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Professor Myers, Academic Freedom, and Intellectual Virtue in a Civil Society

I just submitted this to the combox on a blog entry on HigherEd.com (My comments will not appear on the blog until they are vetted by the editor):

I agree with the poster above [fossil] that Professor Myers should not be punished by his employer for what he said. Because he teaches at a state institution, Professor Myers has many protections at his disposal that insure and secure his academic freedom, which I wholeheartedly support. Having said that however, there is absolutely nothing wrong with those citizens who are drawing public attention to Professor Myers' imprudent and thoughtless comments. If, for example, I were to insult a colleague's mother by suggesting that he has had intimate relations with her, I should not be shocked if he were to punch me in the nose or not invite me to the faculty party he is hosting at his home.

Civil society requires that we treat others with respect, and that means that if we find their beliefs unreasonable, we should offer our arguments against those beliefs in a winsome and attractive way. When it comes to Catholic theology, we are talking about a complicated, rich, and sophisticated theological and philosophical tradition that has wrestled with a whole array of challenges, concepts and ideas during its two millenia. It stands to reason then that detractors such as Professor Myers have an obligation to study what they reject with the depth and diligence such a tradition demands of a truly curious and probing mind. "It's a Frackin' Cracker" is not the prose of an adult. It is the ramblings of what G. K. Chesterton said of the atheist, "who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification."

Francis J. Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University

Comments (8)

I think classifying Myers' action as mere speech is misleading, but there's also no need to resort to "hate speech" categories when he's clearly attacked the concord of community life.

He has incited others to surreptitiously disrupt religious services, which disruption is rightly considered a crime in many U.S. jurisdictions. He has encouraged his readers to lie in public with vicious intent, thereby showing his own disrespect for the truth.

Academic freedom ends where blatant dishonesty begins. Though most dishonesty is not criminal, it is beneath what is expected from college professors and should be proscribed in professional codes of conduct.

I think a public reprimand from his university is quite in order.

I tend to agree with Professor Beckwith on this. In my view, Myers is not a deep thinker, he's a polemicist. Turning him into a false martyr would only make him look good.

Firing him certainly would turn him into a martyr. I think his university colleagues and his superiors, not to mention somebody at scienceblogs.com, should try to encourage Myers to return within the bounds of decent society, especially if any of his readers follow through on his exhortations and end up being pinned to the ground by church ushers trying to prevent desecrations.

Since when did academic freedom mean never having to say you're sorry? If we want to live in a peaceful, trusting society we can't let the sowers of unnecessary discord and distrust go unchecked.

Please (if you have the stomach) go to Myers' blog, to this entry, and play off of comment #204. It's pretty smart.


Basically - how do we know that what Myers is saying about the hate mail and death threats is true? How do we know that the stupid, ignorant commenters at his blog are actually Catholics? How do we know they're not Myers' pack pretending to be Catholic?

The comment suggests that he supposes we'll have to take all that on faith.


Since Myers has endorsed public deception to steal consecrated Hosts and "advance" the cause of atheism, it's reasonable to assume he or his readers will write some hoax hate mail for that same cause.

Come to think of it, does academic freedom still apply if PZ Myers starts accepting stolen Hosts at his university office's mailing address?

I'm at a loss to understand what this case has to do with academic freedom. What Prof. Meyers is saying and what he has threatened to do are both devoid of any scholarly or academic content--what does his status as an academic matter? What the term "academic freedom" seems to mean these days has more to do with the privileges of a special caste of individuals, than the protection of any particular kind of speech. Speech by academics--no matter what the content, no matter what the context, and no matter what it is intended to achieve--seems to have been set inside a special protective bubble, purely on the basis of whether the speaker happens to work for a university. One also wonders precisely what the value is of protecting speech uttered by a particular caste of human beings, whose utterances are beyond reproach, no matter how absurd, irrelevant to their studies, or plainly offensive to reason and civility. If that's not what the people waving around the phrase "academic freedom" like a talisman mean to achieve, then why invoke academic freedom at all in this case?

I like Sage's point. Sounds to me like Mr. Myers is just trying to commit vandalism by proxy.

As long as he is attacking an absolutely safe target Mr. Myers is nothing but a coward and a phoney.
I may be repeating what others may have pointed out, but has he also declared his readiness to show disrespect to Islam by publicly desecrating the Koran? Or perhaps to travel to Poland and do his Holy Host desecration shtick there?

I am not a wealthy man, but I would be ready to pay his travel to Warsaw.

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