Monday, December 03, 2007

Someone call Ben Stein

Here's a topic for the more science-minded among us...

Guillermo Gonzalez, who teaches physics and astronomy, was recently denied tenure at Iowa State University. From the sound of it, a big factor in the department was Gonzalez's espousal of intelligent design theory in a book he wrote. However, he doesn't teach these theories in the classroom, nor does he research them.

So, I guess my question is, Does it really matter if he believes in intelligent design? From the outside, ID seems to me like a philosophy and not a science. So, if he accurately explains how things work and leaves it at that while in the lab, does it matter if he personally believes that the Wizard of Oz or the Flying Spaghetti Monster is making it all work?

The only problem I can see here is that his outside work could somehow embarrass the department because he has whatever imprimatur comes with a tenured position. But, when we start talking about how people's thoughts can embarrass the group, I think we start getting close to calling for intellectual conformity, which I'd rather not do.

But I could be totally wrong. Remember, I'm in the humanities, so I barely understand how a see-saw works. So, my science-minded friends, what say you?

7 comments:

Holly said...

I'm not the science minded friends of whom you speak, but I want to throw a question into this mix.

Are professors hired for what they can teach the students or for what they believe...?

Rufus said...

Well, I think of you as being more knowledgeable about science than me, so I meant you too.

Are professors hired for what they can teach the students or for what they believe...?

It's a good question. The way I look at this is that I don't want to get up to the point of tenure review and have some weird belief of mine come up (such as my belief that plants can read my mind), provided that it isn't germane to my research or teaching.

Some instructors have really offensive personal beliefs- I've heard of instructors who admire suicide bombers or argue that the Holocaust is a myth. It can be embarrassing for a university when they sign their articles in Batshit Crazy Monthly with "Professor So-and-so, Iowa State University." But, ultimately, I'd like to think that they're hired for their professional work and not based on their personal beliefs.

Hiromi said...

I'm also not a scientist, but it seems to me that a belief in intelligent design *is* germane to the job of being a scientist. ID isn't even science, and the fact that this guy supports it kind of makes me wonder about his judgment of matters in his field (science).

Rufus said...

I wonder if it's possible to believe in that stuff and not try to fob it off as science?

Brian Dunbar said...

So, my science-minded friends, what say you?

I are not a scientist - hell by y'all's standards ah'm hardly edumacated.

People who do science and technology can - and do - hold a wide variety of goofy beliefs.

If we wouldn't penalize a Hindu why would we penalize a person who espouses ID?

I wonder if it's possible to believe in that stuff and not try to fob it off as science?

If you job is to teach, oh, say, cosmology then you might have problems. A guy who teaches physics and which star is Mars and which Arcturus ... I think he'll be able to resist.

Rufus said...

If you job is to teach, oh, say, cosmology then you might have problems. A guy who teaches physics and which star is Mars and which Arcturus ... I think he'll be able to resist.

Yeah, that's what I was thinking. We have plenty of religiously devout people in history. Many of them study the history of their particular religions. They just leave out God's opinions on their particular faith.

Holly said...

Cognitive dissonance *is* a means of locomotion for some people, and it's absolutely necessary for some social contracts. American representative democracy, global economy capitalism, and so on. From that perspective, it'd be invaluable for students to learn to cultivate a mental world where things work one way, while simultaneously learning to function in another variation, where things work another way.

I kind of agree with the idea that it makes a difference what you're teaching. If you believe in intelligent design and are teaching algebra, who cares? On the other hand, if you believe in not maintaining obscene double standards, your math prof and your cosmology prof should be held to similar standards in terms of professional expectations.

At the end of the day, belief can be directed at literally any concept. Science also accepts belief, and in the world today, believing in science is pretty easy. Naturally, belief doesn't really impact what is *true* but that truth conversation is ALWAYS a philosophical quagmire.

... so it goes...