In case you missed it, there's been a tempest roiling at Southern Methodist University over the last couple of weeks completely unrelated to nekkid women. Professors from the science departments at SMU tried to shut down a conference beginning tonight at McFarlin Auditorium dubbed Darwin vs. Design, a program produced by the Discovery Institute. Intelligent Design, or the idea that life is too complex and wondrous to spring forth from haphazard unguided processes like natural selection and therefore must be the work some Big Kahuna, is not science,they say. It doesn't offer any testable hypotheses. How do you test for whatever mechanism this intelligence is?
The profs failed to shut it down. Something about free speech. But they did lodge their protests here and here. Lee Cullum was particularly wound up by the event, positing this gem in The Dallas Morning News: "The university does not have a First Amendment obligation to provide a venue to intellectually suspect arguments..." Wow. That's one bizarre statement coming from a respected journalist. Don't students deserve to know exactly why these arguments are suspect -- if, in fact, they are -- and draw their own conclusions? Isn't that what higher education is all about, intellectual rigor? Hmm. Not so much.
Larry Ruben, chair of SMU's biology department, said his beef was with the conference title, which he called dishonest. "It's not debate about the models for evolution versus intelligent design," he told me. "It is a program on intelligent design." So the Discovery Institute invited the science professors to duke it out with them at the conference. They declined.
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And those folks folks at the dreaded Discovery Institute? Couldn't be happier. "I think inadvertently it has promoted it," says Stephen Meyer, a former SMU student and a featured speaker at the event. Also appearing is Michael Behe, biochemist from Lehigh University and author of the controversial book Darwin's Black Box. Behe made headlines in late 2005 during court testimony in a lawsuit against Pennsylvania's Dover Area School District, which required the presentation of Intelligent Design theory as an alternative to evolutionary theory. McFarlin should be fun tonight, unless you have other things to do. --Mark Stuertz