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COLUMN: Legislature's anti-Dawkins measures assault free speech

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blankEvolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins delivered a lecture on the illusion of intentional purpose in nature on March 6 at McCasland Field House.

Earlier that week, Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, authored two resolutions apropos of Dawkins’ lecture.

These resolutions opposed Dawkins’ invitation to speak because of his “intolerance for cultural diversity and diversity of thinking,” and condemned the University of Oklahoma for engaging in “one-sided indoctrination” in service of the “unproven and unpopular” theory of evolution.

After this failed to prevent Dawkins from speaking, the Oklahoma Legislature launched an investigation, demanding that OU hand over copies of all e-mails and other communications relating to the event, identify all entities who had provided funding for the event and present a complete itemization of costs related to the talk, down to the printing of the one-page posters that had been taped up around campus.

What is the Legislature expecting to find? There’s been nothing to suggest financial malfeasance occurred during the coordination of the lecture.

In fact, Dawkins waived his usual speaking fee and, while at OU, spontaneously decided to donate $5,000 to Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education.

However, even if OU had paid Dawkins thousands of dollars of state funds, it would not have been improper.

The only actions here that suggest impropriety are those of the Oklahoma Legislature.

There is no reason to suspect illegal actions behind the Dawkins lecture.

The Legislature does not suspect illegal actions behind the Dawkins lecture. What the Legislature hopes to do is intimidate OU’s administrators out of hosting similar events in the future.

Thankfully, however, this pseudo-McCarthyite “investigation” seems to have failed as miserably as Thomsen’s prior resolutions.

OU President David Boren has barely acknowledged the Legislature’s histrionics, much less indicated that he intends to alter OU’s policies on the basis of them.

Those OU faculty who have spoken on the Legislature’s actions have done so with concern and annoyance.

Even Dawkins took a few minutes out of his lecture to poke fun at Thomsen’s resolutions.

But the ineffectuality of these efforts should not distract from the fact that they are dishonest, bullying attempts to scare OU students and faculty out of exercising their right to free speech.

Thomsen objected to Dawkins’ presence at OU because Dawkins’ “published statements on the theory of evolution and opinion about those who do not believe in the theory are contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma.”

What would the solution to this be, I wonder?

If OU is not to promote views that oppose those of most Oklahomans, perhaps we should set up polling booths around the state so that we know how to revise our textbooks.

Does the Oklahoman public support evolution or creation? Geosyncline theory or plate tectonics? Ptolemaic or Copernican cosmology? I can’t wait to see the results!

Or perhaps Thomsen should just take up residence at OU so that he can vet every single thing that goes into our curriculum.

Thomsen’s assessment of evolution as “unproven and unpopular” is borderline insane.

Evolution by natural selection is accepted by all but an infinitesimal fringe of biologists, and is as well-substantiated as, say, Copernican cosmology.

I’d rather not burn up the rest of this column reiterating the proof of the theory of evolution’s veracity and widespread acceptance, but interested readers might check out my previous column, “Fundamentalist doctrine does not belong in schools,” or, more to the point, a biology textbook.

Thomsen also objected to Dawkins being allowed to speak because “his presence at OU was not about science,” but “to promote an atheistic agenda.”

Dawkins’ lecture was on the subject of biology, not theology. Posters advertising the talk didn’t even announce Dawkins as the author of “The God Delusion.”

The only people to broach the subject of Dawkins’ atheism were audience members during the Q&A session and Todd Thomsen himself.

Again, one wonders what Thomsen would propose as a solution. Should atheists be forbidden to speak at OU, even on topics unrelated to their atheism?

If Thomsen disagrees with some of Dawkins’ assertions, he should argue against them in a way that helps enrich public discourse. After all, as a state representative, he has the ability to communicate his arguments to millions of Oklahomans.

I wish my own soapbox were so high!

Instead, Thomsen has tried to bully those who disagree with him into silence. In doing so, he displays the frailty of his own convictions.

Again and again, fundamentalist state representatives like Thomsen, Rebecca Hamilton (who helped spearhead the “investigation” of the Dawkins lecture) and Anita Bryant clone Sally Kern have shown that, in Oklahoma, politicians can engage in displays of mind-bending ignorance and suffer no ill effects so long as they pay lip service to Christianity.

It was right and appropriate for OU to invite world-renowned biologist and science writer Richard Dawkins to speak.

It was wrong and stupid of Thomsen et al to try to interfere. Boren is better qualified to run OU than Thomsen.

-Zac Smith is an English junior.



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