This email was sent today by Ball State University (BSU) president Jo Ann M. Gora to all her faculty and students. It unequivocally rejects the teaching of intelligent design and religious ideas in BSU science classes (I’ve put the relevant parts in bold).
It looks like Eric Hedin will no longer be able to push religious ideas in his Physics and Astronomy class. Note that Gora also says, contra P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran, that “teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom—it is a matter of academic integrity.” This undoubtedly reflects the report of the five-person committee assigned to review Hedin’s course, whose report must have been something like “it’s not science.”
Note as well, in the third-from-last paragraph, that Gora says this is a First Amendment issue, and that BSU should “maintain a clear separation between church and state.” That is an added bonus, making it clear that at least one public university is cognizant of this issue.
I count this, perhaps a bit prematurely, as a victory. And it would not have been possible if “outsiders” like the Freedom from Religion Foundation hadn’t warned BSU what was going on. I thank my anonymous informants at BSU, those students who complained about the course, and, of course the FFRF, whose attorney Andrew Seidel kept the heat on BSU.
Now one can speculate that this is a move designed to save BSU’s credibility as a purveyor of good science. But now is not the time for such cynicism. I’d like to think that the university simply recognized that it’s in nobody’s interest to teach religion in a science class.
Kudos to Dr. Gora for writing this no-nonsense statement, which gives no cover to those who want intelligent design taught at that school. We can expect some fulmination from the Discovery Institute, and grumbling about bullying and martyrdom.
Dear Faculty and Staff,
This summer, the university has received significant media attention over the issue of teaching intelligent design in the science classroom. As we turn our attention to final preparations for a new academic year, I want to be clear about the university’s position on the questions these stories have raised. Let me emphasize that my comments are focused on what is appropriate in a public university classroom, not on the personal beliefs of faculty members.
Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory. Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies’ independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science. The list includes societies such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Astronomical Society, and the American Physical Society.
Discussions of intelligent design and creation science can have their place at Ball State in humanities or social science courses. However, even in such contexts, faculty must avoid endorsing one point of view over others. The American Academy of Religion draws this distinction most clearly:
Creation science and intelligent design represent worldviews that fall outside of the realm of science that is defined as (and limited to) a method of inquiry based on gathering observable and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. Creation science, intelligent design, and other worldviews that focus on speculation regarding the origins of life represent another important and relevant form of human inquiry that is appropriately studied in literature and social science courses. Such study, however, must include a diversity of worldviews representing a variety of religious and philosophical perspectives and must avoid privileging one view as more legitimate than others.
Teaching religious ideas in a science course is clearly not appropriate. Each professor has the responsibility to assign course materials and teach content in a manner consistent with the course description, curriculum, and relevant discipline. We are compelled to do so not only by the ethics of academic integrity but also by the best standards of our disciplines.
As this coverage has unfolded, some have asked if teaching intelligent design in a science course is a matter of academic freedom. On this point, I want to be very clear. Teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom – it is an issue of academic integrity. As I noted, the scientific community has overwhelmingly rejected intelligent design as a scientific theory. Therefore, it does not represent the best standards of the discipline as determined by the scholars of those disciplines. Said simply, to allow intelligent design to be presented to science students as a valid scientific theory would violate the academic integrity of the course as it would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.
Courts that have considered intelligent design have concurred with the scientific community that it is a religious belief and not a scientific theory. As a public university, we have a constitutional obligation to maintain a clear separation between church and state. It is imperative that even when religious ideas are appropriately taught in humanities and social science courses, they must be discussed in comparison to each other, with no endorsement of one perspective over another.
These are extremely important issues. The trust and confidence of our students, the public, and the broader academic community are at stake. Our commitment to academic freedom is unflinching. However, it cannot be used as a shield to teach theories that have been rejected by the discipline under which a science course is taught. Our commitment to the best standards of each discipline being taught on this campus is equally unwavering. As I have said, this is an issue of academic integrity, not academic freedom. The best academic standards of the discipline must dictate course content.
Thank you for your attention to these important issues. Best wishes in your preparations for a new academic year. I look forward to seeing you at the fall convocation in just a few weeks.
Jo Ann M. Gora, PhD