John Myers received his B.S. degree in journalism from Auburn University. He is a member of the staff of Christian Leadership Ministries where he is the editor for The Real Issue and is responsible for a number of other publications. He and his wife have two children and live in the Dallas area.
It has been coined "a Scopes 'Monkey' Trial in reverse," and it appears the chairman and dean of the biology department at San Francisco State University are intent on putting Dr. Dean H. Kenyon on trial.
It began when three introductory biology students met with Dr. John Hafernik, chairman of the biology department. After listening to the first of three lectures on evolution, the students had two complaints to lodge against their teacher, 22-year veteran of Biology 100, Dr. Dean Kenyon:
1. He quoted from a Gallup poll survey on the origin beliefs of American people.
2. He "erected a straw man presentation of standard evolutionary thought."
Kenyon received his Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University in 1965 and completed post-doctoral work at UC Berkeley, Oxford, and NASA.
In 1969, Kenyon coauthored a book entitled Biochemical Predestination (New York: McGraw-Hill). This book, adopted around the country as a graduate textbook, was regarded as the seminal work on the formation of living cells from the chemicals of a young earth.
"Kenyon . . . [wrote] the first major book on the origin of life in recent times," said Dr. Walter Bradley, professor of mechanical engineering at Texas A&M University and coauthor of The Mystery of Life's Origins.
"Over all the years since publication," said Kenyon, "I have not been aware of any major criticisms of [the book] - except my own."
As time passed, Kenyon began to have doubts about the viability of his own theory. Kenyon himself and researchers in laboratories around the world for years tried unsuccessfully to recreate the scenario described in his book.
In 1976, Kenyon and Dr. A. Nissenbaum, while commenting on the disparity between conditions created in laboratories and those which probably existed in the ancient geological setting, said, ". . . the geochemical plausibility of many of these 'protocell' models is open to serious question" (Kenyon and Nissenbaum, J. Mol. Evol., p. 246).
By the 1980's, Kenyon came to the conclusion that if so much guidance was needed for such little results reached in the lab, then intelligent design must have been necessary for life's beginning.
Since 1980, Kenyon has been commenting in Biology 100 on what his research has led him to understand.
"I was able to make those comments through the entire tenure of the previous chairman," asserted Kenyon.
Soon after the students complained to chairman Hafernik, he called Kenyon into his office.
"I order you not to discuss creationism in your class," he said in a statement not disputed by the administration. "You can regard that as a direct order. I have the support of the dean. I have consulted with [Dean] Jim Kelley and we agree on this."
Kenyon wrote for clarification of his chairman's order, asking was he "forbidden to mention to students that there are important disputes among scientists about whether or not chemical evolution could have taken place on the ancient earth . . . ?" or "the important philosophical issues at stake in discussions of origins . . . ?" or the "discrepancy between public opinion on origins and the textbook version . . . ?"
In his reply, Kelley insisted Kenyon "teach the dominant scientific view" and not the view of "special creation on a young earth."
Kenyon wrote back, "I do not teach that the earth is young. I do teach the dominant view. But I also discuss problems with the dominant view and that some biologists see evidence of intelligent design. Please inform me of any impropriety in this approach."
But the die was cast, and Kelley's and Hafernik's only reply was to remove him from teaching introductory biology in the spring of 1993.
"To this date, I have not received a reply to my question to Dean Kelley asking him to identify what I was doing that was improper," said Kenyon.
"It's an arbitrary exercise of administrative powers," he asserted.
Also, Hafernik and Kelley have never asked Kenyon himself what he teaches in his class.
Therefore, the actions of Hafernik and Kelley are based solely upon the hearsay evaluation by introductory biology students of Kenyon's in-class speech.
"The essential mindset creating the problem here is that in the views of people like Dean Kelley and Professor Hafernik you're either teaching science, in which case you are promoting and not questioning the naturalistic philosophy, or you're teaching the book of Genesis instead of science," explained Dr. Phillip Johnson, University of California, Berkeley, law professor and author of Darwin On Trial. Johnson has worked closely with Kenyon since he was barred from teaching the biology class.
"It's not so much their answer is wrong; they don't understand the question. They don't want to hear the facts because they want to decide the case on the basis of a stereotype in their minds."
Kenyon appealed to the Academic Freedom Committee at the university for a review of his situation. In the summer of 1993 the committee ruled that a breach of academic freedom had taken place in Kenyon's case and that he was denied due process.
The committee asserted the guidelines of the university to "permit and encourage vigorous dialogue, even controversy," and stated that "students in all academic disciplines should be exposed to effective presentations of a broad range of perspectives in their area of study."
Hafernik and Kelley rejected the committee's recommendation to reinstate Kenyon. Instead, they cited their own prerogative to determine appropriate curriculum.
Kenyon then appealed to the American Association of University Professors for its judgment.
Meanwhile, in early November, the chairman of the faculty senate tried to mediate the dispute between Kenyon and his chairman. After two meetings, the mediation broke down.
On November 10, a letter from the A.A.U.P. arrived. The report from the A.A.U.P. found that the actions taken were "violative of [Kenyon's] academic freedom" and his right to due process.
"Committee A [of the A.A.U.P.] on academic freedom and tenure is the leading institutional voice for what academic freedom means in American academia," said Mike McConnell, a University of Chicago law professor who has been lead counsel before the Supreme Court on academic freedom issues.
"Their reports are usually given considerable weight, " he added.
In their reply, Hafernik and Kelley voiced their support of academic freedom, but they maintained academic freedom was not violated in Kenyon's case.
Their reasoning: Kenyon's type of speech should be reserved for upper class students only; introductory biology students are too young and naive to comprehend and evaluate the type of statements made by Kenyon. It became known as the "proper forum" issue.
So the Hafernik/Kelley argument came full circle: Kenyon is pulled from introductory biology based on a hearsay evaluation of Kenyon's class content made by introductory biology students.
And yet the stated reason for pulling him is that introductory biology students cannot accurately comprehend and evaluate Kenyon's class speech.
When Hafernik and Kelley still did not budge on the issue, Kenyon took his appeal to Gary Hamerstrom, chairman of the academic senate at the university. The senate scheduled a vote for December 7 to decide their recommendation.
On December 6 an article was published in The Wall Street Journal detailing Kenyon's plight. It was to have an influence over the proceedings the next day.
"Unlike Scopes, the teacher was forbidden to teach his course not because he taught evolutionary theory (which he did) but because he offered a critical assessment of it," wrote Dr. Stephen Meyer, author of the article and professor of the history and philosophy of science at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington.
"The problem is that in biological origins theory, dominant players currently insist on a rigidly materialistic mode of explanation - even, when, as Mr. Kenyon maintains, explanation of the evidence requires more than the limited powers of brute matter.
"Such intellectual strictures reflect the very essence of political correctness: the suppression of critical discourse by enforced rules of thought."
The senate voted 25 to 8 in Kenyon's favor, insisting Kenyon be allowed to teach the class. A few weeks later, Hafernik and Kelley finally conceded, and Kenyon will be allowed to teach beginning the summer of 1994.
But the controversy was far from over.
In late December Hafernik wrote a resolution for departmental vote which "settled the procedure for investigating what a professor says in his courses if any [faculty member] or student raises a complaint about the content," said Kenyon.
The resolution passed 17 to 6.
Hafernik's next step was to submit another resolution to the department. This time the resolution stated that "the presentation of creationism is inappropriate in Biology 100, and the intelligent-design paradigm" is a non-scientific principle, and the biology department will not support the teaching of any non-scientific principles.
"They intended to pass a policy that they thought would keep him muzzled in his own classroom," said Meyer, who wrote the Journal article.
"What happened to his academic freedom?" asked Dr. Scott Luley, director of the Free Speech Project for Christian Leadership Ministries.
"It's all backwards; they're only administrators, and yet they are telling him, the expert, how to teach the course," Luley reasoned.
Kenyon said the two resolutions together would provide the chairman another opportunity to pull him from the class after he began teaching it again.
The resolution came up for vote before the department on January 26, 1994. Kenyon was granted time to defend his position.
"I gave a long presentation," related Kenyon. "As is their custom, many of these faculty biologists asked me many questions, trying to quell their fears of what's behind intelligent design.
"As time wore on I think people at least began to realize that there's a lot more study needed before deciding this."
After Kenyon finished his presentation and answered questions, faculty began to drift out of the meeting. Because so many left before the resolution could be voted on, Hafernik was forced to table the vote for two weeks.
"I've got plenty of material for them now," said Kenyon, "about three two-inch thick binders of documentation in the department conference room."
Kenyon encouraged his colleagues to use his documentation for study on the issue of intelligent design before the next meeting.
"It's really a throwback to an earlier era when you put questions of scientific debate up for majority votes rather than treating them as grist for the academic mill," suggested McConnell, Chicago law professor.
"[Kenyon's] treatment is indicative of the scientific equivalent of political correctness, which is naturalism," argued professor Bradley.
"Some people refuse to allow any kind of compelling evidence to ever point to an intelligent cause, no matter what, as a matter of philosophical commitment. While some will say this is a methodological necessity, I think it's more an excuse than a reason to force everyone to acquiesce to naturalism as a philosophical underpinning for science, which is certainly unnecessary, and in the case of origins is counterproductive."