Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

July 11, 2008

My Letter Defending PZ Myers

Filed under: Education, politics, religion — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 10:26 am

I spent the large portion of my general blog writting time spent crafting an email defending PZ Myers’ academic freedom.  Or more to the point, his ability to express disbelief at transubstantiation.  He is probably safe, with tenure and all.  In retrospect, I probably should have pointed out how much I enjoy his blog and the interesting biological topics he covers.  There is always next time, I guess.  Anyway, a copy of the email is below.

It has come to my attention that Bill Donohue and the Catholic League is engaged in a campaign to get PZ Myers removed from his position at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

As an administrator at a higher institution of learning, I am sure you are aware of the importance of academic freedom. In our modern world, we sometimes speak of academic freedom, freedom of religion and freedom of speech without reflecting on what these concepts actually mean.
Subsequently, they become slogans without any real substance, hollow phrases. So, I would like to take a moment of your time to discuss freedom, its place in society, and finally relate it back to the particular circumstances concerning PZ Myers and Bill Donohue.

If freedom means anything in our society, it has to mean the ability to express unpopular views. Similarly, we do not defend freedom by merely defending the views we happen to agree with, but rather standing up for those with whom we disagree.

Along these lines, I understand that Catholics believe in “transubstantiation.” They are free to believe that if they wish. However, they must also respect the right of other people to say that transubstantiation does not occur, as PZ Myers did.

Complementary to this liberal concept of freedom is the standard of fairness. Fairness is not giving both sides of a disagreement equal standing (as it is commonly misapplied) but rather, holding both points of view to the same standard. If Catholics want to claim bodily theft, they
need to do so on evidence we can all reasonably agree upon, not just the tenets of their faith. Furthermore, threats of violence and other forms of intimidation should weaken our consideration of their claims, not strengthen them.

Finally, PZ Myers, as a member of the intellectual class in society, should be entitled to a significant amount of leeway to express controversial views. Academia, at its finest, does not exist to serve platitudes to those in power, rather it exposes inconvenient truths to the masses. This
sensibility is at the heart of academic freedom and the foundation of the public trust in the university as an institution. The moment the institution betrays that trust as a matter of political convenience, it
passes a terrible legacy of cravenness and capitulation onto future generations.

As an administrator of one of this nation’s institutions of higher learning, you are are a steward, not just of the ideals and values of our liberal democracy as it exists today, but also the possibilities for our nation’s future. As such, your actions and their lasting repercussions are vast, although they may not appear that way now.

The principles combined with the facts show that the case for PZ Myers’ dismissal is wholly without merit. There is no ambiguity. It is just a matter of defending another person’s right to express their views that you might not agree with and others find offensive i.e. the highest calling and
solemn duty for anyone who calls themselves a citizen of a liberal democracy.

Thank you for your time and patience.


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