Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Ironic Tyranny of Academic Intolerance

Today, the Ames (Iowa) Tribune reports that eminent astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez has been denied tenure at Iowa State University. This may seem unworthy of a news report ... unless you understand who Gonzalez is and why this is happening to him. Guillermo Gonzalez's simple shortcoming is that he has the audacity to not tote the party line along with his fellow scientists.

If that is a criterion for academic shunning, Copernicus, Einstein and Darwin should have been hog-tied, gagged and left to rot in a dungeon somewhere.

While the published criteria for receiving tenure at ISU consists:

"'primarily on evidence of scholarship in the faculty member's teaching, research/creative activities, and/or extension/professional practice' ... In addition to that, Gonzalez's department of astronomy and physics sets a benchmark for tenure candidates to author at least 15 peer-reviewed journal articles of quality."

Gonzalez has published 68 peer-reviewed articles -- 23 of those since he arrived at ISU in 2001.

No, Gonzalez's "problem" is not that he is deficient intellectually, academically or professionally. Gonzalez's "problem" is that, in the opinion of those who control the levers of power both within the scientific community in general and at ISU specifically, he doesn't think properly.

Gonzalez, you see, is the author-astronomer behind The Privileged Planet, a highly-touted, well-written, and astonishingly insightful challenge to Naturalistic orthodoxy. A book, in the opinion of the scientific elitists, that should never have been allowed to darken the rollers of a printing press. Planet argues that the design we see in the universe bears an eerie resemblance to the work of an intelligent designer.

In the book, Gonzalez (and co-author Jay Richards) don't just offer their opinion on the matter. They offer scientific data that shows the astonishing correlation between the design characteristics of the universe (that even atheist scientists admit to) and the fact that those very same attributes also allow us the ability to discover that they exist in the first place. The book is chock full of thought-provoking scientific data but one topic strikes me as ironically relevant to what has happened to Gonzalez today.

As they discuss in chapters 11 and 12 of the book, Copernicus -- a maverick in his own time who dared question the scientific/theological "fact" that the Earth is located at the physical center of the universe -- turned the world upside down (inside out?) by opining that the Earth actually revolved around the Sun. The so-called Copernican Principle, is now touted by the Masters of Naturalism, to prove that Copernicus succeeded in devaluing the importance of Man by showing that there is "nothing special or exceptional about the time or place of Earth in the cosmos" (248). Gonzalez and Richards show that the Copernican Principle not only misrepresents the view of Copernicus himself (his model actually moved man's "position" to a higher level of importance in the ancient mind), modern science shows that man's physical location in the universe is vastly overshadowed by placing him at the teleological center of it all.

In other words Gonzalez, and those who share his outlook, is being ridiculed and ostracized by a scientific community that now plays the part for which it continually berates the ancient church -- that of the unyielding defender of a status quo view that refuses to acknowledge the scientific evidence that runs counter to "acceptable orthodoxy."

Gonzalez is to modern Naturalism what Copernicus was to the Medieval church -- a pariah that dares to question orthodoxy. He is being punished by intolerant elitists who refuse to acknowledge the evidence before them because it does not match their preconceived notion of what that evidence should say. As a result, they seek to punish a colleague professionally for thinking the wrong way. This is intellectual tyranny of the worst kind.

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