“No Hindu monkey god”: One of Hedin’s students exposes his Christian proselytizing, and I’m called a bully

A student who took Eric Hedin’s Honors course at Ball State University—”The Limits of Science”—has started a thread on reddit saying that you can ask the student anything.  I have independent evidence that what the student describes about Hedin, bizarre as it sounds, is almost certainly true. And it makes it even more imperative to do something about that ridiculous course (my recommendation is to dump it).

Here are a few of the student’s comments on the thread (the pseudonym is Kettyr). There are some inquiries, and the debate turns at times to philosophy and ethics, but the interesting part is what, according to Kettyr, Hedin said to his class (Kettyr’s comments are indented):

***

Dr. Hedin taught a science class designed to challenge the “limits” of science. He is now under fire by the FFRF for his course. Here is a good summary. And THIS article has the reading list.

I took the course in the Spring of 2011 and clashed with Hedin, both in assignments, out-of-class communication, and in-class discussion. Ask me anything.

***

Hedin is a scientist. He has a Ph.D. in physics. He believes that the big bang happened, but he also believes that there is a “limit” to science. To me, this makes him an apologist, desperately clinging to a belief system that is becoming exponentially more irrelevant as humans adopt reason. He believes in the Cambrian Explosion, another that we just don’t understand yet. I asked him one day, “Why is it that the limit of science is god, and not just ignorance?” and he had a lot of reasons why it must be God and there are things we will never know, though I think that his argument is self-defeating.

***

His biggest example was “what came before the Big Bang?” He believes the Big Bang happened, but he also believes it is a divinely triggered event. That is, in his words, a limit to scientific knowledge. When, in reality, it’s substituting lack of knowledge with a fabricated reality.

***

Another commenter, “Islamdunkbrunch,” asks this:

Do you think he went over the line promoting Christianity? What was the tone like in the class? As an atheist, were you challenged on your beliefs?

***

Kettyr replies (my emphasis), showing the immense pedagogical stupidity of Hedin:

  1. I do think he occasionally went over the line. As soon as I realized how firm his beliefs were, I knew what I was getting into. The biggest thing I remember was when I asked him why it is HIS god (the Christian god) that must be the “answer” to what science cannot explain. He said “it’s not like it’s some sort of Hindu monkey god.” That was very over the line.
  2. The class was half-and-half between small-group discussion (most of the questions were reasonable–like “What was before the Big Bang?”–though some were very leading) and his lectures. His lectures were very one-sided, extremely so, and he would have us do readings or watch clips from anti-evolution programs or movies, like Ben Stein’s documentary.
  3. I was the only atheist in a class of about 25 students, and found that my challenges (which were many) came from the class as a whole. He was not very confrontational and did allow for an open forum of ideas, but the other students agreed with him and often ganged up on me with some pretty harsh words. His biggest challenges came in the form of critiques on writings for the class, which were a more unopposed soap box than the class discussions.

and adds this:

The biggest was when I asked him why the Christian god is the answer to whatever science cannot explain. He said that it was not just his beliefs, it was a simple fact that it must be the Christian god. He then said, and this is a direct quote, “It’s not like it was some Hindu monkey god.” I blew up, and in hindsight I wish I had been more level-headed. I said that was not just hypocritical but a damnation of an entire population whose beliefs are just as valid as his. We argued for about five or ten minutes, and it was one of those situations where the other students got uncomfortable and quiet. He was not mean or hurtful, but I think he wished he hadn’t said it, and I wish I had been calmer. I ended saying something along the lines of “It takes a lot of ignorance to put your own beliefs on a pedestal above reason and evidence.” He got very calm then (he is an EXTREMELY calm, soft-spoken person; the monkey god comment was very out-of-character for him) and said that it was obvious our debate wasn’t going to change anyone’s minds and that we should revisit the topic in the future. We did revisit it over e-mail correspondence, but it felt forced and awkward.

****

About the reading list:

. . . The reading list is essentially a who’s-who of Christian apologists and scientists. For instance, he spent a long time discussing the Cambrian Explosion, a time in which life on earth evolved “too quickly” to be realistic, and had to have had some sort of divine intervention. This is a perfect example of “Science can’t explain it? It must be God”

. . . The only notable atheist he brought up was Dawkins, and that was only in one lecture, and he tore him to shreds.

The questions were all over the place. Sometimes, they were very open, like “Is there a universal theory of everything?” or “What is a theory?” or “What if our physical laws were ever-so-slightly different?”. However, these questions often followed a lecture (sermon?) about his views and, more often than not, students would just regurgitate what he said.

I remember one student essentially quoting Hedin, five minutes after the lecture (sermon) while discussing our “perfect” physical laws, and I asked the student, “Wouldn’t you agree that we can only be in awe of the universe’s physical laws because they are the only set of laws that we know?” which sort of stumped my small discussion group.

***

Another commenter asks if “Kettyr” complained to the administration.  The answer is “yes”:

Absolutely. Extensively. It was, by a long shot, the longest professor evaluation I ever wrote. I spoke in detail, using multiple specific dates and direct quotes. The administration (or at least, his supervisor or dean) knew what was going on at least two years before this story broke out, as I took the class in Spring 2011.

Remember that Ball State has claimed that there were no negative evaluations, and so far has refused to make any student evaluations available to the Muncie Star-Times reporter on the case, Seth Slabaugh, even though those evaluations are anonymous.

***

As to what should be done with the course, here’s Kettyr’s opinion, which also confirms that Hedin made his students watch the odious movie “Expelled”:

Which is the essence of my opinion on the matter: move the class the religious studies department, get it away from physics department. I should not have gotten physics credit for a course where we watched Ben Stein’s “Expelled”

***

No monkey gods, no Dawkins, God as the cause of the Cambrian Explosion? This is absolutely outrageous. What is equally outrageous is that Ball State University knew about these issues at least as early as 2006, when complaints about Hedin’s proselytizing for Christ were posted on ratemyprofessors.com, and had a long and critical evaluation in hand two years ago. Yet they did nothing, even when I added my voice to the list.

It took a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation to get Ball State to even investigate the content of Hedin’s course.  If this student is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt what he/she says, that course should be deep-sixed. It’s not even suitable for a “religion” course because there are no other views offered to counter Hedin’s religious interpretation of science.

In the meantime, a reader has written to The Daily, the Ball State University student newspaper:

Dear Editor:

Unfortunately, I greatly fear that Dr. Eric Hedin will not be treated fairly by Ball State University and panel of four professors charged with investigating his teaching of the honors symposium titled “The Boundaries of Science.”

University of Chicago evolutionary biologist and avowed atheist Dr. Jerry Coyne and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose complaints spurred the investigation, are ideological bullies with plenty of influence and financial clout. They have threatened legal action if their objections to Dr. Hedin’s teaching are not validated.

Across our land, we’ve seen variations of this “movie” before and it does not bode well for Dr. Hedin. Let’s be realistic and honest. Faced with the threat of an long-running and expensive lawsuit, the quiet but primary aim of the panel and the university will be “how do we make this go away?” It will not be “let’s do what is right and principled.”

The right and principled answer is simple. Dr. Coyne and the FFRF are wrong and are bringing a frivolous charge against Dr. Hedin. Dr. Hedin should be exonerated from all charges of wrongdoing.

The claim against Dr. Hedin is that he is in violation of the First Amendment for teaching religion.

They should be rebuffed because nowhere is Dr. Hedin charged with talking about the Bible or Jesus. That would be discussion of religion.  Through his class, he has simply raised the possibility of intelligent design of life and our cosmos. That is not teaching religion.

This matter is not complicated — but resolving it fairly would require a tremendous amount of courage on the part of the university.

Dr. Hedin has done nothing wrong and deserves support. Fair-mined people need rise up and apply the pressure needed for the university to muster the courage to stand up to Dr. Coyne and the FFRF and tell them to “get lost.”

Eric A. Ether
BSU Class of 1972
University Place    WA     98467

Mr. Ether is deeply ignorant, not only about what went on in this class (really—Hedin showed “Expelled”!), but about how academic teaching should proceed. Ether is also dead wrong about Hedin’s not talking about the Bible or Jesus. He did, and his “textbooks” are full of Christianity.

Hedin has done something wrong and his course should be put in the circular file.  It is Ball State’s abysmal failure to enforce decent standards of instruction that has forced us “ideological bullies” to get involved.  And what “financial clout” do I have to resolve this issue?

98 Comments

  1. Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    Ameen

  2. Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Right. There thouasands of creation myths, many of them are much more logical or plausible than genesis. So why not teach them along side evolution and genesis? No, christians only want to talk about their own superstitions.

  3. Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Previously, I’ve been of the mind that the class should at least get a serious makeover if not removed entirely from the science department, and that Hedin should get a slap on the wrist.

    But his repeated pattern and practice as demonstrated here shows that he’s not fit to teach science at a public institution. At the very least, he needs to be placed under a microscope, though I personally don’t think his career is salvageable at this point.

    I have the exact same concerns about the administration at BSU as well. A formal request from senior administration officials for mass resignations would not at all be inappropriate.

    b&

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      Oh — and, Kettyr, thanks!

      b&

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Agreed, Ben. Hedin belongs at Biola, not at Ball State.

      • Philip.Elliott
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

        From Wikipedia:
        Biola is a small 0.4-hectare island located off the southwestern coast of Singapore, between Pulau Senang to its north and Pulau Satumu to its south.

        Sounds about right.

    • RFW
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      I’d be very curious where Hedin’s superiors go on Sunday mornings. Betcha a jelly-filled donut that more than one of them goes to some piss-ant fundagelical place.

      I doubt they need to be followed to determine this. It’s probably in an online curriculum vitae or in the Ball State catalog or some other public record. But no question that at some administrative level above Hedin, there’s a bible thumper blinded to his proper duties by his religious beliefs.

      • tomh
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        But no question that at some administrative level above Hedin, there’s a bible thumper blinded to his proper duties by his religious beliefs.

        Exactly right. Who goes looking for a science professor at an Evangelical Christian college, where, for instance, they advertise the biology major as “It’s a faith-integrated study of living things.” That’s why I have no confidence that the current internal investigation will result in anything other than minor, cosmetic changes.

  4. Gordon Hill
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    In my view a bully is a fervent advocate left unchallenged.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      If you’re xian, it’s anyone who questions your beliefs. They live for persecution, and will make it up out of whole cloth if none is in the offing.

  5. Rebecca Harbison
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    As I said, a ‘science and religion’ course focusing on things like cosmology and evolution and religious attitudes towards the same would be interesting, if more of a social sciences or humanities course. Maybe cross-listed so you can bring in a biologist or physicist to talk science and a sociologist to handle the cultural aspects.

    But quotes like the one mocking Hinduism prove that, if such a course existed, this professor should not be allowed to teach it. Why not a Hindu Monkey God*? Why is that sillier than a Christian Human God? Most Americans, even American non-theists, are more familiar with Christianity than other religions, but that’s just saying that we find the familiar more comfortable and less silly than the unfamiliar.

    * Though if I recall, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva would be more cosmologically relevant than Hanuman.

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      Though if I recall, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva would be more cosmologically relevant than Hanuman.

      This shows the ignorance of many christians in matters of other religions. They don’t want learn anything about it, fearing it might challenges their own beliefs. Instead they prefer to think in steroetypes.

      • Linda Grilli Calhoun
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        This is precisely, exactly, how religion makes you stupid.

        If you already have all the answers, what’s the point of learning anything? L

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      As I understand it, Hanuman is just another aspect of Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva/Krishna/Rama/Lakshmi/Ganesh etc. etc. – Hinduism is “really” monotheistic (just as Christianity is “really” monotheistic).

  6. gbjames
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Please send some of that vast financial clout my way!

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

      Me too, me too! I want to be financially clouted! Hmm, that may not be exactly what I was trying to say…

  7. Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Great work exposing this – I am sure that this is happening in many universities through the US.

    Ancedote: when I was at a Midwestern university in the late 90s, I took several courses on Judaism as part of an area studies requirement. One of these was taught by a conservative Jewish professor who would use the course as a platform for his political and religious views.

    For instance, he took multiple shots at the Catholic church, was not shy about his pro-Israel views, and was also very critical of any science that contradicted his religious convictions. When he called the big bang “fourth-grade physics”, I came very close to challenging him, but then realized that I did not know enough detail about the big bang to do this well, so I bided my time.

    My chance came when he attempted to argue that no part of Genesis was actually scientifically inaccurate when read properly; that the ordering of creation was completely consistent with the fossil record. Now, I had been reading some Stephen Jay Gould, who had written an essay (in Bully For Brontosaurus, I believe) about the fallacy of this very position. Not only that, but Gould was able to show that this religious argument was raised and quickly dispatched with even in Darwin’s time. In other words, the good professor was not only raising a bad argument, but an old and tired one. What else is knew with the ID crowd?

    So armed with some of the specifics of that essay, I challenged him in front of the class. He went from having a bit of a bemused, supercilious smile on his face to being visibly irritated. He did not have any real rebuttal (how could he?). He demanded to know “where I heard this stuff.” I made a remark about reading a basic biology textbook, and I also mentioned the Gould essay. Now the professor had heard of Gould and knew that he was a socialist, so he had his opening. He spent the next ten minutes railing against the evils of communism and trying to link my objections to a communist worldview, despite my pointing out that I was a member of the college of business pursuing degrees in finance and accounting!

    The relationship with this guy was strained for the remainder of the semester, and I can see why students are loathe to challenge their professors in that way. Later, some students came up to me and said that they had similar concerns, but did not feel like confronting him in class. We all made sure that we included our concerns in his evaluation, although I doubt that the admin took any notice.

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      “What else is knew with the ID crowd?”

      *knew* s/b *new*

  8. ladyatheist
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Dawkins did make a brief appearance in the course:

    “The only notable atheist he brought up was Dawkins, and that was only in one lecture, and he tore him to shreds.”

    I guess that’s what the Hedin fan club considers “discussing ALL theories”

  9. Boris Molotov
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Ben Stein’s “documentary”.. i guess this is refering to “Expelled”.
    Anti-science propoganda in a science class. Would medical school accept the teaching of homeopathy as a “valid alternative” to medicine and then show anti-vaccination documentaties? Unacceptable.

  10. Jeff Johnson
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    It seems there is a very simple administrative solution that could make everyone happy.

    Why can’t Hedin teach exactly the same course in a different department, say philosophy or religious studies?

    Are there serious objections to this approach?

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Actually, there are.

      It’s pretty obvious that Hedin is unabashedly using it as a forum for Christian evangelism. That’s just plain not kosher at any state-funded institution.

      As Cliff Melick noted, the only place where he can get away with that sort of thing is a private Christian institution such as Biola.

      “No Hindu monkey god” pretty much sums it up perfectly, actually.

      b&

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        “the only place where he can get away with that sort of thing is a private Christian institution such as Biola.”

        … or Taylor, where he used to teach, or Seattle Pacific University, where he got his undergrad “education”

        • Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

          Or Hollywood Upstairs Medical College?

          • ladyatheist
            Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

            or the YMCA bible studies class?

          • Paul S
            Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

            A Dr. Nick reference, nice.

    • Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      I cannot comment legally, but: philosophy courses shouldn’t be a dumping ground for BS that couldn’t fly elsewhere. Sure, philosophy may have lower standards – or harder problems – but there should at least be a floor.

      • gbjames
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        “I cannot comment legally”

        You fear arrest? ;)

        (sorry… couldn’t help myself)

  11. Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    **

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    It’s about as bad as it gets with this course! All the Christian soaked perspectives that present a god-of-the-gaps approach to the Big Bang and the Cambrian Explosion (which is only relatively fast anyway – does he think it happened in 10 years?). If you can’t understand the facts, you should not have the privilege of teaching to others. And watching Stein’s movie – that just seals it; if this course is moved elsewhere, it needs some serious revision….

    It’s so exhausting to deal with these Christians who complain, from their place of privilege, that they are being bullied. That Hindu Monkey god thing was offensive given the context!

  13. Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Kudos, JAC, for keeping us informed about how this is going!

  14. Duane Roelofs
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I have yet to read ID, or other creationist, material that did not selectively misrepresent scientific data and theory. If Professor Hedin is violating standards of academic professional integrity in the same way, Ball State University is duty-bound to end the academic misconduct. The issue is not one of mere differences of opinion and freedom of expression that rightly deserve constitutional and institutional protection. Professor Hedin’s stumping for Jesus might meet those criteria. Rather, it is the explicit and easily-verified dishonesty that must be penalized.

    • ploubere
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      Well said, Duane.

  15. ChasCPeterson
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    my recommendation is to dump it

    With the possible exceptio of Larry Moran, I think this is the same as everybody else’s recommendation.
    As far as I’m concerned, the arguments are about who should dump it, how, and to where.
    No gen-ed science credit for these courses is the minimal acceptable decision, in my view.

    “The biggest was when I asked him why the Christian god is the answer to whatever science cannot explain. He said that it was not just his beliefs, it was a simple fact that it must be the Christian god. He then said, and this is a direct quote, ‘It’s not like it was some Hindu monkey god.’

    As far as I know, Hindus who posit monkey gods do not imbue them with the power to create the universe, omniscience, omnipresence, etc. So, factually speaking, the statement really wasn’t that insulting.

    “It was, by a long shot, the longest professor evaluation I ever wrote…The administration (or at least, his supervisor or dean) knew what was going on at least two years before this story broke out, as I took the class in Spring 2011.”
    Remember that Ball State has claimed that there were no negative evaluations, and so far has refused to make any student evaluations available

    But all this assumes that written student evaluations were seen by administrators, and this is not necessarily the case. I’ve taught at 5 different institutions, and at 3 of them written (as opposed to numerical) student evaluations were regarded as the sole property of the instructor, and were delivered directly to individual instructors in sealed envelopes. At the other two, they passed through the Chair/Head of the Depatment’s hands, who may or may not have chosen to read them before passing them on.
    Just pointing out that there are many pertinent facts not in evidence.

    It seems there is a very simple administrative solution that could make everyone happy.

    Except for Hedin and his xian supporters, yes. Such steps could and should have ben taken at the departmental or college/school level years ago. They now need to deal with it.

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      As far as I’m concerned, the arguments are about who should dump it, how, and to where.

      Sorta.

      I think there’s general agreement that Hedin himself should drop it.

      Past that, there are differences of opinion about how much farther up the chain it should and / or could go.

      But, to me at least, it’s quite clear that basically anybody and everybody in the academic hierarchy above him could and should force Hedin to drop it, and that the courts can and will force him to drop it if nobody at BSU will.

      I also suspect the accrediting agency might want to weigh in on the matter before it gets too far along the process.

      Make no mistrake: the course will get dropped. The only question is how messy Hedin and his supporters want to make it for themselves.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Jeff D
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 1:43 am | Permalink

        The elimination of the course by Ball State would be the most appropriate result. Second best would be re-designing the course as a course in the religious studies department and assignment of some other instructor to teach it, without preferential treatment of Christian-flavored nonsense. Eric Hedin himself is pretty clearly incapable of teaching even an entry-level comparative religion course.

        I don’t know how often accrediting bodies look at course content at accredited universities and “police” compliance with their standards. But unless the accrediting body(s) are perpetually asleep at the switch and unless Ball State knows this, a negative impact on the University’s accreditation might be the biggest motivator, in the short term, for Ball State to take responsible action. Wherever it is, the accrediting agency is not based in Muncie, Indiana and need not be concerned about the feelings or perceptions of the locals. Over the longer term, a decrease in charitable giving by alumni to Ball State could have an impact, but this assumes that there are Ball State alumni who have money to give and who are better-informed or more honest than 1972 grad Eric Ether. There’s David Letterman, but who else?

        Would a federal court order Ball State to drop or move the course on Establishment Clause grounds? I still think it would be a tough case to win against Ball State, unless the University chose to concede, for tactical reasons, that it is a state government actor. Win or lose, such a case would be a “matter of first impression,” as appellate judges say. I’ve not found a case in which a court enjoined a public college or university to deep-six or to redesign a “science” course on the grounds that the course content improperly includes (as “Limits of Science” clearly does) explicit religious apologetics and anti-scientific propaganda.

  16. NewEnglandBob
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    .

  17. John K.
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Explicitly Christian ideas, presented as actual science, with the authority and endorsement of a publicly funded learning institution. The First Amendment violation is abundantly clear.

    Clearly Ball State’s science department should have known what was happening. What kind of useless science degrees are they handing out if this kind of thing goes unchecked?

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Depending on the outcome of BSU’s investigation, that may well be a question to ask of their accreditors.

      b&

      • John K.
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        Given student evaluations from 2 years ago, I ask that question now.

  18. Taz
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    I wonder how the BSU Biology profs feel about what this guy is teaching in a science class.

  19. Vivekananda
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    It’s clear this supposed scholar is completely ignorant of the philosophical traditions of Hinduism and the conceptions of divinity they expound, of which at least one (Samkhya) espouses atheism. He has no understanding of the role Hanuman serves in Hinduism and the principles of Hindu theology embodied in the figure of Hanuman. It’s interesting that Christians like Hedin accuse others of being unsophisticated in their understanding of the Christian religion on the basis of not being well-versed in the minutiae of Christian theology or not being abreast of writings in Christian apologetics, and then they reveal such profound, and in this case likely willful, ignorance in their criticisms of other religions.

  20. Jim Jones
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    H/T me?

  21. Sastra
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    The claim against Dr. Hedin is that he is in violation of the First Amendment for teaching religion. They should be rebuffed because nowhere is Dr. Hedin charged with talking about the Bible or Jesus. That would be discussion of religion. Through his class, he has simply raised the possibility of intelligent design of life and our cosmos. That is not teaching religion.

    This letter reflects a very popular misunderstanding about what constitutes ‘religion’ — and it’s a major tactic used by the pro-religion side in the science & religion debate. Basically, they equivocate between different definitions of ‘religion.’

    Sometimes the word means anything having to do with God, spiritual, or supernatural realities. If it refutes the “materialist atheist naturalist world view” then it counts as ‘religion.’

    Other times it refers only to a specific church or organization with a creed, rules, a holy text, a building, and a well-defined tax break. “Religion” is made by human beings. God isn’t religious. Knowing about God and worshiping God and getting God into the science books and courses isn’t religious either.

    Right.

    They switch back and forth, depending on whether they’re being defensive (“this is not religious so your objections don’t count!”) or offensive (“this IS religious so atheism is wrong!”)

    • Boris Molotov
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      They can call it what they want but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s pure bullocks.

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Anyone who is sympathetic to the ID movement from a “fairness” perspective should note the distinct lack of scruples in the ID movement.

      If you have to consistently lie and misdirect in order to advance your point of view, perhaps your point of view is BS.

  22. Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Lemme tell ya somethin’, thar ain’t no Hindu monkey god or no elephant or whatever. Got that?! That’s just weird.

    What thar is is a zombie carpenter who wants us to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

    • Paul S
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      That doesn’t make any sense at all. Wouldn’t a zombie carpenter want to eat your flesh?

      • Posted June 18, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

        Sure, but that is great mystery beyond our comprehension. Gods ways are not our ways, and may even seem insane, but are true nonetheless. Thomas Aquinas wrote about it in his great treatise Pulitis Outamyassus.

      • Posted June 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        That’s not the way this particular zombie swings. Not that there’s anything worng with that!

        b&

      • Philip.Elliott
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        That’s how we know it ain’t true!

  23. Pete Grimes
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that as a European [and a non-academic], whilst I do consider your posts on this topic compelling reading, I am a little confused as to the method of your opposition.

    If the US system is the same as most of Europe, students have a wide degree of latitude as to which courses and institutions they pick to further their education, and they are expected to do some basic research into the available options before selecting a course [assuming they meet the entry criteria of course]. Since it appears from your articles that Hedin has been doing this course since at least 2011, don’t the students coming up [or whatever the US equivalent is] already know what sort of a ride they are selecting when they choose this course?

    If this is the case, and some universities are actually teaching this junk as science, don’t those same students who chose this course or similar offerings from similar Universities [my favourite Sam Harris quote coming up], “pay the price in the ill-concealed laughter of others” when progressing onto new fields academically or, [even more unfortunately for them] actual employment in their chosen field.

    When presented with a graduate student who actually swallowed this arrant nonsense [or worse deliberately volunteered to study it] wouldn’t your first reaction as an employer or research director be to question whether their appreciation of the basic rules of scientific enquiry were sufficient to equip them for serious work.

    Thus, one might have thought, the students who volunteer or accept to be trained in this strange supernatural science hybrid become self-selecting [or self deselecting] for a real commercial future in this field?

    If so, wouldn’t a better tactic be making sure students are aware of what they are selecting, and potential employers aware of the “quality” of graduates from these courses, and allow these courses just to become a natural sink-hole for those whose religious delusions make them unfit for a career in science anyway?

    Maybe [to use another favourite quote of mine, Larry Niven this time] you should “think about it as evolution in action” :)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      Well, aside from separation of church and state issues, it’s wrong to teach people falsehoods and by wrong I mean it’s academically dishonest. Universities are supposed to dispel ignorance and bad thinking, not promote it and this is what this course is doing. The onus should not be on the student, who may not know any better, to pick a course that is misleading but on the institution and its educators to ensure they are not teaching inaccurate, misleading or complete false information.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        I should have said “to not pick a course” or better still “to avoid a course”. My irrational fear of being chastised for the double negative trapped me (I secretly love the double negative and want to bring it back into wide usage in English).

        • Posted June 18, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

          It’s not like there ain’t nothin’ worng with no double negatives, nohow.

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted June 18, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

            :)

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        By definition the student wouldn’t know better! That’s why they’re the students!

      • Pete Grimes
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

        Taking aside the church and state issues, that I really get [I wish separation was as well legally protected in Europe], don’t you have entire Univerisites devoted to teaching Falsehoods? The “philosophy” of Professors Craig and Feser for example?

        Surely it is the the endpoint of the education, your fitness for further work or research in your chosen topic, that is the “proof of the pudding”, not the degree itself?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

          See my point below.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

          See my point below.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      The course is an elective in the sense of being one of a few courses that satisfy a science requirement. Students may not have any idea what they’re getting into when they register. They would probably select the section based on the other items on their schedule that might have only one option. If you can’t take the 10:00 you’d have to take the 2:00, then you’re stuck. Not to mention, if you’ve been following the creationism/ID nonsense you’d know what you were getting into, but students generally wouldn’t figure it out until possibly after the add/drop date.

      This course is for non-majors, who will be voting on things like funding for basic science research, NASA, environmental protections, etc. So… they may not pay the price for stumbling into a “crap course” but the rest of us will.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

        p.s. it’s laid out on the website how this course relates: http://cms.bsu.edu/Academics/CollegesandDepartments/HonorsCollege/AcademicsandAdmissions/RequiredCourses.aspx

        • Jeff D
          Posted June 19, 2013 at 2:10 am | Permalink

          I followed the links to the page that lists the three “honors” science courses by course number. One of the three must be chosen and taken in order to complete the core requirements for an “Honors” degree. If Hedin’s “Limits of Science” course is one of the three, a Ball State student reading these generic, vague descriptions would not receive the slightest clue about the actual content of Hedin’s course. Unless a student later had access to an accurate description of the course before signing up, the University’s possible future caveat emptor defense would not hold up.

      • Pete Grimes
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

        I take your point entirely, and agree with it.

        The point I was trying to make [badly obviously] was that given you are in the good old US of A, and your countrymen with whom I have worked are always telling me how responsive you guys you are to market forces I thought there might be a better response.

        Notwithstanding the fact that a legal challenge is a bit of a double-edged sword, and may actually prove to have a positive spin for those predisposed to Hedin’s point of view anyway “Seeeeeee, those nasty Atheists, the don’t want you listening to the truuuth, if it wasn’t true why would they take legal action?”

        If however the message gets around that employers in the field, and academics helping students plot out future career courses, consider taking this course, or at least taking it and swallowing the contents wholesale might be detrimental to their future careers, in terms of paying a price for their complete disregard for the basic precepts of scientific inquiry. Then that might more subtly affect the “market forces” applied to the University offering the course and apply a much more effective and long lasting solution.

        As to the effect on the population at large, the stories that appear to be coming out if the states, regarding the predisposition of a large quantity of the population of the US to decide upon voting strategies by asking their Pastor “what Jesus would do”, I don’t think that that either has a huge bearing on the point in hand and is, probably, not a point that is going to be addressed in our lifetimes

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          I maintain that the university is not there to teach falsehoods. There may be universities that do (Christian ones – which I don’t think should exist as universities BTW) but non Christian universities are obliged to teach truth to the best of their knowledge. This is actually a constraint on academic freedom.

          I would argue that it isn’t just employers that suffer but society in general – not only is it pernicious to propagate bad ideas and have those bad ideas repeated in society at large, it is damaging to have those same bad ideas taught to school kids (and BSU I’ve heard from this site is a university that produces a lot of teachers).

          It isn’t caveat emptor at a university – universities may be swayed by market forces but their ideas shouldn’t be driven by them otherwise all universities would be catering to the majority (in the US – Christians) and no truth would come out.

    • Cremnomaniac
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      I might add, as a grad student, there is not a single employer in existence that gives a rats ass about the content of one particular course. My curriculum is accredited and I have my degree. That’s all that matters.

      It was also pointed out, classes are selected because it just fit my schedule and the credit counts. It happens. Although, any student worth their salt wouldn’t take it without some research.

      Lastly, I must say that higher education is not necessarily conducive to good sense, promotion of rational thought or critical thinking. Sadly, fellow students can real “morans”.

      • Pete Grimes
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:36 am | Permalink

        In terms of those employers who simply use a degree as a sign that the applicant is, at least, not a complete dullard, I agree.

        It is a long time since I had any contact with biological careers, having oped for the somewhat more lucrative [for someone my age] IT path long ago, but I feel that, were I recruiting for, say, a firm conducting genetic research, and asked the applicant during the interview what they considered to be the three most important genetic modifications to the development of Homo Sapiens as a civilized species, whilst I can think of a host of very valid answers, I would consider being told that my question was moot because “God had created us perfectly in his image” would probably not be conducive to the applicants employment.

        I just thought that, as a strategy, a cohesive campaign to ensure that should students swallow this junk wholesale, they have to accept that the only biological education they will actually use in “real life” will be understanding the meat content of the burgers they are going to be flipping, might be a better one than a direct legal challenge, with the obvious potential for defeat or the possibility of blowback

  24. kelskye
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I watched Expelled once. I’m not really sure what people can learn about science from the film – there wasn’t a lot in there. It’s not saying much that the best they can do is mock Michael Ruse with a crystal ball.

  25. Yi
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Ha, so much for academic freedom and the limit of science. It’s blatant proselytizing of Christianity.

    As an aside, Prof Coyne, I wonder if you can spend a bit time shedding light on how to argue with them regarding the Cambrian Explosion, and what is our current scientific understanding of it, etc. It seems to CE is one of the things IDs or Evolution deniers resort to a lot. Or if you know of an excellent essay on CE, please let us know.

    • Posted June 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      There’s a review of the various explanations of the Cambrian “explosion” (which, by the way, lasted 10-20 million years) by Charles Marshall in the 2006 Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, which you can find here, but it’s behind a paywall. But I’m pretty sure that some big names in early-life paleobiology are going to review Meyers’ book. Stay tuned.

      • Yi
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:17 am | Permalink

        Thanks very much for recommending. I’m still in school, so I have access to the paper. I’ll take a thorough look at it.

    • ratabago
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      There is an excellent book on it by Erwin and Valentine called “The Cambrian Explosion”. It is a text book rather than an executive summary of the science. So it is somewhat technical, and detailed. It goes into what we know about the CE, how we know it, and where and why there are still gaps in our knowledge. I’m only about a third of the way through it at the moment, but would recommend it to anyone who wants a solid grounding in the CE. Only problem is that it is expensive.

      • Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        There is, and it is excellent.

        I got a copy from Amazon for £30, which, given the quality and detail of the content, I don’t think is expensive. (It would’ve been £40 from Blackwells.)

        (For reasons that aren’t important now, I have a spare copy [fine, with v slight damage to the back cover]. Yours for £20 plus postage. If this blatant capitalism is against the roolz, Ceiling Cat can smite me.)

        /@

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        I agree – I have this book too and I violated my “don’t read more than one thing at a time” rule (because I’ll start reading everything and never finish any of it) so I started it then forced myself to wait until I finished my other stuff. It is nice though because my Cambrian Explosion knowledge was fairly out of date.

  26. Hempenstein
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    With an address in WA, ya suppose Ether may have something to do with the Discovery crowd?

  27. Hempenstein
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Two other things. Seems to me that students who had taken this course could sue for a refund on the basis that the course was blatantly not as-advertised.

    Also, those with a degree from Hedin’s department might have some grounds for a suit on the grounds that the value of their diploma has been diminished by its lack of censure of Hedin.

    • Jeff D
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 2:05 am | Permalink

      Those are logical legal theories on which to base a complaint by a student who was in fact cheated by the abysmal quality of Hedin’s course. But universities are able to afford and pay wily, high-priced law firms to defend them against such lawsuits, and I’d be extremely surprised if the University’s answer didn’t refer to some fine print in the admission and registration materials, which – the University will claim – amount to a disclaimer by the University of all implied warranties regarding the content or the “objective” worth of the courses offered and presented. Would that defense work? Hard to say.

  28. Robin
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    I would be interested in hearing the other side of this story.

    In the past in forums I have made the point that there is a distinction between the concept of a God who is a creator of all things and the concept of gods who are powerful supernatural beings but who are not creators of all things.

    Atheists have, almost as a rule, interepreted this as saying that the Christian religion is superior to others.

    This is despite the fact that I am not a Christian, don’t believe in an afterlife or in prayer or worship.

    It seems quite likely that Heidin was, perhaps somewhat clumsily, making just this point and Kettyr made the same misinterpretation of it that most atheists have made of my words.

    Kettyr has already stated that thinking that there are limits to science “…makes him an apologist, desperately clinging to a belief system that is becoming exponentially more irrelevant as humans adopt reason.”

    Given that Kettyr took this bias to the class I would be uncomfortable in taking his work alone.

    • Robin
      Posted June 18, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      I mean “…taking his word alone”

    • gbjames
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 4:29 am | Permalink

      There is a lot more here than Kettyr’s words alone. Why are you ignoring the reading list and everything else that has been described.

    • Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      At this point, there’s nothing more that the “other side” could possibly add.

      Hedin’s syllabus is unfit for a science class, unless it’s one specifically about the perils of pseudoscience (which the course description makes clear it’s not). That Hedin showed Expelled at all is simply inexcusable.

      Even if Kettyr is grossly overstating the abusive nature of Hedin’s presentation, the content is far more than enough to condemn Hedin and the course…and, unless they fix this thing right quick, the BSU administration.

      b&

  29. Robin
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    And this: ” I said that was not just hypocritical but a damnation of an entire population whose beliefs are just as valid as his.”

    But even if Kettyr’s account is accurate then obviously Hedin’s comment is not a damnation of anybody’s belief, never mind “an entire population” unless there is an entire population who believe that monkey gods are universe creators.

    I am pretty sure that it is not the case that any Hindus believe that monkey gods are universe creators.

    • Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      It’s for damned certain that Hedin meant that line as an insult. He clearly not only knows nothing about Hinduism but is contemptuous of it.

      Now, I’m all for contempt of religion. But it is so blatantly unconstitutional for a public official to show contempt for a religion in the course of official duties it hurts — and that’s trebly so when he’s dismissing the one religion at the same time he’s promoting another.

      Hedin is so far over the line on this that he’s gone plaid.

      b&

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted June 19, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        I’m amazed nobody has made jokes yet about what Hedin’s head’s in.

        In this case perhaps Hedin has his head in a plaid tam.

  30. Robin
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Although having said that, Hedin’s course sounds like a terrible missed opportunity.

    There could be a really good course on the limits of science with balanced views and genuine intellectuals on the subject.

  31. ploubere
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    My opinion of Ball State is considerably reduced. It does not appear to be a reputable institution, if this is any indication. It doesn’t appear that the rest of the tenured faculty is raising any objections, so that implicates the lot of them.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 1:48 am | Permalink

      They may be doing so behind the scenes. Let’s hope so!

  32. madscientist
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the student misunderstood “Hindu Monkey God” as some kind of insult? Or maybe it was meant as an insult? In either case, Hanuman (the Hindu Monkey God) is laughing his ass off having a great time.

  33. Larry Smith
    Posted June 18, 2013 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    As a brief aside, why is it usually the atheists who are “avowed”? While there’s nothing wrong with that per se (“avowed” can mean many things, such as “to acknowledge openly and unashamedly”), isn’t the connotation used in the letter quoted above meant to be “confess” or “admit,” as if there’s something unsavory going on? The coupling of “avowed atheist” just seems to be code for “strident,” IMHO.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted June 19, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

      There is something to what you are saying. The term “avowed atheist” comes from the perspective of religious people who envision atheism to be a horrible epithet.

      An avowed atheist isn’t just someone who is called an “atheist” by others, possibly unjustly, but they actually freely admit themselves that they are an atheist. Quel horreur!

  34. Me
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Does anyone know which denomination headin is a member of? I swear he sounds like a particular denomination…
    Can anyone confirm?

  35. Me
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Mmmmm not certain if his undergrad degree university IS his chosen denomination however if it is, then it’s evangelical style explains some of this pointed need to express and push his beliefs on others.

    Heck if you just swapped the word ‘atheist’ w every Christian expression these articles have stated then I beleive the ‘offender’ would be told to stop. I mean really. I don’t pay for my tuition to be told that Christianity is the ONLY answer. Yuck yuck yuck and triple yuck!!!

  36. Posted June 19, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    As a firm denier of the truth claim made by all organized religions, and someone who just posted a refutation of William Lane Craig’s cosmological argument, I should make one observation here. You are correct that this professor’s “limits of science” statement really seems to be just a way to cram God down the students’ throats. However, I think we do need to be able to discuss the limits of science as they are. I mean, at the most basic level, science requires observation, and we can only observe things which are so far away, or so small, or so large. I think the sad thing is that, though there is a legitimacy to such a discussion, the consequence of having it is too steep: giving prejudiced creationist’s ammo.

    Anywho, great post. I’ll have to read more of your blog sometime.

    Sincerely,
    Julien Haller


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