The saga of HedinGate continues as Ball State University (BSU) continues to investigate whether physics and astronomy professor Eric Hedin transgressed either academic freedom or the First Amendment by teaching Christian doctrine and intelligent design (ID) in a science class for Honors Student. The Discovery Institute has been collecting signatures on a petition to allow Hedin to continue, the local newspaper continues to report on the case and readers keep writing in letters (mostly pro-ID) to Indiana newspapers.
The latest articles include today’s piece by Seth Slabaugh in the Muncie, Indiana newspaper (the town that’s home of BSU), “Group claims prof panel review bias.” After the Freedom from Religion Foundation complained to BSU about Hedin’s religious content and proselytizing in his class, the Ball State provost appointed a panel of academics to investigate Hedin’s class. Reporter Seth Slabaugh notes that Discovery Institute vice president John West is beefing about the composition of that panel:
In response, Provost Terry King named a faculty review panel, whose members are Catherine (Caty) Pilachowski, a professor of astronomy at Indiana University and past president of the American Astronomical Society (AAS); and three BSU faculty: Gary Dodson, professor of biology; Juli Thorson Eflin, professor of philosophy; and Richard Fluegeman Jr., professor of geological sciences.
West is complaining that:
• Pilachowski was on the governing council of AAS when it issued a declaration denouncing intelligent design in 2005 and stating it shouldn’t be taught in science classes.
• Dodson signed an anti-creationism petition circulated by the pro-Darwin lobbying group the National Center for Science Education. Dodson is currently listed as an official scientific consultant for The Clergy Letter Project, another staunchly anti-intelligent design and pro-Darwin group. In 2009, Dodson was a presenter and discussion leader for the Darwin Day conference organized by the Ball State Freethought Alliance, an avowedly anti-religious group.
• Fluegeman delivered the opening lecture at the same Darwin Day conference in 2009.
Note the use of the word “railroaded” in the DI’s reaction:
The Discovery Institute seeks to demonstrate that life and the universe are the products of intelligent design and to challenge the conception of a “self-existent, self-organizing universe and the Darwinian view that life developed through a blind and purposeless process.”
“In fairness to the panel, people are sometimes able to go against their ideology and prejudices,” West said in an interview. “Maybe the panel is willing to do that.”
But it raises “huge red flags” when it appears that a professor like Hedin is “being railroaded by the university through a process not applied before.”
Well, it has to be applied for the first time some time, right? The fact is that Hedin’s case is unique, involving the teaching of a religiously based theory of “science” in a public university science class. A previous case, involving BSU music professor George Wolfe, who in 2004 was accused by students (and conservative flak David Horowitz) of “indoctrinating students in a peace studies class with an anti-American, anti-military, pro-terrorist agenda.” The BSU provost dismissed that case without investigation as being groundless. But Hedin’s case is not groundless, for his syllabus, his textbooks, and the objections made by some of his students are a matter of public record.
[West] also complained that King appointed no physicists to the panel.
“In this case, they shut out his (Hedin’s) department (in naming the review panel),” West said.
West described Eflin as a feminist scholar whose views on intelligent design are not readily clear.
It would be hard to find a reputable scientist who hadn’t at some point criticized intelligent design, or at least was opposed to it. If a professor was accused of teaching flat earth-ism, or Holocaust denial, would the panel have to comprise those who had no opinion on the sphericity of Earth, or whether the Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis? And since the Discovery Institute has said that they don’t want intelligent design taught in the schools, why are they sending petitions to BSU saying that Hedin should be allowed to teach it?
In the meantime, there are two letters to the editors, both by academics, worth reading. Well, only one is worth reading for content, and the other for how misguided and obscurantist an academic can be.
The Indianapolis Star, published a letter that stands out from the spate of other reader commentary that is ignorant of both the First Amendment and the real meaning of academic freedom. It’s by Craig Gosling, Professor emeritus of Indiana University’s School of Medicine, and is called “Ball State professor’s class should not be taught as science“. An excerpt:
[A previous letter writer who argued that Hedin was being “bullied”] has conveniently ignored the real issue, which is a constitutional one. The U.S. Constitution was not written to protect the majority, it was written to protect the rights of the minority, even one student or taxpayer who has been treated unfairly. I agree with Professor Jerry Coyne and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who simply want Hedin’s course renamed more accurately to describe its contents and moved to another area of study such as philosophy or religion. Hedin’s course is pure religion and no science. His critics do not want Hedin punished or BSU’s good name tarnished; they want to protect the rights of minority students and taxpayers.
The situation is not as dire as the Ball State alumnus fears. Hedin needs to be advised that he can’t teach his course in a science department. He should be invited to teach his course elsewhere and to change the name and description of the course. As it is now, his course has nothing to do with “boundaries of science” and it blatantly promotes Intelligent Design and creationism, both of which have been debunked in court and found to have nothing to do with science.
. . . Fair-minded people, including faculty and alumni, need to remind the BSU administration that Hedin is making Ball State and Muncie into a national laughingstock, similar to the Scopes Monkey trial in Dayton, Tenn. As an Indiana taxpayer, I strongly object to BSU allowing one of its faculty to promote religion in a science classroom.
A breath of fresh air! And indeed, if BSU allows Hedin to continue teaching Christian apologetics in the guise of science, and allows new hire Guillermo Gonzalez (another intelligent-design advocate) to do the same, they’ll look pretty dumb to the rest of the country. While most Americans are either creationists or theistic evolutionists, they seem to want their kids taught real science in the science class.
Given Gonzalez’s hire, I suspect that someone in the Ball State Physics and Astronomy Department is sympathetic to Intelligent Design. and I also suspect the higher administration didn’t know this. They’re now getting a rude shock.
For a taste of ignorance, as well as dreadful writing, have a look at the Op-Ed by Paul Chandler in the Muncie Star-Press: “Professor Hedin’s Big Bang theory.” It’s too long to reproduce here, but it’s a defense of Hedin couched in labored language, and is written by Paul Chandler, described as a “soon-to-be-retired Ball State associate professor of natural resources. In other words, he’s a biologist. (One wonders why he’s retiring without having attained the rank of full professor.)
Here’s how it starts:
Apparently, Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora has heard the trumpet’s call announcing the latest displeasure among her peer group of minor league academicians.
It is hard to know for certain because, as is usual for Gora in the face of controversy, she is “unavailable for comment” until an intonation of how the music will likely end reaches her ear.
This same unavailability to stand up to peer pressure and defend Professor Eric Hedin from the Freedom from Religion Foundation as he boldly explores “The Boundaries of Science” with his students might just as easily be ascribed to any review panel however chosen from among America’s overwhelming majority of fashionably “spiritual” when not aggressively atheistic academics.
These have made a blatantly outspoken Christophobia all the rage throughout academia today as so many colleges and universities, especially those third-tier examples like Ball State, find themselves in a desperate competition for the tuition dollars that follow along with international students recruited from far beyond the boundaries of what at one time was widely known as Christendom.
Somebody give professor Chandler a copy of Strunk & White! The last two sentences are labyrinthine! And really, “Christophobia”? Are public schools supposed to show Christophilia? Chandler then goes on to argue that the Big Bang points to God, since it violates the Law of the Conservation of Matter and the Law of Conservation of Energy, and therefore required a miracle and that “such a creator could well be God.” He concludes with an admonition to the panel investigating Hedin:
In this case, the question is not if we “believe in the Bible.” (A trip to almost any bookstore will demonstrate that it clearly exists.) The better question is this: Do we believe the Bible? If not, we have no business sitting in judgment of Professor Hedin.
So, to the review panel, feel free to use this argument as you call out your peers for their presumptuousness as well as their ignorance of some basic science.
Just think how smug you can feel then.
In other words, the investigating panel should comprise only Bible-believing Christians. The DI would love that!
This “letter” is very long, and wouldn’t be published in most newspapers. I suspect, and I’m just guessing here, that someone at the Muncie Star-Press is sympathetic to Hedin and intelligent design. After all, they have their creationist readers to satisfy. The paper has a “he-said/he said” approach to the story, pitting the Discovery Institute against scientists like myself and the investigating panel. What is missing is some evaluation of what exacctly Hedin taught in his class, what the contents of his textbooks were, and what his disaffected students said. Let’s hope we see more about that in the near future.
h/t: Diana, Amy