As you surely know if you read this site, Eric Hedin, a physics and astronomy teacher at Ball State University (BSU), has been teaching a “science” course at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, that is heavily infused with creationism and its gussied-up city cousin intelligent design (ID), as well as a ton of Christian apologetics and accommodationism.
Hedin has also been accused by several students as proselytizing for Christianity in that class; more students are coming forward, but more on that later. After investigating, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to BSU officials informing them of potential First Amendment violations of this class. BSU agreed to launch an investigation, which is happening now.
In the meantime, the case has become a bit of a cause célèbre for conservatives and creationists. IDers, of course, defend Hedin because he’s simply “teaching the controversy, although he doesn’t present anything other than a pro-religious view of science. No contrary views, by people like Victor Stenger, Sean Carroll, Steven Weinberg, or Lawrence Krauss, are ever presented.
I, of course, have been accused of being a bully and a coward, suppressing legitimate controversy, and so on. I’ve also been accused of calling for Hedin’s firing, which I never did (I simply want this class to be expunged from the science curriculum or transferred to “philosophy” or “religion”, with some real balance added).
None of this controversy bothers me a whit. What does bother me is that fellow anti-creationists P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran have, while decrying the class, defended Hedin’s way to teach it as he does, arguing that it’s a professor’s right to teach exactly what he wants to, even if that involves the lies of creationism and ID.
Evolution News and Views (an arm of the ID nonthink tank The Discovery Institute, has started a petition to defend Hedin’s “academic freedom”. I quote from their article:
Questions about the evidence for design in the universe and the boundaries of science are perfectly legitimate topics for a university seminar. Indeed, these topics have provoked scholarly interest and discussion during much of the history of Western civilization, and the scholars cited in Hedin’s bibliography are some of the leading voices in these discussions. This fact hasn’t stopped the inquisitors at the militantly atheist Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) from launching a witch-hunt and demanding that Ball State University investigate, censor, and punish Hedin for his supposed misdeeds. Unfortunately, the university seems to have acquiesced to the demands for the witch-hunt, agreeing to investigate the spurious complaint from FFRF.
You can find the petition at the EN&V link. The gist is this:
“We, the undersigned, urge the administration of Ball State University to support Prof. Eric Hedin’s academic freedom to discuss intelligent design and related issues in the classroom. We call on you to reject demands by the Freedom from Religion Foundation to censor or punish Dr. Hedin for exercising his right to free speech.
Presumably P.Z. and Larry will want to sign it, since they’ve expressed exactly these sentiments.
The odious right-wing website for students, Campus Reform, has gone after me with an inflammatory headline, “Prominent professor argues that teaching creationism is like Holocaust denial.”
Well, that’s technically accurate, I suppose, but what I said to the Muncie Star-Press (I refused to talk to the reporter for Campus Reform) was this:
“It’s not that it’s not science,” he continued, speaking to the Star Press. “It’s science that has been discredited. It’s like saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.”
That’s a bit more nuanced, and I’ve explained my position more carefully elsewhere: those who say that professor can teach anything they want are tacitly approving things like teaching Holocaust denial in a European History class, or alchemy in a chemistry class. Of course the persecution of Jews (a Christian- and now Muslim-) based sentiment) is far more harmful than teaching creationism.
I should add that the Campus Reform reporter contacted the publicity people at the University of Chicago asking for their reaction. Her email:
I would appreciate a comment on behalf of the University of Chicago regarding Professor Coyne’s comment in reaction to Ball State teaching a “Boundaries of Science Class” in which he compared teaching creationism to denying the Holocaust.Thanks for your time,
A bunch of religious websites have attacked me for instigating this kerfuffle, but they don’t deserve mention. And religious websites have taken an interest in the controversy; their articles, like this one at the religious World on Campus, are generally accurate, but never mention that intelligent design has been rejected by the courts as “not science” (I disagree; I think it’s dreadful science), and not eligible for teaching in public schools. And in this one, ID advocate Casey Luskin gets the last word:
Casey Luskin, research coordinator of the Discovery Institute, who has worked with similar cases over the years, said that often most of the class is happy to actually have an unrestricted conversation about where humans come from. Only “one or two passionate, intolerant atheist students are on a mission to persecute those who disagree with evolution,” Luskin said. He believes the critical students model behavior from leading new atheists who what to squelch dialogue, and points out that most science classes do teach intelligent design, although often in a negative light.
“If a professor is simply teaching about these ideas … from leading credible and solid scientists from both sides at the university level, I can’t imagine why it’d be considered unconstitutional,” Luskin said. “For most atheists, what they consider proselytizing is hearing intelligent design talked about in a positive way.”
I didn’t expect this to become such a big deal when I wrote to Hedin’s chairman (and then to the FFRF when he blew me off), but I’m not surprised. What surprises me is, as I said, the reaction of some colleagues that First Amendment restrictions don’t apply at public universities and, especially, that “academic freedom” mandates that a professor at such universities (and presumably private universities too) should be permitted to teach creationism—and only creationism—in a science class.
The heartening thing is that students who took Hedin’s class are now coming forward complaining about his Christian proselytizing in his science class (yes, he did it, and in a particularly repugnant way), and I should be able to post more about that this week. I just hope that if any such students are reading this, they’ll be willing to identify themselves and make their comments public.