I thought the Ball State University (BSU) affair, in which BSU president Jo Ann Gora stated that intelligent design (ID) could not be taught in science classes, had come to a good end. Professor Eric Hedin, who was teaching ID in a science class (and apparently proselytizing for Christianity without presenting any contrary views), was told to deep-six the religious stuff and stick to his science. Gora also proclaimed that ID was not science and was not to be taught as such at her university.
Now, however, the Discovery Institute (DI) has decided it will not go gentle into that good outcome. They have written President Gora a ten-page letter (link here) demanding an investigation of the Hedin affair as well as some structural changes in the university’s teaching. The letter is signed by John West, vice-president of the DI, as well as by Joshua Youngkin, DI Program Officer in Public Policy and Law, and Donald McLaughlin, described as a “Ball State University Alumnus and Resident of Indiana Regional Representative Discovery Institute” (whatever that means).
I haven’t time to absorb the letter and write about it at length, but there are analyses at the websites of Lady Atheist and Sensuous Curmudgeon, as well as the DI’s own announcement, ”Discovery Institute demands that Ball State University Investigate class for teaching that “science must destroy religion“. There’s also a piece by Seth Slabaugh at the Muncie Star-Press.
A few reactions. The letter begins with a mischaracterization of ID as respectable science:
Your July 31 statement demonstrated why we need free and open discussion on this topic. The statement was not based on what proponents of intelligent design actually believe, but instead clearly relied on stereotypes and misrepresentations from its critics. This is not how free and open inquiry is conducted. Had you investigated more widely, you would have learned that there are many distinguished scientists who believe there is empirical evidence of design and purpose in nature, especially in the disciplines of physics, cosmology, and astronomy. These scientists are not “creationists,” and their scientific views are not derived from the Bible. These scientists include those who accept Darwinian theory in biology but who think there is evidence of design at the level of the universe as a whole.
Of course those scientists are creationists, and the view that their scientific ideas don’t derive from the Bible is, as we all know, mendacious: ID supporters are virtually all religious and have confessed both privately and publicly (as in the “Wedge Document“) that their goal is to expel materialism from schools and replace it with Christianity.
The letter then goes on to make a ton of demands on BSU, including prohibiting the criticizing of ID in any class, getting rid of any ethical, moral, or political discussions in science-related courses (here they are conflating discredited ID—religiously based and discredited science— with other forms of “nonscience” discussion), an investigation of the qualifications of other professors teaching “science and society” courses, and an investigation of an Honors seminar taught by Paul Ranieri, an English professor. Ranieri’s seminar (Honors 390: “Dangerous Ideas”) uses a book in which several atheists, including me, have essays promoting nonbelief and materialism. This is the course, and I have no idea what the other readings are:
Remember, though, that Hedin’s course would have been acceptable to most of us if a). it hadn’t been a science course for which students got science credit, and b). if offered as a non0-science course, it presented a balanced view (i.e., a variety of disparate views that students could debate) rather than just a list of religious readings showing that science reflects the hand of God. Honors 390E is not a science course, and there’s no evidence that professor Ranieri presents only an atheistic point of view.
We shouldn’t forget that ID is not only religion in disguise, but discredited science. Teaching it of course violates the First Amendment, but also promotes bad science, like teaching homeopathy as the sole curriculum in a medical-school course or flat-earthism in a geology course. ”Academic freedom” does not give you the right to teach anything you want, even if it’s bull-goose loony.
As far as criticizing ID, it should be criticized not because it’s religiously based (after all, a religiously-based theory could be right), but because there’s no evidence for it, and what evidence there is discredits it. That is, in fact, the main reason why Gora banned ID from science classes.
While the First Amendment provides a legal reason to ban ID from being taught as acceptable science, there are also academic grounds to prohibit its being taught: it’s unsound science. When you criticize ID or creationism in public schools, it’s not kosher to say it’s wrong because it’s religious (that’s a violation of the First Amendment); you must say, as I do, that it’s wrong because there is not a shred of evidence for it. Arguing that if you ban the teaching of ID you must also ban criticism of ID is like saying you can’t ban the teaching of young-earth creationism without also banning teaching that the earth is not 6,000 years old—even though the evidence says it’s older.
In other words, in science classes you are free to teach good science but are not free to teach bad science, whether religiously based or not.
For a fuller consideration of the issues, I recommend Lady Atheist’s post.
Finally, the Discovery Institute issues a threat at the end (read: lawsuit):
We ask for a response to each of the items listed above by no later than the end of business on Monday, September 30, 2013. If you do not respond by that time, we will assume that you do not intend to answer our questions, or otherwise cooperate with our reasonable requests, and that we must therefore seek remedy elsewhere.
I’m not sure if President Gora will respond (I wouldn’t if I were she), and I doubt that the Discovery Institute has good grounds to file a lawsuit. To do that, they would have to show that BSU is pushing an atheistic point of view in its courses, something for which there’s no evidence. They’d also have to argue that ID isn’t religiously based, something that the courts have already contradicted (e.g., Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover et al.), and so its teaching couldn’t be prohibited. They’d also have to argue that “academic freedom” allows a professor to teach whatever he or she wants, a dicey position given that federal courts have already ruled otherwise. Finally, they’d have to have standing, that is, have a litigant who has been injured by Ball State’s current policy. Good luck with that.
The DI is butthurt and squalling like an injured child. Their theories have been rejected by mainstream science, as recognized by President Gora, and so they’re trying to prohibit anybody from criticizing those theories.