In Which I Agree With the Discovery Institute

This may come as a shock to my readers. In this post, I’m going to agree with the Discovery Institute and disagree with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I somehow missed the controversy going on at Ball State University over a pro-ID course being taught, hearing about it only from a Worldnutdaily article.

It all started a couple months ago when the FFRF sent a letter to the president of Ball State urging her to remove a course called The Boundaries of Science, taught by physics professor Eric Hedin. To be sure, it looks like a bad course. The syllabus is full of material from ID advocates and creationists. But bad is not the same thing as unconstitutional. The course is an elective and is being taught at the university level. This is different from teaching ID in a high school for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that no one has to attend this college or take that course.

PZ said all of this back in April:

No, sorry, not right — academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective. The first amendment does not apply; this is not a course students are required to take, and it’s at a university, which students are not required to attend. It’s completely different from a public primary or secondary school. A bad course is an ethical problem, not a legal one. It’s also an issue that the university has to handle internally.

I don’t think there’s a strong case on the other side either. If the university did step in and eliminate the course, I don’t think Hedin would have a legal case against the university. He likely does not have tenure, so the school does have more control here than they otherwise would. But as PZ said, this is not a legal issue it’s an internal one for the school.

61 comments on this post.
  1. raven:

    I don’t think Hedin should be fired. That just makes him a martyr among other problems.

    But the U. should move his course from Physics and Astronomy to philosophy or religious studies or somewhere else.

    It isn’t even remotely science and has no business being in a physics department.

  2. raven:

    What is it about physics and astronomy that makes them hate biology and biologists.

    Quite a few of them are creationists, Shroeder, Gaskell, Gomez, Hedin, Ross, probably the head of physics at Ball State etc..

    As a biologist I don’t reject modern physics and astronomy. How could I, AFAICT, they aren’t wrong. I am however, beginning to wonder a lot about astronomers. Does looking at pictures from telescopes turn your brain to jello?

  3. Physicalist:

    Agreed. While a university does need to enforce some standards, professors should be allowed considerable leeway in teaching unpopular ideas.

    Heck, if we weren’t allowed to teach creationism, I’d have to scrap a good chunk of my pseudoscience course.

  4. raven:

    FFRF and Jerry Coyne did one thing commendable.

    Shine a light on the nest of cockroaches in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Ball State, Indiana.

    It won’t hurt to know how many cockroaches there are, how they got there, and where they are going.

    Cockroaches hate light but it is fun to watch them (from a safe distance) scurry for the darkness.

  5. Raging Bee:

    But bad is not the same thing as unconstitutional.

    “Unconstitutional” is not the only reason for a college not to offer a course — it’s only the lowest of MANY bars a course should have to clear to be acepted. What good is a college that has no standards higher than “Is it illegal?”

    The course is an elective and is being taught at the university level. This is different from teaching ID in a high school for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that no one has to attend this college or take that course.

    It’s still — AT BEST — a waste of college resources that could be spent on more useful electives. It’s also still an implicit endorsement of one religion’s folktales and worldview. (Is there an elective course pretending Norse or Native American creation stories are “science?”) And as you admitted, it’s also packed full of flat-out lies. Lies + even a hint of religious content = borderline-unconstitutional at best. The lies alone make it a form of fraud.

  6. oranje:

    I had an astronomy course at a lutheran college I somehow wound up at (not really sure how, but the diploma’s legit). In the end, we had to write a paper about a designer for the universe and our understanding of god. I explained in my paper that this was taking assumptions from outside of our observations in class and lab and applying them to what we see. That it was bad science. I failed the paper and he wrote on it that he felt sorry for me.

    And he still wasn’t the biggest asshole I had to deal with during my academic career.

  7. Raging Bee:

    …academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective.

    Since when did professors have a “right” to be ignorant and/or dishonest on company time? Since when was professional incompetence or dishonestly considered “protected speech?” If you do your job poorly or dishonestly, you can easily be fired, and nothing in the constitution will save you. Academics is a high-skill profession — it should be subject to HIGHER standards than tech-writing for a software company, not lower.

    Teaching things that are controversial or unproven is one thing. Teaching things that are DISproven is another.

  8. slc1:

    PZ and his Canadian counterpart Larry Moran are full of prunes to claim academic freedom here. Academic freedom doesn’t mean that an instructor can teach any damn thing he/she wants to in a course. It means that faculty are to be given wide latitude as to their research and scholarly activities.

    It should be noted that the whistle was blown on this activity by Un. of Chicago biology professor Jerry Coyne who complained to the chairman of the physics department at Ball State and was blown off by him. It was only then that the FFRF got involved at Coyne’s request. By the way, it appears that Ball State has hired IDiot Guillermo Gonzalez as an assistant professor of physics, apparently at the instigation of the same physics department chairman who blew off Coyne. Gonzales, an old earth creationist, is the clown who was the subject of a brouhaha at Iowa State University over denial of tenure a few years ago.

    The Whacknutdaily and other chirsto-fascist sources of information have erroneously accused Coyne of calling for Prof. Hedin to be fired. He has called for no such thing,, only for the university to stop the guy from teaching bullshit in the course..

    There has been much discussion over at Panda’s Thumb on this controversy and it appears that there are considerable differences of opinion as to whether teaching this crap in a science course is constitutional and a violation of church;/state separation, based on the fact that Ball State is a public college, not a private college.

  9. raven:

    academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective.

    Creationism isn’t controversial. It is just wrong.

    Creationism also isn’t unpopular. Almost half the US population are creationists.

    Creationism is however, ignorance.

    What Hedin is doing mostly is feeding the xian religious mythology of Indiana students back to them. That isn’t science and I wouldn’t pay the tuition money to have someone tell me that my religious beliefs are true. That is what church is for.

    It’s a bad fit for a science department better off in philosophy or religious studies.

  10. Physicalist:

    Since when was professional incompetence or dishonestly considered “protected speech?”

    This isn’t a constitutional issue. It is an issue about the quality of the course and the quality of the professor.

    In general, we do not want the content of college courses decided by political considerations. We value intellectual freedom, and this means that sometimes this freedom will be abused.

    There are mechanisms within a university for upholding the quality of teaching. Those mechanisms should filter this course out; and my guess is that they probably will. (In particular, it seems Hedin doesn’t have tenure, and the quality of his teaching should be a major factor in preventing him from getting tenure, and ending his job. If he had tenure, the situation would be somewhat different.

    Insofar as the movement against Hedin’s class is highlighting bad teaching, it’s laudable. Insofar as it is trying to influence the content of university courses by using external politics and misguided appeals to constitutional protections, however, it’s worrisome.

  11. John Pieret:

    I agree that (at least under present precedents) it is not a First Amendment case.

    As to academic freedom, at least when it comes to what is taught in class (as opposed to what research a tenured professor does or what papers s/he writes), there is one Court of Appeals case (Bishop v. Aronov) that held that the university’s academic freedom to determine its curriculum outweighed any academic freedom, speech or religious exercise rights of the professor. A professor can answer questions about his beliefs or make occasional remarks about his beliefs but a University can prevent a professor from making assertions about his religious beliefs vis-a-vis the subject matter of his courses.

    As Rven said, at a minimum, it should be removed out of the science departments, the university should and even as a religion or philosophy course, the course materials should be more balanced.

  12. eric:

    Raven

    I don’t think Hedin should be fired.

    I mostly do. I have no problem with a university firing a teacher for teaching badly. Okay, if you don’t think he’s been given fair warning up until now, I could go with giving him that first with the understanding that if things don’t change he will be fired.

    However, BSU also just hired creationist astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, so I don’t think the departmental or senior university leadership will fire him; they seem to be supportive of creationism, if anything.

    I agree with what you wrote in @4 about shining a light on this behavior. Even if BSU does nothing at all, its valuable to potential future students to understand BSU’s attitude towards creationism and how this could impact the value of their degrees.

  13. Taz:

    If I recall correctly, this course is being offered as an elective that fulfills a basic science requirement. There is no way BSU should allow that.

  14. John Pieret:

    Messed up that last paragraph @ 11:

    As Raven said, at a minimum, it should be removed out of the science departments. And even as a religion or philosophy course, the university should insist that the course materials be more balanced.

  15. Raging Bee:

    If Ball State is a public college, as slc1 says, then this course is indeed unconstitutional. Teaching one form of religion disguised as science, and not another, violates the establishment clause, even if it’s just an elective. Either you allow ALL religions to kinda sorta pretend their creation stories are “science” (which is impossible given the number of religions people believe in today); or you allow none, which is the far more feasible and honest choice.

  16. raven:

    However, BSU also just hired creationist astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, so I don’t think the departmental or senior university leadership will fire him; they seem to be supportive of creationism, if anything.

    Heard that.

    Gonzalez was rejected at Iowa for good reasons. IIRC, he also cost Iowa a lot of money in lawsuits that also failed.

    Since when does it make sense to hire another university’s rejects?

    Creationism is a science killer. Gonzalez’s research just died after he got involved in it. So did Behe’s. When the answer to every question is goddidit, why look any further.

    It looks like the problems at Ball State Physics and Astronomy are a lot deeper than just Hedin. We need and deserve to know who is feeding this tank of bottom feeders. It wouldn’t surprise me if the department head is also a creationist and that he only hires…creationists. That is a hypothesis right now, but hopefully, someone will get the data.

  17. kosk11348:

    During the Dover trial, it was pointed out that there is nothing prohibiting instructors from teaching false or misleading claims in science class to children. It is only doing so for the purpose of sectarian religious advancement which is illegal. You can teach lies, just not for Jesus.

    So I don’t see why some people like PZ bring up the issue of academic freedom. So long as you aren’t using tax payer money at a government supported institution to advance a religious agenda, there is no Constitutional conflict.

  18. Physicalist:

    “Either you allow ALL religions to kinda sorta pretend their creation stories are “science”. . .

    Yes, that’s what is legally allowed. Professors (especially tenured professors) are given enough leeway that even crazy theistic justifications for their views won’t be systematically (or legally) prohibited.

    So, yes, if you’ve got tenure, you’re allowed to teach that the Flying Spaghetti Monster causes global warming because of the decline of pirates.

    However, just saying that you’re “allowed” to do something in a legal sense doesn’t mean that the university is obliged to let you teach a course on climate science. The university does have recourse in protecting students from bad teachers. For example, I believe that Michael Behe at Lehigh University generally teaches courses where his “unorthodox” (i.e., wrong) views about evolution by natural selection will do little damage.

  19. psweet:

    I can’t imagine there are very many universities where a professor (even a tenured one) are simply given carte blanche to offer any course they want. Research, publishing, etc., yes, and it’s only right that a university allow professors to push the boundaries wherever possible. But the fact that the university is actually offering the course means that someone (probably multiple someones) above Hedin approved the course. So I can’t see how they could fire him unless he lied to someone along the way about what would be covered, or he starts teaching something outside the course description.

    All of this is by way of saying, focusing on Hedin and this course is the wrong angle. Students (and alumni) at the school should be looking very carefully at the course approval process, and what that implies for the quality of their degrees.

  20. John Pieret:

    Bee @ 15:

    The courts have recognized the academic freedom of universities, even public ones, to foster a broad “marketplace of ideas.” Much more so than at the high school level. Therefore, it will take a lot more to make a showing that this is “teaching religion” than it would in a high school class. This course is also labeled “Boundries of Science” which should, to college age people, indicate that it is not a hard science course but more a philosophy of science course. And, unless Hedin is a complete fool he would have included at least some discussion of opposing views.

    Given that the courts are loathe to intervere with university curricula and defer to the university administration, it is highly unlikely that the course would be found to violate the establishment clause.

  21. eric:

    This course is also labeled “Boundries of Science” which should, to college age people, indicate that it is not a hard science course but more a philosophy of science course.

    It wasn’t offered as philosophy of science, it was offered as a physics course and is required for some form of university Honors (I am vague on the details, but possibly as one of the requirements for graduating ‘with honor’??)

    As far as I can tell, the mislabeling or miscategorizing of the course as a science course is one thing on which both the “its constitutional/its not constitutional” sides agree: a bad idea.

    And, unless Hedin is a complete fool he would have included at least some discussion of opposing views.

    He’s that fool! Here’s his reading list. Do you see any opposing views there?

  22. waldteufel:

    A fellow commenter at The Sensuous Curmudgeon noted:

    “In Indiana, we say ‘Don’t make fun of BSU . . . . it’s the best high school we have’ “

  23. rickdesper:

    Ball State is a public university, so there may be some legal issues here. But I don’t think they would rise to the level of First Amendment issues.

    The possible legal issue here would be whether it was appropriate for the state to be offering a non-scientific course nominally in the Science Department. I doubt there would be a real issue, though. It’s not uncommon for university science departments to offer courses in meta-science. I took more than one at Wesleyan, and one was offered by the Chemistry Department and included a book called “Three Scientists and their Gods.” I suspect it was a better course than what’s being offered at Ball State, though.

    There is a real need to teach courses at the University placing science in a societal context. I would just hope it’s done in a way that doesn’t end up being religious indoctrination. In any case, this is an issue for the University to deal with. But since it’s a state school, citizens of Indiana should feel free to demand better education for their citizens. As you say, this problem requires a political solution, not a legal one.

  24. John Pieret:

    Eric:

    Here’s his reading list. Do you see any opposing views there?

    From the list:

    Davies, Paul, The 5th Miracle (1999).

    Not religious but perhaps “accomodationist”.

    Penrose, Roger, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, (2005).

    Penrose is not a creationist and describes himself as an atheist.

    Quastler, Henry “The Emergence of Biological Organization” (1964).

    http://innovationwatch.com/the-emergence-of-biological-organization-by-henry-quastler-yale-university-press/

    “This penetrating essay develops a scientific theory of biological organization starting with the initial creative accident which marked the origin of life. It is the first step in a theory that the author had intended to extend to other levels of organization. Henry Quastler was a research biologist whose application of mathematical ideas to biology was among his greatest contributions, and it was in the course of this work that he became involved in relating the concepts of information theory to problems of cell structure and of the creation and transmission of information in living systems. Here he postulates the construction of an automaton which could produce something akin to the noblest act of human consciousness, the creation of new information.” He finds this eventuality not frightening but reassuring. “It establishes the possibility of the creation of new information… by an organism much simpler than man, even by a single cell, and even by a prebiological macromolecular system.”

    Seeds, Michael A., Astronomy: The Solar System and Beyond, 3rd Ed. (2003).

    Appears to be a straightforward astronomy textbook.

    Von Baeyer, Hans Christian, Information: The New Language of Science, (2003).

    Appears to be a straightforward discussion of present day information theory.

    As I said before, it doesn’t appear to be a balanced list but what is the right balance is precisely what the courts don’t want to get into. They leave that to the universities.

  25. kantalope:

    The right answer is: “You have a physics degree from Ball State?” Hahahahahahaha
    Ow, you are killin me? Are you an ‘Angels push things down or an Object seeks its place in the universe Aristotelian?’

    Was your senior thesis titled: ‘When Jesus Makes Things Fall Up, is it Antigravity?’
    “Dark Matter: Satan’s Poop or Liberal Conspiracy?”
    “Where Newton Went Wrong: The Non-Trinitarian Rantings of a Kook”

    Oh, hoo-hoo a physics degree from Ball State – why didn’t you just go to Clown College instead?

    If they turn their department into a joke…then a joke it shall be.

  26. jimnorth:

    Raven, slight nitpick – It’s Iowa State University, commonly known as Iowa State; the term “Iowa” refers to the University of Iowa. We have three great public universities in Iowa: ISU, Iowa, and UNI. I graduated from one of them. Twice. I now teach at a small religiously-affiliated university here in Iowa (where everyone knows I’m an atheist).
    .
    Ed and PZ are correct on this issue. This is not even close to a first amendment issue; the university controls course offerings. Typically, new courses are vetted by a curriculum review committee before being offered. The committee contains instructors from all over campus. If the course is approved, even if it’s an experimental, elective, or a desperately necessary course, then it is printed in the college catalog and students can sign up for it.
    .
    My take on this is that the university is living up to its epynomous t-shirt slogan…(Ball U)

  27. M can help you with that.:

    Up next, Ed Brayton defends courses devoted to promoting white supremacy. After all, it’s not unconstitutional for a university to do so…therefore, academic freedom demands that universities offer and promote such courses!

  28. tomh:

    @ #26

    This is not even close to a first amendment issue

    It’s just amazing how many people are so certain of this. Of course, there are people, legal people even, who disagree. And not just the FFRF lawyers. For instance, Frank Ravitch, Professor of Law, Michigan State University College of Law, published an article in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, called Intelligent Design in Public University Science Departments: Academic Freedom or Establishment of Religion, later turned into an entire book, where he examines the Constitutional issues. His bottom line? “As will be seen, teaching ID in science classes, as opposed to philosophy or religion courses, does raise significant Establishment Clause problems,” and, “The Establishment Clause makes the public university’s role in limiting the teaching of ID in science courses mandatory.”

    There is much more, of course, and people may disagree with his conclusions, but to blithely assert as so many do, that “This is not even close to a first amendment issue,” or, as Ed claims, that it’s not even a legal issue, seems naive, at best.

  29. Michael Heath:

    Ed writes:

    . . . it looks like a bad course. The syllabus is full of material from ID advocates and creationists. But bad is not the same thing as unconstitutional. The course is an elective and is being taught at the university level. This is different from teaching ID in a high school for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that no one has to attend this college or take that course.
    […]
    this is not a legal issue it’s an internal one for the school.

    I disagree. If this curriculum teaches falsified assertions which are used to buttress the creationist narrative proposed in the class, than I think BSU, a public university, i.e. – the government, is violating the establishment clause*. I don’t want my taxpayers funding the government promoting religiously motivated lies.

    I also think teaching a class promoting falsified assertions as if they’re fact is really bad public policy and should be illegal. It’s bad public policy to spend taxpayer funds misinforming others, especially those focused on learning.

    If the curricula is not misinforming students on the facts and providing some scientific context that challenges creationist notions, then fine. But if the curriculum promote creationism in the class, I think the class is a blatant abuse of government power given the reality that creationism and IDC arguments depend on falsified assertions. At least I’ve yet to encounter even one creationist whose argument depended solely on a sufficiently framed sets of facts rather than notions since falsified.

    I do think there’s a way to teach creationism and it shouldn’t be one mere elective, but deserves a handful of electives. Not only should such an area of study cover the various set of promoted beliefs and how they’ve evolved, but they should also teach:
    a) how logical and rhetorical fallacies are employed by believers to promote these beliefs,
    b) why some people are duped and,
    c) the suffering such teaching causes some people, especially children growing up in an authoritarian-dominated social environment.

    PZ Myers writes

    . . . — academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective.

    Academic freedom isn’t the only issue here. Far more important is the question on whether the government is exercising powers not only never delegated to them, but also where the Constitution explicitly requires it to avoid such an exercise, that being the question on whether there’s a violation of the establishment clause.

    PZ Myers writes:

    A bad course is an ethical problem, not a legal one. It’s also an issue that the university has to handle internally.

    Is the government by way of this class lying to its students? If so, then we need to weigh the rights of the students vs. the proper exercise of authority by the government. And again, given this class appears to promote religion, that certainly introduces establishment clause issues if the government is lying to the students on this particular topic.

    I’d also like to see a discussion on whether the government can promote falsehoods in public universities that don’t promote religion given the fact that in such cases, the government would be abusing its power in a way that hurts the right of students to be educated rather than misinformed.

    *I think my conclusion is easily consistent with the Lemon Test; a far more tolerant standard than mine. I find a public university teaching creationism in a dishonest manner would fail all three prongs of the Lemon Test.

  30. Michael Heath:

    kosk11348 writes:

    During the Dover trial, it was pointed out that there is nothing prohibiting instructors from teaching false or misleading claims in science class to children. It is only doing so for the purpose of sectarian religious advancement which is illegal.

    Citation requested; especially that this is a holding precedent.

  31. Michael Heath:

    John Pieret writes:

    The courts have recognized the academic freedom of universities, even public ones, to foster a broad “marketplace of ideas.” Much more so than at the high school level. Therefore, it will take a lot more to make a showing that this is “teaching religion” than it would in a high school class. This course is also labeled “Boundries of Science” which should, to college age people, indicate that it is not a hard science course but more a philosophy of science course. And, unless Hedin is a complete fool he would have included at least some discussion of opposing views.

    Which doesn’t address whether the curriculum presents assertions as fact which have since been falsified. That is the more central question here, not the legitimacy of teaching a wide spectrum of philosophical beliefs. Of course universities have such authority. But they have the authority to lie and misinform students, especially in a way that promotes a particular religious belief? I think not.

  32. Michael Heath:

    tomh writes:

    There is much more, of course, and people may disagree with his conclusions, but to blithely assert as so many do, that “This is not even close to a first amendment issue,” or, as Ed claims, that it’s not even a legal issue, seems naive, at best.

    I was thinking sloppy and lazy, and certainly not either’s best argument. Most concerning is a failure to consider the rights of students in such classes, where such a class being an elective is irrelevant to my concerns, e.g., the government teaching/indoctrinating religious fiction as fact and therefore misinforming rather than educating students.

  33. vmanis1:

    There is in fact a second legal issue besides freedom of speech that governs what courses may be taught at a university. When a university lists a course in its catalogue (we call it a calendar in canada), that sets up a contract with students who take that course. If the course is not substantially as advertised, a student has a valid legal case against the university. (I used to write course and program descriptions for two different post-secondary institutions, and I know how careful one must be.)

    If, hypothetically, another institution did not recognize this course as a valid basic science course, then students who have taken it would have a good case against the university. It’s definitely a stretch, but some institutions really do get quite concerned about protecting their good name, and really resent being dragged into court.

    I can’t speak one way or the other about either this course or BSU, of course.

  34. eric:

    Michael Heath:

    If this curriculum teaches falsified assertions which are used to buttress the creationist narrative proposed in the class, than I think BSU, a public university, i.e. – the government, is violating the establishment clause*. I don’t want my taxpayers funding the government promoting religiously motivated lies.

    The problem is, your taxpayer funding goes to indirectly support lots of religious proselytization, due to government charitable grants and tax exemptions, and that’s legal. So the use of taxes alone is not going to cut it under current legal doctrine. Heck, taxpaying doesn’t even give you standing and your tax money going to religious organizations doesn’t even count as a legal injury, to say nothing of making the case a win.

    Its also perfectly constitutional for agents of the government to lie to the public or knowingly spread false information (with the standard exceptions of under oath etc.). Executive branch officials do it all the time. In the IC, its practically a requirement. There may be an employment violation or other legal violation in many cases of lying (so, it may be legal to fire someone from doing so), but there’s clearly not a 1st amendment requirement that they tell the truth when working for the government. If there was, our entire political landscape would be different.

    So it really turns on the question of whether Hedin’s endorsement counts as state endorsement. Pretty cut and dried, right? He’s a state agent, on the job. But university professors aren’t typically viewed as state agents. Unlike HS, the state does not set the curriculum. Unlike HS, the state does not approve textbooks. Unlike HS, the state takes practically no interest in what a professor says in class in terms of religion. All things considered, the state’s attitude towards even state-funded professors borders on giving them a limited public forum to say what they want.
    Add to that the optics: practically nobody thinks that what a professor says in the classroom represents the state’s opinion. Students don’t think that. The professors don’t think that. With the exception of some conservative lawmakers that want to fire liberal professors for their views on global warming or 9/11, even state officials don’t think that.

    So, if nobody percieves professors as the voice of the state, and the state exercises little or no control over what they say in class, I think there’s a very good argument that the state is not establishing religion when a professor speaks. The professor might be, as a private individual. But IMO a legal “reasonable person,” with an understanding of how the U.S. university system works, would not view a professor at BSU as speaking with the voice of the State of Indiana.

  35. raven:

    FWIW, one of the reasons why scientists react so negatively to creationists is real simple.

    They can and will be as vicious as they can get away with. A “Darwinist” at a fundie college is treated like a witch. Almost. They no longer can burn them at the stake but they will fire or Expell them when they find them. Except one poor guy who was stabbed to death and a few who were beaten up.

    A lot of scientists get death threats from fundie xians. I’ve long ago lost track of how many I’ve gotten. Routine, expected.

    Here is a partial list of purges, assaults, and death threats by fundies against scientists. This list is out of date. La Sierra U. (SDA) seems to have fired their entire biology department. There have been recent purges at Calvin college. No one keeps track of secondary science teachers expelled or purged but it is a lot.

    You can bet that Hedin, Guillermo Gonzalez, and any other creationists at Ball State physics and astronomy would cheerfully fire any Darwinists if they could. If they could get away with it, they might even resort to the traditional xian practice known as burning them at the stake.

    old list:

    There is a serious reign of terror by Xian fundie terrorists directed against the reality based academic community, specifically acceptors of evolution. I’m keeping a running informal tally, listed below. They include death threats, firings, attempted firings, assaults, and general persecution directed against at least 12 people. The Expelled Liars have totally ignored the ugly truth of just who is persecuting who.

    If anyone has more info add it. Also feel free to borrow or steal the list.

    I thought I’d post all the firings of professors and state officials for teaching or accepting evolution.

    2 professors fired, Bitterman (SW CC Iowa) and Bolyanatz (Wheaton)

    1 persecuted unmercifully Richard Colling (Olivet) Since resigned under pressure.

    1 persecuted unmercifully for 4 years Van Till (Calvin)

    1 attempted firing Murphy (Fuller Theological by Phillip Johnson IDist)

    1 successful death threats, assaults harrasment Gwen Pearson (UT Permian)

    1 state official fired Chris Comer (Texas)

    1 assault, fired from dept. Chair Paul Mirecki (U. of Kansas)

    1 killed, Rudi Boa, Biomedical Student (Scotland)

    Death Threats Eric Pianka UT Austin and the Texas Academy of Science engineered by a hostile, bizarre IDist named Bill Dembski

    Death Threats Michael Korn, fugitive from justice, towards the UC Boulder biology department and miscellaneous evolutionary biologists.

    Death Threats Judge Jones Dover trial. He was under federal marshall protection for a while

    Up to 12 with little effort. Probably there are more. I turned up a new one with a simple internet search. Haven’t even gotten to the secondary science school teachers.

  36. jameshanley:

    Look folks, you may not like hearing this, but if you say it’s ok to use political pressure to force the University to cancel this course, you cannot effectively draw a line between that and conservatives using political pressure to force a university to cancel a course. You can insist on the distinction between “factually untrue” and “controversial” all you want, but despite how intellectually meaningful that line is, it’s going to have about zero political effect.

    As for the guy who argued that it’s not a philosophy of science course because it’s taught with a physics designation, you are clearly speaking out of brute ignorance. It is not at all abnormal for natural scientists who develop an interest in the philosophy of science to teach a course, with their department designation, on the subject. It’s valuable even (in normal circumstances, not with this particular course), because science students are far more likely to take the course if it’s offered in their home department, rather than in the philosophy department. For christ’s sake, all our disciplinary boundaries are pretty damned artificial –and we ought to value having science students introduced to the philosophical issues of their field.

    You folks are expending an awful lot of power and willing to trample on a hell of a lot of valuable institutional structures to get at this course. Stupid as the course is, killing it that way is probably a bad benefit-cost calculation.

    My recommendation is to just stick to the public ridicule, without making demands, undermining academic freedom, or making highly questionable constitutional arguments. Just laugh and mock “Ball State, the wannabee institution of higher learning that hires pseudoscientists to teach unscience.” Believe me, a sufficient amount of that to shame the place is not a very high hurdle.

  37. John Pieret:

    Michael Heath @ 31:

    Which doesn’t address whether the curriculum presents assertions as fact which have since been falsified. That is the more central question here, not the legitimacy of teaching a wide spectrum of philosophical beliefs.

    Well, ID rarely, if ever, asserts facts per se. Oh, they assert interpretations of facts but that’s not the same thing. And they make philosophical arguments about what science should be but, again, that’s not facts. Unlike YECs, IDers do not outright deny scientific facts, such as radiometric dating or measurements of the speed of light. Arguments over the interpretation of facts is a regular part of science and arguments over the philosophy of science are not obviously inappropriate for science departments.

    Lord [cough] knows that I, of all people, who has been involved in the “creation wars” for over a decade and a half, am not defending Hedin or the IDiots. My point is that it is not clear that, under these particular facts, that there was any violation of the establishment clause (though, of course, further facts could change things).

    The other thing to keep in mind is what we lawyers call “making bad law.”

    Bringing a case that is potentially vunerable under present law may be worse than whatever violation of the Constitution that is going on here. We lawyers often talk about finding “test cases” and the purpose is to find the strongest case we can.

    Let the university review play out and, if it allows the course to continue as it has been, any hypothetical legal case strengthens; if they change it, there will be new legal issues to address.

    While I agree with timh @ 28 that no one should be asserting confidently that there is no establishment clause violation, it is equally true that no one should be confidently assering that there is an establishment clause violation, especially considering the paucity of case law on this point.

  38. raven:

    Four Resign at La Sierra University—UPDATED | Spectrum Magazine
    spectrummagazine .org › Blog‎

    Jun 13, 2011 – At La Sierra University, two administrators, one professor, and one … Gary Bradley from his part-time faculty position in the Biology Department, …

    This is the sort of thing creationists do when they can.

    These 4 admins and professors didn’t resign, they were fired.

    This was after they fired half their biology department. Which was only 2 professors out of 4 but still, it is the thought that counts.

    Prof John Schneider quits Michigan Christian college over ‘science …
    www. dailymail. co.uk/…/Prof-John-Schneider-quits-Michigan-Christian-coll…

    Aug 16, 2011 – Professor John Schneider left Calvin College after he wrote articles in suggesting … articles in ‘The Banner’ suggesting genetics and evolution cast doubt on the … are glad that Schneider is gone, and who would like to see me gone as well.’ … The dogma of religion prevents free thought and in doing so …

    Creationists are vicious aren’t they. About what you expect from members of cults based on hate, pushing failed 2,000 + year old ideas that predate the invention of xianity.

    For anyone at Ball State, watch out. They always cause as many problems as they can.

  39. raven:

    There are more. Here is one for the road.

    insidehighered:

    Crenshaw’s comments (which he confirmed to Inside Higher Ed as accurate) include the following: “Science is the litmus test on the validity of the educational enterprise. If a school teaches real science, it’s a pretty safe bet that all other departments are sound. If it teaches bogus science, everything else is suspect…. I want a real college, not one that rejects facts, knowledge, and understanding because they conflict with a narrow religious belief. Any college that lets theology trump fact is not a college; it is an institution of indoctrination. It teaches lies. Colleges do not teach lies. Period.”

    That statement got Crenshaw fired from Erskine.

  40. Ichthyic:

    academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective.

    last i checked, academic freedom is not a right guaranteed by SCOTUS in any case, nor is it part of the constitution, nor is it a matter of free speech.

    That I think academic freedom should be an important consideration at the university level is only relevant to the internal decisions of any university itself.

    so, PZ is wrong to speak of it as a right. It is not, and never has been. He and other ARE right to stress that it is dangerous to ignore the idea of academic freedom when considering issues like this.

    that said, he’s also wrong that this is actually about academic freedom. It isn’t, as others have pointed out.

    Ed, spend more time researching this before you post again, as there are many errors of understanding you are exhibiting not just with regards to the general issues, but to this specific case as well.

    for instance, it did not start with a letter from FFRF.

  41. Ichthyic:

    This may come as a shock to my readers.

    not really, given your absolutism regarding freedom of speech, which one would only expect you to conflate with this.

    so, no, not shocking.

    disappointing, maybe, but not shocking.

  42. tomh:

    @ #26 jameshanley

    you cannot effectively draw a line between that and conservatives using political pressure to force a university to cancel a course.

    And if conservatives are trying to force the university to cancel a course that is proselytizing religion, or atheism, for that matter, more power to them. If religion is not involved, then there is no issue.

    Everything else you say may be true, but none of it is relevant to the case. The only issue relevant to anyone outside the university is the legal one. As Professor Ravitch put it in the paper referenced above, when discussing teaching ID at a public university, “The government certainly sponsors the class, and a state actor is the one promoting the religious theory on state property, using state equipment, while being paid by the state. The only question would be whether teaching ID theory would be seen as a “religious exercise.”" His conclusion is that, “Given that ID promotes central tenets of Christianity and would be taught to a captive audience in the classroom, it is likely that most courts confronting the issue would find it to be a religious exercise.”

    Now, perhaps some court would disagree, which is why I feel that that’s where the issue should be decided. Let the facts come out, testimony given, etc., about just what the taxpayers are paying for in Hedin’s classroom, and let a judge or jury decide if it complies with the law.

  43. matty1:

    @42 There is a question over whether this a captive audience given everyone there
    1. chose to go to college when there was no obligation to do so they could have got a job or become unemployed
    2. chose that particular college; when they could have chose others and
    3. chose that particular course when there were others available.

    Compare this to a school – I could be wrong on this since it is a different system but in most places I know of.
    1. There is a legal obligation on parents to get their children educated, which means they must send them to a tax funded school or provide evidence (which may be just their say so) that the child has alternative education in the form of private school or home schooling. Getting a job or signing on instead is not an option.

    2. Schools typically only take students from a certain area near the school so there is little if any choice in which public school they go to.

    3. Most courses are a compulsory part of being at school.

  44. eric:

    Jameshanley;

    You folks are expending an awful lot of power and willing to trample on a hell of a lot of valuable institutional structures to get at this course. Stupid as the course is, killing it that way is probably a bad benefit-cost calculation.

    And you are making a slippery slope argument. Essentially, ‘oh noes, if BSU cancels this course or disciplines the professor because of its crappy and biased teaching and curriculum, that will open the door to lots of good courses being canceled and good professors being disciplined for political reasons all across academia!”

    That’s a terrible argument for keeping it. I have news for you sunshine, we already live in a world where that door is open. We have lived in that world for hundreds of years, because Unis do in fact hold and exercise the power to discipline professors and cancel courses. And guess what? We have not generally slipped down that slope. So that argument is empirically invalidated; there is no good reason to expect a disciplinary action in this case to lead to some general overpoliticization of the university system as a whole. That is a highly speculative, worst-case future which is not supported by any evidence.

    Disciplining this guy and canceling the course (or moving it into a philosophy department) will not “trample a hell of a lot of valuable institutional structures,” it will be the proper application of institutional structures for oversight that are already in place. Structures that are standard at every University, and which have been standard for decades, centuries, heck, probably going back to the invention of Universities as institutions.

  45. Raging Bee:

    Look folks, you may not like hearing this, but if you say it’s ok to use political pressure to force the University to cancel this course, you cannot effectively draw a line between that and conservatives using political pressure to force a university to cancel a course.

    Yes, we can: the line would separate political pressure for good outcomes from political pressure for evil outcomes. We draw this line all the time, and no one has a problem with it, except for certain libertarians who use such objections as an excuse to oppose ANY attempt to correct injustices by political means.

  46. democommie:

    What about the U’s fiduciary interest to provide a genuine science course in the science curriculum? Can they teach transmutation/alchemy as part of a curriculum on chemistry? How about transubstantiation as part of a curriculum on biology?

    State supported schools should be teaching whatever works for them and their students, regents and other concerned parties. They should not be teaching philosophy–good, bad or batshit–as “science”.

  47. Raging Bee:

    I see “professor” Hanley has finally gotten over the shame of having all his libertarian talking-points debunked here. Too bad the experience hasn’t taught him to be more honest…

    You folks are expending an awful lot of power and willing to trample on a hell of a lot of valuable institutional structures to get at this course. Stupid as the course is, killing it that way is probably a bad benefit-cost calculation.

    Since when was it “trampling institutional structures” to hold a college accountable for the content of its courses? It’s not like we’re calling for BSU (now there’s some appropriate initials) to be radically reorganized or abolished.

    And since when was abolishing a provably bad course a “bad benefit-cost calculation?” You’re just using empty corporate buzzwords (without showing any actual, you know, CALCULATION) to pretend you’re more “rational” than we are. In short, you’re the same old pretentious liberturdian tool you were back in 2010.

  48. Raging Bee:

    My recommendation is to just stick to the public ridicule, without making demands…

    So it’s perfectly okay for us to complain, as long as our complaints have no actual effect. Got it. Thank you, “professor” Hanley, for once again reminding us evil liberals of our proper place before we caused anyone any inconvenience. (This is also what global-warming denialists say about climate scientists: it’s okay for scientists to increase our knowledge, as long as they don’t use their knowledge to influence policy decisions.)

  49. slc1:

    Re James Hanley @ #26

    I don’t recall that Prof. Coyne and FFRC who have criticized this course, calling for political interference from politicians. They have threatened to go to court which would seem a judicious course of action if the authorities at Ball State refuse to take action.

    Of course, it would be nice if the faculty members in the physics department made their voices heard, given the apparent fact that the chairman of the department is a schmuck, which, apparently hasn’t happened.

    Re Raglng Bee @ #48

    I see no need to place the word professor in quotation marks. Professor Hanley is a member of the faculty at Adrian College, a reputable institution and is also (or at least used to be) chairman of the political science department. Just as I don’t see the need to place the word professor in quotation marks when referring to Prof. Heddle.

  50. Raging Bee:

    slc1: When referring to Hanley, I use the quote-marks because Hanley acts more like a charlatan and a propagandist (possibly as a result of a conditional-donation by corporatarian interest-groups to his employers) than an honest professor.

  51. Raging Bee:

    Hanley: if you want to complain about “undermining academic freedom” and “trampling institutional structures,” then read raven’s comment right before yours. We’re not the ones doing the undermining or trampling.

    The fact that you would accuse us of such things, after a comment that listed worse actions by the other faction, once again shows what disgraceful lying tools you libertarians really are.

  52. slc1:

    Re Ragilng Bee @ #50

    I would note that both Hanley and Heddle get pretty good ratings from their students, for what that might be worth. See the rate my professor web site.

  53. Raging Bee:

    In Hanley’s case, they’re not worth jack shit after all the horseshit he’s shovelled here. There’s no way I’d trust him to teach political science, economics, or in any related field. Heddle at least gets a pass because he teaches physics, which isn’t that closely related to the fields about which he bullshits us here.

  54. dean:

    I agree that it is likely professors Hanley and Heddle do good jobs in their classrooms, but good reviews on rate my professor are irrelevant (just as bad reviews would be). Self-selected popularity contests like that site are amusing but hardly useful.

    The course in question seems to be two: Honors 296 and Astr 151, with the same core syllabus and reading list.
    It has been many years since i majored in physics, but I have to admit I never saw a syllabus for those courses that had course objectives like the ones I pick out here (in bold)

    *The origin of life
    o The origin of complex specified information as relates to biochemical molecules
    o Information theory as applied to molecular biology—no free lunch.
    o The theory of evolution
    o What is the evidence? What is the mechanism?
    o The fossil record
    o Coherence or dissonance with information theory?
    o Theistic evolution
    o Intelligent design (Would have been creationism in my day)
    • The boundaries of science: does naturalism reach an impasse?
    o The origin of the universe
    o Fine-tuning of physical parameters
    o The origin of life
    o Information theory
    o Irreducible complexity
    o Probability and time frames (With no prereqs I’m not sure how much probability can be discussed)
    o Human consciousness
    o Miracles and spirituality <—— In physics (or astronomy)?
    • The correlation between beauty and truth: the intelligibility of nature
    Beauty, complex specified information, and intelligent design: what the universe communicates about God THIS SEEMS TO BE THE BIG ONE

    The summary of the course objectives seems equally disturbing.

    The objectives are to give a scientifically accurate introduction to the origin and development of the physical universe (cosmology) which has led up to the formation of Earth as a uniquely suitable environment to support life. The complexity of physical life (on the molecular level) and the mystery of human consciousness will also be briefly examined. These and other topics provide examples of features of our existence which may lie outside the naturalistic boundaries of science. These will then be considered for their implications relating to the significance and value of human life, and as possible indications of the nature and existence of God

    The entire master syllabus can be found here:
    http://cms.bsu.edu/-/media/WWW/DepartmentalContent/Physics/PDFs/MasterSyllabi/Master%20Syllabus_ASTR151.pdf

  55. tomh:

    @ #43

    3. chose that particular course when there were others available.

    When a student signs up for a science course, she doesn’t expect there to be a religious component, especially a specific religious viewpoint promoted by the professor. She may not be able to drop the course without significant concerns and, if the course is required for any reason, may not be able to drop it at all.

    2. chose that particular college; when they could have chose others

    If the college were advertised as a Christian college that would be one thing. This is a public, nominally secular university where there is no expectation for a student to be proselytized in science class.

    1. chose to go to college when there was no obligation to do so they could have got a job or become unemployed

    If you’re comparing it to secondary school, Indiana, like most states, has compulsory education only through age 15. Every student age 16 and older is there by choice, when they “could have got a job.” Yet a class that promotes a specific religious viewpoint, even if an elective only offered to seniors, all over 15, is clearly unconstitutional. The students are all there by choice, yet they are a captive audience.

  56. Raging Bee:

    Wow, the more specifics we hear about this course, the more disgraceful (and, yes, unconstitutional) it looks. They’re still babbling about “complex specified information?” I hope they finally managed to scrub “cdesign proponentsists” out of their textbooks. The syllabus dean cited is all of the same obvious lies that got kicked to the curb in the Kitzmiller trial.

    This course has no merit whatsoever, either as science or as “philosophy of science.” And all the criticisms of the “boundaries of science” have already been exposed as anti-rationalist propaganda and lies. What’s next — flat-earthism mixed with some blather about the “boundaries of geography?”

    This class needs to be abolished, and whoever authorized it needs to be fired for incompetence and/or fraud.

  57. raven:

    Wow, the more specifics we hear about this course, the more disgraceful (and, yes, unconstitutional) it looks. They’re still babbling about “complex specified information?”

    It’s disgraceful and just straight creationism.

    That syllabus is indeed disturbing.

    Complex specified information and irreducible complexity don’t even exist. They are just creationist bafflegab.

    Information theory as applied to molecular biology—no free lunch.

    WTH??? Many of his talking points were long ago proven to be false. This appears to be a reworking of the Second Law of Thermodynamics lie. Life could exist or evolve unless we had an external energy source. Like maybe a giant fusion reactor 93 million miles away. To falsify this, all you have to do is look out a window during the day.

  58. slc1:

    Re raven @ #57

    It should be noted that the YECs also reject nuclear fusion as the source of the Sun’s energy, claiming that it is generated by gravitational collapse. Kind of hard for gravitational collapse to explain why the Sun is a copious source of neutrinos.

  59. Doug Little:

    What the fuck. Complex specified information? I thought that they haven’t even defined what the hell this is let alone teach it in a physics class. Discraceful.

  60. democommie:

    “Kind of hard for gravitational collapse to explain why the Sun is a copious source of neutrinos.”

    You’re talking about a group of people (fundie anti-everythings) who think that neutrinos were imported to Louisiana in an attempt to establish a new fur industry.

  61. escuerd:

    demmocommie @60,

    Hahaha, not as far off as you may think. I knew someone years ago who, upon hearing something about neutrinos said “Isn’t there a rodent called a neutrino?” I thought he was messing with me, but he was insistent. It took me forever to realize he was thinking about nutrias.

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