Local paper reports on Ball State creationism class; Ball State weasels, citizens support teaching creationism

Yesterday’s Star Press, the local paper of Muncie Indiana, where Ball State University (BSU) resides, reports on the case of Eric Hedin, the professor who is teaching Christianity and creationism in his science class (see here,here,and here for my previous posts on this issue).  A few days ago reporter Seth Slabaugh interviewed me for the paper, and I told him why I thought Hedin’s course should either be eliminated or somehow changed to a philosophy course—without the Christian proselytizing.

Slabaugh’s piece, “BSU prof accused of preaching Christianity,” is fair, but shows that the University, rather than being genuinely concerned about religion masquerading as science, is simply going through the motions of having an “investigation.” Or so I interpret.

Neither Hedin nor his chairman were willing to be interviewed, but Slabaugh talked to the provost. What he got is this:

Hedin and department chair Tom Robertson declined to comment to The Star Press.

But Provost Terry King, a chemical engineer and the university’s chief academic officer, said, “Faculty own the curriculum. In large part, it’s a faculty matter. But we have to ensure that our teaching is appropriate. All I have so far is a complaint from an outside person. We have not had any internal complaints. But we do take this very seriously and will look into it.”

He added that the class is an elective course and not part of the core curriculum.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), which made the official complaint to BSU, is not an outside person. Further, the original complaint that I investigated emanated from an anonymous student, who, sadly, reneged on his/her promise to become part of the FFRF’s complaint.  (I can understand this in view of what happened to Jessica Alquist.) This student was constrained to take Hedin’s course because there were few options for a required science class in the Honors Program. And there are the three notes on Rate Your Professor site taking issue with Hedin’s Christian proselytizing.  What more do you need?

Well, how about the syllabus for Hedin’s science class? I’ll simply repost the reading list for Hedin’s course, which appears to go under two names with slightly different lists. This is the reading list for the Honors course that fulfills BSU’s science requirement for students in the Honors program,  “HONORS 296, Sec. 001, Symposium in the Physical Sciences: “The Boundaries of Science”

PARTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

Behe, Michael, “Darwin’s Black Box” (1998).

Brush, Nigel, “The Limitations of Scientific Truth.  Why Science Can’t Answer Life’s Ultimate Questions,” (2005).

Collins, Francis, “The Language of God, A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” (2007).

Consolmagno, Guy, “God’s Mechanics,” (2008).

Davies, Paul, “The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life?” (2006).

Davies, Paul, “The Mind of God.  The Scientific Basis for a Rational World”, 1992.

Davies, Paul, “The 5th Miracle” (1999).

Dembski, William A. “Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information”

Dubay, Thomas, “The Evidential Power of Beauty.  Science and Theology Meet”, 1999.

Flew, Antony, “There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind,” (2008).

Gange, Robert  “Origins and Destiny” (1985). Online: http://www.ccel.us/gange.toc.html

Giberson, Karl W. and Collins, Francis S. “The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions,” (2011).

Gingerich, Owen, “God’s Universe” (2006).

Gonzalez, Guillermo  “The Privileged Planet”  (2004).

Lennox, John, “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?” (2007).

Lennox, John, “God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway?” (2011).

Lewis, C. S., “Miracles,” (1947).

Malone, John, “Unsolved Mysteries of Science,” (2001).

Meyer, Stephen C., “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories”, Proc. of the Biological Society of Washington, 117, 213 (2004).

Meyer, Stephen C., “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design” (2010)

Penfield, Wilder, “The Mystery of the Mind” (1975).

Penrose, Roger, “The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe”, (2005).

Polkinghorne, John  and Beale, Nicholas, “Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions About God, Science, and Belief,” (2009).

Quastler, Henry “The Emergence of Biological Organization” (1964).

Ross, Hugh  “The Creator and the Cosmos”  (2001).

Ross, Hugh  “Why the Universe is the Way it is” (2008).

http://www.reasons.org (Extensive materials on reasons for faith and science).

Ross and Rana, “Origins of Life” (2004).

Schroeder, Gerald L., “The Hidden Face of God.  Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth”, 2001.

Seeds, Michael A., “Astronomy:  The Solar System and Beyond”, 3rd Ed. (2003).

Spetner, Lee, “Not by Chance” (1996).

Strobel, Lee, “The Case for a Creator.  A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence that Points Toward God”, 2004.

Von Baeyer, Hans Christian, “Information: The New Language of Science,” (2003).

How much real science do you see in there? I see a lot of apologetics (really? C. S. Lewis in a required science course?), a lot of intelligent design (Dembski, Behe, Meyer), some old-earth creationism (Hugh Ross, for crying out loud!), and not one reading that questions whether science gives evidence for God. It’s not that those readings don’t exist, for I could easily suggest pieces by Steve Weinberg, Sean Carroll, or Victor Stenger, all physicists who take the non-goddy side. No, this is a reading list confected by a man who wants his students to believe in Jesus. And remember, this is the one class students in that program can take to learn about science. What a joke! And the Provost defends it as a faculty matter (Hedin’s chairman already emailed me that he saw no problems with this course, and that it had been approved by the higher-ups.)

Here’s the syllabus for Hedin’s alternative course, Astronomy 151 (in the Department of Physics and Astronomy): “The Boundaries of Science”.  The joke continues (click to enlarge)

Picture 3

I am quoted, since I was interviewed:

“All the books are by creationists, IDers (intelligent designers), or people who try to show that science gives evidence for God,” evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago, told The Star Press, referring to the bibliography for Hedin’s course. “There are no straight science books.”It appears Hedin “presents a non-view of science in a science class,” said Coyne, author of the book “Why Evolution is True.” “The students are being duped. It’s straight theology with no alternatives. It’s a straight Christian intelligent design/creationist view of the world, which is wrong. It’s not science. It’s not that it’s not science, it’s science that has been discredited. It’s like saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.”

But Hedin’s colleagues rush to his defense.  As the paper reports:

Ronald Kaitchuck, a professor in BSU’s department of physics and astronomy, finds it hard to believe that Hedin teaches strict creationism.

He suspects Hedin is “asking people to think a little broader, outside the box, which causes controversy. It’s funny.”

Yeah, right.  If he’s asking them to think more broadly, how about making them read something that really challenges their views, like essays by Stenger, Weinberg, or Sean Carroll? Earth to Kaitchuck: these students are undoubtedly largely Christian to begin with. It’s not “thinking outside the box” to make them read about how Christianity comports with science.

Ruth Howes, a retired professor from the department who now lives in Santa Fe, said, “The people I know in the department are very straightforward thinkers. I don’t think they mean to preach to anybody, except possibly F = ma (one of Newton’s laws of motion).”

Hedin replaced Howes when she retired.

Your head is in the sand, Dr. Howes.  Of course Hedin preaches to his students—they say so!

“It is the university’s job to help students understand viewpoints that differ from their own,” Howes said. “Students are not expected to totally agree with these viewpoints, but they are expected to understand them. I think that is probably what professor Hedin is trying to do, and I would expect the university to back this effort thoroughly. For example, if I were teaching a class on Islam, I would not expect students to convert to Islam, but I would expect them to understand the basic tenants that Muslims believe.”

This is again a blinkered view, and garbled as well.  If the university wants to help students understand viewpoints that differ from their own, how about presenting them with straight naturalistic evolution, which only 16% of Americans accept? And what about the view that the universe gives evidence against a god, a view espoused by the physicists I’ve named above.  Finally, I expect that Dr. Howe might object a wee bit if someone teaching a class on Islam urged the students to accept the tenets of Islam, don burquas, or engage in jihad—the equivalent of what Hedin is doing.  All three of these statements bespeak a profound misunderstanding of what it means to “challenge students’ views”, and neglect the fact that this is being done in a science class. What science, exactly, do students learn in that class?

There are 9 readers’ comments at the end, and although there are some benighted people like these, there is also some pushback.

Picture 2Picture 4

Ball State University’s defense of Hedin so far, and the presence of Hedin’s course in the syllabus, is an embarrassment.  There is simply no excuse for teaching C. S. Lewis, intelligent design, and old-earth creationism in a science class.  Again, “academic freedom” is no the license to teach what you bloody well want in a state university course.  If you defend this course by Hedin, then you’re defending the ability of a university to allow students to satisfy their science requirement with a course on astrology or alchemy.

Give up the course, BSU, or you’re going to look ridiculous.

63 Comments

  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink
  2. Matt G
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    A veritable Who’s Who of the Intelligent Design Creationism movement, with some Theistic Evolutionism thrown in for “balance”.

  3. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Harold Thompson: “… in hope of showing both sides of an issue.”
    .
    Thompson apparently missed the part of the complaint about how Hedin is NOT showing both “sides.”

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    If Hedin wanted to teach the ID perspective as another viewpoint, it would make sense that he would spend time teaching the real science first then spend very little time teaching the ID perspective which doesn’t look to be the case if you look at the reading list.

    It’s disturbing that Hedin’s colleagues see his course as opening the minds of his students and teaching them controversies but it is interesting to note the supporters’ language: “the people I know in the dept” (not directly talking about Hedin), “suspect Hedin is asking…” to me this sounds like people who haven’t looked into the matter in very much detail and are instead just supporting a colleague.

    BSU is only fostering more ignorance as evidenced in the comments for the article that of course DO further support that real science is the “alternate viewpoint”.

  5. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    The StarPress article would have been better if they had found a Ball State biology professor to interview. Also, if Hedin takes Guillermo Gonzalez seriously, I question his competence in his own field.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Good point! I too noticed the GG reference, which seems universally panned.

  6. Posted May 21, 2013 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    “going to look ridiculous?” That horse left the barn long ago.

    • Sarah
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Just what I was going to say!

  7. Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Hedin left out the bible in his reading list. How forgetful of him.

  8. Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    BSU is in process of becoming the laughing stock of higher public education. Minimally, they need to change the name and description of the course if they want to continue with it as it is. But in reality, the course is just a case of special pleading if it does not devote equal time to real science.

    What could the BSU administrators be thinking of? Are their personal religious convictions influencing their support of this course? One stupid course will tarnish the good name of the whole university. Wake up students and faculty of BSU. Fundamentalist religion has raised its head where it should not be, in the science classroom.

    • neil
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      BSU should just be honest. Label the course Woo 151 and be done with it.

  9. Notagod
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    It surprises me that any non-christian scientist would defend Ball State University under the guise of academic freedom, as if, any single university should have freedom to decide what can be classified as science. Students pay a lot of money for these courses and shouldn’t be expected to have a prior expertise of the subjects being taught. If a student pays for science they damned well better be getting science. A students financial obligations shouldn’t be a toy for Professors to bat around to satisfy their selfish desires.

    Thanks for your efforts in standing for science Dr. Coyne. It’s sad that others aren’t on the ball.

    • Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Well, P.Z. Myers and Larry Moran, both atheist scientists, have defended this on the grounds of “academic freedom.” That saddens me immensely.

      • Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        For PZ, especially, to not get it, is disappointing to the point of mind-blowing.

        For some, even many, of those books to be part of a class on the politics / current affairs / sociology / whatever of science and the public would be quite reasonable. As would no more than a single lecture, preferably less, devoted to such a topic in a general introductory science class.

        But for that to be the content of a class on the boundaries of science?

        Seriously?

        Nothing on the LHC and the search for the Higgs? Nothing on NASA’s mind-blowing array of space telescopes probing the Big Bang? Nothing on Craig Venter’s work with genetic engineering?

        Those are the real boundaries of science, and that’s all that any science class in an accredited institution should be discussing in a “boundaries of science” class.

        What Hedin is teaching, charitably, is a class on the attempts of pseudoscientists to paper over their scams. More obviously, he himself is exactly such a fraud selling the woo he’s claiming he’s investigating.

        And PZ and Larry think that’s just fine!

        Damn. I never would have thought either of them would miss something like this so spectacularly.

        b&

        • Posted April 13, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

          I really doubt that PZ Meyers thinks “this is just fine” or “doesn’t get it.” I’d guess he’s just upholding academic freedom as a principle that’s more important than shutting down this looney course. As a prof who does not have the protection of tenure, I can sympathize. It’s rather like free speech; it’s a bitter pill to swallow when it’s the KKK, but without it all sorts of important radical ideas can’t be heard.

      • Matt G
        Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        Agree. It’s a matter of intellectual honesty and the integrity we expect from those in higher education. The course has been misrepresented, and the reading list is replete with the “work” of well known bullshit artists.

      • Bob J.
        Posted May 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        PZ’s is a strange argument, but what do you do with William Shockley at Stanford and so many other great minds that go wandering? Is he on the edge of a new isight or has he gone off the deep end?

      • Filippo
        Posted May 21, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        If P.Z. thinks Hedin’s class is OK, would he object to a neophyte P.Z. undergraduate interrupting Hedin every few minutes disputing this or that statement?

    • eric
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      as if, any single university should have freedom to decide what can be classified as science

      That’s going a bit melodramatic. Universities do have the right (and responsibitility!) to design their majors and disclipline tracks, and that will always come with some “deciding what gets classified as x” type of work. You can’t create a (example only) philosophy department without some amount of of ‘deciding what is classified as philosophy.’ And the same is true for biology, chemistry, etc.

      The problem here is the course content, not that BSU had the temerity to create a course entitled “The Boundaries of Science.”

      Having said that, I completely agree with you that a student buying science should be sold science. To paraphrase a little Jefferson, academic freedom, like 1st amendment freedom, ends where it picks someone’s pocket or breaks someone’s leg. This guy is picking student pockets. If he wants to not pick their pockets, he should call the class “ID creationism from the supporter’s perspective.” Of course if he did that, fewer departments would sponsor it, fewer students would take it, and university leadership would not likely view it as an appropriate “science for honors non-science majors” course. Which, I hazard a guess, is why he does it this way: deceptive sales tactics are needed to get anyone to pay attention to IDC.

  10. Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    **

  11. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    I notice that in the comments to the StarPress article, Andy Robbins uses an out-of-context Einstein quote: “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.” I have dealt with this one frequently, so I’ll just link to some previous commentary on it.

  12. eric
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    What a horrible reading list, and entirely inappropriate for an honors class on the boundaries of science.

    I might buy it if there had been one text discussing IDC amongst a bunch of books discussing more legitimate ‘boundaries of science.’ Maybe a book like Pennock’s “Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics,” which includes essays from many creationist authors as well as responses to them.

    But how about tackling some of the many other boundary issues of science? There are lots of interesting questions. You’ve got instrumental boundaries (like those that confront string theory). You’ve got ethical boundaries in human subject research. You’ve got philosophical boundaries such as Hume’s famous the problem of induction (seriouly Hedin; you’re going to teach a class on boundaries of science and not cover Hume?). There are very interesting questions regarding the resource cost of more certainty – i.e., how much certainty in results are we, as a society, willing to pay for? You could discuss the intersection of science and public policy – how science can tell you expected cost/benefits of various policies but ultimately its up to humans to decide whether a benefit is worth the cost. As a last example, there’s all the currently unanswered scientific questions that could be considered at the ‘boundaries’ of current scientific knowledge. What is dark matter? Dark energy? How do QM and gravity fit together? How does consciousness work? And so on.

    There is so much good stuff that could be in an honors class like this.

    This course is analogous to some professor teaching a class titled “important literature of the 20th century,” and deciding the reading list will consist of 20 different editions of ‘The Wizard Of Oz.’ Okay, the book might fit. But the myopic focus of the reading list makes it pretty clear that the professor is not interested in teaching – and the students won’t actually gain – an understanding of important literature of the 20th century.

    He suspects Hedin is “asking people to think a little broader, outside the box, which causes controversy. It’s funny.”

    Its not broad at all. Its myopically narrow, in fact. Hedin is insisting his students focus on a single pet issue that most scientists don’t consider to be important at all, instead of looking across all the interesting boundary issues that science actually has.

    “It is the university’s job to help students understand viewpoints that differ from their own,” Howes said.

    Its this class’ job to help students understand the boundaries of science. It doesn’t do that.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      But how about tackling some of the many other boundary issues of science? There are lots of interesting questions. …

      You’ve got philosophical boundaries such as Hume’s famous the problem of induction (seriouly Hedin; you’re going to teach a class on boundaries of science and not cover Hume?).

      I think we should be equally skeptic on all accounts. This is a question of philosophy rather than of science. It is easy to see that it is empty of empirical content (how do you define and test it). And that science solved its measurement problems by statistical methods.

      I might buy it if this is put up with creationism as historical example of what silly people without science experience thought about science in the 18th century. But it is more invidious as induction was, as far as I know, promoted by theologians who wanted to disempower science with respect to religion. In which case it isn’t appropriate to show it wrong by suggesting it has philosophical problems, but to discuss measurement techniques and how they succeed in doing what they do and how there is no known viable alternative.

      That would be the true boundary issue of science by the way, and as such IMO much more interesting as a real question than science’s social imprints on yesteryear. It leads to all sorts of questions on observation in classical mechanics, special relativity, and especially quantum mechanics with its weak and strong measurements.

      • Posted May 21, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

        “to discuss measurement techniques and how they succeed in doing what they do and how there is no known viable alternative”

        Can you suggest a good popular account?

        /@

  13. Marcoli
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    This is disappointing. There is no sign of the faculty or the administration seeing the obvious conflict with the establishment clause. So the matter will continue to head toward litigation.

  14. Matt Bowman
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    It is a shame that the student from Hedin’s class backed out. Jessica Alquist was attacked but she was courageous and fought back. Maybe this student doesn’t have enough family or friend support to endure the backlash that s/he may fear.

    You have to wonder if Hedin’s colleagues agree with what he is teaching in the classroom when they defend him by arguing that he is challenging the student’s views. I also imagine that many of the students support the class and Hedin because his class is an easy A.

  15. Paul Bruggink
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised to see Francis Collins’s books on the first list, since he comes out so strongly against ID, both scientifically and theologically.

    Professor Hedin really ought to include “Why Evolution Is True” on his list, since at least in the book you are not anti-religious.

    • Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Maybe Francis Collin’s book is on the list as evidence that he ‘teaches both sides’?

  16. DrBrydon
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I wasn’t completely on board about this at first. Obviously there is a concern about academic freedom. No one is required to present both, or all sides, on any issue in a course. However, it is clear that this isn’t a science course, it’s a course in Christian apologetics (I notice there are no non-Christian critiques of science in the syllabus). It belongs in religious studies.

    The astronomy course seems even worse, since some of the books appear to deal with biology. Maybe that has something to do with the foundational turtles…?

    Perhaps this is an issue for Ball State’s accreditation authority?

  17. Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Shannon M. Rogers: “So therefore creationism can’t be proven wrong!!!!”

    Does Shannon realize that that is a way of saying that “creationism isn’t science!!!!”?

    (Got to love the intricate and sophisticated reasoning behind reaching that conclusion, btw: “Prove creationism wrong to me .. you can’t: THEREFORE it can’t be proven wrong”.
    Also, someone needs to explain to Shannon that if you can’t prove “something” wrong, then that doesn’t automatically imply that that “something” is right. See ‘teapot in orbit’)

    The mind boggles at such display of ignorance at so many levels.

  18. David Thompson
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    I think there is a really interesting comment here, in that only 16% of U.S. population takes a strong naturalistic view of the world. When you intersect that with the regular reports of science education in the country, it seems clear that the “Box” people should be thinking outside of is not science, but “not-science”.

  19. Boris Molotov
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    He suspects Hedin is “asking people to think a little broader, outside the box, which causes controversy. It’s funny.

    So it was like this?

    Hedin: “… so that’s the theory of evolution. Now let’s think “broader” and “outside of the box” : God created two people 6000 years ago from which we all came”

    Hedin & Students:

    Yeah, it is funny.

    • Boris Molotov
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      *Hedin & Students: roar of laughter

  20. Ken
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    So many thoughts arise from this situation. I want to say that the class could be an opportunity for someone to debunk Hedin during each session of the class, to take on his inanities as he attempts to validate them to the class, but that doesn’t work for two different reasons: a) the student isn’t there to convince this fearful idiot of the fallacy of his views, the student is supposedly there to expand her/his knowledge of science. Granted this isn’t happening, but it’s supposed to be the purpose of the class. b) this fearful idiot, Hedin, who supposedly is a scientist at some level, instead has given into his fears and has latched fiercely onto the religious arguments of the gaps, and he likely will never see the error of his ways. He is not the only one this happens to, unfortunately. I personally know of someone who had a proper viewpoint of the universe, even became a medical doctor, but then she had children and fear took over. Instead of giving those children a brilliant childhood, perhaps one similar to that of Sam Harris, she has tied them to the falsehoods of catholicism and they, too, now live in fear (although I suspect, perhaps, one of them may see things more clearly and is biding his time until he can escape, so to speak). At any rate, there is no swaying her back to openness and obviousness. In her mind she is the one that sees the obvious, I am the one who needs to see the light, that is why I get bibles illustrated as a comic book (what a clever disguise . . . not) and DVDs on wonderful epics in catholic history as gifts.

    Hedin, in this case, is certainly heinous for what he’s done, but the more heinous affront is that of those in charge at the university who won’t take steps to make the proper adjustments, whatever that should be.

    There are SO many people who are entrenched in their religious viewpoints it seems sometimes as though we’ll never eradicate those erroneous perspectives. The response above by Shannon M. Rogers to the newspaper article would seem to bear this out. Her passionate yet ridiculous rebuttal makes it almost impossible to fathom how she can make those statements. It’s like insisting the colors of the U.S. flag are green, yellow, and orange while pointing directly at a red, white, and blue version. How do we eliminate such deeply entrenched and passionately held misunderstandings? It’s simply going to take time, I suspect. It’ll seem like a long time until after it has happened. I’ll be long gone by then, my children likely will be long gone by then, but someday, inevitably, the majority of humans will have an intrinsic understanding of science and the universe and all activities that drive the culture of the times will springboard from that understanding, taking us in a more natural direction. It has already begun. But just barely.

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Sadly, “that it has already begun” is no guarantee that it will continue. The sheer stupidity/ignorance of the many of the commenters on the newspaper article site (like “if we evolved from apes why are there still apes”) would seem to argue against it. But, one can always hope.:-)

      • Ken
        Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        True, Cliff. All I have to go on is faith. How ironic. Actually, it’s not really faith, but a vision of how it could come to pass. I base this on 2 things. First, my own children, their friends, and the parents of those friends. It seems to me, and I have no way of corroborating this, that there are many fewer believers in such a group than at a similar point in my life. This leads me to think that this could continue to grow until many decades hence when unbelief will be prevalent. Second, the much more public discourse on atheism and science in the past decade or so leads me to think this will continue, it will grow, and it will lend itself significantly to my first viewpoint.

        I can only hope, of course, and feel somewhat confident because the possibilities are there. But, as you say, there is no guarantee.

  21. Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    “creationism can’t be proven wrong”

    You know what else can’t be proven wrong?

    1) That we live in The Matrix
    2) That the world was created last Thursday with all of our memories of everything beyond last Thursday being a fabrication
    3) That you’re actually just a brain in a vat
    4) Solipsism
    5) Philosophical Zombies

    As far as I know, all of the above are ridiculous beliefs that (almost) no one takes seriously outside of academic thought experiments. Meaning that everything in the class of “can’t be proven wrong” is also in the class of “no one seriously believes it”. We all know that Creationism is ridiculous, but this is Creationists demonstrating how completely devoid of logical thought they are.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      You are correct of course, but as all lists it is arguable if we are nitpicky.

      I’m fairly convinced that we can prove 1) wrong, else Bell test experiments would say that hidden variables are allowed. Eg, if we ask experiments for enough precision delivered in short enough times, a simulation would crack.

      But as I don’t know how to make such an experiment, it is hand-waving at the moment.

      If we compete 4) against physicalism it looses big time on parsimony, which Deutsch discovered. A solipsist mind must have all the order of physicalism and its own mind as the appended substrate to boot. Physicalism on the other hand provides the substrate for this individual’s mind, so is much simpler.

      So “can’t be proven wrong” would be “can’t be proven wrong if it wouldn’t be rejected already”. (If parsimony is used as part of the sets of constraints to reject against.)

      • Posted May 21, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        Eg, if we ask experiments for enough precision delivered in short enough times, a simulation would crack.

        Again, only if the simulation is both honest an functioning at a human scale. If it’s either actively deceptive (such that, for example, instrument readouts or even people’s memories get fiddled with as needed) or if it’s sufficiently over-sampling (carrying several significant figures past Planck limits, say), then there wouldn’t be any way to detect a simulation.

        The problem isn’t a technological one, but a simply logical one. It’s the equivalent of the Halting Problem. Worse, it’s equivalent to a program trying to determine itself if it would halt or not, an even more impossible problem (if it makes sense to compare impossibilities).

        Cheers,

        b&

  22. Marta
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    “Give up the course, BSU, or you’re going to look ridiculous.”

    Are they, though? Going to look ridiculous?

    Or is it more likely that they’ll be regarded as poor, persecuted Christians, bravely standing up to the immoral science community which is contributing to the debasement of values in our society?

    They’ll do something about the course. No question. But don’t for a minute think that they’ll be regarded as anything but heroes for fighting to keep it in the curriculum.

  23. ladyatheist
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Judging from the comments section, the PR may help bring in students who otherwise would choose one of the many fundy institutions in Indiana.

  24. Kevin
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Like others, I think the time for “looking ridiculous” has long passed.

    We’re on to mendacious.

  25. MAUCH
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    If you are teaching both sides and one side has facts what does the other side have? I’m sorry but I want my daughter to learn the facts. Delusion is not going to get her very far in life.

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Sorry for the focus on pedantic minutiae here, but a common spelling error is a confusion of “tenants” with “tenets”.

    Dr. Howes, a class on Islam helps students understand the “tenets” (beliefs) of Islam not the “tenants” of Islam.

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      The article states that she said that. It could easily have been the reporter who transcribed it wrong, or mistyped so that SpellCheck did its brainless tinkering.

      But–where’s the copyeditor?!

  27. JBlilie
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Lee effing Strobel? You’ve got to be kidding.

    His name should not appear on any university-level bibliography, full stop. Its inclusion completely removes all credibility of the author of that biobliography.

    Strobel’s books are jokes, pure and simple.

    I’m amazed I didn’t notice him on that list the first time.

  28. rosie
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone asked the students what they think? Maybe they don’t care and are just thinking about what college kids think about ,like the weekend or the next movie to see.

  29. Jim Cliborn
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    A slight comment about Roger Penrose’s book “Road to Reality…” being listed as part of the course reading list. Penrose is a self-described atheist; this book has no references in the index to anything religious; and the subject matter is a fairy detailed scientific exploration of mathematical physics, sub-atomic physics and relativity. Period. No creationism or other questionable ‘stuff.’ Indeed I would bet there are no academics at Ball State that could profitably read this book for the physics let alone students. If anyone were to work their way through it I would also wager about half way through they too would become atheists!

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 21, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Could that book be the token “atheist” book but so daunting that it virtually guarantees the students will have to select an ID book?

      • Jim Cliborn
        Posted May 21, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        Great! I’m sure you are right! LOL!!!!

        • ladyatheist
          Posted May 21, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

          Being evil and all, I think of these things ;-)

  30. Hempenstein
    Posted May 21, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Nothing like starting off a reading list with an intellectual fraud. I wonder if Hedin is aware that Behe’s own department has a page on their website disclaiming his views as not science. Or if anyone in Hedin’s department is?

  31. Randy
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,
    With all due respect, do you actually believe that Ball State could “do something” about this course in the short amount of time that FFRT sent a letter? If there were no internal complaints, then they are obligated to do their due diligence in investigating the matter which includes speaking with the instructor, speaking with students (who are scattered all over Indiana since the Spring term has ended), having lawyers mull over options, etc.
    Three random comments on Rate My Professor do not constitute much of anything in my opinion. As far as I can tell, no actual Ball State students have made official complaints.
    I happen to agree with you that what is in the syllabus does not belong in a science course, but there have to be more sides to the story and Ball State is obligated to learn more before taking actions.
    As for various Ball State employers not answering your questions to your satisfaction, I ask that you put yourself in their situation and see how you would answer questions from a stranger who does not know the entire story.
    Finally, how would we know if/when Ball State “does something” about this course until the next term it is offered and the next opportunity of viewing an online syllabus is presented. These things take time to work their way through any organization (especially through Universiries!). I’m not sure that Ball State would issue a press release of this news if it occurred.
    Maybe your trying to speak truth to power, but things can not always happen at a drop of a hat.
    I do not think hyperbole from a web site, an organization of 20,000 folks, and one newspaper story is the best course of action.
    So yes, this Department at Ball State should give up the course, but I do not think they can drop the instructor without due diligence/process, which takes time and work.

  32. krzysztof1
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    “He added that the class is an elective course and not part of the core curriculum.” [Provost]

    It shouldn’t make any difference. That’s abominable logic from a University provost!

  33. ladyatheist
    Posted May 22, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    @Randy

    1. There may be internal complaints, which the university may have ignored in the past and possibly present. You don’t know, so don’t make assumptions. Considering the replies in the paper and from the university officials interviewed, do you really think students can register a complaint locally and have any satisfaction?

    We atheists in Muncie look over our shoulders and speak in hushed tones when we greet each other. The local student atheist group has just started in the past few years, and the brave woman who started it took a lot of crap for it. There is no atheist group for non-students in Muncie.

    2. Yes, Ball State is obligated to investigate the situation, and they say they are doing so.

    3. The syllabus for the course offered through the Physics department is available online, so anyone wanting an update could check periodically. (No change so far).

    Dr. Coyne certainly knows how university works. He works at a very prestigious university and he certainly knows colleagues at other institutions.

    4. Hyperbole from a website … this one? Dr. Coyne published the evidence and drew conclusions. Granted, he’s not a lawyer, but FFRF lawyers are on it now, and they have taken up the cause. They do not get involved where they do not think there is a case (for example, the Baby Moses case I contacted them about)

    5. The newspaper story was the idea of the newspaper! Take it up with them. Many other blogs have commented on this issue and it was bound to come to the attention of the local paper. As to whether publishing a story about this course is a good thing, I think it is. How else would anyone know that this kind of thing has an entrenched tradition in the Ball State physics department?

  34. Brian
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I can’t comment on ID not being a science, but by the titles on the books it seems there is a relationship between the two. It also seems by the titles that anyone could deduce what they were getting themselves into by taking this as an elective. I suppose an expert on ID and evolution who has read all of them and is familiar with the older theories could give a more objective viewpoint. I see no harm in taking classes that teach something that requires critical thinking skills.

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 1:20 am | Permalink

      1. Book titles don’t make it so.

      2. An expert on ID is pretty much by definition not an expert on evolution.

      3. The content of this class requires the suspension of critical thinking.

      • Posted May 27, 2013 at 2:16 am | Permalink

        Re 2, not so! You can be an expert in ID without being a proponent of ID.

        Most critics of ID have some expertise in it, no?

        /@

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 27, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          Yeah, I thought about that when I wrote what I did. I have a hard time calling anyone who doesn’t buy evolution an expert, but OTOH I do think it’s possible to be an expert on religion w/o believing, so I suppose I shouldn’t except evolution from a similar stance. Except that to do the latter requires no cognitive dissonance or lying, while to do the former certainly does.

        • Posted April 13, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          I guess I’ll humbly nominate myself. I’m an evolutionary biologist who teaches at a Catholic seminary (thankfully Catholics are institutionally much more open to science) and I have to take ID on every year. So I’ve dug through the arguments a lot. Finally it bugged me enough to take on ID as if it were a scientific theory in this blog post: http://wantonempiricist.blogspot.com/2014/04/what-would-intelligent-design-theory.html. I’m not sure about “expert,” but I deal with ID a lot (and advised a capstone student on a project about the strong anthropic principle this year).

  35. exodus21v20
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    Looks like the professor’s course is living up to the university’s name: B.S. University.

  36. Andrew Lucas
    Posted May 24, 2013 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Anybody else think Assoc Prof. Hedin looks like Ned Flanders?


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  2. […] a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, and author of Why Evolution is True, said he believes that BSU is not “genuinely concerned about religion masquerading as […]

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