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:
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:
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).
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:
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:
One 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:
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.
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.
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.