University of Idaho microbiologist Scott Minnich publicly expressed his belief that biological systems display evidence of intelligent design. He expressed his views in science documentaries, in the courtroom, and in his scientific research. Minnich also co-authored the textbook Explore Evolution, which examines the scientific evidence for and against modern Darwinian theory. As a result of his scientific views, Minnich faced censorship and efforts to remove him from his job.
In his lab at the University of Idaho, Minnich investigated the bacterial flagellum. Through genetic knockout experiments, he confirmed what biochemist Michael Behe had theorized in his book Darwin’s Black Box: the flagellum is irreducibly complex. In 2004, Minnich co-authored a scientific paper suggesting that the flagellum was intelligently designed, which was published in the WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment.1 In 2005, Minnich agreed to testify in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, discussing the scientific basis of the theory of intelligent design and explaining his own research.
Minnich’s role as an expert witness in this high-profile case sparked a firestorm of controversy on his campus.
“As soon as it was publicized that I was going to testify, there were people in my university—I don’t know who they were—but they went to the president, [and] complained,” he said. “They went to the University of Washington, where I had affiliate status… trying to get me fired—saying I was incompetent if I believed in this stuff.”
University of Idaho President Timothy White ultimately issued what was effectively a gag order targeting Minnich. Minnich had never taught intelligent design in class, but White stated that “evolution… is the only curriculum that is appropriate to be taught in our bio-physical sciences,” and he declared that the “teaching of views that differ from evolution… is inappropriate in our life, earth, and physical science courses or curricula.”
White’s policy appeared to violate the University’s own guarantees in its Faculty Handbook, which stated that “academic freedom is essential for the protection of the rights of faculty members in teaching and of students in learning” and that “teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects” so long as they don’t introduce irrelevant material.
Gonzaga University law school professor David DeWolf criticized White’s gag order as a violation of academic freedom. “The University of Idaho’s statement does not simply ban discussions of evolution that are unrelated to the subjects of courses being taught,” he explained at the time. “Nor does it merely forbid religious-based views of evolution from being taught in science classes. The statement offers a blanket prohibition on any ‘views that differ from evolution,’ no matter how scientific, and no matter how related to the courses under study.”
“Nobody asked me ever what I believed; I’d never taught this in the classroom. But I ended up getting censored,” said Minnich. He says that others in the biology department would teach against intelligent design, and his students would come up to him and say ‘They’re talking about you in class. Why aren’t you in discussions?” But he wasn’t allowed to discuss his own views.
1 “Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic bacteria,” WIT Transactions on Ecology and the Environment 73 (2004), doi:10.2495/DN040301.