Yesterday’s Star Press, the local paper of Muncie Indiana, where Ball State University (BSU) resides, reports on the case of Eric Hedin, the professor who is teaching Christianity and creationism in his science class (see here,here,and here for my previous posts on this issue). A few days ago reporter Seth Slabaugh interviewed me for the paper, and I told him why I thought Hedin’s course should either be eliminated or somehow changed to a philosophy course—without the Christian proselytizing.
Slabaugh’s piece, “BSU prof accused of preaching Christianity,” is fair, but shows that the University, rather than being genuinely concerned about religion masquerading as science, is simply going through the motions of having an “investigation.” Or so I interpret.
Neither Hedin nor his chairman were willing to be interviewed, but Slabaugh talked to the provost. What he got is this:
Hedin and department chair Tom Robertson declined to comment to The Star Press.
But Provost Terry King, a chemical engineer and the university’s chief academic officer, said, “Faculty own the curriculum. In large part, it’s a faculty matter. But we have to ensure that our teaching is appropriate. All I have so far is a complaint from an outside person. We have not had any internal complaints. But we do take this very seriously and will look into it.”
He added that the class is an elective course and not part of the core curriculum.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), which made the official complaint to BSU, is not an outside person. Further, the original complaint that I investigated emanated from an anonymous student, who, sadly, reneged on his/her promise to become part of the FFRF’s complaint. (I can understand this in view of what happened to Jessica Alquist.) This student was constrained to take Hedin’s course because there were few options for a required science class in the Honors Program. And there are the three notes on Rate Your Professor site taking issue with Hedin’s Christian proselytizing. What more do you need?
Well, how about the syllabus for Hedin’s science class? I’ll simply repost the reading list for Hedin’s course, which appears to go under two names with slightly different lists. This is the reading list for the Honors course that fulfills BSU’s science requirement for students in the Honors program, “HONORS 296, Sec. 001, Symposium in the Physical Sciences: “The Boundaries of Science”
Behe, Michael, “Darwin’s Black Box” (1998).
Brush, Nigel, “The Limitations of Scientific Truth. Why Science Can’t Answer Life’s Ultimate Questions,” (2005).
Collins, Francis, “The Language of God, A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” (2007).
Consolmagno, Guy, “God’s Mechanics,” (2008).
Davies, Paul, “The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life?” (2006).
Davies, Paul, “The Mind of God. The Scientific Basis for a Rational World”, 1992.
Davies, Paul, “The 5th Miracle” (1999).
Dembski, William A. “Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information”
Dubay, Thomas, “The Evidential Power of Beauty. Science and Theology Meet”, 1999.
Flew, Antony, “There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind,” (2008).
Gange, Robert “Origins and Destiny” (1985). Online: http://www.ccel.us/gange.toc.html
Giberson, Karl W. and Collins, Francis S. “The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions,” (2011).
Gingerich, Owen, “God’s Universe” (2006).
Gonzalez, Guillermo “The Privileged Planet” (2004).
Lennox, John, “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?” (2007).
Lennox, John, “God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway?” (2011).
Lewis, C. S., “Miracles,” (1947).
Malone, John, “Unsolved Mysteries of Science,” (2001).
Meyer, Stephen C., “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories”, Proc. of the Biological Society of Washington, 117, 213 (2004).
Meyer, Stephen C., “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design” (2010)
Penfield, Wilder, “The Mystery of the Mind” (1975).
Penrose, Roger, “The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe”, (2005).
Polkinghorne, John and Beale, Nicholas, “Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions About God, Science, and Belief,” (2009).
Quastler, Henry “The Emergence of Biological Organization” (1964).
Ross, Hugh “The Creator and the Cosmos” (2001).
Ross, Hugh “Why the Universe is the Way it is” (2008).
http://www.reasons.org (Extensive materials on reasons for faith and science).
Ross and Rana, “Origins of Life” (2004).
Schroeder, Gerald L., “The Hidden Face of God. Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth”, 2001.
Seeds, Michael A., “Astronomy: The Solar System and Beyond”, 3rd Ed. (2003).
Spetner, Lee, “Not by Chance” (1996).
Strobel, Lee, “The Case for a Creator. A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence that Points Toward God”, 2004.
Von Baeyer, Hans Christian, “Information: The New Language of Science,” (2003).
How much real science do you see in there? I see a lot of apologetics (really? C. S. Lewis in a required science course?), a lot of intelligent design (Dembski, Behe, Meyer), some old-earth creationism (Hugh Ross, for crying out loud!), and not one reading that questions whether science gives evidence for God. It’s not that those readings don’t exist, for I could easily suggest pieces by Steve Weinberg, Sean Carroll, or Victor Stenger, all physicists who take the non-goddy side. No, this is a reading list confected by a man who wants his students to believe in Jesus. And remember, this is the one class students in that program can take to learn about science. What a joke! And the Provost defends it as a faculty matter (Hedin’s chairman already emailed me that he saw no problems with this course, and that it had been approved by the higher-ups.)
Here’s the syllabus for Hedin’s alternative course, Astronomy 151 (in the Department of Physics and Astronomy): “The Boundaries of Science”. The joke continues (click to enlarge)
I am quoted, since I was interviewed:
“All the books are by creationists, IDers (intelligent designers), or people who try to show that science gives evidence for God,” evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago, told The Star Press, referring to the bibliography for Hedin’s course. “There are no straight science books.”It appears Hedin “presents a non-view of science in a science class,” said Coyne, author of the book “Why Evolution is True.” “The students are being duped. It’s straight theology with no alternatives. It’s a straight Christian intelligent design/creationist view of the world, which is wrong. It’s not science. It’s not that it’s not science, it’s science that has been discredited. It’s like saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.”
But Hedin’s colleagues rush to his defense. As the paper reports:
Ronald Kaitchuck, a professor in BSU’s department of physics and astronomy, finds it hard to believe that Hedin teaches strict creationism.
He suspects Hedin is “asking people to think a little broader, outside the box, which causes controversy. It’s funny.”
Yeah, right. If he’s asking them to think more broadly, how about making them read something that really challenges their views, like essays by Stenger, Weinberg, or Sean Carroll? Earth to Kaitchuck: these students are undoubtedly largely Christian to begin with. It’s not “thinking outside the box” to make them read about how Christianity comports with science.
Ruth Howes, a retired professor from the department who now lives in Santa Fe, said, “The people I know in the department are very straightforward thinkers. I don’t think they mean to preach to anybody, except possibly F = ma (one of Newton’s laws of motion).”
Hedin replaced Howes when she retired.
Your head is in the sand, Dr. Howes. Of course Hedin preaches to his students—they say so!
“It is the university’s job to help students understand viewpoints that differ from their own,” Howes said. “Students are not expected to totally agree with these viewpoints, but they are expected to understand them. I think that is probably what professor Hedin is trying to do, and I would expect the university to back this effort thoroughly. For example, if I were teaching a class on Islam, I would not expect students to convert to Islam, but I would expect them to understand the basic tenants that Muslims believe.”
This is again a blinkered view, and garbled as well. If the university wants to help students understand viewpoints that differ from their own, how about presenting them with straight naturalistic evolution, which only 16% of Americans accept? And what about the view that the universe gives evidence against a god, a view espoused by the physicists I’ve named above. Finally, I expect that Dr. Howe might object a wee bit if someone teaching a class on Islam urged the students to accept the tenets of Islam, don burquas, or engage in jihad—the equivalent of what Hedin is doing. All three of these statements bespeak a profound misunderstanding of what it means to “challenge students’ views”, and neglect the fact that this is being done in a science class. What science, exactly, do students learn in that class?
There are 9 readers’ comments at the end, and although there are some benighted people like these, there is also some pushback.
Ball State University’s defense of Hedin so far, and the presence of Hedin’s course in the syllabus, is an embarrassment. There is simply no excuse for teaching C. S. Lewis, intelligent design, and old-earth creationism in a science class. Again, “academic freedom” is no the license to teach what you bloody well want in a state university course. If you defend this course by Hedin, then you’re defending the ability of a university to allow students to satisfy their science requirement with a course on astrology or alchemy.
Give up the course, BSU, or you’re going to look ridiculous.