A student who took Eric Hedin’s Honors course at Ball State University—”The Limits of Science”—has started a thread on reddit saying that you can ask the student anything. I have independent evidence that what the student describes about Hedin, bizarre as it sounds, is almost certainly true. And it makes it even more imperative to do something about that ridiculous course (my recommendation is to dump it).
Here are a few of the student’s comments on the thread (the pseudonym is Kettyr). There are some inquiries, and the debate turns at times to philosophy and ethics, but the interesting part is what, according to Kettyr, Hedin said to his class (Kettyr’s comments are indented):
I took the course in the Spring of 2011 and clashed with Hedin, both in assignments, out-of-class communication, and in-class discussion. Ask me anything.
Hedin is a scientist. He has a Ph.D. in physics. He believes that the big bang happened, but he also believes that there is a “limit” to science. To me, this makes him an apologist, desperately clinging to a belief system that is becoming exponentially more irrelevant as humans adopt reason. He believes in the Cambrian Explosion, another that we just don’t understand yet. I asked him one day, “Why is it that the limit of science is god, and not just ignorance?” and he had a lot of reasons why it must be God and there are things we will never know, though I think that his argument is self-defeating.
His biggest example was “what came before the Big Bang?” He believes the Big Bang happened, but he also believes it is a divinely triggered event. That is, in his words, a limit to scientific knowledge. When, in reality, it’s substituting lack of knowledge with a fabricated reality.
Another commenter, “Islamdunkbrunch,” asks this:
Do you think he went over the line promoting Christianity? What was the tone like in the class? As an atheist, were you challenged on your beliefs?
Kettyr replies (my emphasis), showing the immense pedagogical stupidity of Hedin:
- I do think he occasionally went over the line. As soon as I realized how firm his beliefs were, I knew what I was getting into. The biggest thing I remember was when I asked him why it is HIS god (the Christian god) that must be the “answer” to what science cannot explain. He said “it’s not like it’s some sort of Hindu monkey god.” That was very over the line.
- The class was half-and-half between small-group discussion (most of the questions were reasonable–like “What was before the Big Bang?”–though some were very leading) and his lectures. His lectures were very one-sided, extremely so, and he would have us do readings or watch clips from anti-evolution programs or movies, like Ben Stein’s documentary.
- I was the only atheist in a class of about 25 students, and found that my challenges (which were many) came from the class as a whole. He was not very confrontational and did allow for an open forum of ideas, but the other students agreed with him and often ganged up on me with some pretty harsh words. His biggest challenges came in the form of critiques on writings for the class, which were a more unopposed soap box than the class discussions.
and adds this:
The biggest was when I asked him why the Christian god is the answer to whatever science cannot explain. He said that it was not just his beliefs, it was a simple fact that it must be the Christian god. He then said, and this is a direct quote, “It’s not like it was some Hindu monkey god.” I blew up, and in hindsight I wish I had been more level-headed. I said that was not just hypocritical but a damnation of an entire population whose beliefs are just as valid as his. We argued for about five or ten minutes, and it was one of those situations where the other students got uncomfortable and quiet. He was not mean or hurtful, but I think he wished he hadn’t said it, and I wish I had been calmer. I ended saying something along the lines of “It takes a lot of ignorance to put your own beliefs on a pedestal above reason and evidence.” He got very calm then (he is an EXTREMELY calm, soft-spoken person; the monkey god comment was very out-of-character for him) and said that it was obvious our debate wasn’t going to change anyone’s minds and that we should revisit the topic in the future. We did revisit it over e-mail correspondence, but it felt forced and awkward.
About the reading list:
. . . The reading list is essentially a who’s-who of Christian apologists and scientists. For instance, he spent a long time discussing the Cambrian Explosion, a time in which life on earth evolved “too quickly” to be realistic, and had to have had some sort of divine intervention. This is a perfect example of “Science can’t explain it? It must be God”
. . . The only notable atheist he brought up was Dawkins, and that was only in one lecture, and he tore him to shreds.
The questions were all over the place. Sometimes, they were very open, like “Is there a universal theory of everything?” or “What is a theory?” or “What if our physical laws were ever-so-slightly different?”. However, these questions often followed a lecture (sermon?) about his views and, more often than not, students would just regurgitate what he said.
I remember one student essentially quoting Hedin, five minutes after the lecture (sermon) while discussing our “perfect” physical laws, and I asked the student, “Wouldn’t you agree that we can only be in awe of the universe’s physical laws because they are the only set of laws that we know?” which sort of stumped my small discussion group.
Another commenter asks if “Kettyr” complained to the administration. The answer is “yes”:
Absolutely. Extensively. It was, by a long shot, the longest professor evaluation I ever wrote. I spoke in detail, using multiple specific dates and direct quotes. The administration (or at least, his supervisor or dean) knew what was going on at least two years before this story broke out, as I took the class in Spring 2011.
Remember that Ball State has claimed that there were no negative evaluations, and so far has refused to make any student evaluations available to the Muncie Star-Times reporter on the case, Seth Slabaugh, even though those evaluations are anonymous.
As to what should be done with the course, here’s Kettyr’s opinion, which also confirms that Hedin made his students watch the odious movie “Expelled”:
Which is the essence of my opinion on the matter: move the class the religious studies department, get it away from physics department. I should not have gotten physics credit for a course where we watched Ben Stein’s “Expelled”
No monkey gods, no Dawkins, God as the cause of the Cambrian Explosion? This is absolutely outrageous. What is equally outrageous is that Ball State University knew about these issues at least as early as 2006, when complaints about Hedin’s proselytizing for Christ were posted on ratemyprofessors.com, and had a long and critical evaluation in hand two years ago. Yet they did nothing, even when I added my voice to the list.
It took a letter from the Freedom from Religion Foundation to get Ball State to even investigate the content of Hedin’s course. If this student is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt what he/she says, that course should be deep-sixed. It’s not even suitable for a “religion” course because there are no other views offered to counter Hedin’s religious interpretation of science.
In the meantime, a reader has written to The Daily, the Ball State University student newspaper:
Unfortunately, I greatly fear that Dr. Eric Hedin will not be treated fairly by Ball State University and panel of four professors charged with investigating his teaching of the honors symposium titled “The Boundaries of Science.”
University of Chicago evolutionary biologist and avowed atheist Dr. Jerry Coyne and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose complaints spurred the investigation, are ideological bullies with plenty of influence and financial clout. They have threatened legal action if their objections to Dr. Hedin’s teaching are not validated.
Across our land, we’ve seen variations of this “movie” before and it does not bode well for Dr. Hedin. Let’s be realistic and honest. Faced with the threat of an long-running and expensive lawsuit, the quiet but primary aim of the panel and the university will be “how do we make this go away?” It will not be “let’s do what is right and principled.”
The right and principled answer is simple. Dr. Coyne and the FFRF are wrong and are bringing a frivolous charge against Dr. Hedin. Dr. Hedin should be exonerated from all charges of wrongdoing.
The claim against Dr. Hedin is that he is in violation of the First Amendment for teaching religion.
They should be rebuffed because nowhere is Dr. Hedin charged with talking about the Bible or Jesus. That would be discussion of religion. Through his class, he has simply raised the possibility of intelligent design of life and our cosmos. That is not teaching religion.
This matter is not complicated — but resolving it fairly would require a tremendous amount of courage on the part of the university.
Dr. Hedin has done nothing wrong and deserves support. Fair-mined people need rise up and apply the pressure needed for the university to muster the courage to stand up to Dr. Coyne and the FFRF and tell them to “get lost.”
Eric A. Ether
BSU Class of 1972
University Place WA 98467
Mr. Ether is deeply ignorant, not only about what went on in this class (really—Hedin showed “Expelled”!), but about how academic teaching should proceed. Ether is also dead wrong about Hedin’s not talking about the Bible or Jesus. He did, and his “textbooks” are full of Christianity.
Hedin has done something wrong and his course should be put in the circular file. It is Ball State’s abysmal failure to enforce decent standards of instruction that has forced us “ideological bullies” to get involved. And what “financial clout” do I have to resolve this issue?