Sunday, April 29, 2007

Atheist Revolution on academic diversity

Big thank you to The Freelance Cynic for nominating me for a Thinking Blogger Award. You're a peach, and I'm a shameless slacker lately. I'll try to be worthy of the recognition.

Blogs That Make Me Think

1. The Bad Astronomer

2. I Blame the Patriarchy

3. The Panda's Thumb

4. Richard Dawkins

5. Atheist Revolution

Speaking of, here's something that made me think recently:

This post at Atheist Revolution

...the Missouri General Assembly will soon consider a bill calling for "intellectual diversity" in publicly-funded universities. The bill contains the following text:

(e) Include intellectual diversity concerns in the institution's guidelines on teaching and program development and such concerns shall include but not be limited to the protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant;

The intent is quite clear. Christian fundamentalism should be off limits to criticism. Rather, it is to be honored under the same banner of diversity that leads us to respect race, gender, etc. Take a minute to consider two applications of such a policy. First, universities could fall under pressure to hire more Christian fundamentalist faculty. Just like universities are encouraged to hire more women and ethnically diverse persons, I could easily imagine a call to increase the numbers of fundamentalists to better reflect the views of the student body. Second, rational faculty would be prohibited from penalizing students for spouting religious nonsense as a replacement for factual information across the curriculum. Science professors would have to accept "intelligent" design papers as being on the same level as those on evolution.

Of course this is ridiculous. But all it does is codify in writing restrictions that already exist in practice. After all, educational institutions that contort themselves to accommodate religious beliefs in every possible fashion--and force instructors to do so as well--cannot exactly come around the other side of the same fence and admit that religion is a lot of hooey.

Every college for which I've taught has allowed excused absences for religious holidays. Every one. Academic departments accept a certain number of absences for any class, since everyone understands that students get sick, have flat tires, experience family emergencies, etc. This is fair practice. Students (like me, I confess) who make use of every one of those allowed absences must juggle them carefully to guard against going over and suffering the consequences. Why should a personal religious celebration receive special recognition? If I missed class because I wished to travel out of town for a family birthday celebration, for example, I had to use one of my absences. The religious kid got to go to birthday parties AND miss for a family celebration of their personal religious ideas. Why?

Sam Harris's most crucial message, in my opinion, is this: We have to stop giving religion special treatment. We have to stop bowing and scraping and backing away as soon as someone invokes religion as his/her reason for doing or believing something and consider all ideas and actions on their merits, without bracketing some of them off as unassailable.


At 1:53 AM, Blogger The Freelance Cynic said...

I'll let you off. Welcome back. And the honor is mine, as this post reminds me

At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not really a multiple exclamation marks type of person, but this is quite honestly absurd. What next, the talking snake? I feel as if I'm trapped in someone else's fantasy. Do geographers now have to consider flat earth all over again? Okay, enough ranting rhetorical questions.


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