Ball State redux: Stenger’s take, an antisemitic website, and a nutty professor

UPDATEOver at Pharyngula, P. Z. Myers responds to Stenger’s piece by defending his (P.Z.’s) position that Hedin “ought to be dealt with internally.” This is a bit different from Myers’s earlier assertion that Ball State had done pretty much everything it could to marginalize Hedin. (Note, too, that I tried to get Hedin’s department to take notice of the problem, and they brushed me off. They refused to deal with him internally.) However, Myers also claims that “Stenger thinks that Eric Hedin, a professor at Ball State, should be fired for teaching Christian/creationist nonsense.”  Stenger’s piece says nothing about wanting Hedin fired.

__________

I continue to be amazed at how many people want to weigh in on the case of Eric Hedin preaching Christian apologetics and intelligent design to his students in a Ball State University (BSU) “science” course.  Of course I expected that religious people and creationists would side with Hedin under the rubric of “teach the controversy” (even though he’s teaching only one side of it!), but I didn’t expect colleagues like Larry Moran and P. Z. Myers to support him on the dubious grounds of “academic freedom”. (To be fair, they both decry his course but defend his right to teach it.)

But I’m heartened by Victor Stenger’s column about Hedin in this week’s PuffHo, “Does academic freedom give professors the right to teach whatever they want?

His answer is a resounding no, arguing, correctly, that “Academic freedom does not imply that an instructor is free to teach material that is demonstrably false.” He then recounts a case that happened at his own University of Hawaii:

When I was at the University of Hawaii, an instructor was teaching courses in parapsychology in which he claimed, “telepathy is a skill documented around the world.” He said he would aid his students in developing their psychic skills to enable them to defend themselves against “invading minds,” and “stand protected in haunted places.”

Several professors and members of the community protested that this was not accepted knowledge and should not be presented in a university course. The courses were cancelled. On September 1, 1988, the instructor filed a lawsuit, Civil No. 87-0150, in the United States District Court for the State of Hawaii claiming he had been deprived of his constitutional rights.

In his decision published on August 31, 1988, Judge Harold Fong dismissed the case with prejudice. Relevant to the Ball State situation, the judge wrote:

“The classroom is not a public forum.”I interpret this to mean that instructors are not free to teach whatever they want but are obligated to present the best knowledge of the day on their particular subject. Academic freedom is not academic license. Once upon a time science professors might have taught that the world was flat — when that was a consensus belief. But they can’t do that now, at least not in state-funded schools.

This is precisely what happened in the Bishop v. Aranov case, when, after a University of Alabama professor was told to stop preaching Christianity in his classroom, he sued the University claiming that his rights were infringed. He lost, with the judge saying the the university classroom “is not an open forum.”

What I would like to happen is not for Hedin to be fired—presumably he has some marginal use to Ball State University—but for BSU to tell him to cease and desist his proselytizing.  If he refuses, then let him sue, because he’ll lose. The ball is in Ball State’s court, and if they let Hedin continue to preach about Jesus in his classroom, and teach creationism and its ID variant, they’ll look stupid, and I’ll trumpet it as loudly as I can.

*****

This post isn’t funny at all, but exemplifies the paranoid antisemitism that is still endemic amongst the benighted. It’s from the bizarre site “White children get very bad news.” The headline and picture tells it all:

Screen shot 2013-05-26 at 5.28.44 AM

And here’s their lunacy in its entirety:

Marxist-Ball State University, a public institution in Muncie, Indiana, is attacking  course centered around the subjects of creationism and intelligent design and constitutes a violation of the separation of church and state. The Karl Marx college  began its Jew-attack after Jew-invoked , Jew-financed atheists, sent a Jew attack regarding physics and astronomy White professor Eric Hedin.

Hedin’s offense to the Jews? He apparently encourages students to read books by scientists, journalists and proponents who embrace intelligent design. The description of his course, as reported by World on Campus, claims that students will “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.”

While the course, “Inquiries in Physical Sciences,” is an elective, that hasn’t stopped critics like University of Chicago professor Jew, Jerry Coyne, in addition to the FFRF, from speaking out against it as an alleged violation of the separation of church and state.
I love it! “Marxist-Ball State University” and “University of Chicago professor Jew”.  These people are, of course, deeply unhinged. One would think this was a joke, but one would be wrong.

******

Finally, I forgot to post this LOLzy comment that appeared after a pro-Hedin piece at the religious website World on Campus.  It’s by Michael Buratovich, associate professor of biology, biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and “genes and speciation” (my area!) at Spring Arbor University, a Christian school at the eponymous town in Michigan. Have a gander:


Screen shot 2013-05-26 at 5.27.08 AM

I’m not aware of any college classes that teach students how to be gay, how to cross dress, or how to be a witch, a good little Marxist, or a radical environmentalist. (Presumably Buratovich sees all these beliefs and behaviors as equally pernicious.) Buratovich, in his animus against modern universities, has gone off the rails.

157 Comments

  1. Uommibatto
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Though Buratovich foams at the mouth a little in the middle of his post, at the beginning he agrees (I think) that the science being taught in Hedin’s class is “crap,” and that bringing in Coyne or PZ Myers as counterpoint could be a “terrific class if it’s done right.” So it’s not like he’s completely gone off the rails.

    In fact, remove the middle editorial section, and how does this differ from Myers or Moran’s point of view? I’m not saying he’s right, just that he’s semi-reasonable.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      I think that middle part sort of ruins anything semi reasonable he would like to say.

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Naaah, I think he’s just granting that as a premise; I’m not sure he actually thinks that. If he did he would just say it instead of “granting” it.

      But where he goes off the rails is in fact in the middle section, where he characterizes the kind of thing he thinks modern colleges teach.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      He seems to believe that it’s okay to take thousands of dollars from a student and fill their heads with crap. I suspect there may be a little rationalization for his own teaching methods mixed in.

    • Bob J.
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      Well maybe he is off his rails. Is he suggesting Jerry should prep and co-deliver a class on a remote campus? Is Jerry to be paid like the other professor or is he supposed to do this pro bono? Are there no professors at Ball U. that understand evolution?

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Subscribing to watch the spectacle o lunatics come out to back BSU’s lunatic, Hedlin.

    • abandonwoo
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Same here.

  3. Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Again: scientists should be free to do research whatever they want as long this is in line with law (which should be the same for everyone within one country) and accepted ethical standards.

    However, teaching does not constitutes research proper, especially not in elementary courses. (University) students should be given an accurate overview of the current state of affair within a certain discipline.

    The first (research) falls under academic freedom, the second (teaching) does not.

    • Stephen P
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Or, to put it more briefly: academic freedom is the freedom to ask questions, not the freedom to invent answers.

      • Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        Basically, yes.

      • Chris Slaby
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        This is very well said.

      • Timothy
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        Yes, unless it is a theology class, of course.

        • Dave
          Posted May 26, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          Good gawd, what ARE you suggesting!

        • Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

          Theology is the “science” of studying fairy tales and claiming that those fairy tales are real. Apologetics is the subfield which is concerned by defending that fairy tales are real by relying on logical fallacies and all kinds of demagogy.

      • Michaelle Prosch Newman
        Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink

        Yes!

    • chascpeterson
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink

      You can assert it again, but it’s still not true, or at best too simplistic.
      Academic freedom does indeed extend to the classroom. Ask the AAUP.
      That’s not an equivalent statement to ‘professors can teach whatever they want’.

      The point is that courts, lawyers, and the outside pressure groups that hire them cannot be granted the ability to influence curriculum. That right belongs to faculty. period.

      • JBlilie
        Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        The point is that courts, lawyers, and the outside pressure groups that hire them cannot be granted the ability to influence curriculum. That right belongs to faculty. period.

        Apparently not. The courts do not agree with you. Teaching bollocks to paying customers (who paid for science) while accepting public funds has not been supported by the US system.

        The quoted section above also contradicts your previous statement: “That’s not an equivalent statement to ‘professors can teach whatever they want’.”

        You just said (top quote) that no other players can influence curriculum (what’s taught in class). Hence, they prof. can “teach whatever they want.”

        • chascpeterson
          Posted May 28, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

          no, you don’t get it.
          By “faculty” I don’t mean each individual professor for each individual course. I include internal oversight at department and college/school levels.

  4. Stackpole
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Hmm… quoting from the quoted remarks by Stenger in JC’s non-blog, we read…

    On September 1, 1988, the instructor filed a lawsuit, Civil No. 87-0150, in the United States District Court for the State of Hawaii …

    and

    In his decision published on August 31, 1988, Judge Harold Fong dismissed the case …

    Sure looks to me that telepathy (or time travel) is alive and well in Hawaii.

    • Jeff D
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      From the District Court case number (numbering has been standardized for federal court cases nationwide since the early 1980s, at the latest), it is obvious that the professor filed his suit in 1987.

      Sorry to spoil a good laugh.

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      You might want to check out his book “Timeless Reality” for an explanation. This quite likely was a Quantum Court. 😉

  5. Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Even if a “balanced” view was presented it still wouldn’t be science and it’s a deception to give students a science qualification based on discussing nonsense that has nothing to do with modern scientific knowledge in any field. You could just as well have a course about the merits or lack thereof of the spaghetti monster. That shouldn’t contribute to a scientific qualification either.

    • Becca Stareyes
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      You could structure a course on Science and Society, which would involve learning about the modern creationist movement and responses to it (both theist and atheist). It wouldn’t exactly be a science class*, but it could be a worthwhile class for students to take.

      It does not sound like this is the course.

      * Though I’d think learning what the scientific points are would be valuable, not just ‘Here’s what everyone is saying’. As well as some of the history of the interaction between biological evolution and Christianity, since it seems like a lot of YECs take a ‘we have always been at war with Eastasia’ view.

      • ladyatheist
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        There are many interesting discussion areas that are being pushed aside by Hedin. Should the U.S. retake the lead in space exploration? Is it better to have U.S. astronauts being shuttled by Russians? What about GMOs? What about abortion *yikes* What about overpopulation, global warming, etc?

      • Posted May 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        But such a course shouldn’t *just* be about the modern creationist movement. There are plenty of other suspect beliefs in modern society that are seen by some as competing with science such as “alternative” medicine. The fact that the course is just focused on one of these areas strongly suggests that creationist ideas are felt to be privileged and important, which is nonsense and a viewpoint that can only be inspired by people holding those beliefs.

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Loved the academic freedom article, because it agreed with everything I’ve said on here and my brain rewards me chemically when people agree with me 🙂

    As for that wacko site, “White children get very bad news” it is bizarre! Like all sites of this nature, I enjoy how they mix everything together that they think is bad, in their case: Jews, atheists and marxists. Maybe they should throw in the colours they don’t like and tastes that are unpleasant like “bitter”, or things like cellulite and sunburns. Also, their logo needs something marxist and atheist added to it. On the bright side, the epithet “Jew financed atheist” is intriguing and even beats out “atheist slut Jew” which someone faxed as an insult to David Silverman once (the president of American Atheists). I need to find a way to use this new epithet….

    The nutty professor – hmmm well I’d love to see a course entitled, “How to be a gay, cross dressing witch”. I’d definitely sign up for it but I’d expect it to be in a sociology class. 🙂

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      +1

      I’ll wait for “How to be a gay, cross-dressing, radical-environmentalist, Marxist witch plus how to identify an atheist slut Jew”. A much meatier course. 🙂

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        Ha ha yes your course sounds even cooler!

      • Sarah
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        The students would have their work cut out for them! That’s a lot to cram into one course. And this would lead to a major in…?

    • Alex Shuffell
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      How to be a gay, cross dressing witch could be a very popular class. Maybe you could start of with a few lectures uploaded to Youtube? A text books may be hard to find but I imagine there’s a few good ones on each separate point.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        OMG I think I’ve found the new career I was trying to figure out for myself! 😀

        • Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          I have been thinking of a class to take during my free time, this I think must be it, I will wait for them to announce semester dates and I hope there is online class 😛

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        I think being an atheist slut Jew would be way more fun though. Maybe we can make classes for all these different things. It would employ more people too. 😀

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted May 26, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

          Perfect! Free to think, free to copulate, free to eat.

          May need a touch of “free to be owned by cats”. Cat-loving atheist slut Jew?

          [I may easily be entirely mistaken and bigoted on Jews. But from what I know it seems the general culture(s) revolves around as much kitchenish things as other things. So it made for the attempt of humor.]

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Do they have course material and how long would such a course last? On being a witch, I think the good prof must have watched a lot of Harry Potter and thought the school is a real school and they have lessons in witchcraft.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Ha ha yes he must’ve watched way too much Harry Potter & thinks Hogwarts is for reals!

        That middle part almost seems pathological. It’s like he had an episode of paranoid Christian fundamentalist Tourette’s.

        • Posted May 26, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

          I think in all fairness he needs all the help he can get for he has definitely lost it. Or how else do you explain a person writing there are schools for cross dressing and how to be gay?

      • Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        Yeah, and if you tell that witches, house elves etcetera do not exist, we should read more harry potter books, books over harry potter ad infinitum.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      So is it a sign of importance to have more and more epithetical (?) adjectives attached to oneself?

  7. Alex Shuffell
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    It’s quite entertaining seeing the nutters (I don’t include P.Z and moran with them, I love them both) support and argue for Hedin’s class.

    Buratovich’s last idea was quite interesting. Could we have two or more professors teaching a philosophy course or a science class on a controversial issue?

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

      Would it be valid to have a science class where one professor teaches Deepak Chopra or flat Earthism and the other is against them? By treating those subjects on an equal time basis to science you would just be giving them a credibility they don’t deserve. And it would be open to getting some stool pigeon to put up a token resistance on the skeptical side.

      A critical thinking course that clarifies what constitutes science and what doesn’t, covering a wide range of aberrations, would probably be a very useful subject, but a course where one of the professors is advocating some particular supernatural belief clearly should not be acceptable.

  8. Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    The site you mention is beyond bizarre! At what point did the discussion shift from what should be and what shouldn’t be taught at a public university to Jews? Maybe I miss something, but the author of the site is beyond being crazy. He has jumped over the cliff and there is no helping.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      It’s actually disturbing how many of these sites like these exist. My innocence keeps getting destroyed as people point out new ones.

      • Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        This site is beyond indecent, and how a person can foam in the mouth or keyboard and write such is beyond me!

        • SA Gould
          Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          I’m guessing you read some of the sites other posts, including this one: “When White, Randy Kleiner, stopped to help an injured driver, he didn’t expect to become negroed. But on Thursday morning, as he was assisting someone who had crashed their car, a negro car drove by and hit him.”

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

            People who think this way freak me out and I consider them dangerous but when I read this stuff it cracks me right up – “White Randy Kleiner” sounds like something from some twisted white supremacist Dr Seuss special.

          • Posted May 26, 2013 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

            whoever maintains that site need an appointment with a shrink

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted May 27, 2013 at 1:05 am | Permalink

            I’ve heard of British cars, and French cars, and American cars, and Japanese cars, but never a Negro car. What was it, a Chevy painted black? 😉

            (Seriously, what this guy’s obsession does to his command of the English language is almost entertaining).

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      It’s a fairly common pattern, but when the focus is unusual, its bizarreness jumps out.

      In this person’s world, “the Jews” are behind everything, so we get amazing conflations like “its Jew-attack after Jew-invoked , Jew-financed atheists, sent a Jew attack”.

      In the 1950s – 80s it was widely believed to be the communists. UFOs played a similar role.

      I’ve heard a few crackpots lecture on their unifying theories. One (Captain Bruce Cathie) had a grid around the world based on a few landmarks like the pyramids and Stonehenge and a lot of numerology – one very useful operation was called “harmonic”; moving the decimal point as far as you like in either direction – which explained just about everything. Another, whose name I’ve forgotten, had found the philospher’s stone, which also explained the size and structure of the planets. Still another, a retired dentist, had found the secret of civilization lay in our teeth. (Quite ingenious: our short jaw was adapted to biting our enemies – hence the taboo on it today – and rendered the skull crest attaching jaw muscles unnecessary – enabling our brain to expand, and also speech.)

      When you think there is a unifying pattern behind the universe, and you’re not too concerned about evidence, it’s very easy to make everything fit into the pattern.

      But it that so different from people who think God is behind everything, so God punished Moore with the tornado, then sent miraculous rescues and helped find my car keys?

      • js
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        Gods are no longer needed to find car keys.
        Someone invented these tiny devices that you can attach to anything and then use a smartphone app to indicate their distance using Bluetooth. Direction is not displayed so you move in any direction and see how the distance changes and keep moving until it decreases.
        They are called snap n find or something like that.

      • Posted May 26, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

        Even if we accept that we are pattern seeking or making apes, I think those patterns should at least in the minimum be representative of reality.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 27, 2013 at 1:11 am | Permalink

        When I was a teenager I came across some publication that related all of history to the measurements of the Great Pyramid (of Cheops / Khufu). It was intriguing, in a morbid sort of way. As I recall, the distances between steps in the main passage related to significant events in history. (I only read it because I was bored and had nothing else to read, honest).

  9. Albert
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that this is not a public issue. The university has an academic policy and can patrol itself. The students who do not like the content can refuse to take the class – the reviews are available to them. The reading list includes real scientists, whether or not they hold subjective viewpoints that do not agree with those of atheistic scientists, and how is teaching alternative views of origins such as ID any different from teaching the belief that science will eventually allow us to completely understand this universe, which I think many atheistic science professors teach.

    That belief is not empiric, since we only have one universe to sample, and thus by definition are precluded from studying it by the usual methods of empiric research such as controlled conditions of experimentation or statistically meaningful observations of it. It is an assumption to state that if we know the way the natural laws work under the conditions that we test them in, they must also apply to the universe as a whole. Lee Smolin, an atheist, has something to say about that in “Time Reborn”.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      …and how is teaching alternative views of origins such as ID any different from teaching the belief that science will eventually allow us to completely understand this universe, which I think many atheistic science professors teach.

      Firstly, science isn’t about “views” it’s about proven (even if provisionally) truths and the Ball State course is for science credit.

      Secondly, I expect that “atheistic” science professors keep their atheism out of their teaching…if not this would also be an issue since it would become a course about atheism and not science and would better be placed in a philosophy class.

      Moreover, stating provisionally that “science will eventually allow us to understand this universe” isn’t exactly an opinion…we know a lot about this universe that we can back up empirically. Whenever I’ve heard scientists talk about our knowledge of the universe and origins, they are careful to say that we may never have all the answers but it’s possible…this is a responsible way to educate.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Albert, which atheistic science professors assert that science will eventually allow us to completely understand the universe? Chapter and verse please.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I’d like to know that too….anxiously waiting.

        • Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          Me too! Most of the professors I know don’t claim we’ll ever completely understand the universe. In fact, most of them claim that we’ll never completely understand the universe.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      “The students who do not like the content can refuse to take the class – the reviews are available to them”

      That’s not exactly true. It is required of these students to select from amongst a few courses that satisfy the science credits, but they may not have the freedom to change to a different course after they realize what they’ve gotten into. Honors students have more academic requirements than other students, so their schedules get rather strangled. Also, if this kind of nonsense is allowed in one course, what guarantees that the student wouldn’t jump out of the frying pan and into the fire? Maybe all the courses are crackpot courses

    • darrelle
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      “. . . and how is teaching alternative views of origins such as ID any different from teaching the belief that science will eventually allow us to completely understand this universe, . . .”

      Even if it were true that “many atheistic science professors teach” that, your comparison is a category error.

      Also, science is all about empirical verification. Whereas the proponents of ID have not even yet subjected their hypothesis to scientific investigation and consequently have no empirically verified evidence, at all, to support it.

      But, there are huge amounts of empirically verified evidence that strongly indicate that the Modern Synthesis of Biological Evolution is very largely accurate, and that ID is inaccurate. So much evidence in fact, that for any reasonable, suitable for daily use, not Platonically perfect, meaning of the word “proven,” it is very appropriate to say that ID has been proven to be completely wrong.

      Not only that, in the legal sense ID has been determined to be a sham, a political tactic, and not science at all. The best evidence comes right from the horses mouth in the form of “the Wedge Document.”

      Without ignoring any of these easily verifiable facts, please explain why you think it is appropriate for ID to be taught as a viable alternative possibility to Evolution in a science course.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Oy, a whole comment of nothing but fail! I’m going to leave out the discussion topic as we gone through that part thoroughly in a long series of posts.

      Instead I will concentrate on the science:

      – “The reading list includes real scientists”.

      Arguable, but they do not describe the science and they do not describe the science in their own area of expertise. (Say, Behe being biochemist opinionate, erroneously and with nothing published supporting him, on evolution.)

      – “alternative views of origins”.

      Once an idea of origin of populations, creationism (spontaneous generation) has been rejected. That is not a scientific “alternative”.

      – “we only have one universe to sample, and thus by definition are precluded from studying it by the usual methods of empiric research such as controlled conditions of experimentation or statistically meaningful observations of it”.

      Whether our universe sample one or several universes are unknown, but the recent Planck results implies it is likely several universes. Nearly every inflation process except eternal inflation is excluded.

      – “It is an assumption to state that if we know the way the natural laws work under the conditions that we test them in, they must also apply to the universe as a whole.”

      As per above, that doesn’t seem like the best choice of constraint for the moment. Most likely the laws that we see (say, the whole standard particle sector) are locally applicable for our universe only, not the multiverse as a whole.

      Conversely, from Planck we know these laws apply to the visible universe at least, and per inflation likely the whole local universe.

      And make no mistake, science doesn’t make “assumptions” anyway, if it is a useful constraint it is most often visible and hence testable. Say, isotropy, Planck tested that, and had to test that, since it is a central and decisive piece of cosmology.

      – “Lee Smolin”.

      Lee Smolin is a fringe physicist who claims lots of odd and/or known erroneous things. Who cares what he says?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      I forgot:

      – “the belief that science will eventually allow us to completely understand this universe”.

      That is not what most scientists think. What we now know is that we can completely understand the process that shapes our universe (big bang cosmology after inflation stops), but most scientists think there is too much to know, too many details, compared to the resources at hand.

      It is a mystery to me that we can completely know the last parts of cosmology, since the inflationary universe is likely infinite and we live in a finite part of it. How is it that our finite resources allow constraining and testing the infinite? Yet it happened.

      But that doesn’t mean the converse will happen. In our finite universe combinatorics say that any small level of detail can completely overwhelm any civilization’s efforts to map the entire outcome. To paraphrase the Vulcan empiricism of Star Trek, IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations).

    • Posted May 27, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Lee Smolin’s ideas (along with many other models in modern cosmology) are interesting, but it’s important to appreciate that they are just one of many speculative ideas at the bounds of cosmology that are being floated to match current observations and predict new data. i.e. they are hypotheses competing with other hypotheses to explain something and will be rejected if the empirical observations they predict are wrong or if another hypothesis accounts better for the evidence with less theoretical baggage. Scientific hypotheses compete in a market where the currency is explanatory power.

      Intelligent design and creationism, to the extent that they are really hypotheses at all, account for current data only in the most extravagant way – i.e. they would be consistent with any data, since an omnimax god is capable of anything, and so can not be falsified. Further, they make no predictions as to new data, since any new data is compatible with a god that has infinite powers. Consequently they can’t be taken seriously as something that is an explanation for anything and so have no place in the competitive market of scientific explanation.

    • Albert
      Posted May 28, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

      Diana and Larry, the contents of the course have not been described in detail. The comments are based on comments and a book list. See Lawrence Krauss for an example.

      Lady atheist you are speculating.

      Torbjorn I am not talking about evolution, I am talking about origins. Evolution cannot explain origins, particularly of our universe, unless you subscribe to Smolin’s idea of cosmological evolution, which still doesnt explain ultimate origins. You burn your heretics at your own risk.

      Roqsan, I am not talking about creationism. It am talking about ID. As for cosmological science, we either have fine tuning that makes no sense, a multiverse that has infinite possible tuning, or cosmological evolution. None are testable now, except cosmological evolution, which still doesn’t explain ultimate origins. How are those not wildly speculative thinking, not much different than ID.

      I ask what is wrong with exploring the interface of science at its limits and meaning as humans have come to understand it? Who should draw the line that defines “official science teaching” on that level?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 28, 2013 at 6:35 am | Permalink

        Diana and Larry, the contents of the course have not been described in detail. The comments are based on comments and a book list. See Lawrence Krauss for an example.

        So Albert, I know I can be a thicky in the morning but I’m not sure what you’re referring to here so forgive me if I address the wrong thing. Are you saying that you feel that the authors on the booklist are atheists who say we can one day understand everything about the universe? If so, Lawrence Krauss isn’t on the list of books and Lawrence Krauss does not assert that science will tell us everything….he has said on many occasions it is possible that one day it will but it may never. Like most scientists he doesn’t presume.

        Moreover, there is a full course description. Jerry posted and linked to it here: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/science-course-at-ball-state-university-sneaks-in-religion/

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 28, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

        I ask what is wrong with exploring the interface of science at its limits and meaning as humans have come to understand it? Who should draw the line that defines “official science teaching” on that level?

        Nothing….just not in a science class that claims to teach about “physical reality” and claims to give a “scientifically accurate introduction to the origin and development of the physical universe (cosmology)” (quotes taken out of the course description).

        Boundaries of science aren’t automatically theology/philosophy….lots of scientists work on the boundaries happily without woo.

        However, a course such as you describe would be interesting and more suited in a philosophy or history of science course where it is not called “science” and for science credit.

        • Albert
          Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

          Diana, it seems to me that you are defining science in a narrow way, a way that would make Krauss wildly off base as a scientist when he speculates that we might someday understand the universe. Science is not just empiric, though it relies on empiricism to make itself useful. I would say that the sets of science and faith overlap in the areas of imagination and hope. I don’t see anything in the course outline that shows what exactly the professor says that goes outside of the bounds of how to use scientific thinking – which is not the history of science, nor is it just philosophy. It seems to me that the students will learn lots of scientific facts in the course, but apply them in ways that you and others object to. How is your objection not applying a dogmatic view as to how scientific facts should be used by individual people? Shouldn’t higher education allow for the exploration of such a subject? Again, the course teaches facts of science, and explores their limits and potentials. The format requires scientific consistency. What more can we ask for?

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

            A university science course, particularly one with this course’s description teaches scientific truth. ID and other woo in this course is not scientific truth but it is being presented as such. As many of us, myself included have argued, it is tantamount to teaching the Holocaust didn’t happen as historical fact in a history class or that alchemy is an established method in chemistry class.

            The definition of science in a university science class is not up for debate and it does have a narrow definition otherwise you’d have some bizarre qualifications for science degrees and some fairly unsuccessful outputs from science (I really don’t want to fly in a plane designed by speculation of how aerodynamics and engines work).

            As for Krauss, he makes that speculation based on what he knows as a cosmologist and working on origins with his foundation…it’s a logical speculation and most importantly he cages it with a “we may never know” statement which contradicts your assertion that atheist scientists assert the opposite (still waiting on that list BTW).

            And again, yes absolutely higher education should allow for the exploration of these things but not in a science class such as this one….I’ve taken a few courses that were quite interesting…in philosophy classes. There’s nothing wrong with exploring this stuff in philosophy classes.

          • Albert
            Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

            Diana we respectfully disagree on whether this should be called science or philosophy for the purpose of higher education, and we disagree on who should be policing it as such.

            I don’t think there is such a thing as scientific truth, only facts as we experience them, and interpretations. Our symbols in language and in math are not isomorphic to reality, as Smolin says. Truth, in that sense, is what works for us. The scientific approach uses one way to get there, but at its edges there are multiple useful approaches, and some overlap, particularly in the realm of imagination and of hope (see Krauss).

      • Posted May 28, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

        Multiverse theories arise out of other ideas, such as eternal inflation, for instance, which do correlate to some extent with evidence. ID, on the other hand isn’t implied by any useful hypothesis since it is compatible with all of them: If a slate falls off my roof, would it be useful to argue that: “Well that could have been done by a being that has the power to do anything”?

        The other thing about multiverse theories is that we do already know that there is one universe. If you walk into a wood and see a black raven, then it isn’t that surprising when you encounter another one. In fact one might argue that it would be more surprising if the raven you encountered happened to be the one and only black raven in existence.

  10. Roo
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    What is happening on the interwebz lately? This weekend I have been introduced to the “Muslim punch” and “Jew attack”. I’m now an atheist, but strictly for functional reasons, I must now return to church and learn the Jesus Roundhouse Kick or something, because right now I got nothing.

  11. Becca Stareyes
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    You know, if I knew there were classes on being gay at university, maybe I would have taken them instead of learning by trial and error.

    • Peter Beattie
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      +1

  12. Greg Fitzgerald
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    One would think that the antisemite who wrote the phrase “Jew-financed atheist” might have paused the consider the strangeness of such a phrase.

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      Well many of those cranks do know anything about judaism or jews, they consider them mostly as another species. These cranks believe that jews are incapable in believing in (the christian) god. Then this phrase is not that strange…

  13. Sarah
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure it’s been mentioned before, but I keep wondering why they don’t “teach the controversy” [sic] about the Flat Earth Theory. Would the geography department come out in force to defend the academic freedom of their prof? Is it about academic freedom or just competence?

  14. Tulse
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you should at least spell PZ’s last name correctly.

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      Whoops, I wrote that too fast and made the most common misspelling of his name. Fixed, thanks.

      Do note, however, that his last name was spelled correctly in the original post.

  15. Peter Beattie
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    It is interesting to me, though, that in all the discussion about this hardly anybody seems to mind the tacit assumption of ‘teaching’ being the transmission of (ready-made) knowledge. Telling students what to think and then testing that ‘knowledge’, however, is something that we already have a word for: indoctrination. That is what should be beyond the pale at a public school (or university)—not having this or that creationist book on your reading list. If that’s what Hedin did, there should be consequences.

    Witness Richard Dawkins on the same topic:

    Dawkins: I think indoctrination means teaching in a way that is not critical. You’re not teaching children ‘this is the way to think, this is the way to evaluate evidence, be critical, look for what’s plausible, look for the evidence’. That’s the right way to teach. The wrong way to teach is indoctrination, which is ‘you should believe X, you must believe X, X is what our people have always believed, X is what’s written down in our holy book, therefore you must believe it’. That’s indoctrination.

    Al-Khalili: Of course, you’re teaching people how to think, how to be critical about their world-view. Presumably, a lot of people can think about it and say, Yes, and I’ve come to the conclusion there is a god.

    Dawkins: Yes, a lot do that, and good luck to them, that’s fine. At least they’ve thought about it.

    (From this BBC Radio 4 programme, at about 23m30s.)

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      This course is a discussion course, so presumably it’s supposed to be the opposite of indoctrination, but the students are still dependent on the professor for guidance, as there is no prerequisite for the course.

    • js
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Oh noes.
      I haz been indoctrinated in mathz, physicz and da chemiztry.
      Why didn’t I haz controversy teached?

  16. exsumper
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    The Islamic Society of Southampton University ;My local University. Recently hosted an on campus event called “Islamic awareness week”. The flyers advertising this event, listed several known islamic extremists as speakers; including that fuzzy faced nut job Hamza Tzortzis.

    Prior to the event I wrote a letter of complaint to the Chancellor of the University. The reply I received cited the same meally mouthed garbage about academic freedom.

    In a further letter (given the documented views of the advertised speakers) I made clear my disappointment, that the faculty of Southampton University considered questions such as “whether jews were pigs and monkeys”? worthy of academic debate??

    I also pointed out that the last visitors to Southampton, to hold similar views were flying Heinkel Bombers!!

    The only difference being that they hadn’t been invited by the University!!

    • Sarah
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Excellent point!

    • Larry Gay
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      A little off topic, but I was so happy to see the latest German invasion of Britain. Even the English enjoyed watching Bayern-Muench triumph over Dortmund. The English had a jolly good time and made a lot of money to boot! Do you suppose some old Nazis are rolling in their graves? I hope so.

      • Larry Gay
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, Muenchen.

  17. Christopher
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I rarely agree with anything from PZ, and haven’t done for a couple of years, frankly.

    • chascpeterson
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

      thanks for sharing

  18. sme
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    “Academic freedom does not imply that an instructor is free to teach material that is demonstrably false.”

    This statement has much less value than it seems to at first glance. Non-indoctrination involves analyzing sources of evidence. All sources will have errors or at least omissions. Is the legal system competent to determine how sources are being used in a course, much less what is “demonstrably” false?

    This should be a contract case. Students compete to get into the best universities, universities compete to get the best students and teachers and grants and donations and public funding, etc. The institution employing this guy: what are the terms of his employment? Is he violating them? What were the representations of the University when it sold the students on the value of a representation of the school?

    The cases cited above were brought by the professors and rightly dismissed. If a University wants this course taught, that shouldn’t be illegal, though it’s important to marginalize falsity, and students bringing a legal case should have their cases dismissed. If a University wants to fire every professor who preaches Christianity, or who doesn’t preach it, or who doesn’t teach in iambic pentameter, or whatever, that shouldn’t be illegal either.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Hey, we have Vic on the side of facts!

    I ought to read Stenger more often, he so often comes down on the right side of a factual divide.

    Leading into this:

    However, Myers also claims that “Stenger thinks that Eric Hedin, a professor at Ball State, should be fired for teaching Christian/creationist nonsense.” Stenger’s piece says nothing about wanting Hedin fired.

    Myers also says this:

    Going after a course for its ideology is a terrible mistake. Bringing in outside lawyers to shape the curriculum of a discipline is a disaster.

    Hedin ought to be dealt with internally, and not for being a Christian…but for being a bad teacher and colleague.

    In other words, Myers comes over acting as the typical accommodationist, confusing criticism of ideology and how it fails empirically with criticism of person, and in his mind seeing (because he repeats this all the time without seeing the factual problem) and then claiming intentions beyond what was clearly stated.

    I think the cognitive dissociation stemming from his attempts of goalpost moving atheism into Atheism+ (aka humanism) has rotted the formerly eminent brain of The Squiddly One.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Fortunately for him, he has tenure

    • darrelle
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. He also has difficulty admitting error. I am not claiming that he has never admitted error, but in eight years or so of reading his blog, very regularly for many of those years, I have never witnessed him do that, no matter who or how many clearly demonstrated that he was off base.

      Very human, we all do that to one extent or another. But, cheezus, he’s got it bad.

      • Cliff Melick
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Myers also claims that “Stenger thinks that Eric Hedin, a professor at Ball State, should be fired for teaching Christian/creationist nonsense.” Stenger’s piece says nothing about wanting Hedin fired.

        I just finished Victor Stenger’s piece at HuffPo, and Jerry is absolutely right that nowhere does Stenger call for Hedin to be fired. But this will just be another “error” made by Myers that he refuses to admit making, much less apologize for. Perhaps we’ve discovered the “Pope of Atheism.”

        • chascpeterson
          Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:45 am | Permalink

          In fairness, you were wrong and Myers admitted and fixed the error.

          • Matt Bowman
            Posted May 27, 2013 at 7:03 am | Permalink

            In fairness, Cliff was right. You know damn well you are making an annoying nit-picking comment and that Cliff Melick was correct because PZ Myers only changed his wording (crossed out the words “be fired”) after he was called out on it by commenters on his blog, one being Jerry Coyne.

            • chascpeterson
              Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

              a) He also added a paragraph to the bottom of the post.
              b)It’s a pretty high bar to expect somebody to admit to and fix an error before it’s pointed out to him.
              c) What I said was wrong was the snarky prediction, not pointing out the error in the first place, as ought to be obvious.

              • Cliff Melick
                Posted May 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                Let’s review this without the “snark”:

                (1) There is a reason that “error” appears in quotes in my post above: either Myers made an actual error (which doesn’t say much for his reading comprehension) or he deliberately misrepresented the truth; neither a particularly flattering option.

                (2) You note it’s difficult to correct an error before being aware of having made one. Fair enough. But that means for Myers’ inaccurate citation of Stenger to be the result of an error, he had to have misread the piece. Considering Myers is a highly-educated individual, please excuse me if I find that difficult to believe.

                (3) Lastly, if you classify my prediction as “snarky”, what do you call 90% of what passes for commentary on Myers’ blog?

              • chascpeterson
                Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:33 am | Permalink

                That’s right, he made an error. That’s right, jumped to a conclusion and didn’t read carefuly enough. Then when the error was pointed out, he fixed it and acknowledged doing so.
                So what’s the problem?
                People make mistakes. All of them. You.
                It is true that in the past Myers has committed several, maybe many, errors that did go uncorrected.
                But in fairness, as I said, this wasn’t one of those times. That’s all.

                As for what I do or don’t consider ‘snark’, who cares?

          • Cliff Melick
            Posted May 27, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

            When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong. Since I don’t visit Myer’s blog, did he apologize, I wonder?

            • chascpeterson
              Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

              since I’ve never heard of you and never visited your blog if you have one, did you stop beating your wife, I wonder?

      • Matt Bowman
        Posted May 26, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

        I think that PZ’s response to the Stenger piece is just plain paranoid. And frankly, it gives the reader the impression that some dark consequences will fall upon universities if they dare to follow along with Coyne and Stenger by asking universities to stop their professors from proselytizing or by demanding that they actually teach science (as opposed to magic tricks). PZ seems to be warning his readers of some sort of apocalyptic fallout. I’m sorry to have to say it but that is how it reads when PZ goes on about setting a dangerous precedent that might result in Republicans confiscating notes, investigating, discouraging discussion on controversial subjects, and having lawyers set curriculum. This all sounds rather threatening to me. And it is completely over the top.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

          I saw it this way too & I think it explains the hallucination of asking the professor to be dismissed…the Christians had the same hallucination and seem to suffer similar persecution/sanctioning/loss of freedom fear.

        • chascpeterson
          Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

          asking universities to stop their professors from proselytizing or by demanding that they actually teach science

          Nobody has any problem with ‘asking’ or even ‘demanding’ that universities do anything. Nobody has any problem with Coyne writing to the guy’s chair.
          It’s the threats of legal action that are the problem. And there is nothing over the top about insisting that it would be a dangerous precedent.

          • Posted May 27, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

            My asking the chair had no effect, and there would, I think, have been no effect had I written to the Provost or President. It was in fact the FFRF’s letter that got things moving. And that letter doesn’t really say “we’ll sue you if you don’t do anything.” It just calls attention to the problem. I’m not at all sure the FFRF WOULD sue if the University did nothing about Hedin. What we have to admit is that a letter from an FFRF lawyer is what it took to get the university to investigate Hedin. It’s not clear that legal action would ensue if they didn’t do anything.

            • chascpeterson
              Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:29 am | Permalink

              Fair enough.
              We’ll have to wait to see what happens.

          • Matt Bowman
            Posted May 27, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

            Oh please! Let me guess…a Republican recently stole your notebook or you are a professor and a lawyer is reviewing your syllabus. You say that nobody has a problem with asking or demanding that universities do anything in response to Hedin’s class and that this only has to do with the threat of legal action. You are wrong. PZ Myers says that he doesn’t even think that Hedin’s classes should be cancelled. You say nobody has a problem with Coyne writing to the chair, but Larry Moran says that he does indeed have trouble with the idea that Hedin might be dismissed and that Coyne wrote to Hedin’s chair. PZ Myers says that this is an issue of academic freedom and that Hedin and other professors should be free to teach whatever they want, and that once a professor like Hedin becomes problematic he should be pushed off someplace where he will do as little damage as possible. Coyne says that professors are not free to teach anything they want and that religion cannot be taught as science in a science classroom at a public university. You are wrong to think that this sets a “dangerous precedent” or that anything like what PZ Myers suggests might happen, would indeed happen. So what if this goes to the courts. The very idea that if this debate continues, or that if this reaches a courtroom, or if Hedin is fired, or if Hedin’s classes are cancelled, that the right-wing will start to control university curriculum is as I said, over the top, it is absolutely ridiculous.

            • chascpeterson
              Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

              Let me guess…a Republican recently stole your notebook

              what?

              or you are a professor and a lawyer is reviewing your syllabus.

              lol. No, but they’re welcome to if they want.

              PZ Myers says that he doesn’t even think that Hedin’s classes should be cancelled.

              That’s ‘mined. He says he doesn’t think they should be cancelled “for teaching Christian/creationist nonsense,” and goes on to explain that “Hedin ought to be dealt with internally, and not for being a Christian…but for being a bad teacher and colleague.” And later he added that cancelling classes instead of firing is “less disastrous, but again, that’s also still taking to legal measures to interfere with what should be an internal matter. I’m also not clear on what standing anyone other than a student in the class has to take legal action.”

              You’re right about Moran.

              You are wrong to think that this sets a “dangerous precedent” or that anything like what PZ Myers suggests might happen, would indeed happen.

              *shrug* sez you.

              The very idea that if this debate continues, or that if this reaches a courtroom, or if Hedin is fired, or if Hedin’s classes are cancelled, that the right-wing will start to control university curriculum is as I said, over the top, it is absolutely ridiculous.

              It sure is. It’s also, as far as I’m concerned, a strawman out of your own imagination.

              The only problem I have identified is allowing outside groups to sue universities over course content. If you think this particular case, or any case that’s particular because of religion, is somehow special in being excepted from that important consideration, then we disagree.

              • chascpeterson
                Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                damn it. I hope it’s clear which paragraphs are quoted.

              • Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

                Well, let me ask you two questions, then:

                1. Do you think outside groups have the right to school high schools over course content? I suspect you do, because they regularly do, as in the Dover case, but maybe you don’t.

                2. Suppose, in a public university, there is a required course for a major, say evolution, in which Christianity is prosyletized and creationism is taught. (In many universities evolution is a prerequisite for biology majors.) Do you think that outside groups cannot sue about this if the University refuses to do anything. Remember, the course is required. If you don’t think that groups like the FFRF can sue for redress, why not? Why in high school and not in college given that in both cases the courses are required?

              • Matt Bowman
                Posted May 27, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                No straw man here. PZ Myers said, “Shall we encourage the right-wingers to start accumulating lecture notes and using every error and revised datum to instigate legal proceedings against professors they don’t like? Shall we inhibit discussion of material that’s controversial or on the very edge of science in our upper-level courses?” He goes on throughout. I referred to this as over the top. I didn’t invent this right-wing conspiracy argument. It is PZ’s.

              • chascpeterson
                Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                this is gonna be skinny…

                1. Do you think outside groups have the right to school high schools over course content?

                as you suspected, yes.

                2. Suppose, in a public university, there is a required course for a major, say evolution, in which Christianity is prosyletized and creationism is taught….Do you think that outside groups cannot sue about this if the University refuses to do anything.

                But this is so hypothetical as to be completely unrealistic. It simply would not, could not ever happen. You recently visited Appalachian State. I used to teach at Oklahoma State, and one of my grad students now teaches at Missouri State (in Springfield), and even in all of those bible-beltbuckle places the biology curriculum is set by the scientists on the faculty.
                As, I have been arguing, it should be.

                If you don’t think that groups like the FFRF can sue for redress, why not? Why in high school and not in college given that in both cases the courses are required?

                But, OK, rising to the hypothetical bait for the sake of argument, there are a lot of important differences between public high schools and public universities.
                One is that highschool students are regarded as minors who deserve special protection from bullshit whereas college students are regarded as adults with the ability and right to make their own education what they want it to be.
                A second is that highschool curricula are mandated, and arguably ought to be, by some combination of state standards and local school-board decisions, both of which are within the purview of litigious avenues of change.
                University curricula are determined by the faculty, period; and that’s an important enough principle to defend even when I abhor the particular content being protected, as in this case.

                For the record, I do not think students should receive science credit for Hedin’s courses.
                I think that he is unlikely to survive reappointment, let alone tenure.

          • Boris Molotov
            Posted May 27, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

            What is so threatening about legal action? If a precedence is not set by a court ruling then by what other means?
            There is no “academic freedom”, this is not a civil rights battle. As a teacher/professor you have a job. Like any profession, there IS a job description and its not “teach whatever BS you want”.
            It should be about those with knowledge, acquired through best practices with respect to gaining knowledge (ie. scientific method) passing on that knowledge to others. If the knowledge acquired does not meet those best practices it cannot be represented as knowledge but rather speculation and belongs in speculative courses not science (ie. those extra elective “basket weaving” credits). Even soft sciences and non-sciences generally have some degree of rigor and best practices.
            If a court rules in favour of Hedin here then the American education system will be in a sorry state indeed. Good luck keeping up with China.

            • chascpeterson
              Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              There is no “academic freedom”, this is not a civil rights battle. As a teacher/professor you have a job. Like any profession, there IS a job description

              No. This is all incorrect.

              • Boris Molotov
                Posted May 27, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

                Sorry, but I, as a paying customer (in this case, a student) of an accredited university (public tertiary education) I expect to gain knowledge. That is what I am paying for and I trust the university to keep up the end of its bargain. If my fees are employing professors (they ARE getting paid) who are injecting their opinions and masquerading them as knowledge in a science course I would demand that they be substituted or get a refund. It’s simply false advertising and I pretty sure a court would side with the “customer” in a case like this given any other circumstance. It’s MY education, not the professors freedom I am paying for and as a student.

              • chascpeterson
                Posted May 28, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

                If you really think that university curricula ought to be controlled and determined by the students-as-paying-customers (instead of by people who have already learned shit and know what they’re talking about), then I don’t know what to tell you.

          • Marcoli
            Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

            One angle about a lawsuit that I am not sure about is whether there needs to be a human plaintiff. Will it be necessary for a specific student to come forward?

            • chascpeterson
              Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              As Myers points out, it’s not clear who else would have standing.

              • pacopicopiedra
                Posted May 27, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                Chas, I notice you are ignoring the direct questions posed to you by our host. No comment?

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

                not ignoring; didn’t see them until just now.

    • Posted May 26, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      I think Stenger is one of the best “popularizers” of modern physics out there. He tries very hard (and with more success being on target IMHO) to convey mathematical concepts using only words.

      Everything I’ve read of his will be WAY below your level, Torbjörn… obviously. But I’d be interested to know your take on his accuracy in such works as “The Comprehensible Cosmos” and “Timeless Reality”. He seems to me to faithfully convey the boundaries where words fail us, as well. I think neither of those works deal with anything beyond the Standard Model, BTW.

  20. Gordon
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I am not a Canadian academic but after having a look at the CAUT (the academic union) policy on academic freedom (which pretty much reflects the stance advocated by Larry Moran) and comparing it with the AUCC (the Universities) statement (which more or less takes the position advocated by Jerry in relation to the specific case discussed here) I did wonder if aspects of Canadian academic politics or fights over academic freedom in Canada might be influencing Larry’s views.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      You scholar, you! Thanks for checking on that

  21. Gordon
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    and indeed looking a little further: http://www.cautbulletin.ca/en_article.asp?articleid=3404

  22. Posted May 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Universities must be able to control what is being taught. Otherwise, a professor at the fundamentalist Liberty University or a Catholic college could teach about evolution and atheism and be within their rights to do so. Is that what supporters of the nutty professor want to happen?

    • Marcoli
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      I suspect the nutty professor would not want that to happen. But the christian institutions you mention are private, and so the establishment clause would not be able to touch their content.

  23. Posted May 26, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    “I’m not aware of any college classes that teach students how to be gay, how to cross dress, or how to be a witch, a good little Marxist, or a radical environmentalist.”

    I am. But they are all in the Drama department.

  24. Diane G.
    Posted May 26, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    sub

  25. Logicophilosophicus
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    Victor Stenger wrote: ‘”The classroom is not a public forum.”I interpret this to mean that instructors are not free to teach whatever they want but are obligated to present the best knowledge of the day on their particular subject.’

    That’s a remarkable interpretation. The legal ruling simply says that a college (or any other educational employer) owns the curriculum. It is private, not public. The judge made no ruling on the course content.

    Sadly, that legal position allows bodies such as “The College of Management Science” here in the UK, or “Health and Harmony Colleges” across the Atlantic, not only to teach Witchcraft (Wicca) as factual but to award Diplomas.

    • chascpeterson
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

      The legal ruling simply says that a college (or any other educational employer) owns the curriculum. It is private, not public.

      worth repeating

      • Notagod
        Posted May 27, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        I doubt that the Judge would be forming a court opinion on anything other than the legal definition of “public forum”, which has nothing to do with the relationship that public property has to private property. Public forum has to due with the laws concerning speech in a public setting.

        So, as much as you would like Logicophilosophicus to be making a profound statement, it isn’t. Stenger is much more likely to be correct with his understanding of “The classroom is not a public forum”.

        • Logicophilosophicus
          Posted May 28, 2013 at 3:55 am | Permalink

          I don’t think “profound” comes into it. The judge was ruling on the applicability of First Amendment rights to lecturers of college courses. He explained that such rights only apply in “a public forum” and ruled that a college course lecture is not a public forum. That ruling implies nothing at all about an obligation “to present the best knowledge of the day”, in fact it implies nothing at all about non-public forums except that they don’t have First Amendment protection. The judge does not even consider the content or quality or legality of the lecture.

          I made the point because this (Stenger’s) is a common error. I remember the strong feeling after the Dover ruling that the judge had somehow condemned the accuracy of the ID course. He didn’t consider it – only looking at whether it had a religious element that would, again, violate (a different clause of) the First Amendment.

          • Notagod
            Posted May 28, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

            Since you were making such broad statements concerning what the Judge did, I decided to find the ruling, but was unable to because the cases that are presented for online access don’t go back as far as 1988.

            Assuming that you also don’t have access to the complete ruling, statements such as this

            He [the Judge] explained that such rights only apply in “a public forum”

            are simply made up when, the only quote we have from the ruling is this statement quoted by Stenger in his huffpo article

            “The classroom is not a public forum.”

            However, Stenger apparently does have some form of access to the ruling as he provided the Judge’s name and the case number. Although, there is always the possibility that anyone could be wrong regarding interpretation of what a Judge actually intended when making a ruling, Stenger has more context then we do to assess the Judge’s intent. Your statement that Stenger made a “common error” is also completely unsubstantiated.

            The Dover case had a lot of testimony concerning the lack of “accuracy” or rather the lack of scientific justification for the ID, err umm, cdesign proponentsists. Whether or not that testimony was expressed in the Judge’s ruling doesn’t negate that the Judge relied on it in forming that ruling. If the Judge had thought that the evidence against the cdesign proponentsists didn’t pertain to the matters of the case he wouldn’t have allow it to consume a substantial portion of the presentation from the lawyers during the trial.

            • Logicophilosophicus
              Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

              a) You are right that my remarks about the curriculum are not in the ruling; but really that was the point.
              b) You are wrong to suggest that the six-word sentence quoted by Stenger allows his interpretation.
              c) You are wrong to state that my remarks about the 1st amendment reference of the ruling “are simply made up.” The instructor (according to Stenger) “filed a lawsuit… claiming he had been deprived of his constitutional rights.” A very short internet search determined that the only constitutional right related to the “public forum” question is freedom of speech.
              d) You are right that the Dover ruling depended on evidence accepted that ID as taught, including the Panda’s Thumb “textbook”, had inescapable dependence on (Christian) supernaturalism – i.e. is (illegally) religious teaching in a science classroom…
              e) …but otherwise wrong:

              “After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID ARGUMENTS MAY BE TRUE, A PROPOSITION ON WHICH THE COURT TAKES NO POSITION, ID is not science… [because it involves] supernatural causation… [and] dualism… [and also because its] attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community… [etc]

              “Accordingly, we find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom, in violation of the Establishment Clause [of the 1st Amendment].”

              • Notagod
                Posted May 28, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

                a, b, c) I didn’t write what you are presenting. If fact for “b” you’ve completely turned it backwards from the statement I made.

                d) Is roughly correct.

                e)Really? This is the statement that I made:

                The Dover case had a lot of testimony concerning the lack of “accuracy” or rather the lack of scientific justification for the ID, err umm, cdesign proponentsists.

                which is basically what you quote from the ruling:

                ID is not science… [because it involves] supernatural causation… [and] dualism… [and also because its] attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted May 29, 2013 at 1:53 am | Permalink

                “Stenger is much more likely to be correct with his understanding of “The classroom is not a public forum” [than Logicophilosophicus].”

                That’s (b). A sentence about “public forum” in the context of a claim about freedom of speech has no overlap in reference with a sentence about up-to-date scientific knowledge.

                You misunderstand (e). The clause about refuted attacks on evolution does not contradict the clause I capitalised about the court taking no position on the truth of ID arguments. The judge is ruling that because ID, which is not in itself about evolution or creation, shows itself to be a religious partly by its regular association with creationism. There is no judgment at all on the “accuracy” of ID according to the judge himself. That supposition is a common error, closely akin to Stenger’s erroneous interpretation (b).

                It’s easy enough to debunk creationism without claiming that First Amendment case law is judgment on scientific fact.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted May 29, 2013 at 1:57 am | Permalink

                Apologies for garbled sentence. (Mentally delete “because” and “a” – I shortened a longer sentence but inadvertently left a couple of fossils in there.)

              • Notagod
                Posted May 29, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

                Quoting from my earlier comment regarding b):

                However, Stenger apparently does have some form of access to the ruling as he provided the Judge’s name and the case number. Although, there is always the possibility that anyone could be wrong regarding interpretation of what a Judge actually intended when making a ruling, Stenger has more context then we do to assess the Judge’s intent. Your statement that Stenger made a “common error” is also completely unsubstantiated.

                As for e), there was no ruling about the accuracy of ID regarding superstition, however, the ruling according to your quote states that ID is not science – THAT is what my comment “or rather the lack of scientific justification for the ID…” implies.

                I don’t understand why you are have such a difficult time understanding this stuff it’s brain surgery not rocket science.

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted May 30, 2013 at 1:49 am | Permalink

                Not rocket science – Law. The First Amendment to the US Constitution has nothing to say about the truth of religious statements, and no interest in the truth of statements made under the protection of freedom of speech. Stenger’s example and the Dover ruling hinge on a simple, single legal question: have anyone’s First Amendment rights been violated.

                You claim – and of course I will not rudely suggest that this is “simply made up” – that Stenger was referring to some other part of the ruling than the sentence he quoted. I can’t speculate about why he would quote an irrelevant sentence and continue immediately “I interpret this to mean…” I don’t suppose the relevant bits are a secret. No, I interpret this to mean that in his enthusiasm for the ruling he slipped into the error of thinking that his own condemnation and the judge’s were based on the same considerations. I mentioned secular reactions to the Dover ruling to draw the obvious parallel.

                I notice that you have moved from lack of accuracy to “not science”, and carefully ignored the capitalised clause in the Dover quote. (Of course you know and I know and no doubt Judge Johnson knows that there are many inaccuracies in the Dover ID syllabus – but the relevant Law is not concerned with good science vs bad science: “the court takes no position on this” because the court cannot do so; bad/inaccurate science doesn’t fall foul of the First Amendment.)

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted May 30, 2013 at 3:18 am | Permalink

                Whoops – Judge Jones. (Not a Freudian slip, just a cock-up. So to speak.)

              • Notagod
                Posted May 30, 2013 at 6:21 am | Permalink

                I won’t be so rude as to suggest that you are making a common error.

                As Dr. Coyne doesn’t like the comments to ramble on once they reach a stage of head butting, I will need to end my side of the conversation with the following.

                This is the only statement we have from the ruling in the case that Stenger noted, I’m reasonably sure the full text of the ruling would provide additional insight but, as it stands it does put constraints on the application of free speech rules when in a classroom.

                The classroom is not a public forum.

                And something just for my personal interest.

                No group, no matter how large or small, may use the organs of government, of which the public schools are the most conspicuous and influential, to foist its religious beliefs on others.

                I’m wondering if you can guess where (the website) I gathered that quote?

              • Logicophilosophicus
                Posted May 30, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

                Constraints? Merely non-applicability of Free Speech clause rights. If the college let him teach Satanism, or banned the teaching of geometry, that’s their business.

                I read that here (Lemon etc). Exactly relevant to Dover – infringes Establishment clause.

    • Marcoli
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      In the US a private college can teach literally anything, restricted only by whether there is a market of paying customers. State and federal resources can also be used to support teaching a variety of debunked subjects. The only restriction is whether the subject in seen as promoting a religion. Creationism and ID (and witchcraft) are religious viewpoints, and so should not be taught with government support even at a university.

  26. Jim Thomerson
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    It is my understanding that we professors are supposed to teach about things, rather than proselytize. When I taught the evolution course, I included a lecture or two about creationism, as I thought the students should be aware of it.

    I have team taught an interdisciplinary course on natural resources. I think having two instructors, with different points of view, made the course much more interesting for the students.

    • Marcoli
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      It is my privilege to teach the 300-level evolution class in our department. I think it is very important to include some information about creationism/ID. I hope though that you made it clear where the overwhelming balance of scientific evidence lies.
      As for me, I essentially let the science speak for itself, choosing to do only a few remarks at the beginning and end. I have been wondering if I should introduce more, like a whole lecture, since it is definitely the ‘elephant in the room’.

  27. MAUCH
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Why not fire Stenger? The claims make by intellegent design are not controversial but rather just plain denial of the facts. College professors should not have the right to teach willful ignorance.

    • MAUCH
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      I meant Hedin not Stenger. Sorry about the gaffe.

      • Matt Bowman
        Posted May 27, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        Hedin does not belong at any credible university. Let the man go and he can preach his creationist trash at Liberty University. I’m sure they will take him.

    • Marcoli
      Posted May 27, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      If he is tenured that would not be possible. Even if this class were ruled as illegal, citing the establishment clause. Even if he was not tenured I doubt a university would deny him tenure (which is a kind of ‘firing’).

      • Matt Bowman
        Posted May 27, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        His profile says he is an assistant professor. I think this means he has a probationary period and has not earned tenure.

        • Marcoli
          Posted May 27, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

          That is interesting. I hope we do not get a sequel to the Expelled! movie!

      • Logicophilosophicus
        Posted May 28, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Even tenured staff may be fired “for cause”.

  28. marksolock
    Posted May 27, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  29. Posted May 28, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    “a good little Marxist”

    If you don’t read this stuff regularly, this might seem weird. But these people aren’t talking about economic Marxism. No, they’re talking about cultural Marxism; i.e. everyone is culturally equal.

  30. albert
    Posted May 28, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Storm is cute, but it does not properly address the serious accusation of academic misconduct in a course that seems to not have any.

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