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Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Pursuit of Veritas


The Pursuit of Veritas

By Sarah Chaffee

As the new school year begins, a group of Ivy League educators (among them, Robert P. George) urge college students to “think for yourself.”
They note:
    Thinking for yourself means questioning dominant ideas even when others insist on their being treated as unquestionable. It means deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions — including arguments for positions that others revile and want to stigmatize and against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.
    The love of truth and the desire to attain it should motivate you to think for yourself. The central point of a college education is to seek truth and to learn the skills and acquire the virtues necessary to be a lifelong truth-seeker. Open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate are essential to discovering the truth. Moreover, they are our best antidotes to bigotry.
 “Open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate,” in pursuit of the truth… How controversial!
In seriousness, this all sounds very good. You do wonder, though, at the fact that the declaration has just 28 signers from a total faculty (only Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are represented) of 8,062, adding up the numbers from the schools’ websites. The signers are mostly from the humanities and social sciences. None is a biologist, much less an evolutionary biologist.
Speaking of which, what about thinking for yourself in origins science? The demand for conformity there goes back long before 2017, and extends far beyond Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. And while these educators exhort students to be open-minded, sometimes it’s the faculty who shut down inquiry.
Take the experience of Don McDonald, while studying for his PhD in sociology at Texas A&M University. His dissertation committee made him kowtow to Darwinian theory in order to obtain his degree. Explaining his experience, McDonald asks, “How can it be that you have to believe a certain idea in order to be a member of the scientific community? If you have to believe a certain idea in order to be a member, doesn’t that sound more like a religion that’s pretending to be science?”
These Harvard, Princeton, and Yale educators state: “Whether you in the end reject or embrace a view, make sure you decide where you stand by critically assessing the arguments for the competing positions.”
We couldn’t have said it better. In science departments across the nation, professors and students would do well to heed their call.