There’s a lot of discussion of censorship swirling around the ID/evolution/online world right now, which I find very odd. Apparently the magazine Nautilus has closed a comment thread (without apparently deleting any comments) on the basis that “This is a science magazine, and our comments section isn’t the place to debate whether evolution is true”.
Accusations of “censorship” by “evolutionists” have been flying around for a while now, at least since the Expelled movie and it resurfaced regarding the withdrawal of the Biological Information: New Perspectives book from the Springer catalogue. And now, recently, Jerry Coyne has been named “Censor of the Year” by the Discovery Institute.
My own instincts tend against censorship, and although I do not think that all censorship is bad, I would certainly rather err on the side of too little than too much. Here, as I hope everyone knows, only a very narrow class of material is ever deleted, and only a very narrow class of offenses bring down a ban.
But what is censorship, and who, if anyone, is censoring whom in the ID/evolution debate?
Merriam Webster defines the verb to censor as
to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable <censor the news>; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable <censor out indecent passages
So by this definition, any editing process that involves filtering out “objectionable” contributions or content amounts to “censorship”. But that merely passes the definitional buck on to the world “objectionable”.
For censor as a noun, it gives as its first definition:
1: a person who supervises conduct and morals: as
- a : an official who examines materials (as publications or films) for objectionable matter
- b : an official (as in time of war) who reads communications (as letters) and deletes material considered sensitive or harmful
So now we have the additional concept of material “considered sensitive or harmful”. And if we check the definition of censorship, Merriam Webster gives as its first:
we find that being “exercised repressively” is also key to English usage. So let me define, for the purpose of this post, to censor as:
- [to examine in order] to suppress or delete anything the censor considers objectionable, sensitive, harmful, especially when exercised repressively.
So to what extent, if any, are ID challenges to evolution actually subject to repressive censorship by pro-evolutionary institutions? And to what extent, if any, are evolutionary challenges to subject to repressive censorship by ID institutions?
And while I realise this is a sensitive subject, let’s try to discuss it with as little rancour as possible!