Monday, December 10, 2007

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education - Inside Higher Ed :: Academic Freedom and Evolution

Jobs, News and Views for All of Higher Education - Inside Higher Ed :: Academic Freedom and Evolution: "But the groups arguing for freedom of expression of evolution deniers have not been heard agitating for the rights of Richard Colling. He’s a professor at Olivet Nazarene University, in Illinois, who has been barred from teaching general biology or having his book taught at the university that is his alma mater and the place where he has taught for 27 years. A biologist who is very much a person of faith, these punishments followed anger by some religious supporters of the college over the publication of his book in which he argues that it is possible to believe in God and still accept evolution. “I thought I was doing the church a service,” Colling said in an interview. He believes that religious colleges that frame science and faith as incompatible will lose some of their best minds, and that his work has been devoted to helping faithful students maintain their religious devotion while learning science as science should be taught."

I think I've discovered a new informal fallacy. It should have a Latin tag like the rest of them but since my Latin is limited to singing-Latin I'll tentatively tag it the "Means-Ends Flip-Flop Fallacy." It is the fallacy of opposing some practice because it has bad consequences and then opposing the elimination of the bad consequences in order to discourage people from engaging in the practice.

So, Fundamentalists oppose the teaching of evolution because, they believe, it will undermine religious belief. Along comes a biologist--and not the only biologist--who argues that Christianity and the theory of evolution are compatible. Now the Fundamentalists trash him because, presumably, if loss of faith isn't a threat more people will believe in evolution.

A pattern emerges. In the old days, adults tried mightily to dissuade teenage girls from having sex because it could lead to pregnancy, which would seriously mess up their lives. Fair, I suppose. Subsequently things got fixed so that sex wouldn't have those dire consequences. The Pill and other effective birth control methods became available; abortion was legalized; and girls who had babies were no longer automatically expelled from school or stigmatized. Now the puritans are trying mightily to see to it that girls don't have access to effective contraception or abortion and that pregnancy is punished in order to dissuade girls from having sex.

Then there are recreational drugs. We're waging an unwinnable War Against Drugs because we don't want to support the criminal subculture that surrounds their sale and use. If we legalized them, the criminal subculture would evaporate--or, more likely, get into some other line of illegal business. But we won't legalize them because that would remove the penalties for the use of recreational drugs.

Then there are illegal aliens. We don't like them because, we believe, they're dirty, dangerous and live in ditches and because, since they have no legal rights, can't unionize, and so can be exploited by employers, they drive down wages for working class Americans. If we legalized them, provided them with a path to citizenship and enforced anti-discrimination regulations they wouldn't live in ditches or work in the informal sector for sub-minimum wages under the table and so wouldn't drive down wages for working class Americans. But if we legalized them we might end up with more immigrants.

So here is the fallacy. We don't like x because it has y consequences. We become so accustomed to associating x with these bad y consequences that we come to believe that x is bad per se. Then, we oppose disassociating x with its bad consequences because we recognize that if x didn't cause y more people would do x.

I wonder: suppose there were a pill that provided all the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet. I would bet that the puritans would oppose making it available to the public on the grounds that if people could get it they wouldn't bother with exercise or healthy food.

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