Discovery Institute and Indiana legislators ratchet up pressure on Ball State; DI issues threats and seeks emails sent to me

As I reported yesterday, four Republican legislators from Indiana have written to Ball State University (BSU) president Jo Ann Gora asking questions about the Hedin affair/ (Eric Hedin was a professor in Physics and Astronomy who was proselytizing for God and teaching intelligent design in a science class. After the Freedom from Religion Foundation informed the university, BSU launched an investigation, Hedin’s course was canned, and Gora made an eloquent statement decrying the teaching of ID as science.)

The four legislators are seeking information about the nature of BSU’s investigation of Hedin’s course, as well as about a course that supposedly pushed atheism (it did not: it was a non-science honors seminar, taught by a Catholic, that used a book of many readings, including some that were pro- and anti-religion, to inspire discussion).

There is now some new information about this kerfuffle reported by Seth Slabaugh in a Muncie Star-Press piece,Lawmakers probe religion vs. science at BSU.” The legislators are threatening “legislative action,” which I suppose would take the form of some bill that allows professors to teach intelligent design, or (as has happened in other states), tells teachers they must take a critical attitude toward scientific theories (read “evolution” and “global warming”).

Because the university has declined to release the review panel’s report, “we feel unable to judge whether the investigation was fair and impartial,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter gives Gora until the end of business on March 24 to answer the following question: “Does the policy forbid science professors from explaining either their support or rejection of intelligent design in answer to student questions about intelligent design in class?”

The letter concludes, “In order to determine if legislative action is required, we feel obligated to investigate whether BSU has acted in accord with state educational policy, legal requirements, and BSU’s own published standards.”

Kruse and fellow Republican legislators Travis Holdman, Greg Walker and Jeffrey Thompson also say they are “disturbed by reports that while you restrict faculty speech on intelligent design, BSU authorized a seminar that teaches ‘Science Must Destroy Religion.’ ”

First, as I expected, BSU is clarifying the so-called “atheist seminar” and distinguishing it from a science class:

BSU spokesman Tony Proudfoot said the legislators apparently were referring to Honors 390A, “Dangerous Ideas,” which uses a book titled, “What is Your Dangerous Idea?”

One essay in the book is titled “Science Must Destroy Religion.” Proudfoot says other essays in the book include these titles: “Science May Be Running Out of Control,” “Science Will Never Silence God,” and “Religion is the Hope that is Missing in Science.”

“This is not a seminar that teaches that ‘Science Must Destroy Religion,’ “ Proudfoot said. “That phrase is simply the title of one four-page essay among 109 others.”

He added, “It is important to note that this is an honors colloquium with honors credit. It is neither a science class bearing science credit nor a religion class bearing religion credit.”

The legislators don’t seem able to make this distinction, and the Discovery Institute (DI) is deliberately muddling things to pretend that the Honors Seminar did for atheism what Hedin’s course did for religion.  It didn’t, of course, but who ever said that the DI plays clean?

These legislators are clearly in bed with the Discovery Institute, which really should embarrass both Indiana and Ball State. The Fatuous Four are, in effect, acting as puppets of the DI, which itself is making threats against the university. One wonders, though, why the DI is so concerned with religion if intelligent design is not (as it maintains) a religious theory:

The legislators are acting on behalf of The Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank, whose vice president, John West, told The Star Press he is hopeful the legislative investigation will force Ball State to release the report of the faculty review panel, which West called “an ad hoc kangaroo committee.”

“That report should be public so the public can judge whether what happened was fair or biased or whatever,” West said.

He noted the legislators’ letter noted that they plan to ask Ball State more questions in the future.

“Ball State ought to be careful,” West said. “I think their mishandling of this could turn into a much bigger deal. Certainly, we are not going away. The speech code against intelligent design is vague and too broad and may not be being applied evenhandedly. We determined through public documents one science class is covering intelligent design in order to bash it. If they allow that, it’s tantamount to state endorsement of an anti-religious view.”

And get this—West speaking for the Indiana legislature, and making threats on their behalf. Who the hell does he think he is?

Discovery Institute officials have been meeting with the legislators.

“If Ball State isn’t more transparent … it is risking legislative intervention,” West said. “Sen. Kruse is head of the Education Committee, so I believe he has some oversight over … higher education. In the tool kit of legislators, you have funding … and you also could have legislation that would create another investigative mechanism, or set up an ombudsman with power to get data and investigate things from outside the university to deal with academic freedom complaints.”

Finally, the DI suspects that some “mole” at BSU contacted me in an attempt to sabotage the hiring of Guillermo Gonzalez, a pro-ID physics professor and author of The Privileged Planet, an ID book and movie. Gonzaelz was hired by BSU after being denied tenure at Iowa State and languishing for several years as a nontenured teacher in a small Christian college in Pennsylvania. The DI is trying to get a look at some emails to me, living up to its name as Discovery Institute:

Ball State has been contesting Discovery Institute attempts to determine if an employee of the university has been feeding information to evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago.

The institute is seeking access to any emails between any Ball State faculty and Coyne, who was instrumental in getting BSU to crack down on Hedin’s course. The institute suspects a Ball State faculty member contacted Coyne, known for his blogs attacking intelligent design, in an unsuccesful attempt to sabotage Ball State’s hiring of Guillermo Gonzalez as an assistant professor of astronomy. Like Hedin, Gonzalez is an advocate of intelligent design.

“That’s crazy,” Coyne said of the institute’s suspicions. “I made it clear I didn’t think Guillermo Gonzalez or Eric Hedin should be fired. The question was whether religion can be taught as if it were science. Like president Gora said, it’s not only wrong but illegal to represent religion as if it were science.”

He added, “The Discovery Institute is hurt because they lost, so they’re trying to make trouble. This is a watershed thing, the first time the issue of intelligent design came up in a university as opposed to a high school or elementary school. Ball State was the first time they tried, and it failed.”

I won’t say more about this except that, as I recall, I learned about Gonzalez’s hiring after the Hedin affair was already well underway, and never did a thing to sabotage the hiring of Gonzalez, which was already a fait accompli when I found out about it.

The DI is really ticked off about this, but unless the Indiana legislature wants to look like they’re manipulated by a bunch of creationist goons, they’d best let this one rest.  And I’m confident that BSU will stand their ground, even after Gora leaves (she’s retiring).

I still find it remarkable, though, that a small physics and astronomy department at Ball State managed to hire two advocates of intelligent design!

55 Comments

  1. bpuharic
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Funny how religious fanatics believe in the constitution…until they don’t. BSU is a govt institution prohibited from teaching religion. Conservatives SAY they believe in smaller govt and the constitution, until someone tries to gut the 1st amendment then they discover ‘community values’ that supersede the very constitution they say they’re fanatics about.

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

      Slight distinction to be made here. The Constitution prohibits BSU promoting religion, not teaching about it.

      I only raise this point because this is precisely the distinction between Hedin’s course and the Honors seminar.

      Hedin’s course was clearly designed to promote one specific view, providing neither a comprehensive nor widely accepted scholarly perspective, and did so under the banner of a science class.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    The institute is seeking access to any emails between any Ball State faculty and Coyne, who was instrumental in getting BSU to crack down on Hedin’s course.

    To what end? How are private emails any of their business? Are they going to send a goon squad out after someone for sending an email? Look out! If you email stuff to Jerry, the DI will come after you! Puhleeese!

    • Erp
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Emails done using a government email address (the bsu.edu address) aren’t necessarily private (see Florida with its sunshine laws and the Regnerus case where university email between a state university which housed an academic journal that accepted the paper are being demanded).

      • ploubere
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        That’s true, emails sent from a campus address are probably not protected, but so what if someone messaged Jerry about this case? What policy could that possibly violate?

  3. gbjames
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    sub

    • Darrin M Carter
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      //

      • francis
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        ///

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

          ////

  4. s. pimpernel
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    An “intelligent design think tank”. That’s an oxymoron for sure.

  5. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    DI continues it’s temper tantrum.

    Quote from the DI “WAAAAH!”

    Peter, Paul and Mary got it right – “…when will they ever learn, when will they Ehhh-ver learn”

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Actually, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was written by Pete Seeger. :)

      • Filippo
        Posted March 15, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

        True. The Kingston Trio also recorded it.

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Pete Seeger (the late, great Pete Seeger)

  6. Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    “And get this—West speaking for the Indiana legislature, and making threats on their behalf. Who the hell does he think he is?”
    _

    A spineless, religious bully pining for a theocracy?

  7. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    I still find it remarkable, though, that a small physics and astronomy department at Ball State managed to hire two advocates of intelligent design!

    You find it remarkable? I don’t in the least. I work at a university much higher in the scientific research food chain than Ball State, and stories of intimidation of our junior engineering faculty by a creationist/ID adherent and (former) senior member of our engineering faculty are not rare. I don’t have first-hand knowledge of these things, so I’ll leave it at that.

  8. Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    “The institute is seeking access to any emails between any Ball State faculty and Coyne,”

    Isn’t this Invasion of Privacy? Can’t you sue?

    • gbjames
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      Presumably this kind of correspondence would fall under open records laws, Ball State being a public institution.

  9. darrelle
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Huh. “Tony” is a strange name for a hobbit.

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Ha! I noticed the surname for the same reason!

  10. redlivingblue
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    You can tell a lot about a man by the enemies he makes. Kudos to you Professor! You are living rent free in the heads of the DI fellows. I imagine it is quite dusty and boring.

  11. Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    ‘I won’t say more about this’
    They called your website a ‘blog’, man!

  12. still learning
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Maybe someone should issue a fatwa against the DI.

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      I hereby exhort all rational people everywhere to give the DI a Bronx cheer for being a murder of morons.

  13. Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    ““Does the policy forbid science professors from explaining either their support or rejection of intelligent design in answer to student questions about intelligent design in class?”

    I would think no, if it was an answer to a direct question in a class. In that context, a professor should have a great deal of leeway in divulging their views. This is quite different from allowing a course that violates the establishment clause of the constitution.

    And on the view that the review panel must have been an “ad hoc kangaroo committee”. Since the content bearing on the conclusions of the university panel was confidential, how does the DI vice president know that? Was he there?

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      This is true.

      However, there is a distinction between what is permitted and what is ideal.

      Take the statements a) “I think intelligent design is correct, and Behe makes a compelling case” and b) “But I’m very much in the minority here, among scientists, and especially those who work in molecular biology.”

      It’s OK for a professor to say a). It’s much better for him to also say b) in conjunction with a).

      a) without b) is not illegal. But a) without b) is poor teaching.

      • Latverian Diplomat
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

        Just to clarify, the remark above is about a simgle remark from a professor. It is not about the design of an entire course.

        In an entire course, the elimination of opposing views can rise to the level of illegal promotion of religious viewpoint, as it seems to have done in Hedin’s case.

        For a one off remark in a course, the legal standard is lower, then the standard of good teaching is not, IMHO.

        • Posted March 14, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

          Yes. I would be very careful and non-committal about my opinions, if asked by a student in a classroom. This is not because I had no right to express them in this narrow context, b/c I think I do have that right. I would only wish to avoid getting into some sort of bruhaha over it. Getting my rights sorted out could be a messy process. In a more private conversation with that student in my office, I would be much more open about my views.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      “Was he there?”

      +1

  14. K. L. Noll
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    The article quotes West as saying this: “We determined through public documents one science class is covering intelligent design in order to bash it. If they allow that, it’s tantamount to state endorsement of an anti-religious view.” Wow, that is a revealing statement. The guy from DI says ID is religion. But more to the point, it is constitutional for the U.S. government to bash religion when necessary. If religion teaches beliefs or advocates behavior that will effectively infringe the rights of others, the constitution obligates government to intervene. If ID is taught as though it were real science in a public classroom, it infringes the rights of students to their education. Science professors are within their rights to bash pseudo-science, even when the pseudo-science happens to be religiously motivated.

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      “We determined through public documents one science class is covering intelligent design in order to bash it. If they allow that, it’s tantamount to state endorsement of an anti-religious view.” Wow, that is a revealing statement. The guy from DI says ID is religion.

      Yeah, that part is really rich. They turn themselves into pretzels trying to say “we don’t know who/what the designer is” and “ID is not religious” and then turn right around nd say that if you don’t teach ID (or allow it), then that’s a violation of religious freedom.

      Can’t have it both ways boys. Either it is or it isn’t, take your pick.

      But then logical consistency isn’t their strong suit! :)

      All normal people would ahng their heads in shame following an outburst like West’s (considering the past statements of the DI)!

    • Sastra
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Right. But it does indicate a problem in how we deal with certain bad ideas.

      Is Intelligent Design excluded from science classes in public schools because it’s pseudoscientific and/or wrong — or because it’s religious?

      WE know that the answer is “both.” But when it’s thrown out because of church/state separation the faithful can convince themselves that ID has been thrown out because it’s religious and CORRECT.

      That’s wrong, but they do have a legitimate grievance: under church/state separation, technically even a correct theory would have to be thrown out of science class if it supported the existence of God. As the law stands the State must stay neutral and not teach religion as fact even in the unprecedented situation where they finally have a solid scientific case which convinces the previously unconvinced.

      That would be unfair. And guess who assumes that yes, and it’s unfair right now?

  15. Maria
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    It baffles me. What is it that these people don’t understand? It is just amazing how religion completely brainwashes people who must be (seem to be) somewhat intelligent otherwise. These ID people scare the you-know-what out of me.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Oh, I think they (the DI) understand just fine. It’s just that they are dedicated to a fairly specific mission and they don’t concern themselves too much with the ethics of their tactics. Much like carnys. If you haven’t seen it already check out The Wedge Document.

      • Chris
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        Well, I suppose that the first rule of global domination is not to write your plans down as it gives your opponents the opportunity to laugh at your unrealistic targets!

        • darrelle
          Posted March 14, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

          A certain above average level of incompetence does seem to plague the DI.

  16. Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    So DI thinks there’s a mole within the university? That’s not as bad as the couple of YEC rats BSU hired as professors.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      It seems to be a defining characteristic of right-wing activists that they use language that is as inflammatory as possible, even if that language is not apropos. First, West calls the faculty review board a “kangaroo court” when it is no such thing. Then, he claims that Dr. Coyne has a “mole” at BSU. A mole is an agent who is either inserted into an organization or is recruited with the specific aim of obtaining information. It’s ridiculous to presume that Jerry did anything like that. The fact that someone at BSU volunteered some info to Jerry is a perfectly innocent and everyday occurrence, but of course since things didn’t go the way West wanted them to, he tries to pretend that there is some conspiracy working against the DI. The DI really appears both paranoid and immature.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Psychological projection perhaps? They may also have a mole, but theirs isn’t contributing anything useful.

  17. AlanF
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    A telling admission by the DI’s VP John West to The Star Press:

    “. . . We determined through public documents one science class is covering intelligent design in order to bash it. If they allow that, it’s tantamount to state endorsement of an anti-religious view.”

    West here openly admits that “intelligent design” is a religious view. Everyone knows this, of course, but rarely does the DI so blatantly admit it.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      And of course calling it a science class is a flat out lie.

  18. John K.
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    One wonders, though, why the DI is so concerned with religion if intelligent design is not (as it maintains) a religious theory.

    And then John West, DI vice president says:

    We determined through public documents one science class is covering intelligent design in order to bash it. If they allow that, it’s tantamount to state endorsement of an anti-religious view.

    So a view that bashes ID is anti-religious? Oops.

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      The inevitable consequence of “foaming” at the mouth.

    • Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Yes John, it’s an oops all right, but it appears that they are moving out from behind their transparent curtain. Reasons 2014 is going on right now in The Woodlands with this objective:

      The goal of REASONS 2014 will be to demonstrate the beautiful compatibility and synergy of the natural sciences and orthodox Christianity. See our list of speakers below, download a copy of our conference agenda and purchase your tickets today!

      Featured folks are not from BioLogos but are the biggies from the DI including Westy.

      http://faithbibleonline.org/reasons2014

  19. ichiban
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    “We determined through public documents one science class is covering intelligent design in order to bash it. If they allow that, it’s tantamount to state endorsement of an anti-religious view”

    LOL !!!! Intelligent design is apparently a religious view according to the Discovery Institute. Wedge 2.0

    • Chris
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Maybe they should stop trying to drive the thick end of the wedge in first.

      Oh, my mistake, that’s all they’ve got.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        Lol.

      • Draken
        Posted March 14, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        Yeah, they’re treating the Wedge rather like a butt plug.

  20. AlanR.
    Posted March 14, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    “The institute is seeking access to any emails between any Ball State faculty and Coyne….”

    You could offer to post all of your emails between you and Ball State if they will post ALL of their emails between the DI and anyone in the Indiana state legislature.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      I wonder how much in donations from DI these shills have taken in. That could be interesting too

  21. Posted March 14, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I continue to be astonished at how unprincipled, how unethical the Discovery Institute is willing to be to reach their ends.

    It is interesting that atheists, at least as far as their contention with theists over separation of church and state or science and religion are concerned, exhibit greater morality than the Bible believers at the Discovery Institute.

    • gbjames
      Posted March 14, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      I’m not astonished at all.

  22. kelskye
    Posted March 15, 2014 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Was there anyone, realistically-speaking, who didn’t think of ID as a religious position to begin with? The best I could imagine is that there’s someone out there who buys the arguments yet thinks it indicates an extraterrestrial intelligence drove evolution on this planet.

    The other option is that since ID has spent most of its time engaging in criticisms of current evolutionary theory, one could (in theory) buy all the ID arguments and simply say that it leaves a gaping hole in our knowledge.

    However, there’s not even a “wink-wink nudge-nudge” approach to the apparent agnosticism of the conjecture. It’s a modern restatement of the teleological argument, it’s sold as a modern restatement of the teleological argument, and ETI is a further argument to try to meet the requirement for a religion-neutral requirement for being taught in schools.

    • kelskye
      Posted March 15, 2014 at 5:05 am | Permalink

      Damn it, posted this on the wrong thread.

  23. Posted March 16, 2014 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Seth is a decent journalist, but has always been the lap dog for the University. Most of Gannett are lap puppies for monied interests in town, so you might want to avoid relying solely on their reporting of events.

    With that said, Kruse is a lunatic, and the other three lawmakers did him a favor by signing, didn’t do themselves any favors unless they live in a district backed by the Tea Party fringe element.

    Don’t forget, the Governor is also a Tea Party fanatic and represents the evangelical wing of the Tea Party also. He’s referred to Pastor Pence.

    In a sane society, like maybe in Chicago, you can laugh this off as mere harassment, but us Hoosiers are led by a super-majority of these republicans who refuse to accept billions in Medicaid dollars, add jobs, improve health of the poorest, and improve the health of our state which always ranks in the bottom quintile in the nation because of Tea Party politics.

    Anyway, don’t underestimate the lengths these lunatics will travel to inflict damage on other Hoosiers.

    We caught up with Tony Proudfoot, and will stay abreast of this situation to maintain a fair objective.

    http://muncievoice.com/10525/intelligent-design-hoosier-lawmakers-demand-answers-president-gora/


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