Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tonight's Pascal Lecture and Protest

Tonight Charles Rice from Notre Dame will be on campus at the University of Waterloo to present the annual Pascal lecture. I wrote about Professor Rice and this invitation before, but here are some more thoughts in advance of tonight's talk.

1. There will be a silent protest before and during the talk, from 6 to 9 PM, in the Theatre of the Arts, Modern Languages Building, on the UW campus. One organizer is Shannon Dea, a philosophy professor at UW. The organizers ask that you (a) refrain from interrupting the lecture in any way (b) wear rainbow-themed clothing (c) bring posters (but not on sticks) (d) cooperate with UW security. This is a good, peaceful way to let Charles Rice and the Pascal lecture committee know your disapproval of Rice's views. (Sample Rice quote: "It would make no more sense to force a day-care center to hire an acknowledged or practicing homosexual than it would to make a bank hire an acknowledged or practicing thief." - 50 Questions on the Natural Law: What It Is and Why We Need It, Ignatius Press, 1999.)

2. I've been reading some of Professor Rice's writings on "natural law"; they are so boring and unoriginal I could probably give his lecture for him. Here is some of what we are going to hear:

  • An objective natural law exists and is binding on all of us.
  • Natural law effectively coincides with Catholic dogma on subjects like homosexuality, birth control, etc.
  • Gay people are "objectively disordered"
  • The best way to understand the world is by following medieval thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, ignoring 8 centuries of progress in science
  • Animals have no rights
  • Evolutionary biologists are wrong; people could not have descended from ape-like creatures because we have souls.

3. The local media coverage of the lecture and its protesters has been -- no surprise -- absymal. The Waterloo Region Record, our local paper, has spectacularly failed in its obligation to explain what the controversy is about. The coverage has been so bad that today's paper carries a letter to the editor in protest, written by student Stephanie Chandler.
I single out one reporter, Terry Pender, for his particularly egregious reporting. Here is an archive of some of the local coverage:

4. The University of Waterloo has a well-deserved reputation for censorship in the past. Ironically, it's usually been the University administration that was responsible. From newsgroup censorship to removing newspapers from the University library with coverage of the Karla Homolka case to Ethics Committee harassment of Professor Ken Westhues for remarks he made in a course, to removing copies of the Imprint, the student newspaper, because of articles about sexual topics, the University administration has rarely stood up for the principles of free speech and academic freedom.

Students have, on occasion, unfortunately aped the administration. The most recent infringement was the shameful treatment of speaker Christine Blatchford, whose first talk had to be cancelled because three student protesters failed to move from the stage. Thankfully, this one time the UW administration did the right thing, and apologized and rescheduled the talk.

However, the impulse to censor lives on, as shown in this article that quotes a student, Ashling Ligate, as saying “He [University president Hamdallahpur] could cancel this. He could have sent a much stronger statement.”

More later...


KeithB said...

You should ask whether "natural law" allows slavery, and when it actually prohibited it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the synopsis Jeff. Very much looking forward to reading more about how it goes tonite.

Protester said...

"(L)et ... Rice ... know your disapproval of Rice's views. (Sample Rice quote: "It would make no more sense to force a day-care center to hire an acknowledged or practicing homosexual than it would to make a bank hire an acknowledged or practicing thief.")
-- And afterwards, let's protest outside the concert of Randy Newman, who sang "Short People Have No Reason To Live."

Jeffrey Shallit said...


If your point was that Rice was being ironic, I think you're entirely wrong, based on the context of the quote. But feel free to suggest why you are right.

Steph said...

Thanks for the support regarding my letter to the Record. Glad people read, and appreciated the critique I provided!

Anonymous said...

Jeff are you going to attend & review the counterpoint talk tonight which is being presented as a 'lessons learned' option from the Rice talk?

The event is called An Evening of Christian Tolerance and Inclusivity. It is scheduled for Thursday, March 22, at 6 p.m., in Siegfried Hall at St. Jerome’s.


Jeffrey Shallit said...

No, it doesn't really interest me.

I see Christianity more as the problem, rather than the solution, in this case.