“Science” course at Ball State University sneaks in religion

Ball State University,  in Muncie, Indiana, is a public university (i.e., part of the state university system).  As such, it must abide by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which has been interpreted as disallowing religious viewpoints (or religiously based theories) in public-school science classes. It is of course kosher to teach courses on the history of religion, or on the relationship between science and religion, but those must not pretend to be “science” courses, and must present balanced views—they can’t push a particular religious viewpoint.

But it’s come to my attention that a science course at Ball State University—actually two courses, because it seems to be cross-listed—is little more than a course in accommodationism and Christian religion, with very little science. It’s my firm opinion that teaching this course at a state university not only violates the First Amendment, but cheats the students by subjecting them to religious proselytizing when they’re trying to learn science.

The course is taught by Eric Hedin, an assistant professor at Ball State’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. In one of its guises it’s an “honors” course, “Inquiries in the Physical Sciences,” which fulfills the science requirement for students as part of the University Core Curriculum:

Inquiries course

Apparently the same course, or a similar one,  is cross-listed in the Physics and Astronomy department as Astronomy 151: “The Universe and You,” but the syllabus, which you can download, and which is virtually identical to the syllabus of Honors 296 (the department chair has verified this for me), calls it “The Boundaries of Science.”  To see the nature of this course and its infusion with religion (and notable lack of hard science), I’ll simply reproduce the 3.5 pages of the syllabus.  By no stretch of the imagination can this be seen as a course that fulfills a science requirement:

Picture 1

Note the numinous implications, especially the course objective to consider the implications of physics, life, and consciousness for “indications of the nature and existence of God.” As you’ll see, the syllabus is clearly slanted to show that scientific phenomena do indeed provide evidence for God.

Note that  on page 2 (below), the course outline itself, the students are to discuss theistic evolution, intelligent design, irreducible complexity, and, for crying out loud, “miracles and spirituality!” There’s also “Beauty, complex and specified information, and intelligent design: what the universe communicates about God.”

Now you tell me: does this sound like an objective appraisal of the scientific evidence? No, for the last bit presupposes the existence of God. What is being taught here is, in essence, intelligent design, and you’ll recognize many of their tropes (“complex specified information,” “fine-tuning,” “no free lunch,” and so on).

Page 2

But what is really sad—it would be amusing if this were not fed to students as “science”—is the reading list. Have a gander at this:

Page 3

Can you  believe that? It’s all pro-religious, and heavily larded with the works of Intelligent Design advocates (Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe), old-earth creationists (Hugh Ross!), and scientists who are Christian or religious (Guy Consolmagno, Owen Gingerich, and Paul Davies).

The syllabus for the cross-listed Honors course, which the chair of the department verified to me as accurate, is even worse, for it includes Francis Collins’s book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Anthony Flew’s There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, and Polkinghorne and Beale’s Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions About God, Science, and Belief.”  As the ultimate insult, the Honors syllabus further includes C. S. Lewis—his book Miracles! What is going on here? C. S. Lewis in a science course?

You’ll have noticed, of course, the absence of any counter-accommodationist books like The God Delusion, Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing, or any of Victor Stenger’s books on physics and religion.

This is all religion and intelligent design.  The optional readings continue the theme:

Page 4One might suspect that Professor Hedin is using this course to proselytize students for religion—probably Christianity, Indeed, that is supported by students’ reviews of Hedin on the RateMyProfessors site, where Hedin gets a generally positive review but is called out by several students (3 out of 15) for using his science classes to push a Christian viewpoint:

Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 4

It looks as if Hedin has been pushing God, creationism, and science in his classes for at least seven years.  The “constant” proselytizing is unconscionable, and it appears that Hedin “doesn’t believe in evolution”, which is probably why he makes his students read so many books on Intelligent Design but none on straight evolutionary biology.

When this came to my attention, I wrote to the chairman of Ball State’s Physics and Astronomy Department, Dr. Thomas Robertson:

Dear Dr. Robertson,

Although I’m not at Ball State, it’s come to my attention that one of your faculty members, Dr. Eric Hedin, is teaching a senior Honors course that is heavily infused with creationism and religion.   The course is Honors 296, “The Boundaries of Science,” and to my understanding is listed as a science course, which students take for science credit.

I have a copy of last year’s syllabus, which is apparently the same as this year’s, and I attach it. Have a look, and you’ll see that it is basically a course on the religious implications of science. The reading list tells the tale: there are books by old-earth creationists (Hugh Ross), advocates of intelligent design (Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer), and various people who comport science and faith.

As as scientist, I find this deeply disturbing. It’s not only religion served under the guise of science, but appears to violate the First Amendement of the Constitution. You are a public university and therefore cannot teach religion in a science class, as this class appears to do.  Clearly, Dr. Hedin is religious and foisting this on his students, and I have seen complaints about students being short-change[d] by being fed religion in a science course.

Could you please confirm for me that this course is indeed being taught in your department, and that this is indeed the sylllabus?

Perhaps you are not aware of this, in which case I’m calling it to your attention as chairman of that department.

Jerry Coyne

I am not at liberty to reproduce Robertson’s answer, as he didn’t want it put on this site (no wonder!), but he verified that the syllabus I sent (the Honors one that included Flew, Lewis, and Polkinghorne) was the one currently in use, that the course content was known to the Dean and Associate Dean of the Honors College as well, and that the course was appropriate because it enabled discussion of the relationship between science and religion. He added that the course was useful in helping students challenge the ideas and beliefs that came with them to college.

Challenge? Really? What kind of “challenge” does a passel of Christian and religious literature pose to students? If you want to challenge them, let them read Dawkins, Hitchens, and Stenger as well. There is no challenge here, but an affirmation of the students’ religious beliefs (except, of course, for nonbelieving students).

Perhaps this would be appropriate as a sociology or philosophy course, but even then it would be intellectually deficient, as it simply fails to present any alternatives to the pro-accommodationist, pro-Intelligent Design viewpoint.  As far as I can see, Hedin comes pretty close to teaching religion and creationism in a science class.  His shoving of Christianity and religion down the throats of science students must stop. I will do my utmost until it does, or until I fail.

When I got Robertson’s response, I wrote him a final email with my response, which I reproduce below:

Dear Dr. Robertson,

Thanks very much for your response.

I will put the syllabus and course information on my website, and am wondering if I can reproduce both my email to you and your response, which seems to me a reasonable and official response to my question.  Lacking your permission, I will simply paraphrase your response, but I’d prefer to reproduce your email to eliminate any misunderstandings. I’m quite concerned that the course seems to be completely weighted in favor of religion, creationism, and intelligent design; I see no hard science nor responses from those on the “other” side of the debate. In other words, the students, who are undoubtedly largely religious to begin with, aren’t being challenged at all!  Yet this course is billed as a science/astronomy course. You are aware that C. S. Lewis wasn’t a scientist, that Dembski and Meyer are intelligent-design creationists, and Hugh Ross is a straight-out Biblical creationist.  There are no nonreligious scientists, nor evolutionary biologists, so I can’t see what “challenge” is posed. Rather, the course seems engineered not to challenge students, but to propagandize them into thinking that religion is completely compatible with science, and, perhaps, to think there is merit in creationism and intelligent design.  As an evolutionary biologist, I find this very distasteful.

Jerry Coyne

Robertson simply responded that he didn’t want his email put on this site, so I’m abiding by his wishes. What I want to say here is that I tried to register a complaint—a complaint that, I think, is completely legitimate—and was rebuffed by Hedin’s chair.

This has to stop, for Hedin’s course, and the University’s defense of it, violate the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“freedom of religion”) and which has been so interpreted by the courts. It’s religion taught as science in a public university, and it’s not only wrong but illegal.  I have tried approaching the University administration, and have been rebuffed.

This will now go to the lawyers.


  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Not only should this be stopped and Hedin removed from any science curriculum but Robertson should be fired for knowing about this and not taking action.

    Their motto:
    Ball State: Education Redefined

    This is an understatement.

    • Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      Ball State: Education De-refined.

      • TnkAgn
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        Beat me to it!

  2. brianbuchbinder
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Easy there, Prof. Coyne,

    I don’t like the idea of someone’s being tendentious in a college classroom, but the evaluations show that students are taking care of themselves. Problem I have is that standards such as you advocate could as well be applied to classes in political science or history. If my history prof “pushes” the “point of view” that the Civil War was first, last, and always about slavery, should he be required to list pro-Confederate writers in the syllabus? The quality of the class would certainly be enhanced by considering alternative points of view, but we go down a very dangerous road when we try to regulate course contant (particularly in elective courses) at the college level.

    • Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      I’m sorry but I strongly disagree with you. This is religion–Christian religion–pushed in a SCIENCE class. That is not the same as taking a point of view in a history class that isn’t based on religion. In that case the professor could be faulted for bias, but it’s not illegal.

      So do you think it would be okay for me to teach creationism and intelligent design (without any balance) in my evolution class?

      I didn’t think so.

      • David Duncan
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:08 am | Permalink

        I don’t want creationism/ID taught as fact anywhere, especially in state supported schools, but I wouldn’t mind it being mentioned and debunked for the intellectual trash it is.

      • brianbuchbinder
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

        Not really sure what you mean by “teach”. Perhaps students today are different from my fellows at college (1968-72) and law school, where we actively hectored profs who peddled sexism and racism. They were trying to “teach” what they believed, perhaps, but we made sure there was argument, if not dialog. It was the same with those who imported religious tendencies–we atheists were merciless. And if I have to choose between “free-market” ideology and paternalism, I’m pretty clear where I stand. I would have a totally different perspective if this were a required course. Anyone who has sat through a literary theory course knows that bullshit is not out-of-bounds in academia.

        BTW, the First Amendment does not contain criminal penalties, and I’d say a Section 242 prosecution for deprivation of civil rights doesn’t really lie.

        I could waste a lot of electrons on arguing against the common grain that imprisonment solves much of anything, but then, I’m not a scientist.

        • Jim
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

          So you’re saying it’s fine to teach non-science in a science class, because you’re sure the students will see through the lies and bring Hedin to account?

          It doesn’t matter that it’s illegal? that it propagates and advocates demonstrably erroneous thinking, and does so in a class that is advertised as promoting rational and empirical thinking?

          None of this matters?

          Bullshit may well be part and parcel of academia – that doesn’t make it okay, and it certainly isn’t okay in a syllabus that intrinsically claims to be based on evidence.

          • brianbuchbinder
            Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

            “Illegal”? In what sense. The First Amendment prohibits “establishment of a religion”. Teaching non-denominational speculations on how things came to be probably shouldn’t be a police matter. At any rate, I think grownup students can choose freely among the offerings. Literary theory classes are billed as “English” but damn little English is (go)/ing*on* there (if you get my drift)

            • Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

              Load of horsecrap.

              It’s illegal and we all know it. You’re very dishonest. You must be one of those “Liars for Jesus” people.

              • brianbuchbinder
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

                Rather ad hominem no? I’m at least as much an atheist as you. I just don’t think we need to criminalize dissent of any type, even dissent from our own sacred cows.

              • notsont
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                Its not dissent, saying it is is disingenuous AT BEST, not at best,saying it makes you a liar.

                It would be perfectly fine to teach the class if it were listed under what it was, claiming it is science however is not acceptable. Teaching religion in SCIENCE classes in public institutions is illegal. This can not be debated or argued its a simple fact, period.

            • Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

              I see you’re unfamiliar with one of the most famous court cases of the past decade, Dover v Kitzmiller.

              Police matter? No. Nothing so uncouth.

              But the long arm of the law is going to drop the hammer on Ball State if they don’t drop this hot potato like the hand grenade it is.



              • brianbuchbinder
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:05 am | Permalink

                That’s a public school with mandatory attendance at mandatory classes. This is an elective. If I were still in practice, I’d be happy to earn some $ arguing applicability of Dover to this. Or arguing your side, too. That’s the kind of hooker I am.

                You’ve gone way beyond mixing metaphors, this being more a ratatouille, 🙂 although the German grenades did get called “potato mashers”

                I’m with Feyerabend on this. The way for science to increase its influence on society is to be convincing, not coercive. “Science in a Free Society” makes an interesting read.

              • Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

                Ball State is every bit as much of a public (government) school as those in Kansas, and the “voluntary” argument has been shot down so many times it’s not even funny.

                This has nothing to do with convincing the general public. It’s entirely about teaching science instead of bullshit in the classroom, and about prohibiting government agents in their official capacity from evangelizing.

                The case law is superbly well established — almost as well established in law as Evolution itself is in science. All Ball State is going to accomplish if they don’t back down immediately is to waste a lot of money and to ruin their reputation.



    • Alex
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

      Haha, free market ideology really poisons everything, doesn’t it…

    • shawnbeaulieu1
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      The problem isn’t that the professor is propagating a perspective that we simply find disagreeable; it’s that he’s claiming to be providing his students with valid scientific knowledge.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      I can’t disagree more. Presenting falsehoods as scientific facts in a science class doesn’t cut it and calling this out won’t lead to a slippery slope of censorship. Political Science and History courses are bound by scholarly standards and critical thinking is encourage. I’m sure there would be something said about a Prof that had students read books denying the Holocaust and taught that as fact too. Indeed I still remember an English Prof saying that he found what a student said was repugnant but he had backed it up with evidence so he gave him a good mark.

      Also the reviews of the Prof suggest 3 students caught on to his agenda. This doesn’t mean they learned correct scientific facts and the ones who didn’t come t, we’ll we don’t know about them.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        Well that’s what I get for typing on my phone during an appointment. Here is a better version.

        I can’t disagree more. Presenting falsehoods as scientific facts in a science class doesn’t cut it and calling this out won’t lead to a slippery slope of censorship. Political Science and History courses are bound by scholarly standards and critical thinking is encouraged. I’m sure there would be something said about a Prof that had students read books denying the Holocaust and taught that as fact too. Indeed I still remember an English Prof saying that he found what a student said was repugnant but he had backed it up with evidence so he gave him a good mark.

        Also the reviews of the Prof suggest 3 students caught on to his agenda. This doesn’t mean they learned correct scientific facts and the ones who didn’t comment, we’ll we don’t know about them.

        • brianbuchbinder
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

          Good point. But it’s not as if the facts are hidden on pain of inquisition. The syllabus makes it quite clear what the prof’s commitments are. Unfortunately the only real “science” is in Penrose, which is a rather difficult read. Last Penrose I read made me download pretty much my entire math collection to keep up.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

            Sure but universities are there to teach (facts as we know them), teach critical thinking using evidence and debate etc. Someone who doesn’t know any better may take away that this is accepted science. That the scientific community agrees with ID etc. If you’re just learning (as you would be taking this course), and you haven’t been exposed to the real science, you would take in wrong information. I’d even go so far as to argue that if you went into this course knowing what you were getting yourself into, but you didn’t know all there was to know about the current body of physics, cosmology, biology, etc. you could easily pick up even small pieces of information that are wrong and that is a real shame – to teach something that is false and mess up someone’s education.

            • brianbuchbinder
              Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

              I guess I love arguing more with people I agree with on basics than with people way over in the “Liars for Jesus” camp. Academic freedom is a core value, and with an elective course, I’m inclined to be protective of any teacher who can pass muster with her/his department head. Sure, it would be better if the course were more precisely titled. “Issues in Intelligent Design” say. Perhaps it ought to be over in another department, even.

              I also don’t know the factual content of either the class or the syllabus. The books may draw bad conclusions from data such as cell metabolism complexity, but do they misstate the facts?

              I’m also too much a fan of history of science to want to silence even crappy ideas. I don’t think ID (even if it were honestly non-theological) has a chance in hell, but I don’t run hell, I just live here.

              • Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                The books may draw bad conclusions from data such as cell metabolism complexity, but do they misstate the facts?

                Yes. Shamelessly and with reckless abandon. Jerry has written extensively on such matters here on this very Web site.

                I’m also too much a fan of history of science to want to silence even crappy ideas.

                The place for such ideas to have their chance is in the peer-reviewed journals, not in the classroom, especially not in the introductory-level classroom.

                The minute an ID proponent can design and execute an experimental protocol demonstrating the validity of ID (or, rather, the invalidity of Evolution) such that those claims are demonstrated in a manner that meets publication standards, ID will become a valid subject for classroom discussion (outside of history, politics, and the like, of course). The person who does so will also be on the fast track to winning a Nobel, as well.

                And you can bet that practically every biologist will rush to replicate the findings….

                But, until that day, there’s no more room in the biology classroom for teaching this controversy than there is in teaching the controversy surrounding the Stork Theory of Human Reproduction.



              • brianbuchbinder
                Posted April 29, 2013 at 4:27 am | Permalink

                Thanks Ben and Diana for the discussion. Still tend toward freedom to teach bullshit to quasi-adults, but get your points, too.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 29, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

                I love chatting with you guys! It’s always a pleasure to interact here.

              • Bob J.
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

                “Elective” is a odd word as used here. The class can be used to fulfill the required science course for graduation. This means it could have been the only college science class George Bush took before becoming President.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      I think your analogy is off. Advocating a straight creationism and “science finds God” in a science class is not like teaching a history class on the civil war and being one-sided on the cause. It is like teaching a history class on Ancient Astronaut Theory. It is not just wrong; it is not just against the mainstream views: it is arguably not history. Jerry is complaining — and rightly so — that this is not science.

      It’s theology. Science students who are interested in exploring the ways and means of compartmentalizing their beliefs and/or distorting their scientific understanding in a theology class would be making a bad choice, sure. But at least you couldn’t argue that this topic doesn’t belong in a theology class. Same with Ancient Astronauts.

      The one problem I have with Jerry’s approach is that I worry he’s focusing too much on the instructor being Christian and ‘pushing’ Christianity and not being concerned enough with the broad, fuzzy nature of Spirituality. A lot of educated people think that criticisms which apply to proselytizing a sectarian religious view can not and do not apply to a general spiritual view that Purpose or Spirit or Meaning is behind all things. THAT can be “scientific.”

      After all, scientists talk about wonder and awe and curiosity. All those things are spiritual. You can’t keep spirituality out of science. It’s the old bait ‘n switch. Be prepared to see it pulled.

      • Sastra
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        Actually, it’s not just theology.

        It’s pseudoscience.

        Pseudoscience has no business in a science class.

        • Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

          Right – anything that talks about the origin of the universe (except elliptically as an origin of hubble volume) is skating close.

          But: is it, should it be illegal to teach pseudoscience at a university? I think there’s a dangerous slippery slope. But then again, mangling standards in all fields can be horrendous.

          Better that one use the 1st Amendment angle – one thing which makes matters easier in the US vis-a-vis elsewhere.

          • Michael Johnson
            Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

            No, it shouldn’t be illegal to teach pseudoscience.

            Yes, it IS illegal to argue for specific religious beliefs in a science class (at a public school). That’s teaching your religion as a fact, and it violates the establishment clause.

            Some pseudoscience teaching is illegal, but not because it’s pseudoscience.

          • Timothy Hughbanks
            Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

            should it be illegal to teach pseudoscience at a university?,/blockquote>

            As long as it is a university that supports itself with public funds either via direct taxpaer support of instruction or from publicly supported granting agencies for science (e.g., NIH or NSF) and the course is labeled a science course, the answer is YES.

    • @eightyc
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink


      what are you talking about?

      It is listed as a SCIENCE course.

      Science deals with HARD evidence.

      Once something has been shown to be categorically WRONG (ie creationism), it doesn’t become a “point of view” and treated with the same scientific respect just because it suddenly became your OPINION.


    • krzysztof1
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      You are making a false comparison when you suggest that creationism/intelligent-design is simply a point of view on a par with (e.g.) Union and Confederate points of view of the reasons for the Civil War. You sound as if you would resolve scientific issues in the court of public opinion, but that isn’t the way science works. For students and teachers to venture opinions about science in “free-market” discussions is worthless as a way of learning about science. When you say below that “bullshit is not out of bounds” may be true in a literary theory course, but it’s bad reasoning to suggest that it is therefore OK in a science class. Further, having a double standard for science classes for science majors and for the non-majors certainly would do nothing for improving science literacy among the general public!

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        “You sound as if you would resolve scientific issues in the court of public opinion, but that isn’t the way science works.”

        Ah, but the illustrious William Dembski would disagree with you. Here he is babbling in a ludicrous essay entitled “Skepticism’s Prospects for Unseating Intelligent Design” which is chapter 10 in the book of essays “Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?” edited by Paul Kurtz:

        “A few years ago skeptic Michael Shermer wrote a book titled Why People Believe Weird Things. Most of the weird things Shermer discusses in that book are definitely on the fringes, like Holocaust denial, alien encounters, and witch crazes–hardly the sort of stuff that’s going to make it into the public school science curriculum. Intelligent design by contrast is becoming thoroughly mainstream and threatening to do just that.
        Gallup poll after Gallup poll confirms that about 90 percent of the U.S. population believes that some sort of design is behind the world. Ohio is currently the epicenter of the evolution-intelligent design controversy. Recent polls conducted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer found that 59 percent of Ohioans want both evolution and intelligent design taught in their public schools. Another 8 percent want only intelligent design taught. And another 15 percent do not want the teaching of intelligent design mandated, but do want to allow evidence against evolution to be presented in public schools. You do the arithmetic.”

        • ladyatheist
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

          That book would be a perfect choice for a textbook in a course that intends to engender debate and critical thinking! The book list for this class shows intent to prosletyze, because the students are not equipped to argue the opposite point either from prior experience (no prerequisites) or from what they are presented in the course.

        • krzysztof1
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

          I haven’t heard much about Dembski of late. But he is still a buffoon in the eyes of the science community. How dangerous he is I can’t say.

          • Mark Joseph
            Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

            Last I heard, he wasn’t even at a real university any more, but was teaching at a bible college. I think “buffoon” is a bit generous.

            • krzysztof1
              Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

              How about “dishonest ass”? Does that work for you?

  3. Alex Shuffell
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    All but for Roger Penrose’s Road to reality and Michael Seeds’ Astronomy. That reading list is quite disgusting.

    • sgo
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      In a way, I find putting Penrose’s Road To Reality on the list disturbing! (am only partly kidding). It’s a book over a 1000 pages long, highly mathematical. For a course that does not have any prerequisites, I find it very unlikely someone will actually pick it up. One wonders then if it is just on the list to try to provide some idea of balance ….

      • Alex Shuffell
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        That was my first thought too when I looked at the book. I have heard of Penrose before and knew he was an atheist. Seeing as this book is very technical (based on reading Amazon reviews) I think it unlikely it will be read much.

        Michael Seeds’ Astronomy (I haven’t heard of) they mention the 3rd edition from 2003. It is now in it’s 6th edition from 2009 which made me quite suspicious. I haven’t been able to find anything.

        • Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          You are not kidding. It’s an incredibly demanding read even if you’ve studied undergraduate level physics.

          • Woof
            Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

            Exactly. Penrose’s “The Road to Reality” is NOT for sissies.

            • derekw
              Posted April 25, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

              Penrose has made public comments regarding the inadequacy of the multiverse hypothesis. Haven’t read ‘Road to Reality’ but it may affirm these views and also emphasize the fact that our universe did have a beginning (opening door for God or multiverse to fill in that gap.)

              • Occam
                Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

                Oh come on!
                I have read The Road to Reality (UK edition) and I challenge anyone without theoblastoma multiforme on the brain to present solid evidence that anything Penrose says, or objects to, opens any door for that nonsense.
                It is particularly galling to see how a book that provides elegant introductions to concepts like tensors, twistors, spinors and fibre bundles is scanned for something it does not say, even implicitly. Also, I pity the poor creator-seeking freshmen who pick it up believing Prof. Hedin’s claim that they need no prerequisites. They’re in for 1100 pages of hurt — and no happy ending.

    • squidmaster
      Posted April 26, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Some of Penrose’s writing on consciousness is highly suspect, but The Road to Reality is a fairly technical book, but exceedingly well written and doesn’t deal with any of the odd ideas Penrose has about consciousness and quantum gravity (the only connection I see is that he doesn’t understand either phenomenon at a quantitative level).

  4. Alex
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Also, good grief, put a few more *good* science books on that list!
    The syllabus looks not only like it is going to peddle religion – which is deplorable -, but also that it is going to teach very bad science, things which are *wrong* and biased to a perverse extent. Absolutely horrid. Just for example, just imagine them doing this mindless combinatorics game in class which supposedly shows that the probability for DNA is 10^-whatsyourface. That kind of crap is certainly in the reading list!

  5. David Duncan
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    “…scientists who are Christian or religious (Gu Consolmagno, Owen Gingerich, and Paul Davies).”

    I haven’t heard of the first two but I didn’t know Davies was religious. Perhaps some sort of deist at the most. I agree this stuff doesn’t belong in a science course, not one that I’d want to do. I think it’d put me to sleep.

    • Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

      Davies isn’t religious or at least claims that he isn’t. But he’s one of those authors that likes to flirt with religious metaphor and ambiguous speculations that can easily be interpreted as supporting some kind of purpose in the universe. It’s a strategy that sold a lot of books and won him the Templeton prize, which might be a cynical way of looking at it, or not.

      • neil
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        Davies’ book “The Fifth Miracle” is scientifically reputable. I haven’t read his other one. Davies is a self-professed agnostic with a taste for god themes and Templeton money, but I would put his books on my reading list.

      • David Duncan
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        I see Davies as a reputable scientist who, deliberately or accidentally, likes to be ambigious. Perhaps it sells more books, or gets Templeton lucre, or gets clicks, or is just good for his ego. He’s a bit like Einstein, who talked about God but wasn’t a believer. I like the guy and his books.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        No, he inserts purpose purposefully or it wouldn’t be a flirt or ambiguous. I had to throw away the first book I got from him, I was so mad. Now I know better.

        And the only reason for Davies to do that in the first place is because he is a deist at the very least.

  6. Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    This is a shame. Mr Robertson shouldn’t only be fired, he should be put in prison for undermining the separation between church and state and fraud (i.e. delivering an other product than promised, religious propaganda instead of science).

    A ten year sentence (comparable with Mr Hovind’s punishment) AND a lifelong prohibition of working and being present at any university.

    • Alex
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      What, you want to lock up the Department Chair for 10 years because one of the professors has unconstitutional syllabus in some honors course? Are you our of your mind?

      • Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:09 am | Permalink

        The department chair is responsible for maintaining the good reputation of his institution. However, a ten year sentence would be a little bit exaggerated. Perhaps the professor in question, who actually committed the crime, should be put in jail for ten years.

        • Alex
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:16 am | Permalink

          Your vision of college politics remind me of that Futurama episode

          F – “What happens if I refuse?”

          L – “You’ll be fired…

          F -“Fine!”

          L – “… out of a cannon into the sun!”

    • Pirate
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      You do realize that Kent Hovind is in prison for tax evasion, not for teaching religion, right?

      I had always believed that the “militant atheist” so many religious folk kvetch about was an absurd caricature that didn’t actually exist anywhere, but if you really believe that jailtime and a lifetime ban from teaching is an appropriate punishment for what Robertson (or even Hedin) did, then you have proved me wrong.

      • Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

        I certainly don’t think anybody should go to jail over this! All I want is for the teacher to teach a science course and stop proselytizing his students about religion.

        • Pirate
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

          Oh, that was directed at Mordanicus, not at you. I never believed you were advocating jailtime.

    • Marta
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Yeah, this comment is about as squirrely as it gets.

      It’d be really great if Dr. Hedin quit proselytizing religion under the auspices of teaching astronomy, because he’s inculcating ignorance in his science students. Hard to see how inculcating ignorance in your students shows up on any university’s mission statement. And that’s what useful efforts ought to accomplish.

      Jail time? Completely whack.

  7. Griff
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    “Ball State University – Education Redefined”

    They aren’t kidding!

  8. Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    In addition to these solid grounds for complaint about the course, I would add a milder one that also bothers me. University classes whose syllabi make a show of requiring students to wrestle with complex issues but which are in fact mostly pedestals for the prof’s views are really bad teaching. They are all the more insidious when the professor is so “nice” that most students will just go along. It is easy for the faculty of such classes to hide behind “academic freedom,” so scrutiny by other academics is important to call out such mediocre pedagogy.

    • Fastlane
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      I knew one philosophy prof at a community college who did just this. In addition, he recorded all of his class lectures (he loved the sound of his own voice) and ‘discussions’, and one of the major items that his students’ grade was dependent upon was a transcription of at least one full recording.

      He was compiling them all to publish a book of some kind. I brought it up to the dept head at the time who said he would ‘look into it’, but I don’t think anything changed.

      More on topic: This is much more borderline 1st amendment violation than Dover was, but the establishment clause still holds sway, IMO, and having a public, government funded organization basically teaching religion as science, is a pretty clear violation.

      If it weren’t taught as a science class (philosophy of xian religion maybe), or if it really explored and challenged popular views, it could certainly pass muster. As it is described, both by the syllabus and the student reviews, it doesn’t sound like it would, though.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

      There are many ways for a prof to teach badly. I’ve had a few bad profs who were either lazy or just selfish. One made us grad students report on this or that topic or reading for the first hour of a 3-hour seminar then the other 2 hours were basically him reading aloud the latest section of his draft of a big encyclopedia article he was writing… in a monotone! Argh! At least I can brag that I studied with *the* world’s expert on the topic. Nobody has to know I hated every minute. I’ve also had one push his own theory very strongly, but other theories were at least presented. Religious prosletyzing is a whole nother level of bad, though.

  9. Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    This will now go to the lawyers.

    The best — and saddest — line in the whole post.

    Ball State needs to get smacked down, hard, and they will. But that such a need exists is depressing.


  10. Occam
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I believe this to be the real Eric Hedin.
    The moustache guy looks suspicious.
    (With his reading list, who wouldn’t sport a fake Groucho Marx moustache?)

  11. terminus
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I was so bothered, I wrote my own e-mail to Dr. Robertson:

    I am an AP Biology teacher in Pennsylvania, and it has come to my attention that Ball State University offers a course titled “The Boundaries of Science,” Honors 296, taught by Dr. Eric Hedin. Having examined the syllabus, I am deeply concerned by the fact that Ball State is offering this course to science majors, for science credit. I have attached the syllabus for you to review, and you will clearly see that subject matter deals primarily with the “scientific reasons” why creationism and religion are true.

    Without question, the scientific merits of that claim are specious, but that is not why I am writing to you. You see, I actively encourage my students to think scientifically. It is my hope that many of them will attend fine institutions, like Ball State, Ohio State, Penn State, etc., and major in some scientific field. I mentor and advise my students to seek a greater understanding of the world, based on evidence. I teach them to be skeptical and challenge belief systems that are based on inconsistent data.

    I must say that, for a public institution, not to mention a top-tier science department, Ball State has raised some serious questions regarding the 1st Amendment and its ability to deliver a quality science education to its students.

    The simple fact that Dr. Hedin’s reading list is loaded with religiously based, anti-evolution, pro intelligent design texts, repudiates the overwhelming amount of evidence that life originated, evolved and operates under known processes as opposed to “magical woo.” Any unsuspecting student seeking to take a “for-credit” science course might be misled into thinking that Michael Behe, Lee Strobel, Gerald Schroeder, or William Dembski are scientific pioneers, who speak for the mainstream scientific community.

    As a trained biologist, I am left to ponder, “Where are the ‘real’ biologists on that reading list?” Where is Richard Dawkins, Sean Carrol, Stephen Hawking, Jerry Coyne, Lisa Randall, Neil Shubin, and so on, ad infinitum?

    As as science teacher, I find this extremely troubling. As a public school employee, I am forbidden, by law, to teach such dribble in my class. It would be offensive to every Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist or secular humanist who sat in on my course. In addition, it would demean the very nature of what science is all about. Your university, your department, and Dr. Hedin should be held, and in fact will be held to the same standard.

    Dr. Hedin is entitled to his personal beliefs. In fact, he is legally free to teach these views to students at any private university in the country. He may even be able to get away this in a philosophy or religious studies course. However, it is shameful that he is allowed to do so under the guise of science…and can be taken for credit!

    Of course, it is possible that you are not aware that all of this is taking place at Ball State, in your department, possibly right next door to the very room where you teach. In that case, I hope you will do the right thing and put a stop to this. Should you look the other way, how could anyone, in good conscience, recommend Ball State University to their high school students?


    Mark Hess

    • Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Really nice letter!

    • ivy privy
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      As a trained biologist, I am left to ponder, “Where are the ‘real’ biologists on that reading list?” Where is Richard Dawkins, Sean Carrol, Stephen Hawking, Jerry Coyne, Lisa Randall, Neil Shubin, and so on, ad infinitum?

      Well, Stephen Hawking and Lisa Randall are not ‘real’ biologists, and as for Sean Carroll, it depends on which one you are talking about.

      • terminus
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        You right, of course, they are physicists (including the Sean Carrol I was referring to). Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  12. Alex
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Also, may I add that the title “The Universe and you” is… erm… silly?

    From the perspective of the believer, science has to be all about the feefees of us humans who are so incredibly humble that our humility forces us to think that we are the most important thing in the Universe and its 10^22+ stars. Which all exist for us. The title of the course nicely reflects this inane lack of perspective.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      Yes. It’s like complaining that astronomy is so cold and irrelevant without the addition of astrology. After all, what does it matter how the stars and planets go around if you can’t find ways to figure out how they connect to your life? What they are trying to tell you about whether you should change jobs or marry your sweetheart or trust a dark stranger who will one day propose something important having to do with money? Astronomy is silent. For those questions, we have to go to astrology.

      Let’s make science personal!

      It’ll draw them in and make them more enthusiastic.

  13. Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    This is insane. How could this course have ever been allowed for so long, in the Physics and Astronomy Dept.?

  14. DavidIsaac
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Rather than the lawyers, bring it to the attention of David Letterman, who is a Ball State graduate, and who the journalism school is named after. Several times a year, Letterman has kids doing science experiments on, as well as exotic animalsexotic animals (with their “keeper”, Jack Hanna).

  15. neil
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Note the “Prerequisite: None”. So how does a course propose a meaningful analysis of the relationship between science and religion when it does not even require that the students have taken any relevant science courses?

    • Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Maybe it should be “Prerequisites: credulity; Christian home schooling”.

  16. @eightyc
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink


    the “hidden wisdom” bit followed by “the purpose of our existence” is awesome!


  17. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I’m also troubled by labeling it a physics and astronomy course while discussing the canard of intelligent design.

    I know very little about biology, but my favorite science is astronomy in which I am well-versed and I feel it’s being used here as a dodge. Did the fellow just know he couldn’t sneak that into a biology course so he used astronomy as cover??

  18. Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Ah, it’s “Intelligent Design” aka “Tarted up Creationism.”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      I love that – Tarted up Creationism. I’m going to use that one! 🙂

  19. krzysztof1
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I called your post to the attention of Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). [Gave them a link to the article above.] Maybe you have already done so, but I figured it couldn’t do any harm. They often file lawsuits in cases like this.

    • Eohippus
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      For any lawyers to get involved in this matter, wouldn’t a person actually have to be “injured” by the actions (or inactions)of Ball U.?

      • krzysztof1
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure. I always thought that if something seemed unconstitutional, a legal case could be made. Somebody has to initiate it, of course, and I suppose they would have to claim that their rights were being infringed.

  20. Heretic
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I’m a Ball State alumni. This is terribly enraging and embarrassing. Who do I need to raise hell with?

    • Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      I’m not an alumnus, but I emailed Dr. Robinson and copied Professor Hedin…along with Jo Ann M. Gora, the university’s president; the editor at the student newspaper; and the NCSE (who was one of the driving forces behind Kitzmiller v Dover).

      Dr. Robertson,

      As a fan of University of Chicago Professor Jerry Coyne’s efforts at expanding public understanding of the foundational theory of biology, I keep an eye on his Web site. And I was dismayed to learn this morning about Ball State’s blatantly unconstitutional endorsement of religiously-motivated pseudoscience in the science classroom — in particular, in Professor Hedin’s HONR 296. Indeed, texts such as Behe’s and Dembski’s are as outrageously off-the-wall as those on conspiracies of space lizards who directed the building of the Pyramids; if they have a place in academia, it’s primarily in abnormal psychology as case studies.

      If there’s one thing that school administrators everywhere should have learned from Kitzmiller v. Dover, it’s that “teaching the controversy” does nothing but waste taxpayer money and ruin the reputation of the sponsoring institution. I’m really quite surprised that an university such as Ball State would have failed to have learned that lesson. As a concerned citizen, I truly hope that Ball State learns this lesson quickly before even more harm is done to what I had thought was such a fine institution.



      • ladyatheist
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        I love the space lizards! Don’t diss the space lizards!

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          I, for one, do not welcome Ball’s Space Lizard Overlords.

  21. Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I teach in the theology department at a Jesuit school. Even I find this disturbing.

    • DV
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Theology. The study of an imaginary diety’s state of mind using the methods of speculation, conjecture, wishful-thinking, and rationalization.

      • notsont
        Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Not sure that was called for…

        • Posted April 26, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

          It wasn’t. This isn’t Pharyngula.

          • DV
            Posted April 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            Ah, impolite to critize religion, i see. If he had said “I teach tarot and astrology..” it would have been fine to criticize – even make fun. But forchrissakes not theology!

      • Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, DV. You don’t even know what my specialty is. That was my first comment on this site, and quite possibly my last. Of course, you probably don’t care, which is precisely the problem.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

          It’s not a problem, it’s a feature of rational analysis.

        • Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          Proudly proclaiming to those of us who find utility in rationalism and the scientific method that you’re a theologian is, really, and truly, no different to us than had you proudly proclaimed that you’re a UFOlogist or astrologer or cryptozoologist or alchemist.

          If you wish to understand why such a proclamation immediately puts you in the “nutty kook” category, examine the tenets of any religion other than your own. If you think that it’s silly for Hindus to worship a blue-skinned god with the head of an elephant and seventeen penises who died nailed to a tree by an arrow through the heart, then you know how silly everybody else thinks it is for Christians to worship a zombie who liked having his thralls (particularly one named, “Thomas”) thrust their hands through his gaping chest wounds and fondle his intestines.

          That millions of people see solemnity in such surrealism doesn’t make theology, the solemn study of that kind of nonsense, any less batshit fucking insane than the study of the Space Lizard Overlords I mentioned earlier.

          Just as you wouldn’t expect a gathering of Egyptologists or space scientists to respect the Space Lizard crowd, you yourself shouldn’t expect respect from any of the rest of the rationalist world.

          At least, not until you come to your senses.

          Oh — and there actually are places in academia for studying many of the topics you do. Anthropology is the biggest, with psychology, history, literature, and sociology being the other obvious ones. It’s important to understand why people hold to batshit fucking insane beliefs, and that includes attempting to understand the batshit fucking insanity. But you have to start by understanding just how batshit fucking insane it is, of course, and not by pretending that it’s healthy.



          • Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

            Wow. All I wanted to communicate was that I was disturbed by the BSU professor’s disregard for the integrity of the scientific discipline.

            • Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

              That’s certainly a commendable desire on your part.

              But there is great irony in expressing outrage at a perversion of the scientific discipline while proclaiming yourself to be devoted to the ultimate scientific perversion — the “study” of theology.

              It’s not unlike a homeopathist expressing outrage at deaths resulting from parents failing to vaccinate their children. Great, wonderful, but could you do something about that beam in your own eye while you’re at it?



              • Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

                I am a historian. I am also well aware of the methodological and epistemological differences between disciplines, and I make sure that my students know them as well, given the context in which I teach. If they happen to be of a strong rationalist bent, I encourage them to speak up. Some students lose their faith in my class. Others don’t. They must all find themselves challenged, at any rate, because history isn’t always pretty.

                Ok, I have work to do tonight.

                All best.

              • Posted April 25, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

                I am also well aware of the methodological and epistemological differences between disciplines, and I make sure that my students know them as well, given the context in which I teach.

                There are differences, and then there are differences.

                It’s one thing for chemistry, for example, to be heavy on the methodological empirical testing whilst evolutionary morphology focuses more on the stamp collecting side of things.

                It’s another matter entirely to eschew rational empiricism altogether in favor of “faith” and “revelation” and “tradition,” which is where religion and theology turn to for answers.

                And history has a rather checkered reputation in this regard. There are historians doing good, hard science, especially in conjunction with archaeologists and geologists and dendrochronologists and others. But there are a lot, especially those who specialize in classical history, most especially those who specialize in “Biblical” classical history, who whine that, were they to adopt the standards of the hard sciences, we wouldn’t know anything at all about history. They fail to realize that we really don’t know lots that we popularly do think we know about history, and pretending otherwise does no good.

                These are, of course, the “historians” most likely to cite “evidence” supporting the “truths” of their own favored religion — evidence that is inevitably truly laughable.

                That you claim to be both an historian and a theologian sadly makes me very strongly suspect you’re the latter type of “historian,” for even a cursory examination of the historical record trivially demonstrates that the foundational and definitional claims of all modern religions to be shameless fiction, of the comic book variety.

                To be a theologian and an historian both is to either be most accomplished in the art of doublethink or to be a shameless charlatan.



          • Posted April 26, 2013 at 3:07 am | Permalink

            If you think that it’s silly for Hindus to worship a blue-skinned god with the head of an elephant and seventeen penises who died nailed to a tree by an arrow through the heart

            I though I knew Indian mythology “inside out”, so to say, but this is news to me too. Are you sure you are not mixing up several characters into one?

            • DV
              Posted April 26, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

              LOL. Of course an elephant-headed God is perfectly believable as long as he does not also have multiple penises.

              • Posted April 27, 2013 at 12:12 am | Permalink

                Believable or not, some of us consider our mythologies serious business :). Ben’s comment is like telling a Sherlock Holmes fan that Holmes was a sub-inspector at the Scotland Yard.

              • Posted April 27, 2013 at 12:20 am | Permalink

                Also, there are no “blue-skinned” and/or “hypercoleted” (thanks NY Times and Google translate!) gods in Hindu mythologies (at least as far as I can remember). Krishna is often depicted in paintings as “blue-skinned”, but that’s just a way to show that the stories say that he was dark-skinned (one of Krishna’s names literally means “black” or “dark”). There is a “hyperdebented” (thanks again, NY Times and Google Translate) god though, but the number in that case is not ma measly seventeen but a grand thousand.

  22. Jeff Sherry
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    This isn’t surprising to me. I spent 3 years at Ball U. during thr late 70’s and some professors had crossed the religious line in their classes. At that time it was the profs that ignored policy.

    Indiana hasn’t been liberal since Birch Bayh was voted out of office in ’80. I wonder if the state (Indiana) is behind this religious push in the curriculum?

  23. ladyatheist
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    This is a real bait-and-switch. They should at least fire this guy for not following the course description.

    I read the ratemyprofessor reviews and someone got extra credit for showing up to class on a Friday. He should get fired for that too. He’s teaching the other undergrads that there’s no downside to blowing off obligations. That’s a real good “value” to be teaching! Does this department have any self-respect?

  24. Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    If the chairman isnt going to do anything I think it should be dropped. The only thing that can be done now is to let Med Schools, Grad Schools and potential employers know that students graduating Ball State are not getting an education

    • Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Except, of course, that there’s a great deal more that can and will be done.

      Indeed, I rather doubt this is going to go on very long. It won’t be long before the university’s own lawyers are made aware of the matter. I’m sure they’re already well aware of Kitzmiller v Dover. They’ll take one glance at the syllabus, see that Idiot Design is being taught as science in an astronomy class, and tell the administration under no uncertain terms to shut the whole thing down immediately.

      If the administration decides to pursue this over what I’m sure will be their legal department’s urgent advice to the contrary, then they’ll get slapped with a preliminary injunction and will lose ignominiously at trial. Which is why there won’t be any need for a trial, because there’s no way the administration can be that stupid.



    • Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      As Ben said, yes, there’s a lot more to do, including making the school adhere to the law.

      Oh, and, by the way, I don’t appreciate your advice about how I’m supposed to deal with this matter.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      The Biology department probably has no idea this is going on. Med school applicants would likely be from that department.

      • Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        A full professor in the department at Ball State informed me that he did not know about this and did not know of the instructor!

        • krzysztof1
          Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          I don’t find that surprising. I taught music at BSU for a year in 1979-80. At that time the academic music dept was on a separate floor from the performing dept, and there was little interaction. I thought that strange.

          • Jeff Sherry
            Posted April 25, 2013 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

            Back in ’79 I took a music appreciiation class tauught by Alfreda Glean (sp.). Odd that I can remember her name out of all the instructors I had during those years.

            • krzysztof1
              Posted April 26, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

              Hi Jeff! That would be Elfreda Gleam. In addition to teaching there, I took violin lessons from her. She was an excellent violinist and a good person. Strangely enough, after her stint at BSU, she got a one-year appointment as visiting professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where I had previously taught. While there, she was my daughter’s violin teacher! She was a Canadian,and eventually went back to Canada. I kept in touch with her for a while.

  25. Draken
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    One could also point out that ID is not ‘just’ creationism posing as science. It was devised with the specific purpose to undermine rational scientific exploration. The Wedge Document, remember? Prof. Hedin is laying a timebomb under his chair.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Hoist by his own petard, then.

  26. nickswearsky
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Have you seen this? Why are Donal Johanson and Sir David Attenborough slumming for Aquatic Ape Theory?


    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      I have a bad skeptic day.

      • Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        It would depend on how far off the deep end they go.

        It’s fairly safe to note that we are, today, semi-aquatic apes. We can swim very well — much better than any other primate, as best I know. Chimps, gorillas, and orangutans, our closest living relatives, as best I know, can’t swim at all and instead will sink and drown.

        As I recall, the aquatic ape nutjobs are generally of the mermaid / Atlantis variety, suggesting that we were fully (or almost fully) aquatic for an extended period and only recently re-emerged from the water. That’s nuts.

        But it seems unquestionably true that, at some point in the last dozen million years or so, humans decided that the water is pretty nice while chimps continued to keep out. Exploring that part of our evolutionary tale would be quite fascinating and full of merit. If that’s what they’re doing, fantastic, wonderful, and let’s have even more of it.

        But if Atlantis and the Little Mermaid are used as anything other than joke setups in the PowerPoint introduction….



        • nickswearsky
          Posted April 26, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

          “But it seems unquestionably true that, at some point in the last dozen million years or so, humans decided that the water is pretty nice while chimps continued to keep out.”

          That is rather different from claiming that several key human characteristics result from selection and adaptation to an aquatic lifestyle, which is what is claimed here.

          • Posted April 26, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

            It’s again a matter of degree and definition.

            Lots of humans to this day, especially in Polynesia and the Mediterranean, have a semi-aquatic lifestyle, where they hunt by free-diving for fish and mussels clams and other aquatic animals.

            I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to suggest that that’s something that humans have been doing long enough for some evolutionary pressures to have applied selection and adaptation, especially considering that we have traits and abilities that differ from our closest relatives that we exploit for exactly those endeavors.

            Where the aquatic ape people go off the rails is where they start suggesting a wholly-aquatic mermaid / Atlantean phase of human evolution.

            But tone it down and just observe the importance of fishing and free diving and the like, and suddenly a lot of much more modest claims can start to hold water, so to speak.

            TL/DR: today, we’re semi-aqutic apes. We have been for a very long time, though we’ve never been substantially more aquatic than we are today.



            • nickswearsky
              Posted April 26, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

              I’ve lived and worked in Polynesia. Humans have only been there for a few thousand years, not enough time to evolve special adaptations to an aquatic lifestyle. Also, with a bit of practice, I managed to dive quite a long time and I am from the midwest. Polynesians do not have any special adaptation t the sea. The whole point of this conference is to suggest that key human adaptation resulted to evolutionary adaptation to the sea. That is, at best, a stretch.

              • Posted April 26, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                Erm…I rather thought that by picking both Polynesia and the Mediterranean as examples I was making it clear that these weren’t special adaptations to one subgroup, but rather shared traits of all humans — and, indeed, you yourself personally demonstrated as much.

                And, once more, it would depend on the degree of “evolutionary adaptation to the sea” that they’re talking about. If it’s the type of adaptations we see coastal fishing communities all over the globe exploiting, then it’s a very worthy investigation. If it’s gilled mer-people living in Atlantis, it’s a problem.

                Another recap: chimps today would die if they attempted to free dive — and they’d be terrified at the notion. Our most recent common ancestor of several million years ago would likely resemble the modern chimp on this point than us. Sometime in the last several million years humans have taken to the water in a rather impressive way. Understanding why and how that happened is important, I should think. How much of our physiological changes are a result of adaptations from living around water, and how much are serendipitous changes originally for some other purpose that we’ve since exploited to reach those tasty fish? Some of both, of course, but it’d really be interesting to probe in greater depth.



  27. Gary W
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a case similar to this has already been litigated. It might be a good idea to contact the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the NCSE or some other organization that might be able to put legal pressure on the university to change its policy.

    • krzysztof1
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Did that. See above.

  28. sqlblindman
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    I grew up a Hoosier, and I can tell you that Ball State has a reputation as one of the finest High-Schools in Indiana. 😉

  29. Eohippus
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    If Hedin was a smiling helpful Brauman or Muslim and was proselytizing in his class Robertson would have likely shown him the door a long, long time ago. Because he was a smiling helpful Christian Robertson and everyone else were willing to look the other way.

    Imagining the reaction of the students while Hedin proselytized Islam during class gives me the lols.

    • Eohippus
      Posted April 25, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps we should design a course based on another religion’s beliefs about “The Boundaries of Science” and ask Robertson if it could be taught at Ball.

  30. Hankstar
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Careful, Jerry – you might have highly-esteemed quixotic Gnu-basher Nick Matzke call you out on The Panda’s Thumb for being a bigoted Christophobe.

  31. Diane G.
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Permalink


  32. morkindie
    Posted April 25, 2013 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    This is a sham.

    Students are going to sign up for this class because, if one goes along with the woo, they will get their requirement filled.
    It’s an easy A, which cheapens the Science degree from Ball State that I hold.
    Now there will be even more accommodationists waving their degrees around.


  33. Marcoli
    Posted April 26, 2013 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately this situation may be where there is nothing that can be done b/c it might be legal to teach this course as an elective. Although teaching Creationism/ID at public primary and secondary schools can be struck down, citing the Establishment Clause and a lot of case precedent, it is possible that this does not apply to an elective course at a public university. Does anyone know of a case like this being struck down– elective courses at pubic universities? I have never heard of one.
    I am not sure how this will go, but my feeling is that the course and the Assistant Professor teaching it will stay, he may be tenured if he fulfills their tenure requirements, and Ball State and their Astronomy department will suffer some loss in credibility.
    If all this is true, it is also too bad that the department chair did not point it out in his correspondence with Dr. Coyne. I too thought at first that this must be struck down.

  34. guilherme21msa
    Posted April 27, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    All this course has is the creationist combination of argument from ignorance, begging the question and argument from affirmation.

    First, he begs the question by assuming that (Christian) creationism and Intelligent Design
    are alternatives to science (which they are not).

    Than he affirms that science can’t answer this and that (which it can or could answer in the future).

    Then he says that creationism and ID are the answers to what science can’t answer.

  35. Posted April 27, 2013 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jerry, did you ever responded to PZ Myers, about his reaction to your post?: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/04/25/i-have-to-disagree-with-jerry-coyne/#comments

  36. Posted April 30, 2013 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    Nice job, Prof. Coyne!

    I find myself in a similar ‘civil war’-style dialogue with the board of Latvian State Radio. Our constitution also stipulates the church/ state separation, however, at least 1.5 h are dedicated to christian propaganda every Sunday. The correspondence, although being increasingly riveting reading, is nearing a point where, not unlike your good self, I might start looking for some ngo funding and/or support to litigate the issue.

    Good luck your end!

  37. Leigh Jackson
    Posted May 17, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    The course looks to me like it could be titled simply “Intelligent Design Theory 101”. Taught not as a challenge but as a promotion of Hedin’s personal religious beliefs. As part of an honors science degree the course is a travesty. It’s simply a primer for intelligent design students. It is an anti-science course, not a science course.

    The University totally deserves to be named and shamed. Their motto is too hilariously ironic to be true.

  38. Posted May 21, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    There is an old saying: “If you seek to gain your life for your own sake, you will lose it, and if you seek to loose it for the sake of the whole purpose, you will surely gain it. This applies to the case at hand. Truth will prevail.

    Thank you for posting all of the posts above, and especially thank you for objecting to the teaching of the course at the university.

  39. Chris Lang
    Posted May 23, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Academic freedom doesn’t mean much if only inoffensive or popular (in academia) ideas are protected.

  40. termites
    Posted June 4, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Stop all religious discussion in science class. Use scientific methodologies to prove the validity of both evolution and intelligent design theories. Scientists should talk science not religion. If the evidence is not there, both evolution and intelligent design are religions.

5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] of Chicago professor, thinks so, and has pushed for Hedin’s removal from BSU. In an April 25 blog post, Coyne claimed that Hedin’s class material is an unlawful infringement on the First Amendment of […]

  2. […] a professor of Physics and Astronomy at Ball State University in Indiana  and his courses Inquiries in Physical Sciences and Astronomy 151 The Boundaries of Science. (Full disclosure: My mother’s maiden name was […]

  3. […] his April 25 blog Why Evolution is True, University of Chicago biology professor Jerry Coyne revealed that Hedin is using science as a […]

  4. […] encourage you to check out Jerry Coyne’s post about the issue (he helped bring it to the attention of the Freedom from Religion Foundation), and […]

  5. […] began in April 2013 when Jerry A. Coyne, who teaches at the University of Chicago, published a blog post attacking Hedin for teaching religion in a science course. It’s a blog post but to this […]

%d bloggers like this: