Ball State University hires another creationist

Ball State University seems intent on embarrassing itself.  The latest news, provided by an reader who likes real science, is that BSU has hired yet another Discovery Institute (DI) intelligent-design creationist to teach astronomy classes.

Check out the fall 2013 course offerings in Astronomy at Ball State. There you’ll find two courses:

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 2.37.04 PMand

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 2.43.58 PM

Yep, you’re right–that’s Guillermo Gonzalez, a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow and currently an associate professor of Physics at Grove City College.  According to Wikipedia, he’s also “a fellow with the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design, which also promotes intelligent design.” (It’s not clear to me whether Gonzalez will just be visiting and teaching at BSU or is a permanent hire.)

You may know about the man for several reasons, one of which is his co-authorship of the notorious book The Privileged Planet, described below. Although I haven’t read the book, I have seen the video on which it’s based, and it gives a religiously slanted view of cosmology. Its message: Earth was designed by God an Intelligent Designer as a great place from which to find out more about the universe.

Here’s a bit more about his background, again from Wikipedia:

Gonzalez was a regular contributor to Facts for Faith magazine produced by Reasons To Believe, an old earth creationist group.In addition to his work for the Discovery Institute and International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, he is a researcher for the Biologic Institute, which is funded by the institute for research into intelligent design.

In 2004 he published The Privileged Planet and its accompanying video, which takes the arguments of the Rare Earth hypothesis and combines them with arguments that the Earth is in prime location for observing the universe. He then proposes that the Earth was intelligently designed. William H. Jefferys, a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin, reviewed the book writing “the little that is new in this book isn’t interesting, and what is old is just old-hat creationism in a new, modern-looking astronomical costume.” Co-author Jay Richards responds to such criticism with the following statement: “It has absolutely nothing to do with biological evolution. We are talking about the things that you need to produce a habitable planet, which is a prerequisite for life. It doesn’t tell you anything about how life got here.” A documentary based on the book was produced by the Discovery Institute.

Gonzalez is also notorious for having been denied tenure at Iowa State University, which led the Discovery Institute to cast him as a martyr fired for his belief in ID.  The University has denied that, and was supported by the Chronicle of Higher Education. From Wikipedia again:

The University has issued an FAQ concerning the situation saying that “The consensus of the tenured department faculty, the department chair, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the executive vice president and provost was that tenure should not be granted. Based on recommendations against granting tenure and promotion at every prior level of review, and his own review of the record, President Gregory Geoffroy notified Gonzalez in April that he would not be granted tenure and promotion to associate professor.” The denial of tenure for Gonzalez resulted in one of the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns with the Institute encouraging its followers to call and email Geoffroy and urge him to reverse the decision.

The Chronicle of Higher Education said of Gonzalez and the Discovery Institute’s claims of discrimination “At first glance, it seems like a clear-cut case of discrimination … But a closer look at Mr. Gonzalez’s case raises some questions about his recent scholarship and whether he has lived up to his early promise.” The Chronicle observed that Gonzalez had no major grants during his seven years at ISU, had published no significant research during that time and had only one graduate student finish a dissertation.

That’s not a strong case for tenure. But even if Gonzalez had been denied tenure not for lack of good scholarship but because of his work on ID, I would not consider that a tenure-able accomplishment. Such  work would not have been publishable in decent scientific journals, for ID is, after all, a religously based theory with no scientific support.

Gonzalez now has an untenured position at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, where he heads an astronomy program.

Now I’m not claiming that Gonzalez is going to teach intelligent design, or proselytize for religion in Ball State classrooms, but really, is this the best BSU can do when hiring astronomy professors, even on a temporary basis? Is there some unholy connection between BSU and the Discovery Institute, or is the Department of Astronomy just sympathetic to intelligent design?

Regardless, this is a very unwise move for Ball State, particularly when one of its other astronomy professors, Eric Hedin, is under investigation for teaching ID in an astronomy class. If the University wants to retain any scientific credibility, they should start hiring scientists who will teach real science and not religious apologetics.

45 Comments

  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  2. Posted June 24, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    If it were me, I would look for another university to study science. Ohio would be the last place. They just got electricity last month.

    • Ryan
      Posted June 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      As someone who will soon be a new faculty member at an Ohio university, let me point out in defense that BSA is in Indiana, not Ohio.

      • Ryan
        Posted June 24, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        ^BSU

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 24, 2013 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

        The Boy Scouts?
        :D

        • Posted June 24, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

          When I see that abbreviation, my first thought is Botanical Society of America, where I am a member. Which makes reading these articles about the other BSA deciding whether to allow gays to join a pretty odd experience.

          • BillyJoe
            Posted June 25, 2013 at 4:28 am | Permalink

            I see what you mean. If they didn’t allow gays in the Botanical Society of America, they wouldn’t have any members. |:

            • Posted June 25, 2013 at 5:53 am | Permalink

              Not sure I understand this.

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted June 25, 2013 at 12:53 am | Permalink

          Birmingham Small Arms.

          • Draken
            Posted June 25, 2013 at 4:22 am | Permalink

            The famous motorcycle factory.

        • Posted June 25, 2013 at 3:02 am | Permalink

          British Sadists Association

          • Posted June 25, 2013 at 3:04 am | Permalink

            Last year we attacked the British Masochists Association HQ, but they wouldn’t fight back. We now have a very fruitful interdisciplinary relationship.

  3. ploubere
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    And Ball State’s stock just sank even lower in my estimation.

  4. Posted June 24, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I can hardly believe that this hiring was a result of oversight or error. I think it’s probably deliberate.

    I think it may also be a sign on how BSU will decide the Hedin case.

    Very sad.

    • eric
      Posted June 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      I agree. Seems pretty clear that there’s at least a significant faction in their science department(s) that is sympathetic to creationism.

      Reputation, meet toilet.

      • Jeff D
        Posted June 25, 2013 at 12:43 am | Permalink

        Ball State’s hiring or engagement of Prof. Gonzalez is especially unfortunate now, because the University is in the middle of a fund-raising campaign for an expensive new planetarium. I know some intelligent, wealthy potential donors who would have been quite happy to donate money . . . but not at this time, given the University’s and the Astronomy Department’s apparent poor judgment, lack of candor, and indecisiveness in dealing with Eric Hedin, and now recklessness in assigning Gonzalez to teach courses.

  5. Posted June 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Now I’m not claiming that Gonzalez is going to teach intelligent design, or proselytize for religion in Ball State classrooms, but really, is this the best BSU can do when hiring astronomy professors, even on a temporary basis?

    I wonder what they are paying him. Maybe Gonzalez is seen as damaged goods who can be hired at a relatively lower salary.

  6. Sawdust Sam
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    ‘Earth was designed by (God) an Intelligent Designer as a great place from which to find out more about the universe.’

    Isn’t that a variation of Douglas Adams’ proposal that Earth was created to be: ‘A computer which can calculate the Question to the Ultimate Answer, a computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall be part of the operational matrix.’
    HHGG, of course.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink

      So, the mice are the Intelligent Designers?

      • Draken
        Posted June 25, 2013 at 4:24 am | Permalink

        I was already wondering whether he’s a man, or a mouse.

      • Marella
        Posted June 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        Mice do at least exist so I guess it’s more plausible than gods.

  7. Posted June 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Well, we will just have to see. I have no issue with them hiring a creationist who is able to squash everything he believes and holds dear in order to teach a proper astronomy course. How one can have the qualifications to teach astronomy yet still believe in a personal deity and a 6,000 yo earth is beyond me.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 24, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      At least he’s not teaching cosmology!

      (I hope.)

    • eric
      Posted June 24, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      As far as I know, his publication record took a sharp nosedive around the same time he got deep into creationism.

      Now, I could somewhat understand hiring a “spare-time” creationist with a solid record of bringing in mainstream research grants and producing mainstream publications. But if you’re hiring a professor that doesn’t bring in as much research grant money as other astronomers looking for jobs, doesn’t publish as much as other astronomers looking for jobs, and is a creationist, then I think its perfectly reasonable for outsiders to conclude that the hiring department or university sees his creationism as a teaching asset/opportunity. Yes?

    • magster2
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      It looks like you may have missed this portion of Jerry’s quote from Wikipedia:

      “Gonzalez was a regular contributor to Facts for Faith magazine produced by Reasons To Believe, an old earth creationist group.”

      Gonzalez has enough to go after him for without saddling him with young earth creationism as well, unless you have specific information pointing in that direction.

  8. tomh
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Coincidentally, Ball St turned up in an opinion handed down by the Supreme Court today, Vance v. Ball State University. Ball St was the defendant in a workplace harassment suit, for allowing racial harassment to go on in the workplace. The usual suspects, Alito (author), Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy lined up to absolve Ball St of liability, (by strictly re-defining who qualifies as a supervisor). Ginsburg, et.al., strongly dissented. It will be interesting to see if the same lineup holds when an ID case gets to the Court (and I’m convinced that will happen one day.)

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Ball State should just come clean and declare itself a Christian university already.

  10. neil
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Disturbing. Gonzalez has done some reputable work in astronomy on galatic habitable zones. Hedin has done decent work too. Beats me how they can believe that other nonsense. At this rate, the BSU Astronomy department can soon claim to be the nation’s leading center for creationist astronomy, which explains how god created a 14 billion year old universe in six days just so humans could inhabit one tiny speck in it.

    • marcoli666
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 5:25 am | Permalink

      I followed the Gonzalez case as it was unfolding, since Iowa State U is my undergrad alma mater. He did have an excellent publication record, and that has been emphasized by the DI as evidence that he was discriminated against. Buuuut that was from his post-doc years, and so those are really a reflection of the productivity of his post-doc mentor before ISU.
      At ISU his peer reviewed pubs were zilch. A tenure decision is especially based on the peer reviewed publication record while an assistant prof. The DI of course will never mention that little detail.

  11. ladyatheist
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Speechless.

  12. Zugswang
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I think Ball State just doesn’t want to have to deal with another C. Martin Gaskell-like lawsuit. Anyone remember what the University of Kentucky had to deal with when they chose not to hire a creationist astronomer to their faculty, and had to eventually settle a rather expensive employment discrimination suit?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/us/19kentucky.html

    It was utterly absurd; there were plenty of qualified candidates, but apparently finding a cross upon which to hang yourself can be incredibly lucrative in this political climate.

    On a side note, what’s with all these creationist astronomers?

    • eric
      Posted June 25, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      I doubt lawsuit issues are the reason they picked him. I think you’re being too kind.

      It should’ve been easy for BSU to find a candidate with better objective and secular credentials – i.e., longer publication record, better citation ranking (by whatever criteria astronomers use), and a greater record of grant funding. In my albeit very limited experience, academic positions are extremely sought after and candidate pools typically outpace the number of jobs by a factor of 10 to 1 or more. In this job climate, if BSU hires a new professor, I think its reasonable to conclude that they actively wanted to hire that specific individual.

  13. TnkAgn
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    BS University, indeed.

  14. Posted June 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Wow. You know, when teenagers behave like this we usually call it, “a cry for help.” Ball State

    • Posted June 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Oops! Hit send too soon. Was just going to add that Ball State is acting like it needs professional help. I hope they get the help they need.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted June 24, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        Maybe the plan is to treat both of them equally and that will protect them against a lawsuit from Hedin. If both of them are told in no uncertain terms to leave their ID at the door, neither has a lawsuit.

  15. ahbwalter
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Our local paper here in NE Indiana has an article about once a month by Cecil Bohanon, a Libertarian activist and economics professor at what we lovingly call “Testicle Tech”. He’s also on the board of the Heartland Institute and worked as a paid consultant for the tobacco industry for years. Anyone else detect a pattern here?

  16. johnknapp2
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Ball State could save itself a lot of grief if it would only add to its hiring specs: ONLY ATHEISTS NEED APPLY. That’s the only religion that’s unchallenged in the Post-Free Speech university world.

    • Ryan
      Posted June 24, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      But then who would teach the Wiccan chemistry course, the Poseidon oceanography course, and Hindu cosmology…?

  17. Pete Grimes
    Posted June 24, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Could the whole thing just be a problem to do with format and spacing do we think?

    In the UK the word “Tate” is synonymous with a definitive collection or display, Hence we have the original Tate itself, the Liverpool Tate, the St Ives Tate and, perhaps most famously the Modern Tate with a definitive collection of modern art.

    Could this institution just be Muncie’s attempt to house a definitive collection of it’s own?

    The Balls Tate

  18. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Yikes – another painful Michael Medved Show: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/06/today_on_the_mi_3073751.html

    I’ve had tummy troubles for a few weeks so I don’t know if I can stomach listening!

  19. Mattapult
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    The Book of Revelations clearly states that one third of the stars will fall form the sky. Since Hedin and Gonzalez are Christian Astronomers, they should be well qualified to explain exactly where those stars will go. And why the first star falling from the sky doesn’t end Earth immediately.

  20. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    … or is the Department of Astronomy just sympathetic to intelligent design?

    BINGO! Bingo has been called.

  21. Posted June 25, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Is this a “thumb in the eye of the opponent moment”?


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