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!