Many readers have sent me this surprising story: a professor at York University in Toronto (a public university) has been required to grant a religious student's request not to interact with women. (The religion of the objector is unclear, but it is presumably some orthodox sect, many of which are notorious for their virulent sexism.) The decision is surprising, since usually religious reasons for pernicious discrimination are not accomodated, not even in the United States, which is the leading accomodator of religious prejudice among the advanced Western democracies. Canada, which has a strongly egalitarian constitutional culture, also provides constitutional protection for "multiculturalism," which means even reactionary bigoted cultures enjoy some legal solicitude.
This student wants to go to university, which means he wants and needs enlightenment. Canada should not indulge his antiquarian prejudices. Show this young man the light!
I'm opening comments for those who have more information about this strange incident. Signed comments only: full name and valid e-mail address required.
Over the last four years, the percentage of Democrats who said they believe in evolution has risen by three points, from 64 percent to 67 percent. But the percentage of Republicans who believe in the theory has dropped 11 points, from 54 percent to 43 percent.
So while there was a 10-point gap in 2009, there is now a 24-point gap.
In fairness, millions of Democrats are apparently ignorant of basic science too. What a country!
Mohan Matthen (Toronto) comments on the peculiar spectacle of Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga trading laudatory reviews of their recent anti-naturalist books in different high-profile publications, especially when at least one of the books (Nagel's) is obviously not very good (I have not read Plantinga's, though I'm not optimistic given what I've read about it). (Commenting on Professor Matthen's post, the distinguished Oxford philosopher of physics David Wallace offers the amusing quip: "I was initially shocked to find that two such distinguished philosophers were so remarkably ignorant of basic science. It totally violated my common sense. Then I realised that in that case, it couldn't be true. So that's okay.")
NAGEL IS NOT AFRAID to take unpopular positions, and he does not seem to mind the obloquy that goes with that territory....Nagel has endorsed the negative conclusions of the much-maligned Intelligent Design movement, and he has defended it from the charge that it is inherently unscientific. In 2009 he even went so far as to recommend Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, a flagship declaration of Intelligent Design, as a book of the year. For that piece of blasphemy Nagel paid the predictable price; he was said to be arrogant, dangerous to children, a disgrace, hypocritical, ignorant, mind-polluting, reprehensible, stupid, unscientific, and in general a less than wholly upstanding citizen of the republic of letters.
I suppose it testifies to the influence of this blog that most of Plantinga's sarcastic aside clearly references criticisms levelled at Nagel on this blog (and other authors to whom I linked). But Plantinga's silliness aside, let's be clear why Nagel earned the criticism:
1. There is no scientific controversy about Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
2. There is no evidence for Intelligent Design or any other religiously motivated alternative.
3. As good fallibilists, we can acknowledge that, despite (1) and (2), Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection might turn out to be false. But fabrications, confusions, and bone-headed philosophcial speculations give us no reason to be skeptical.
4. Given 1-3, it's an outrage to try to encourage high schools to teach children anything other than Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection as part of the standard biology curriculum. The raison-d'etre of the Discovery [sic] Institute and its paid shills like Stephen Meyer are to perpetrate this outrage.
No one doubts that Nagel and Plantinga are capable philosophers, who have done high quality professional work during their careers. Plantinga at least has the excuse of his religion to explain his more doubtful philosophical forays. But neither can be excused for trying to legitimate the hucksters at the Discovery [sic] Institute and the Intelligent Design scam. This really isn't a hard issue, and one can predict with certainty that both Nagel's and Plantinga's trafficking with this nonsense will not redound to their credit over the long haul.
(The reason for the title of this post will become clear, below.)
Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education called my attention last week to this putative review by Steve Fuller of Nagel's Mind and Cosmos; the review was aptly described by another correspondent as "a largely content-free mix of self-promotion and derogation of his Enemies, in which you held the place of honour." (Michael Weisberg, co-author of the review in The Nation, is not on Fuller's "Enemies list" so was erased from Fuller's score-settling.) Just to give the flavor of Fuller's "review," a short excerpt:
A couple of readers, including some who recently declined to referee for Synthese, asked me to post an update about this matter.
Just to recap: last year, Synthese published a special issue on evolution and its critics--basically, an issue about the public debates over science education in the United States. The editors were lobbied by, among others, Intelligent Design proponents and sympathizers who objected to an article by Barbara Forrest critical of Intelligent Desigh apologist Francis Beckwith (whom long-time readers will remember). (The single most important overview of what transpired is here.) The editors, without warning either the guest editors of the special issue or the contributors, appended an insulting dislcaimer to the entire volume, thus smearing all the contributors. As Hilary Kornblith (U Mass/Amherst) observed at the time:
Authors have a reasonable expectation that their work, if accepted for publication, will not be accompanied by an editorial statement indicating deficiencies of any sort. Editors who believe that there are deficiencies which make publication inappropriate should fail to publish the paper. But if they decide that the paper meets their standards for publication, any remaining doubts they may have should be kept to themselves. Publishing editorial criticism of a paper which has been accepted falls very far outside the bounds of acceptable editorial conduct.
Nearly five hundred philosophers signed a petition in protest, including many leading senior figures in the field. The editors ignored the petition, failing to apologize, retract the disclaimer or even give a decent explanation of what transpired. The whole scandal, and the intransigence of the editors, did substantial damage to the reputation of the journal, with hundreds of philosophers committing to neither submit to nor referee for the journal. (Also here, here, and here.)
Since then, two of the three editors responsible have stepped down. But there has still been no apology for the gross editorial misconduct, or retraction of the disclaimer. I continue to be sent correspondence from philosophers honoring the boycott, and I would encourage all those concerned with this injustice to continue to boycott Synthese.
UPDATE: A job seeker writes: "I'm a long-time lurker on your blog, but I thought this was important enough to comment on: I got a paper accepted in Synthese a couple months before the issue broke, and it still has not appeared in print. So it might help people on the job market to remind search committees that a publication in Synthese - even a 'forthcoming' one - does not mean a publication in a damaged journal. (At least, not yet.)" A fair point.
Via Eric Schliesser (Ghent), I learn that the recent entry on science and religion by Alvin Plantinga at SEP presents Michael Behe's ID apologetics as serious and important, and gives no sense of the actual scientific and philosophical reception of the work. Ugh.
Even by their usual standards, this is remarkably feeble. I guess they're counting on their readers not reading the review or being sufficiently stupid that, if they did, they wouldn't understand the actual argument.
(For those new to these sordid debates, the Discovery [sic] Institute is the public relations arm of the new creationist movement.)
ADDENDUM: Since several readers asked: the title of our review was given by the editors, not us. It's not terrible, not ideal.
UPDATE: Michael Weisberg (Penn) points out to me that these survey responses about evolution are strongly affected by how the question is presented; for discussion, see this paper. When the questions are asked differently, the belief in evolution goes up.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)