Ya Gotta Believe! by Phillip E. Johnson

Ya Gotta Believe!

Biology professor Michael Dini of Texas Tech University made himself a media celebrity by publishing on his web page his criteria for recommending students to medical school. Dini requires that a student seeking a recommendation be earning an A in his class and be well known by him. So far so good, but he also demands that the student affirm “truthfully and forthrightly” a scientific answer to the question, “How do you think the human species originated?” Dini’s words appear to mean that a student seeking a recommendation must not only demonstrate an understanding of evolution but also affirm a personal belief that the human species originated purely by natural causes and not by divine creation.

This last requirement became newsworthy when the US Department of Justice advised Professor Dini that it was investigating a student’s complaint that the requirement of belief in evolutionary naturalism violated his right to religious freedom. The legal case is somewhat hypothetical because the student in question withdrew from the course before earning a grade. Nonetheless, the complaint received newspaper coverage in Dallas, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and London, with editorialists all supporting the professor’s right to impose his own standards. I wonder what the reaction of the same pundits would have been if a professor were requiring prospective medical doctors to affirm a belief in the sanctity of human life.

What interests me about the Dini case is why such a dispute erupted at this time, why it escalated, and why it attracted so much attention around the nation and even abroad. Texas Tech University competes for state funding with more powerful universities, in a state where many voters are creationists. The last thing it needs is to antagonize public opinion, yet Professor Dini picked a fight over belief in Darwinism, and the president of his university supported him. Some may also wonder why a Christian public interest law firm chose this case to pursue, and why the Justice Department invited editorial criticism by getting involved.

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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

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