Letter to the editor: hold religion to standards of fact

I know the Dakota Student is a student newspaper, and I thought someone at the University of North Dakota would respond to the wrong-headed essay “Creationism vs. evolution, an on campus debate” by Jacob Notermann (Dakota Student, Sep. 13, 2016), but I’m not seeing it. So while I having nothing to do with UND, here are some of the errors in that essay that should be pointed out…

First of all, if any educational institution has any fundamental responsibilities, surely teaching about, encouraging, and engaging in critical thinking and debate is one of them. I’m sure Noterman would agree on this point – yet in his essay he argues against it, promoting the obviously false notion that things like “sincerity” or “religious belief” somehow grants a person special privilege and immunity from critical scrutiny.

Notermann even articulated the following bizarre statement: “My point is that those who attacked Tom had no right to. They disrespected not only freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but they also disrespected someone who is praying for them.”

It always amazes me how some people invoke freedom of speech in the very act of criticizing people for actually using freedom of speech. Apparently Notermann is so confused about what freedom of speech entails that he thinks that people engaging in critical examination and employing open critique don’t have any right to do so. Which directly contradicts the very principle of free speech.

There’s also this by Notermann: “If a student argues with him regarding his beliefs, they are only fueling Tom’s fire and proving his point.” Which is obviously nonsensical. If some anti-vaxer came to campus to promote false ideas about the science and the medicine promoted among anti-vaxers, and then some biology and medical students spoke up (invoking their freedom of speech) to challenge false statements the anti-vaccination proponent by pointing out the errors in his statements, how would this be proving the anti-vaxers point? Such a statement is simply nonsensical. (Not to mention the sheer irresponsibility of giving pseudoscience promoters free reign to confuse and mislead people.)

Second, Notermann promotes the idea that the proponents of ideas which are known to be, not just scientifically wrong, but perversely wrong besides, should be given free reign to promote their false beliefs without criticism. He writes, “People should not argue with preachers.” Hello, if a preacher is visiting your campus and speaking publicly and promoting ideas which you know are bogus, then you should indeed confront them with the factual errors of their claims and explain how the actual facts demonstrate those errors. That is not only one of the fundamental values of free speech, but also the purpose of critical thinking, critique, and debate. Just because a proponent of such beliefs is a “preacher,” thus employing the cloak of “religion,” this doesn’t somehow grant him a free pass.

Oh, but wait, that’s right – Notermann is a religious believer himself, as he pointed out at the beginning of his essay, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at his advocacy of the notion that bogus religious beliefs should not be subjected to critical scrutiny.