian evolution:

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum." Noam Chomsky

Evolutionists remind us often that there's lots of disagreement among scientists with respect to the tempo and mode of evolutionary change and the extent to which mutation and genetic drift are acted upon by natural selection to bring about change. The debate is lively enough but conducted within strict limits. Only blind, unguided causes are allowed into the discussion.

The true believers passively accept the orthodox dogmas and meekly submit to them. As soon as someone seeks to add intelligence to the mix of mechanisms believed to explain living things, however, the cries of heresy ring out and stakes piled high with kindling are prepared. Any evidence that points within an arc of 180 degrees of a cosmic intelligence or a deity is excluded a priori. Evolutionists are not interested in truth wherever it may lie, they're interested in promoting a physicalist metaphysics whose truth they refuse to question.

Why Major in Philosophy?

In the course of my teaching I often encourage students to consider an undergraduate philosophy major because I believe that a study of the questions philosophers have addressed provides the most important background a thoughtful and intelligent student could acquire. Students often ask, though, what they can do with such a degree. My reply is that most majors don't do anything professionally with their degree but rather they find it excellent preparation for the sorts of careers they do choose to pursue. Employers in most occupations prefer to train their employees themselves in the skills they'll need, and most professions require graduate level work in a specific field. Philosophy prepares a student for well for either path.

A friend sent along a link to a post by Dr. Roy Clouser, author of the outstanding book The Myth of Religious Neutrality, and professor of philosophy at Trenton State College, in which he addresses these same questions. His post is entitled Why Major in Philosophy? and it contains a lot of good advice for a young high schooler or undecided undergrad who thinks they might enjoy philosophy but who isn't sure if it will prepare them for making a living. Clouser writes:

For most students arriving at college, philosophy is the one subject they've never had before so it's natural that it's one of the last they consider majoring in. It's also natural to wonder what the major is good for--after all, few people ever plan to be professional philosophers! Yet, year after year, students switch their major to philosophy, and others tell us they wish they'd discovered it sooner so they could have done so.

What these students discovered - surprising as it sounds - is that philosophy is the single most useful major in the entire undergraduate curriculum! (Yes, useful!)

It's true, of course, that not many people become professional philosophers. But neither do most history majors become historians or English majors go on to become novelists. The fact is that most students don't pick a major because they plan to make their living in that field. They choose a major based on their interests and on how well it will prepare them for the widest possible number of occupations after college. If you are deciding that way too, we can say this for certain: If you have the interest, philosophy is best possible major - hands down.

Let me explain.

Philosophy deals with theories about the most basic beliefs and values that people have. These include topics like the nature of reality and human nature, the nature and sources of knowledge and morality, the proper structure for society and government, and the nature of religious belief. It also studies theories about the nature of science, art, language, and law. In this way, every philosophy major is exposed to the most influential interpretations of the most important issues people face across the entire spectrum of human experience.

But more than simply learning about these issues, philosophy includes a keen training in logic and critical thinking - in the ability to argue and debate the truth of the various theories and viewpoints that are studied. It sharpens one's ability to spot difficulties, pose questions, and to weigh the evidence for and against the reasons given for any view on any topic. (A bank V.P. once told me that his logical training was the most valuable thing he got in his entire undergraduate education - even more valuable than his business courses.)

Even from this short description you may be able to see why a philosophy major is the best possible background for anyone who wants to deal with the public or who wants to write - whether as a novelist, or news reporter. It is also the very best major for those thinking of pursuing any sort of career in religion. And it should come as no surprise that law schools consider it the best background for the Law SAT and a career in law. (Speaking of standardized tests, the highest GRE scores consistently come from three majors: math, physics, and philosophy.)

But there's more. It seems that a solid background in the influential viewpoints over a wide range of issues, and an ability to think logically about them, is also splendid training for a career in business according to several top business schools. But what may be most surprising of all is that the records of some of the best medical schools show philosophy as the undergraduate major of some of their most outstanding alumni!

So, if you have doubts about the major that's best for you - especially if you are presently an undeclared major - why not make an appointment at the philosophy department to talk over your interests with one of our faculty? Philosophy might, at least, be the ideal minor subject for you even if you decide not to major in it.

I offer only one caveat. Philosophy departments, like departments in any of the humanities, often are loaded with instructors who favor a particular school or style of philosophy. Some of these styles may be deadly dull to students who expect their philosophy experience to be an exciting intellectual excursion into the best that's been thought and written about life's most important questions. The student who wants to major in philosophy would do well to check out what approach the department is inclined toward before committing him or herself to majoring in it.