Hector Avalos himself, the target of a Discovery Institute smear campaign, left a comment here, replying to some of the DI’s many falsehoods. It’s worth promoting up top.
The Discovery Institute has mounted the latest in a long string of creationist smear campaigns against me in Iowa. While I have never called for Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez to be fired, or even to be denied tenure, there are plenty of creationists who blatantly direct our university to fire me.
All such efforts have failed because they clearly distort the facts and my academic record. Here are some of the most significant questions and distortions voiced in these attacks:
1. Avalos is not a scientist, and so cannot critique ID
I have a formal degree and a year of graduate work in anthropology, which is home to the study of human evolution. The study of human evolution is a legitimate scientific field. I have published numerous articles on science and religion.
Nature and Science also have recognized my expertise in the area of science and religion in a number of news articles. See, for example, my quoted comments on scientific studies or prayer in Science, 276 (1997): p. 359; and on religion and violence in Nature 446 (March 8, 2007), p. 115.
ID is regarded by virtually all scientists and scholars of religion to be a theological argument, and I have the training to evaluate theological arguments. I have a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in biblical and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard.
I may not be an astronomer, but my article, “Heavenly Conflicts: The Bible and Astronomy,” passed the editorial review of Mercury: The Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 27 no. 2 (March/April, 1998), pages 20-24. There, I critiqued fine-tuning arguments before I even heard of Gonzalez.
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific is the SAME organization that has published, via a sister publication (Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific), some of the work of Guillermo Gonzalez.
So the irony is that it is the scholar of religion whose work passed the editorial review of a legitimate astronomical organization, and it is the astronomer who has not published a refereed article on ID in an astronomical journal.
2. Avalos’s book, Fighting Words, blames the Jewish people for the Holocaust
This is an outright canard. I see the Holocaust as the synthesis of many factors. But I place much of the responsibility on a long Christian history of anti-Judaism. I explicitly (Fighting Words, pp, 195-96) say that Hitler’s plan is an updating of Martin Luther’s famous seven-point plan for the Jews.
This outrages creationists because they have long held that evolutionary theory led to the Holocaust (e.g., Richard Weikart’s biased and grossly uninformed From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany [New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2004]). I show that every major feature of Holocaust had a long religious history that predated Darwin.
That some authors of the Hebrew Bible (1 Samuel 15, Deuteronomy 7) advocate genocide is a well-known fact recognized by nearly all Christian and Jewish scholars, and not a statement against Judaism or an effort to blame the Jews for the Holocaust.
Moreover, Jewish scholars who have reviewed Fighting Words have viewed it positively. Note these comments about Fighting Words by Prof. Martin Jaffee of the University of Washington:
“Hector Avalos (of Iowa State), joins the conversation with a lucid,
provocative, and deeply disturbing study of the role of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in fostering the conditions necessary to liberate human ingenuity in the services of unspeakable acts of carnage.”Source: Comparative Religion (A Publication of…The University of Washington (2005-2006), p. 3 (http://jsis.washington.edu/religion/46756.CompRel.NL.pdf)
Finally, perhaps the DI should also note that I have also been a member of the Jewish Studies Committee at Iowa State for many years. My doctoral research won a dissertation grant from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.
3. How can Avalos, an atheist, teach courses on the Bible and religion?
Unlike learning Bible in Sunday School classes, courses on the Bible in public universities are descriptive not prescriptive.
We study what people believe about the Bible, and not what people should believe. We report what different viewpoints (including Christian, Jewish, and secular) say ABOUT the Bible, without forcing students to believe in any viewpoint.
Such pedagogy is premised on the idea that a professor can objectively describe what other people believe about their religion. If that were not the case, then Christians could never teach about the religion of anyone else in a public university either.
My ability to be objective has been validated by the fact that I was named Professor of the Year at Iowa State in 1996, after being nominated by CHRISTIAN students. I was named Master Teacher in 2003-04. I usually receive some of the highest,
if not the highest, teaching evaluations in my department, and most of the students are Christians.
And while pro-ID advocates make much of the fact that Dr. Gonzalez supposedly promotes ID only outside the classroom, they always erroneously assert that I promote secular humanism inside the classroom.
In addition, some of my books and articles have been published by well-recognized Christian presses, including Abingdon Press, Hendrickson Press, and Eerdmans (Dictionary of the Bible).
4. Avalos is too anti-religious to teach in Iowa
The Discovery Institute will first have to convince a number of churches who have invited me to speak with the full knowledge that I am an atheist.
My lectures based on Fighting Words and on other topics have been delivered, by invitation, at the following Christian churches in Iowa:
Collegiate United Methodist Church, Ames, Iowa, February 15, 2007
West Des Moines United Methodist Church, January 7, 2007
Westminster Presbyterian Church (Des Moines), November 7, 2006
Bethesda Lutheran Church, Ames, IA, December 7, 2003
Unitarian Fellowship, Ames, IA, November 10, 2002
Open-minded Christians do want to hear an alternative viewpoint
from me, and we have had many constructive discussions.
If I am not anti-religious enough to be speaking in churches, why am I too anti-religious for public universities?
5. Avalos spearheaded an atheist plot in Iowa
Not true. Any success against ID in Iowa has come because we have assembled a coalition that cuts across religious lines, and includes Christians, Jews, Hindus, and secularists. They all recognize that being against ID is to be against pseudo-science, and not to be against religion.
Christians can recognize that, even if God exists, there are bad arguments for the existence of God (and ID is one of them).
Pro-ID forces in Iowa can usually muster only fundamentalists, who write letters in the local papers defending ID with biblical passages. Thus, these letter writers only expose the fact that ID is a religious position, and not a scientific one.
The Discovery Institute has only itself to blame for its string of defeats in academia and in court. The DI underestimated Iowans who know the difference between science and religion. And these smear tactics will not help the DI with those who know my academic record best.