More on HedinGate

There’s another in the continuing series of articles by Seth Slabaugh, the Muncie Star-Press reporter who is covering the case of Dr. Eric Hedin, the Ball State University (BSU) professor under investigation for teaching intelligent design and proselytizing Christianity in a science class. Slabaugh’s piece, “Professor left twisting in the wind?“, takes its title from a Discovery Institute characterization of how Hedin is being treated.

The subtitle is “God versus science debate over BSU class includes gets ugly.” (I think that “includes” is a typo here, unless “gets ugly” is some kind of noun.)  And it’s largely about the tone of the debate rather than the substance, which makes me more than a little unhappy.

I’m quoted several times as having made statements characterized by Slabauth (and the Discovery Institute or DI) as inflammatory and verbally abusive, including:

Hedin has been called “the nutty professor” by Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago and author of the blog, “Why Evolution is True.” Coyne has referred to the controversy as “Hedingate.”

and these (all taken from this website).

“Were we supposed to sit back and let Hedin shove Jesus down his students’ throats, as well as presenting creationism in his science class? Well excuse me for informing Hedin’s chair (and then, when the chair did nothing, the Freedom from Religion Foundation) about his course.”

“I suspect Ball State is getting a wee bit nervous about the publicity now. Granted, their instinct is to cover their tuchus, cater to the religious and conservative majority of Indiana, and hope that it all blows over, but they’re starting to look like Dayton, Tenn., during the Scopes Trial.”

“ … I’ll be happy if this doesn’t go to court but is simply resolved by BSU telling Hedin that he can’t shove Jesus down the throats of his students. If they don’t do that, then I have no problem with saying that the BSU administration is simply cowardly and unwilling to stand up for good science.”

Je ne regrette rien.  The “nutty professor” might seem a bit ad hominem, but remember that Hedin is teaching lies to his science class about intelligent design and the supposed evidence for God and Jesus in the universe. Remember that he said the universe must have been designed by the Christian god because it’s impossible that “some Hindu monkey god” was involved. It seems more charitable (and not out of place) to call him “nutty” rather than a “liar.”

The DI is also noted for “similar rhetoric” emanating from the old faker David Klinghoffer (words in quotes come from Klinghoffer):

 “Physicist Eric Hedin is still left twisting in the wind, thanks to the administrators at his university.”

Coyne is an “ignoramus” and “a bully.”

“Distinctly on the far fringe, FFRP campaigns for erasing ‘In God We Trust’ from American currency … and is also responsible for some hard-edged billboards you may have seen including, ‘Yes Virginia…There Is No God,’ ‘ Heathen’s Greetings,’ ‘ Sleep In on Sundays’ and ‘Enjoy Life Now. There Is No Afterlife.’ “

You know what? I don’t care  a whit about the tone of those statements. This is exactly what is to be expected on websites (not in academic journals, note) in a case that is not purely academic, but political. To me it’s about two related issues: 1) whether professors at public universities have the right to abrogate the First Amendment to the Constitution by pushing a particular religious viewpoint in the classroom, and 2) whether a professor has the right to teach lies (intelligent design creationism) in a science class, especially when he fails to present the other side.

The DI’s invective rolls off my back. At one time they—I think it was William Dembski—posted a picture of me next to one of Herman Munster, pointing out the resemblance.  They eventually removed it, but it didn’t bother me at all. Satire is one of the weapons in this battle between rationality and superstition.  When they don’t have arguments, they have Herman Munster and satire based on looks.

So the rhetoric from the DI doesn’t faze me in the least, and it doesn’t seem to have fazed anyone else but reporter Slabaugh. I’ve been criticized for many things in this fracas, but none of the criticism has been about my tone. It’s invariably that I’m an evolutionary carpetbagger, riding into Indiana to enforce my scientific/atheistic views on another university.

So tone is hardly an issue here, and neither is Hedin’s “twisting in the wind,” which, after all, merely means he awaits the outcome of Ball State’s investigation of his class, an investigation which is the right thing for BSU to do.

The other part of the piece deals with George Wolfe, a BSU professor who was accused in 2004 by right-wingnut David Horowitz of “supporting terrorists and indoctrinating students with a liberal, anti-military, anti-American political agenda.” But Wolfe’s case wasn’t similar to Hedin’s at all. There was no formal investigation, and Wolfe was quickly exonerated by the BSU president. Wolfe probably made a few “liberal” statements in his class and offended some right-wing students, who reported him.

The main dissimilarity between the Wolfe and Hedin cases is what the men were accused of. Hedin is not being hounded for thinking wrong thoughts or displaying “wrong” sentiments. He is accused of teaching manifest rubbish and calling it science, as well as violating the First Amendment.

Nevertheless, Wolfe, as is natural, was upset by this accusation that came out of nowhere, and has written Hedin a letter of support. It includes this.

“From what I have read about your class, I think having your students critically examine scientific theories in an Honors College class is most appropriate,” Wolfe wrote.

Be careful, Dr. Wolfe, for there was no “critical examination” in Hedin’s class. There was plenty of reading about the immanence of God and Jesus in the universe, but none about the absence of evidence for God. No Dawkins, no Stenger, no Sagan, no Krauss, no Carroll.

And Wolfe appends some advice, apparently intended for Hedin and his detractors:

“The answer to political intrusion and verbal abuse by misinformed individuals or groups is not to repress their expression but to respond with truth and dignified nonviolence. We must refuse to become like our enemies, and never allow ourselves to be drawn into hateful, slanderous debate.”

I’m not sure what he’s talking about unless he’s projecting what happened to him on this episode (entirely possible given that the firebrand Horowitz was involved), but the debate to date has been far from hateful, and hardly slanderous.  Yes, there’s been some strong language, but that’s what happens in cases like this.  Certainly my initial letter to Hedin’s chair was calm and reasoned, but of course achieved nothing.

What’s not important here is the tone, but the issues. The investigation of Hedin grinds on, and I hope will reach the conclusion that he transgressed, and that his course should be either dropped or changed to a philosophy/religion course that, in contrast to its present incarnation, allows airing of the secular side of science.  By concentrating on the “he-said/they said” issues, emphasizing that things are “getting ugly,” and that Hedin is “twisting in the wind” (a very unwise choice for a headline, coming as it does straight from the DI), the newspaper has taken its eyes off the prize.

Let’s get back to the issues, Star-Press, and behave like the serious paper you purport to be. You’re not the National Enquirer, and there are serious issues of academic and religious freedom here. Concentrating on “tone” is simply a distraction.

40 Comments

  1. Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    [joke]”Horowitz” should be “Hororwitz”[/joke]

    • Gordon Hill
      Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      [pratfall comment] Horrorwitz? [/pratfall comment]

  2. gbjames
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the update.

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    If any tone should be scrutinized, it’s the tone of the Star-Press’s article which distracts from the real issues in its characterization of the BSU course as rhetoric coming from the left and right.

    The article successfully buries the main issue of teaching Jesus soaked pseudo science as accepted scientific fact in a science class for science credit and reduces the seriousness of the argument to meer squabbling amongst left and right ideologies. Of course, this also implies there are two sides to every story and in this way support’s the “teach the controversy” edict.

    You see how this article’s tone impacts the readers. The comments centre on outrage that political rhetoric invades the classroom instead of false religious dogma sneaking in as real science. Seems like a clever way to subconsciously persuade readers to support Hedin’s course while appearing to be somewhat neutral.

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    “Let’s get back to the issues, Star-Press. You’re not the National Inquirer…”

    It sounds like this one reporter is journalistically inept.

    • Jeff D
      Posted June 22, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Like many other daily newspapers in Indiana, the Star-Press was purchased some years ago by a national chain (Gannett, in this case, and also in the case of the Indianapolis Star). Consolidation of ownership has not generally changed the editorial policies of Indiana newpapers that have long been conservative; nor has it improved the quality of the journalism. A reporter who is much-better-than-average as an investigator and journalist is not going to stay in a small market like Muncie unless he or she has unusually strong family ties or loyalty to the community.

  5. Ty Gardner
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    The answer is to have the course co-taught. The opposing viewpoint will have to be brought in by an outsider because fundamentalists like Hedin are generally unable to teach multiple perspectives. In an honors course ideas, in this case of the instructors, should be challenged in a very real way. What better way to do that than by having a peer with an opposing viewpoint, and in this case evidence to support it, provide the opposition?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

      Your larger point that the course should be more balaneced is a good one but it still has to be moved out of the science curriculum and should not be for science credit.

      Since there are no “perspectives” but truths and falsehoods in these subjects, co-teaching it as part of the science curriculum only gives credence to the erroneous claim that there are controversies to the science that is somehow covered up by scientists.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    So if the “designer” is “of course” not a “monkey god”, then of course it must be a “savior god” delivering us from original sin. Apparently, Hedin thinks this is common sense. Why not conclude from Hedin’s arguments we’re simulations in the matrix??

    Re: “At one time they—I think it was William Dembski—posted a picture of me next to one of Herman Munster”, Dr. Jerry Coyne bears an even closer resemblance to the marvelous actor who !*played*! Herman Munster, Fred Gwynne, which is actually a pretty flattering comparison.

    Try these two:

    Fred Gwynne

    Jerry Coyne

    • LB
      Posted June 22, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I *loved* Fred Gwynne. Thank you for sharing that.

  7. Gordon Hill
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Thanks. I read the article and thought he was going for the emotional reader.

    The question is whether it is appropriate to teach belief as fact. If Dr. Hedin was teaching phrenology as medicine or astrology as cosmology he would likely be censured, even dismissed, but he has broad public support for teaching ID as science.

    This is an area where Dr. Coyne, being correct, might be less effective than Dr. Kenneth Miller rendering the same concerns.

  8. Thanny
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Treat “includes” as a noun, and the sentence makes more sense. Still awkward, but that’s true of many attempts at summarizing something with one sentence.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      Huh? You mean, as if it were “inclusions?”

  9. brujofeo
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    “Concentrating on ‘tone’ is simply a distraction.”

    Which is PRECISELY why it’s being done.

    “When the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts are against you, argue the law.
    When both are against you, call the other lawyer names.”

    I can’t find an “original” source for this, no doubt because it’s been an obvious guiding principle since before there were lawyers. (Sometimes the last phrase is expressed as “pound your shoe on the table.”)

  10. Posted June 22, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    ***c

  11. Posted June 22, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I am so confused by this whole “scandal”. I have zero experience with college-level courses , but I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that a professor is allowed to teach whatever they want, whether if falls into the scope of their expertise or not. To me, religious instruction aside, if he is out there relaying incorrect scientific information, he should not have tenure. There has to be a line somewhere. So are you telling me that a (an?) astronomy professor can teach the earth-centric model of the universe? Or that the earth is flat? Or that illness is caused by evil spirits? It’s nonsense, it’s wrong, and it doesn’t belong. But here we have placed religion, again, on a pedestal…some intangible, untouchable authority to which we all must defer. It’s crap and it doesn’t belong in a public university and it sure as hell doesn’t belong in a science class. I am 100% on Jerry’s side here. Having never been to college I just assumed that there were some type of criteria or credentials that had to be maintained, regardless of tenure. That “tenure” gig is a sweet deal I guess. So baffling…

    • Posted June 22, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      I agree, I can’t understand why anyone (without religious motivations) would think prosthelytizing and the teaching of nonsense would be acceptable in a science course.

      I tend to doubt (but maybe I’m wrong) that anyone would be ok with teaching Galen as fact in an anatomy class at a medical school, and I’m not sure how this is fundamentally different.

    • chascpeterson
      Posted June 22, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Nobody thinks that a professor should be able to teach anything at all.
      The principle worth protecting here is that curriculum needs to be controlled by the faculty.
      In this case, faculty oversight has dropped the ball. I presume that the BSU ‘investigation’ will arrive at a similar onclusion.
      Even though in this case it seems to have required a threat of legal action to even start an investigation, I and others are still convinced that the threat of legal action sets a dangerous example and precedent.

      • Posted June 22, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        What about defending the students who took a college course on science and got religious instruction instead? We don’t allow it in our grade schools, we shouldn’t allow it in public colleges. I think I see the problem here. We have TWO pedestals. Religion sits smugly on one, while tenure sits out of reach on the other one.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 22, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          Not so much a tension of tenure and religion. I’ll restate what I said in a previous post about the Hedin situation.

          Some like chascpeterson oppose legal involvement because they fear that if this professor is prevented from teaching a biased Christ infected course as science by an outside legal institution, we will quickly slide down a slippery slope where the state will start kicking universities around and professors will inevitably be forced to research and teach only what the state approves of.

          IMO, this is the wrong slippery slope.

          The evangelical (and ID) agenda is to get ID (gussied up creationism) into as many institutions as possible. As Jerry has rightly pointed out, if Hedin is allowed to continue, what is to prevent falsehoods being taught anywhere? This is the real slippery slope!

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted June 22, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

            Yes. We need to be aware of priorities, even if others chose differently.

      • tomh
        Posted June 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        the threat of legal action sets a dangerous example and precedent.

        The only precedent it sets, which is not a precedent at all, is that if you break the law and use public money to proselytize your religion, you will be held accountable. Hopefully. I don’t expect the school to hold Hedin accountable, but I would expect it from the courts. There is no law against teaching astrology as astronomy, or any of the other examples people have given, and if that were all that was happening there would be no threat of a lawsuit. But using public institutions to forcefeed religion to people is generally illegal. That’s why the courts should resolve this situation.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Meh. I know that evolution always goes for local minimum [of inverse fitness], but its success shows that it works to try whatever works. Yes, you can be cleverer, but so far that pathway goes into ideology, apart from facts.

        That is btw why “strident atheists” are supposed to be strident, trying what the accomos don’t. We need _more_ “dangerous example and precedent”, because Darwin knows accepting bullies and BS doesn’t work.

    • brujofeo
      Posted June 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      +1. Very well stated.

  12. chascpeterson
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    nice. did I say something to offend?

  13. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    The DI’s invective rolls off my back. At one time they—I think it was William Dembski—posted a picture of me next to one of Herman Munster, pointing out the resemblance.

    Yes, the DI certainly owns the high road (roll-eyes). Who could forget Dembski’s fart sound animation following the loss at Dover? Classy classy guy.

  14. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    A small mark of progress – this is the first mention of you in the article:
    … Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago and author of the blog, “Why Evolution is True.

    Whereas on June 14 it was:
    atheist Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago

    They also don’t report the religious affilition of Wolfe, Klinghoffer, or even Hedin.

    • Posted June 22, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      I know: that’s not very even-handed.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted June 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      The tone of the tone article reduces the debate to a matter of opinion. Things are objectively true or they’re not. As a non-science major when I was in college, I deserved the best science course my college could offer precisely because I wasn’t going to be taking any others! (Not a “crap course” that is considered harmless because science majors wouldn’t take it)

      The critical question of whether Hedin pulled a bait-and-switch on his students by teaching a course that didn’t fit the course description is the #1 question for the administration, imho. They should censure him just for that in the first place.

      The second critical question is whether ID should be taught in any science course.

      A third critical question is whether ID should be taught in the university at all, except as a “Why ID is wrong” segment in an education course.

      I took a look at the DI’s list of “scientists” who support them, and Hedin is not on the list. BUT… one of the people on the list is a graduate of Ball State’s Science Education program. That’s rather frightening.

      We really are in danger of slipping into another Dark Ages if science becomes a matter of opinion and the sneaky bullies of DI are able to spread their lies into college-level education for future public school teachers.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        oops that was meant as a comment not a reply to a comment!

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Well done as usual, it really shows that biologists are familiar with grappling complexity.

    Which may be why I have some nitpicks:

    2) whether a professor has the right to teach lies (intelligent design creationism) in a science class, especially when he fails to present the other side.

    Perhaps this is along the simplification set up when evolution is described as teleology? In any case the reverse to “lies” are facts, not the he-said-they-said “other side” frame.

    I love the energy and consistency that surface on this bl… site, but I think “sides” is granting the religio-political detractors their strategical image. They don’t have a leg to stand on, and we should always make use of that fact.

    There was plenty of reading about the immanence of God and Jesus in the universe, but none about the absence of evidence for God.

    Even if you don’t agree with me that we have evidence of absence of magic, I think this could be more forceful in Hedin’s case. He has made an open selection, and we do have evidence of absence of Hedin’s magic.

    E.g. we have evidence of that the two creation stories of his religion are inconsistent mutually and with facts, evidence that life likely evolves spontaneously, evidence of no design of traits and species, evidence of no global floods, evidence of no single human breeding pair, evidence that his religions claims are inconsistent with history, evidence that there is no “soul” and so no afterlife, evidence that intercessory prayer doesn’t work, and so on and so forth.

  16. Posted June 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Great post, but one error I found:

    “…whether a professor has the right to teach lies (intelligent design creationism) in a science class, especially when he fails to present the other side.”

    It really should say, “…fails to present the TRUTH!”

    • Posted June 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      Oops! Just noticed Torbjorn beat me to it. Sorry for the redundant post.

  17. Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    One of the things George Wolfe was criticized for was being a saxophonist and daring to teach outside the music field. Horowitz went on at some length that a *saxophonist* shouldn’t teach a class about politics. He kept going on and on about the saxophone, as if playing one somehow makes you stupid and incapable of mastering any other academic field. George had the formal training for the class he was teaching – Horowitz just didn’t agree with his opinions and didn’t research George’s educational background thoroughly enough. So, although George is apparently offering Hedin some support, the two cases are quite different. Several students have talked about how nice this Hedin guy is – I’m sure everyone who knows him in real life and is interacting with him at all at this time is expressing support in some fashion, even if they don’t agree with what he’s doing.

    • Posted June 22, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      Just re-read the part about George Wolfe – I was going by memory from this morning – I think you’re right that some projection is going on here. This isn’t the same situation that he experienced at all. But it’s probably pushing all kinds of buttons for him.

  18. Diane G.
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    sub


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