More fallout from the Ball State affair

As you surely know if you read this site, Eric Hedin, a physics and astronomy teacher at Ball State University (BSU), has been teaching a “science” course at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, that is heavily infused with creationism and its gussied-up city cousin intelligent design (ID), as well as a ton of Christian apologetics and accommodationism.

Hedin has also been accused by several students as proselytizing for Christianity in that class; more students are coming forward, but more on that later. After investigating, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter to BSU officials informing them of potential First Amendment violations of this class. BSU agreed to launch an investigation, which is happening now.

In the meantime, the case has become a bit of a cause célèbre for conservatives and creationists. IDers, of course, defend Hedin because he’s simply “teaching the controversy, although he doesn’t present anything other than a pro-religious view of science. No contrary views, by people like Victor Stenger, Sean Carroll, Steven Weinberg, or Lawrence Krauss, are ever presented.

I, of course, have been accused of being a bully and a coward, suppressing legitimate controversy, and so on. I’ve also been accused of calling for Hedin’s firing, which I never did (I simply want this class to be expunged from the science curriculum or transferred to “philosophy” or “religion”, with some real balance added).

None of this controversy bothers me a whit. What does bother me is that fellow anti-creationists P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran have, while decrying the class, defended Hedin’s way to teach it as he does, arguing that it’s a professor’s right to teach exactly what he wants to, even if that involves the lies of creationism and ID.

Evolution News and Views (an arm of the ID nonthink tank The Discovery Institute, has started a petition to defend Hedin’s “academic freedom”.  I quote from their article:

Questions about the evidence for design in the universe and the boundaries of science are perfectly legitimate topics for a university seminar. Indeed, these topics have provoked scholarly interest and discussion during much of the history of Western civilization, and the scholars cited in Hedin’s bibliography are some of the leading voices in these discussions. This fact hasn’t stopped the inquisitors at the militantly atheist Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) from launching a witch-hunt and demanding that Ball State University investigate, censor, and punish Hedin for his supposed misdeeds. Unfortunately, the university seems to have acquiesced to the demands for the witch-hunt, agreeing to investigate the spurious complaint from FFRF.

You can find the petition at the EN&V link. The gist is this:

“We, the undersigned, urge the administration of Ball State University to support Prof. Eric Hedin’s academic freedom to discuss intelligent design and related issues in the classroom. We call on you to reject demands by the Freedom from Religion Foundation to censor or punish Dr. Hedin for exercising his right to free speech.

Presumably P.Z. and Larry will want to sign it, since they’ve expressed exactly these sentiments.

The odious right-wing website for students, Campus Reform, has gone after me with an inflammatory headline, “Prominent professor argues that teaching creationism is like Holocaust denial.”

Well, that’s technically accurate, I suppose, but what I said to the Muncie Star-Press (I refused to talk to the reporter for Campus Reform) was this:

“It’s not that it’s not science,” he continued, speaking to the Star Press. “It’s science that has been discredited. It’s like saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.”

That’s a bit more nuanced, and I’ve explained my position more carefully elsewhere: those who say that professor can teach anything they want are tacitly approving things like teaching Holocaust denial in a European History class, or alchemy in a chemistry class. Of course the persecution of Jews (a Christian- and now Muslim-) based sentiment) is far more harmful than teaching creationism.

I should add that the Campus Reform reporter contacted the publicity people at the University of Chicago asking for their reaction. Her email:

I would appreciate a comment on behalf of the University of Chicago regarding Professor Coyne’s comment in reaction to Ball State teaching a “Boundaries of Science Class” in which he compared teaching creationism to denying the Holocaust.
Thanks for your time,
Macaela Bennett
I would say that’s pretty close to intimidation. As expected, the University of Chicago just laughed this one off after asking me if I wanted to respond.

A bunch of religious websites have attacked me for instigating this kerfuffle, but they don’t deserve mention. And religious websites have taken an interest in the controversy; their articles, like this one at the religious World on Campus, are generally accurate, but never mention that intelligent design has been rejected by the courts as “not science” (I disagree; I think it’s dreadful science), and not eligible for teaching in public schools. And in this one, ID advocate Casey Luskin gets the last word:

Casey Luskin, research coordinator of the Discovery Institute, who has worked with similar cases over the years, said that often most of the class is happy to actually have an unrestricted conversation about where humans come from. Only “one or two passionate, intolerant atheist students are on a mission to persecute those who disagree with evolution,” Luskin said. He believes the critical students model behavior from leading new atheists who what to squelch dialogue, and points out that most science classes do teach intelligent design, although often in a negative light.

“If a professor is simply teaching about these ideas … from leading credible and solid scientists from both sides at the university level, I can’t imagine why it’d be considered unconstitutional,” Luskin said. “For most atheists, what they consider proselytizing is hearing intelligent design talked about in a positive way.”

I didn’t expect this to become such a big deal when I wrote to Hedin’s chairman (and then to the FFRF when he blew me off), but I’m not surprised. What surprises me is, as I said, the reaction of some colleagues that First Amendment restrictions don’t apply at public universities and, especially, that “academic freedom” mandates that a professor at such universities (and presumably private universities too) should be permitted to teach creationism—and only creationism—in a science class.

The heartening thing is that students who took Hedin’s class are now coming forward complaining about his Christian proselytizing in his science class (yes, he did it, and in a particularly repugnant way), and I should be able to post more about that this week. I just hope that if any such students are reading this, they’ll be willing to identify themselves and make their comments public.


  1. Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink


  2. Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Academic freedom is often misunderstooud and misused by people. There is difference between teaching and doing research. Scientists should have the freedom do any research they want, unless it would violate the law or ethical code of conduct (with this I mean scientists should not murder people or steal someone’s property and such). Teaching, however, should be subject to some regulations; should comply with (internationally) accepted standards.

  3. Timothy
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    If Hedin believes that there is scientific evidence supporting his godly claims, then his class is not being taught in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Ironically, he reallyshould be fired then, because if he really believes the trash he is peddling is acceptable physics, then he is an incompetent physicist. Academic freedom doesn’t allow me to be incompetent.

  4. Jeff D
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I am glad that Jerry did what he did. It was the right thing to do, and ultimately, Ball State University may do what it should do — to tell Hedin to remove the religious apologetics and creationist folderal from his course (or move it to a non-science department and re-design it is a balanced course analyzing creation stories and pre-scientific cosmologies from multiple religions).

    From my own (a lawyer’s) perspective, I have disagreed and probably will continue to disagree with other commenters here about whether the existence and content of Hedin’s course at a state university is itself an Establishment Clause violation — I think that would be quite difficult to prove, and a fool’s errand for a plaintiff’s lawyer. There are many kinds of “wrong” or “unlawful” besides “unconstitutional” or “Establishment Clause violation.” But a review of the existing csae law shows pretty clearly that professors such as Hedin will get away teaching whatever they want (mis-labeled “academic freedom”) only when the university administrators are too cowardly or inattentive to protect the students and to maintain quality control over course content.

    • Gordon Hill
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      As one who is ill-versed in the law, is the distinction as to violation of the Establishment clause a question of whether teaching creationism as science is a part of the university program (Ball State is largely funded by the state) or an individual professors preference?

    • Marcoli
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      I am very interested in learning more about the arguments for why the establishment clause is incapable of being applied at a university, even though it sure has been successfully applied in comparative situations at K-12 schools. The arguments against this being a constitutional violation seem to be:
      1. Academic freedom should be unfettered.
      2. Students are not compelled to take the state-sanctioned class b/c it is an elective.
      3. There is no case history of it being successfully applied for teaching religion at a university class.
      NONE of these arguments hold up as far as I can tell. I hope I am right on this!
      1. There is no legal basis for academic freedom, certainly not one that can stand against protecting the constitution.
      2. At least one student had felt compelled to take the class, and even for those who really took it as an elective we all know there is a tuition and graduation schedule price to pay for dropping. That sure seems like coercion for staying in the class.
      3. If there is no case precedent for this particular situation, there are plenty of similar ones in K-12, and these should matter. Even if it is not clear, there should be a trial on it to see how it should go.
      What worries me most is that if this somehow bounces away from a violation of the establishment clause, then that could open a Pandoras’ box of pseudoscience in our universities.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        From my university experience in days of yore, the catalog contained short course descriptions on which students could base a decision on whether to sign up. If, for example, a chemistry prof included a significant focus on alchemy in a (likely required, not elective) chemistry course but neglected to mention it in the course description, it seems that that would be prima facie evidence for deceit. Surely P.Z. Myers would want to know in advance, via the course description, whether alchemy would be treated as legitimate.

        Surely in this internet age, above and beyond a synoptic course description, one can easily enough find a detailed course syllabus. On the other hand, why should one have to do that much detective work? Anyone with half a cerebrum would never reasonably expect to have to deal with alchemy as a serious part of chemistry. Regarding the previously-posted reading list for the course in question, it is sorely lacking in the Four Horsemen, Stenger, Krauss, Weinberg, Grayling, Russell, Martin Gardner (“The Musings of a Philosophical Scrivener”), etc. I’m sure J.B.S. Haldane has something quite worth students’ trouble to hear.

      • eric
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        At least one student had felt compelled to take the class

        Marcoli, nobody is forced to go to university in the first place. That’s why its not compulsory; every student at BSU is there of their own choice and can quit at any time without defending that choice to the state.

        3. If there is no case precedent for this particular situation, there are plenty of similar ones in K-12, and these should matter.

        K-12 teachers are considered to be speaking for the state. BSU professors are not viewed by anyone (students, politicians, the public, or the professors themselves) as speaking for the state. There are many good reasons for this. Just a couple for example: the state government regulates K-12 course content, but not university content. The state government regulates K-12 textbook use, but not university textbook use. The state government sets K-12 degree requirements (i.e. what a student needs to learn to receive a diploma), but not major/departmental degree requirements at universities – even state universities.
        In all these things and more, the state government does and is seen by the public to have a direct influence and interest in what gets taught in K-12 classrooms, a direct interest which is not reflected in the policy and legal structures used to run state universities.

        • Jeff D
          Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:40 am | Permalink

          So far as I can tell from the many cases that I have read, there is no necessary or consistent legal connection between “academic freedom” and a claim that a teacher or the contents of a course has violated the Establishment Clause. The only thing that “academic freedom” and “Establshment Clause violation” have in common is that both have their roots in First Amendment principles (except that notions of “academic freedom” are connected to free speech / free expression righs, instead of to prohibition of government favoring some religions over others or religion in general.

          eric has pretty accurately summarized why an Establishment Clause violation would be difficult to prove (or even to clearly and precisely identify) in this situation. . . . and perhaps why we haven’t seen a reported court case involving a successful Establishment Clause claim by a university student against a university about the content of an elective course.

          It would be much easier (although still not a walk in the park) for a student to sue the university and the professor for misrepresentation of the course’s content and perhaps for some sort of breach of implied warranty about a course “marketed” as a science course.

    • Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      I appreciate Dr Coyne’s persistence on this issue and the timely reports.

      I would liken this kerfuffle to teaching complementary/ alternative medicine in medical schools. If there is science to back up the hypothesis, great, but if not then it does not belong in the curriculum. The Holocaust analogy, while technically correct, is bound to raise eyebrows–and maybe that’s the point to get attention on the issue.

      Having said all that, alternative/ complementary medicine IS presented in medical school usually to familiarize future doctors with the witchcraft that patients will be asking about, but also, sadly, there are professors and doctors that *believe* in such therapies. This is an ongoing battle, and while proponents of alt med don’t invoke “other ways of knowing” they do continuously remind us that science is imperfect to justify their teaching alternatives to medicine.

      I tend to agree that the invoking the Establishment Clause seems a stretch but I’m no lawyer.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted May 27, 2013 at 6:35 am | Permalink

        In the UK David Colquhoun has been instrumental in getting universities to close down courses like homeopathy, Chinese medicine etc. when sold to the public under the auspices of a BSc.

        He simply forced universities to hand over their “science” syllabuses and exposed them for the non-science nonsense that they are.

        It is a truly terrible situation if scientists in the US sit back and say if universities want to teach religion as science that is fine and dandy with them. They should be writing to such universities telling them to desist. They should be joining Jerry in exposing such behaviour wherever it exists.

        As respects the constitutional issue that is for the courts to decide.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    At first I found the academic freedom argument misguided but now I see it almost as pernicious as the original issue of teaching creationism/ID as science because the Discovery Institute and their ilk have paraded this view to discredit the original argument and characterize the whole thing as intimidation of a professor with legitimate differing views.

    Advocating an “anything goes” approach to academic freedom is tantamount to agreeing to teach alchemy not with but *instead of* chemistry and to encourage a rewrite of history so that the holocaust didn’t happen and aliens built pyramids.

    I hope the students do “the critical students model behavior from leading new atheists” because unlike what Casey Luskin thinks the new atheists do not “squelch dialogue” but separate the signal from the noise!

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      “Unlike what Casey Luskin thinks the new atheists do not “squelch dialogue” but separate the signal from the noise!”

      Furthermore, Luskin’s own organization’s blog/website is notorious for not permitting comments. Who is squelching dialogue?

    • eric
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Nobody – on this site at least – is advocating an “anything goes” approach. The people (like me) who disagree with Jerry are advocating that the best and legally correct way to address such pseudo-scientific baloney being taught is via University policy and departmental and university leadership.

      I haven’t looked at what PZ and Larry Moran have said, but I doubt even they are defending ‘anything goes.’ I”m guessing that if you asked them whether a calculus professor should have the complete freedom and support of the university to spend an entire calculus course doing no math and discussing Brittney Spears music instead, they’d say no. They’d say that the math department or university council (or other leadership) should put a stop to that.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        Hmmmmmm you might want to read what PZ and Larry say then and there have been people who read this site who do believe in an anything goes approach.

      • Posted May 25, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

        Before you start implying that people have misrepresented what P.Z. or Larry said, I think it would behoove you to actually go READ what they said.

        Here’s Larry, for example:

        “I defend the right of a tenured professor to teach whatever he/she believes to be true no matter how stupid it seems to the rest of us.”


        “In truth, there’s a difference between teaching alchemy and teaching a religious perspective on science. They aren’t exactly equivalent ‘errors.’

        However, I wiil defend the right of a chemist to believe in alchemy and still hold a position in a chemistry department. I’ll even defend teaching a course on alchemy. I think it would be wonderful experience for most chemistry students.”

        Nothing there about “the university putting a stop to that.”

        And P.Z.:

        “No, sorry, not right — academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective.”

        on what should be done:

        “I’ve known of a couple of cases where faculty go ’round the bend and start flaking out in the classroom, and there’s not much you can do, except what Ball State seems to be doing. Put the person into low level service courses where they have to teach students something basic, like algebra, where their weird views can’t do much harm. Or give them some non-majors elective where they aren’t going to have much influence. I notice in Hedin’s courses that he’s only teaching low level courses and honors/interdisciplinary courses. It looks like maybe the department is doing their best to isolate a problem.”

        In other words, let Hedin teach what he wants, but try to isolate him. Nothing there about the university putting a stop to Hedin’s course.

        This all sounds pretty much like “anything goes” to me.

        Please read what people write before you “guess” what they would say. Certainly Larry has been very explicit about “anything goes.”

        I’ve linked to their comments previously, and I guess you just didn’t bother to have a look.

        And, as you know, my first attempt to bring Hedin to Ball State’s notice was to inform his chairman, exactly what you said should be the “best and legally correct approach.” The chairman blew me off and said Hedin had the university’s support. Was I supposed to give up at that point? I don’t think so.

        I’d be surprised if the FFRF letter didn’t result in some action about the course.

        • eric
          Posted May 26, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

          Okay, I will retract my generalizations and just say that *I* am not advocating an ‘anything goes’ approach.

          I think the more important point I’d like to make is that this doesn’t have to be a choice between “unconstitutional” and “anything goes.” There are many intermediate solutions, of which the most obvious are that BSU leadership or the department leadership addresses the issue.

          It would also not surprise me in the least if this was FFRF’s goal and preferred solution – with an actual court case being a very distant second.

      • Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:00 am | Permalink

        University students are to do what when their own university higher-ups do not adequately handle an issue concerning them? Never to bring the discussion outside the privileged, hallowed walls? To forfeit their own free speech so the profs can yap at will?

      • Notagod
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

        I have to seriously question your high highfalutin legal comments when you are also capable of such a naive perspective as to compare “spend an entire calculus course” doing Brittney Spears music to the disgusting christian proselytizer problem, which at a minimum isn’t being described as encompassing the entire course.

        I wonder if you have a vested interest in the position you are advocating? I don’t doubt that there is case law to support the position you advocate but as with any legal case, there is likely legal precedence to support an opposing perspective, which I haven’t seen you present in any meaningful way.

        I don’t see you taking a middle ground analysis but, of advocating for the defense of god bothering.

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    ooops, sub

  7. NewEnglandBob
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  8. ethologist
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Muncie is in Indiana, not Ohio.

  9. Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I have been watching this unfold. You seem to have a knack for these things. I recall your gift to creationists in the form of secondhand criticisms of Kettlewell.

    I take an expansive view of tenure and professor’s privilege. However, it is the university that awards the credits, and not any individual faculty member. So, the university does have a contractual obligation to review course content and in this case I suspect the review process failed. However, you have now inoculated Hedin from any action by the university.

    • Posted May 25, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      You know what, Mr. Hurd? You could have made your point without being snarky and rude, but you couldn’t restrain yourself, could you.

      Well, I won’t reply in kind, but I can say that yes, creationists did quote-mine me for my criticisms of the Biston betularia story, but I stand by the criticisms I made at the time. Who hasn’t been quote-mined by creationists? And, the ultimate gift was to science, for my criticisms caused Michael Majerus to repeat Kettlewell’s experiments correctly, so now the story of predation on Biston is much firmer.

      Finally, how, exactly, have I inoculated Hedin from any action by the university? Are you really saying that by calling his Christian-infused class (which you admit didn’t have proper content) to the attention of his chairman, and then to the FFRF after his chairman blew me off, I have prevented any university action? Are you really that obtuse?
      Should I have done nothing?

      You really do need to work on your politeness, though. I guess you don’t know that the roolz around here call for polite discussion instead of insults to the host (“you have a knack for this sort of thing”)when you disagree.

  10. Cliff Melick
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    [b]None of this controversy bothers me a whit. What does bother me is that fellow anti-creationists P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran have, while decrying the class, defended Hedin’s way to teach it as he does, arguing that it’s a professor’s right to teach exactly what he wants to, even if that involves the lies of creationism and ID.[/b]

    Both of whom teach at public universities, get it? I don’t know much about Larry Moran, but having been over-exposed to Myers, I’m pretty sure that no one is going to tell PZ what he can and cannot say (although he’s pretty directive towards others).

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Hi Cliff:

      I’ve found that to use bold-face on this particular website, the tags have to be in the brackets that look like “greater than” and “less than” mathematical symbols, (I hope that typing them like that didn’t trigger anything awful).

      Thus: bold

      • Cliff Melick
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink


      • Filippo
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        Does the website have a handy section listing what one needs to type in order to bold, italicize, link to a video but keep it from being implanted in a thread, etc.?

        • Gordon Hill
          Posted May 26, 2013 at 6:48 am | Permalink

          HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is like playing golf, it’s simple (just get the ball in the hole), but it’s not easy (%&@*#!). See

          I did not hide it. You can create a text document with sample formats to make it easy.

  11. Posted May 25, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I always find the use of language to muddle and obfuscate rather then clarify and enlighten extremely frustrating.

    Now we have the enforcement of some minimal standards of evidence and reason in a “science” class labeled as a “witch-hunt” engaged in by “inquisitors”…completely debasing the meaning of the words and their destructive history.

    Here’s to hoping those students come forward…

    • Larry Gay
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      There’s also the “militant atheist” FFRF. How would they react to “the militant Christian” Professor Hedin?

      • Filippo
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Hmm . . . I wonder if there is such an entity as a militant militant? A “meta-” militant?

        • microraptor
          Posted May 27, 2013 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

          Try hanging out at a bar near a military base.

  12. Mark Joseph
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Jerry, you are “da man” for being the First Cause (chortle) of this “kerfluffle.” My congratulations.

    For any who are not familiar with the argument, the comparison of creationism to Holocaust denial, in the sense that both are views that deliberately and malignantly distort science and history, is implicitly developed in parts 3 and 4 of Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things.”

  13. Marta
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I’m completely dismayed that PZ and Larry have come out on the wrong side of this, that they see this as an academic freedom issue, rather than an intellectual integrity issue, i.e. professors should be free to teach what they want, as they like, apparently without regard to the factual basis of what they’re teaching. This is intolerable when it happens in a science course.

    It’s unexpected. It’s disappointing. Leaving you out there on your own to win this one is cowardly, and from what I’ve come to respect about PZ, shocking.

    • Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Here is where I disagree with those two:

      if that professor wanted to teach that the moon was made of cheese or teach “the aether” or to teach impetus mechanics, that is legal. It is incompetent, but it is legal.

      Holding students as a captive audience for religion while teaching in a public university is probably illegal.

      • Marta
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        I don’t have the background or training to think about the legalities of the issue, so I can’t address these.

        But the thing is, if your university permits the teaching of Christianity as “truth” in a science class (where students have the right to expect that everything in the class conforms to science methodology) you undermine the credibility of every professor and course in the entire college. That’s what the administrators of Ball University are playing around with: their intellectual integrity and credibility. This seems like a big risk to take for a very small gain. It’s dumb.

        • Lowen Gartner
          Posted May 25, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          “their intellectual integrity and credibility”

          My thought exactly. In the universities I am familiar with, for a course to be approved, it must be approved by the faculty of the department, by the college, and by the university’s faculty senate.

          The debate is often excruciating, all to protect the student experience, their product and their reputations.

          How did the system break down?

    • BigBob
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      That was my take on it too (if I read you right Marta). At what point does the prof’s right to choose trump the student’s right to legitimate education that is intellectually sound? I sign up for a science course. Three years later I graduate with a degree in woo, but it’s ok, because the prof got his academic freedom. BS. So prof gets transferred to work in the woo dept and another prof replaces him in the science dept. During the recruitment process it is made clear to the new incumbent that they need to teach sound, mainstream, legitimate science. Now the kids can graduate with a degree in science. Which is the better outcome?

  14. Dave
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    “… defended Hedin’s way to teach it as he does, arguing that it’s a professor’s right to teach exactly what he wants to ..” Really? Have Myers & Moran forgotten their part of the contract? If I sign up for a science course, I expect to be taught science, not pseudoscience and definitely not woo. Students do not have infinite time and financial resources to waste on BS. Time to come down from the ivory tower.

  15. chascpeterson
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran have, while decrying the class, defended Hedin’s way to teach it as he does, arguing that it’s a professor’s right to teach exactly what he wants to, even if that involves the lies of creationism and ID.

    Is that an accurate paraphrase? I agree that it’s an academic freedom issue, but according to my understanding of academic-freedom-in-the-classroom (see, e.g., here), a better way to look at it is that the right to determine curriculum belongs to faculty, not to anybody’s hired lawyers. If the department, chair, and dean all condone it then yeah, he can teach what he wants to, as long as it is germane to the stated course subject.
    Writing to the guy’s chair was the right way to express concern, but that’s all that can be done I think.

    I didn’t expect this to become such a big deal when I wrote to Hedin’s chairman

    of course, you also published your letters to Hedin’s chair on the worldwide web. I suspect that’s where the big deal is actually coming from.

  16. chascpeterson
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    If I sign up for a science course, I expect to be taught science, not pseudoscience and definitely not woo.

    In that case you’d want to avoid a course with the following sentience in the bulletin description: “We will also investigate physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life.”

    I should say that of course (heh) I agree that that the course described should not be able to fulfill a science requirement.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Most students and academic advisors would not be able to decode that language, and they certainly wouldn’t expect the course to be as god-soaked as it appears to be.

      • Filippo
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        Concur. Most would be hard-pressed to discern the lack of “sentience” in that sentence. 😉

  17. Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    In the United States, a government run institution has no right to hold someone as a captive audience for religious teaching.

    I expressed that idea at Larry Moran’s website.

    I am not in favor of making the classroom so sterile where professors live in fear of a minor transgression, but this APPEARS to go way beyond that.

    • Filippo
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      “In the United States, a government run institution has no right to hold someone as a captive audience for religious teaching.”

      However, surely an accreditation entity can hold an education entity’s feet to the fire, whether government-run or private. (Assuming the institution gives a care about accreditation.)

      Hmm, who accredits the accreditors anyway? Some universal association of accreditors? Who said, “Who watches the watchers?”?

      • Jeff D
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:48 am | Permalink

        “Who watches the watchers?” (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?) is usually attributed to Juvenal.

    • eric
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      In the United States, a government run institution has no right to hold someone as a captive audience for religious teaching.

      Good thing going to university is completely voluntary then. If it wasn’t, there might be a legal problem.

      • Posted May 26, 2013 at 1:23 am | Permalink

        This misses the point. When one goes to a public university one has the reasonable expectation of getting an education and not getting religious indoctrination.

  18. RFW
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    In case anyone reading has overlooked it, the fact remains that both creationism and ID are not scientific theories. Moreover, there is no controversy to teach: those are simply religiously inspired delusions with not a shred of scientific evidence.

    • RFW
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      PS: Someone should make sure the accreditation people hear about this, with the suggestion that they withdraw Ball State’s accreditation until its administration is purged of those who turned a blind eye to this blatant anti-scientific nonsense.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        One of the commenters here has done that, if I recall correctly.

      • Dave
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        That strikes me as an extreme reaction for a one-prof problem.

        • js
          Posted May 25, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps, but I have noticed that if I leave one weed in the garden, that weed will eventually send out seeds and next thing the garden is full of them.

        • RFW
          Posted May 25, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

          But it isn’t a “one-prof problem”. So far, it sounds like the administration knew what was going on, but had turned a blind eye to it for years. Notice that I called for purging the administration, not the faculty; i.e. not Hedin.

          • Dave
            Posted May 26, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

            But you called for pulling the school’s accreditation which would punish the entire student body over the misdoings of a single prof. If you really want to do that, Liberty “University” would be the place to set an example, where nonsense is an official element of curriculum.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted May 25, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

          The reaction of the department chair indicates that it may be more than a on-prof problem.

  19. Michael Fisher
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Well done JAC

  20. ladyatheist
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I work at Ball State, and I discussed this with a couple of coworkers the other day. Of course we had to be sure we were alone first. Then that night I had a nightmare that my house was spray-painted with anti-atheist graffiti.

    I wouldn’t say Muncie is completely hostile to atheists, but I know many people who are afraid to “come out.” It doesn’t surprise me that the local paper’s comment section had a lot of seriously ignorant responses.

    If any student does have the courage to come out publicly as a plaintiff, I will personally send them flowers from whichever delivery service will cooperate!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Oh you militant atheist you! 😉 I hope one day you can all come out one day in Indiana without the fear of a graffiti enveloped house!

      • ladyatheist
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        It’s virtually inevitable, seeing as I have lived in Brooklyn, N.Y. Sometimes I can’t keep my Brooklyn quiet!

    • Notagod
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

      Oh, you are just this > < close to being an evil little thing.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:31 am | Permalink

      I went to high school next door in Ohio. I recently took a look at my high school biology text book (Moon, Mann and Otto). Darwin is mentioned at the very end. Somehow the authors managed to avoid the word “evolution”. Here’s a sentence to give you an idea of it: “Natural selection, while recognized today as an important factor in the development of plant and animal life, does not seem to account for all of the known facts.” No doubt many in Indiana were also brought up on this kind of watered-down mealy-mouthed biology.

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I am sorry that anytime someone pokes the boil of religion in US the effluvia tend to spatter around. And I’m sure that WEIT readers will try to support this eminent cause as much as we can.

    Questions about the evidence for design in the universe and the boundaries of science are perfectly legitimate topics for a university seminar. Indeed, these topics have provoked scholarly interest and discussion during much of the history of Western civilization,

    Astrology and non-atom matter ideas, who neither rose to theories akin to “design”, provoked scholarly interest and discussion during much of the history of Western civilization.

    Yet you don’t see entire science classes devoted to any of them, since they all failed historically.

    In toto creationism of life, including its support for “design” ideas, were demolished when spontaneous generation of species was. Remaining “design” was demolished when evolution turned out to be the process behind apparent design.

    “For most atheists, what they consider proselytizing is hearing intelligent design talked about in a positive way.”

    For most scientists, what they consider proselytizing is hearing astrology talked about in a positive way because it is only done from within an astrology snake oil establishment.

    For most scientists, what they consider proselytizing is hearing intelligent design talked about in a positive way because it is only done from within a religion snake oil establishment.

    nonthink tank

    That is incisive and funny! The nonDiscovery Institute is out to make its flock not think.

  22. madscientist
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I guess PZ and Larry Moran are a bit confused by the issue. Students expect to learn supportable facts and analysis skills; Hedin’s evangelism provides neither, so it cannot even be called ‘teaching’ unless you call simple brainwashing teaching.

  23. Lowen Gartner
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Regarding academic freedom, the academic has a responsibility to only teach in areas where they are qualified and to only teach in a course what is appropriate for the curriculum. Academic freedom does not give free reign to teach irrelevant material or material outside of one’s specialty. See below, taken from here:

    “It is the mastery teachers have of their subjects and their own scholarship that entitles them to their classrooms and to freedom in the presentation of their subjects. Thus, it is improper for an instructor persistently to intrude material that has no relation to the subject, or to fail to present the subject matter of the course as announced to the students and as approved by the faculty in their collective responsibility for the curriculum.

    Because academic freedom has traditionally included the instructor’s full freedom as a citizen, most faculty members face no insoluble conflicts between the claims of politics, social action, and conscience, on the one hand, and the claims and expectations of their students, colleagues, and institutions, on the other. If such conflicts become acute, and attention to obligations as a citizen and moral agent precludes an instructor from fulfilling substantial academic obligations, the instructor cannot escape the responsibility of that choice, but should either request a leave of absence or resign his or her academic position.”

    Some might find this interesting too:

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for this. Take that Larry & PZ! 😉

      • Tulse
        Posted May 25, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think there is anything there that PZ or Larry would contest. You’ll note that the passage says nothing about official sanction or removal of the instructor by the department — it relies instead on the instructor’s conscience. I think that PZ and Larry would both agree that Hedin shouldn’t be teaching religion, but also claim that no one but Hedin has the right to determine what to teach. And that’s consistent with passage quoted above.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 26, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

          While PZ and Larry may believe that the institution cannot sanction the professor they do so because they believe that academic freedom allows the professor to teach anything and everything he feels like, factual or not.

          If academic freedom has limitations as indicated in the statements below, then the professor is not entitled, under academic freedom, to teach anything and everything as PZ and Larry espouse:

          There is this:

          Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject….

          I’d argue ID has nothing to do with science (despite what religious groups think.

          And there is is this:

          As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate….

          which suggests that professors cannot use academic freedom to teach crack pot ideas like alchemy, Holocaust denial, ID or homeopathy as legitimate because that would be a grossly inaccurate claim.

          Therefore, academic freedom is limited & cannot be used as a aegis to protect the teaching of woo.

    • Mattapult
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      With all the discussion of Academic Freedom, few people are dicussing the teachers responsibility to the students. If this professor is teaching pseudoscience, he will handicap his students when they try working in the real world.

      By the time they figure it out, the tuition has been paid, there is no do-over, no returns, no guarantees. “Academic Freedom” should not equate to “Caveat Emptor”

  24. neil
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    To clarify that holocaust comment, I would say “Denying evolution (which is what teaching creationism is) is comparable to denying the holocaust.” In both cases, something is being claimed not to have happened despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

  25. Roo
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    You know, I occasionally try to make a Well Known Atheists Friendship Family Tree in my mind, and I can never work it out, and PZ Myers tends to screw things up more than anyone. “This person and this person seem to friends – but this person appears to have a feud going with this person – but the friend of that person seems to be friends with the person that their buddy is feuding with… but maybe not…” I just can’t get the group dynamic. Then there’s this whole unlikely branch of the family tree where Stedman and some fellow Humanists are more likely to retweet Reza Aslan than the FFRF, and I get completely screwed up and say to hell with it and go have a beer.

    Anyways, the Ball State thing is interesting. I’ll be curious to see what comes of it and am glad that you, Jerry, don’t seem bothered by the controversy.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted May 25, 2013 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      The ideal condition is that people can have disagreements on issues like this without devolving into the “not friends” category.

  26. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    A bunch of religious websites have attacked me for instigating this kerfuffle, but they don’t deserve mention. And religious websites have taken an interest in the controversy;…

    That’s pretty amazing, considering that (wink wink) Intelligent Design has absolutely nothing to do with religion.

  27. Terry
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Someone please explain to me how I, an uneducated dolt, can understand the basics, and basics only, of Evolution (since a teenager, and I’m a very old man now,) and this professor with all those fancy degrees can’t! If I get it, why can’t he? He’s the smart guy.

    • Dan
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      In my book, he’s not smart.

  28. Dawn Oz
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    As an Australian, I’m often bemused and saddened by the state of defence of any creationism in education. However as a long time member of Prof Coyne’s email list, I’m delighted that he has the energy to fight the continued inclusion of disinformation in courses. PZ Myers can’t seem to think straight on this, and hasn’t sorted out his hierarchy of values – perplexing indeed. Thanks Jerry for being such an advocate of straight speech and credible academic sources.

  29. Diane G.
    Posted May 25, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Permalink


  30. Gordon Hill
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Of the many issues here, I wonder the extent to which his creationist views are considered scientific knowledge requiring agreement on tests and in papers. What grade would a student receive if he/she took issue with his creationist ‘knowledge’ on exams or in papers.

    If there is an academic penalty for dismissing his faux science the student may have a good case for challenging the course.

  31. Dan
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    PZ Myers surprised me. In a bad way…

  32. Rustylizard
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    A couple of poems (complete with footnotes) for the Ball State folks from “Poking a Little Fun at Relgion”:

    Decline of the Sparerib Era (pg 47)

    The Bible taught us that the earth was flat. *
    It seemed like a pretty good call.
    Then we learned that it wasn’t true—
    We were living on a great big ball.

    And it was fine when the sun above
    Was known to spin around us.
    We were pleased that the earth stood still, **
    Before Galileo and Copernicus. ***

    And God made Eve from Adam’s rib,
    As every good Christian knew. ****
    If only he’d kept on doing that,
    Evolution would be untrue.

    And the seven-day tale of creation
    Was so simple and so grand.
    But the physicists’ big-bang theory
    Takes some thought to understand.

    * Luke 4:5 “And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.” (Since you can’t see the other side of a sphere from a mountain top, the earth had to be flat.)

    ** 1 Chronicles 16:30 “…the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.” See also, Psalms 104:5 & Ecclesiastes 1:5. Martin Luther also referred to Joshua 10:10-15, and called Copernicus, “a fool who went against Holy Writ.”

    *** Galileo was tried in 1633 and put under house arrest by the Catholic Church for espousing the Copernican system. He was speedily absolved of heresy in 1992, however – less than four centuries later.

    **** Genesis 2:22

    Simple Science (pg 51)

    The science in religious texts—
    You study it with ease.
    Just read the lovely fairy tales—
    You’ve earned your PhDs.

    It doesn’t take no physics,
    It doesn’t take no math.
    Adam, Eve, and a sneaky snake
    Will start you down the path.

    If you can’t tell truth from fiction,
    You’re already way ahead.
    Stay away from heavy thinkin’,
    But believe the stuff you’ve read.

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