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Apr 25 2013

I have to disagree with Jerry Coyne

Ball State University has a crap course on their curriculum: they have a crank professor, Eric Hedin, who is pushing religion and creationism in the guise of an astronomy course. It’s bad science and bad teaching, and I think Coyne has adequately document the abysmal quality of the material. It’s all religious apologetics and intelligent design creationism. I’m not going to disagree with that at all, and Ball State ought to be acutely embarrassed.

Unfortunately, this part of Coyne’s disagreement is invalid.

This has to stop, for Hedin’s course, and the University’s defense of it, violate the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“freedom of religion”) and which has been so interpreted by the courts. It’s religion taught as science in a public university, and it’s not only wrong but illegal.  I have tried approaching the University administration, and have been rebuffed.

This will now go to the lawyers.

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.

This kind of thing happens. I’ve known of a couple of cases where faculty go ’round the bend and start flaking out in the classroom, and there’s not much you can do, except what Ball State seems to be doing. Put the person into low level service courses where they have to teach students something basic, like algebra, where their weird views can’t do much harm. Or give them some non-majors elective where they aren’t going to have much influence. I notice in Hedin’s courses that he’s only teaching low level courses and honors/interdisciplinary courses. It looks like maybe the department is doing their best to isolate a problem.

Another option is to take this history into consideration in tenure decisions. Hedin is an assistant professor, and so is probably untenured — the department may be avoiding confrontation until it gets dealt with decisively in Hedin’s tenure year.

If you’ve got a tenured professor who has gone weird on you, it’s a bigger problem…then you’ve got damage that needs to be routed around. Check out Michael Behe’s class schedule at Lehigh, for instance. It looks to me like they’ve carefully placed him only in courses where his ignorance about evolution won’t hurt too much. Are we going to sue Lehigh to get him fired? That won’t work, and is also an insult to a department that is doing their best with a bit of deadwood.

I think it’s very unwise for an atheist professor to pursue legal action against another professor for their religious views. That’s a two-edged sword, and if a university were to cave to public pressure to fire a professor for unpopular views, you know who’d be next.

Now it is possible that the whole physics department at Ball State is full of credulous nitwits who are trying to build a theological perspective into their curriculum. That will be corrected in two ways: they’re going to have a more difficult time hiring good faculty, and as the reputation of their department spreads, they’re going to have a more difficult time recruiting good students. Rot expands, you know. It’s not a good thing to encourage.

But it’s probably premature to threaten a department with legal action for having one dingbat assistant professor.

(via Larry Moran)

78 comments

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  1. 1
    rorschach

    I guess it boils down to public university == public school or not.

    But I agree that legal action by one professor against another over this seems misplaced.

  2. 2
    Glen Davidson

    Just have them teach only courses along with “ancient astronaut theorists,” putting the two crocks on a par with each other. You know, to “teach more,” and “all sides.”

    Okay, these would be completely worthless courses that they’d hate to have in their catalogs, but I’d like to see how tolerant the IDiots would be of other disgustingly stupid ideas.

    Glen Davidson

  3. 3
    Scientismist

    Even an atheist scientist can succumb to the temptation to try to enforce an orthodoxy. Jerry Coyne has been known to delete and ban posts by those who challenge him (I pointed out some inconsistencies in the writings of his favorite philosopher). That’s his privilege as it’s his blog (no, website; he doesn’t like for it to be called a blog); but I will trust that PZ is correct that Jerry has adequately document the abysmal quality of Eric Hedin’s material. I don’t go where I am not welcome.

  4. 4
    golkarian

    Ya, I found Jerry’s response to this rather strange, glad to know someone agrees.

  5. 5
    dongiovanni (Now onto Wagner)

    Well, the university does have a moral duty not to propagate bullshit… an internal resolution would probably be most appropriate. I guess the question is “how far does freedom of speech go”?

  6. 6
    anon4nano

    We have a similar thing at my university – a climate change ‘skeptic’ working in atmospheric physics. I think its probably safer for the university to keep him employed in his role teaching and working on relatively harmless aspects of atmospheric chemistry than risk him going postal and claiming he’s being silenced. Unsurprisingly he is kept at arms length from the climate science group. Interestingly the only complaint I’ve heard about him is he doesnt pull his weight with work. I dont think many people really care about his views.

  7. 7
    Brian DeLue

    He besmirches the good name of Ball State, a university closely affiliated with my own beloved Ohio University. That said, you’re entirely right. This is an ethical question, not a legal one. Here’s hoping the administration at Ball State handle it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

  8. 8
    jt512

    Assistant Professors get to invent their own courses without departmental approval? Who knew?

  9. 9
    michaelbusch

    I’m confused, PZ. Academic freedom is essential, but it also has limits. There’s a still list of just causes for termination of employment, right? Research misconduct, undisclosed conflicts-of-interest, etc. To take one handy example: if I read the UCLA Statement on Academic Freedom correctly, it allows for even tenured faculty to be dismissed for “failure to satisfy faculty-determined academic standards”.
    _
    Would something like that apply in this case? Of course, that would be at the discretion of Ball State, and not something an outside lawyer could compel the university to do.

  10. 10
    Charly

    I am under the impression, that JC’s main beef with this is not the content of the course per se, but that tis course is rewarded with credit in science, which is blatantly wrong, because the course contains no science.

    If it is “just” ethical or also legal problem I do not dare to say.

  11. 11
    brive1987

    You pay for this course right? The word “fraud” drifts into mind.

    Bit like buying something labelled “bomb detector” and finding that under its hood it’s a golf ball finder. All a bit awkward eh?.

  12. 12
    brive1987

    Analogy fails on dis-similarity of the terms “big bang”. :-)

  13. 13
    brive1987

    Seriously though how is this “public square” really different from other non compulsory spaces where officially sanctioned religion is banned (say town halls and army bases). Last time I looked I didn’t have to attend these locations and yet…..

    Where in the constitution does it limit the separation of church and state to obligatory social practices? I suspect PZ has simply made a subjective decision to prioritise academic freedom (obviously of some interest to him) in favour of church/state separation in public funded institutions. And that’s fine – but call it for what it is.

  14. 14
    wcorvi

    As long as this professor is ‘teaching the controversy’, both sides of the issue, the strengths and weaknesses of both, I don’t see a problem. (I have a feeling he isn’t) I taught university astronomy for 30 years, including ID – “Maybe somebody designed it, maybe they didn’t. We can’t tell.” But I also made it clear why astronomers figure the universe is 13.7 billion years old (give or take a few), and what, in astronomy, it would mean if it were much younger. (The two big problems are the rate of expansion and red giant stars) But I also covered the contradiction (now resolved) that globular clusters appeared to be older than that. (Better stellar models solved the dilemma)

  15. 15
    Brad Peters

    I can certainly sympathize with Coyne, but I also agree with PZ. I am a part-time faculty member in a psychology department that is in strong favor of evolutionary psychology. I am a staunch critic of evolutionary psychology, and as a result, I am dismissed and at times ridiculed, and I have no doubt that some faculty members regard me as an unscientific quack. On the other hand, I regard most of them as peddlers of a pseudo-scientific religion.

    In other words, telling students that there might be an invisible man in the sky who created the stars and planets and put a soul in the body, may not be all that different from believing that the mind is like a modular computer shaped by natural selection, which left us with countless highly resolved domain-specific programs dictated by invisible genes hiding somewhere in our biology, and that these genes provide the ‘ultimate’ causal explanation for much human behavior. The second explanation SOUNDS scientific, but it is every bit as religious in my view, as I have recently argued:

    http://modernpsychologist.ca/death-meaninglessness-and-darwinian-heroism/

    I agree, that there has to be some consensus about what science is and how we teach it, but there must also be room for free speech and controversy without threat of lawyers – otherwise all we have is scientistic dogma.

  16. 16
    marcoli

    This is starting to make sense now. I had been wondering why although there were numerous cases where Creationist/ID instruction was struck down in public primary and secondary education, but I had never heard of a case where it happened at public universities. I am seeing now that the whole Establishment Clause of the constitution does not seem to apply against C/ID where it is taught as an elective. That is too bad.
    I also agree that the only way to deal with it is by isolation, but tenure review may not work. If this professor is found to fulfill requirements for tenure then he can be tenured. The class seems popular, for one thing. My old Alma Mater Iowa State University did have the famous case with a creationist astronomer in their astronomy department. He did not get tenure but that was solely b/c he failed to come close to their requirements. His story is spin-doctored the terrible movie ‘Expelled’ as a case of academic suppression, which of course it was not.

  17. 17
    sqlrob

    So you’d be OK with Hovind teaching a course in Evolution for science credit at a real university?

    The problem isn’t the course. The problem is the course being presented as science. If this didn’t give science credit and didn’t present itself as science, I’d have no problem with it, you’re right it shouldn’t matter if it’s controversial or not. However, this is blatant misrepresentation.

  18. 18
    benco

    The thing that bothers me the most about this is that the “honors” course can fulfill the University Core Curriculum science requirement. That’s a failure on a large scale.

  19. 19
    Raging Bee

    In other words, telling students that there might be an invisible man in the sky who created the stars and planets and put a soul in the body, may not be all that different from believing that the mind is like a modular computer shaped by natural selection…

    Um, yeah, those two things are VERY different: teh latter is backed up by at least some evidence, the former is not.

    I agree, that there has to be some consensus about what science is and how we teach it, but there must also be room for free speech and controversy without threat of lawyers – otherwise all we have is scientistic dogma.

    Ah yes, another anti-rationalist crank banging on about “scientific dogma” and pretending that teaching pure crap on someone else’s dime is a “free speech” issue.

    (Has anyone seen Brad Peters and Anthony McCarthy photographed together?)

    Back OT, I believe (though IANAL) that if Ball State is receiving ANY taxpayer money or other state support, then a guy teaching religious BS disguised as “science” could indeed be a violation of the Establishment Clause, even if said BS is only in elective courses. Even if students can avoid him at no cost to themselves, it’s still a guy getting taxpayer money to teach religious BS.

  20. 20
    PZ Myers

    Don’t get me wrong: Hedin is an idiot. I have no sympathy at all for him, and I think his course is damaging to the university’s reputation and to his students’ educational progress. But I bet his peers are already finding him to be a headache, and now that a big name like Coyne has publicized his inanity (an action I approve of — being a professor does not mean you are exempt from public criticism), they’re probably suffering an even bigger headache, and maybe Ball State is waking up to a PR problem.

    What I disagree with is calling for legal action. I suspect any lawyer would dissuade him.

    If we’re going to consider bigger ethical violations, I can think of one: the University of Minnesota has a center for spirituality and healing — an official institution within the U with administrative support — that is a bigger waste of student resources than Hedin. I periodically call on the university to shut it down. But I don’t think I’d get at all far if I hired a lawyer to force them to close it on constitutional grounds.

  21. 21
    Raging Bee

    IMO there are two questions here: Is there a criminal or tort offense being committed here? And if so, is it strategically/tactically wise to pursue legal action? Answer #2 can be no, even if answer #1 is yes.

    As sqlrob said above, teaching religion as science looks an awful lot like fraud, or misuse of funds, and it may be litigable on those grounds. At the very least, the threat of a lawsuit might be considered as a means of focusing public and administrator attention on the issue, if it does’t appear focused enough already.

  22. 22
    OptimalCynic

    Now it is possible that the whole physics department at Ball State is full of credulous nitwits who are trying to build a theological perspective into their curriculum. That will be corrected in two ways: they’re going to have a more difficult time hiring good faculty, and as the reputation of their department spreads, they’re going to have a more difficult time recruiting good students. Rot expands, you know. It’s not a good thing to encourage.

    That almost sounds like a free market argument.

  23. 23
    pHred

    Just FYI – I found this listed on that link you provided ….

    RESPONSIBLE CONDUCT OF SCIENCE – 40625 – BIOS 408 – 010
    Associated Term: 2013 Fall Semester
    Levels: Graduate, Undergraduate
    CAS On Campus Campus
    Lecture Schedule Type
    0.000 Credits
    View Catalog Entry
    Scheduled Meeting Times Type Time Days Where Date Range Schedule Type Instructors
    Class TBA TBA Aug 26, 2013 – Dec 06, 2013 Lecture Michael J. Behe (P)E-mail

    My only consolation is that the course is listed as being worth zero credits.

  24. 24
    iknklast

    I think my real problem is that they are usually put into teaching my subject – Environmental Science. Since that is often perceived as not “real” science, and it’s assumed that anyone can teach it, and that all environmental scientists are new age cranks, and since it’s perceived that it doesn’t matter, they stick anyone and everyone teaching that course. In reality, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You end up with a lot of cranks teaching total nonsense in the Environmental Science class, the students go out and spew the nonsense in ill-informed protests, and bad policy gets made. In many of those protests, they may be protesting something that legitimately needs protesting, but because they’re doing it with bad science they are easily defeated by the white lab-coat wearing guys on the other side, and bad policy gets made because they used New Age or Christian stewardship arguments instead of good, solid scientific arguments that would stand up under scrutiny.

    So I would say I find myself torn on this. I do think it’s an academic freedom issue, but I hate to see what the university might consider an unimportant course where they can’t do any harm. And non-majors courses? Those can be particularly bad, because in majors courses, the students are probably going to have the rest of their instructors give them corrective information. For the non-majors taking only one science course, you may have created a monster.

    So yes, academic freedom. But please, let’s be careful about where we put them, and what we say won’t hurt.

  25. 25
    Xanthë, Amy of my threads

    That course is worthless in the context of a physics and astronomy curriculum, but at least the syllabus is published so that students should know ahead of time that the content is mushy accomodationist pap and pseudo-science.

    There would in fact be a much stronger case for academic sanction if the syllabus had hidden the fact that Hedin is pushing various creationist and Intelligent Design bullshit, say, by a complaint from the students that Hedin was grossly departing from the syllabus. Instead, Hedin is trying to hide that crap in plain sight, so it would perhaps be beholden on the students to boycott enrolling in the class by sharing knowledge that it has a crap reputation.

    Instead I suspect from the student feedback that the way Hedin teaches the subject makes it a lazy two-hours-a-week bludge requiring little effort to pass – which students are often grateful for when their other core physics and mathematics subjects in the curriculum can be pretty tough work.

  26. 26
    1setter

    I think this kind of thing may take care of itself. I just attended the national geography convention in LA. A Clemson professor gave a talk about his course on the spiritual feelings one gets from navigating a labyrinth and how that was somehow related to geography. He then said that the course was presently on hold because of ‘attendance’ problems.

  27. 27
    jaranath

    I agree with PZ’s points but I also agree with brive1987. I don’t see how the non-compulsory nature of this course changes the fact that government resources are being used to promote religion. That’s still illegal, I think. If we’re carving out a specific exception here for academic freedom, maybe I could go with that, but is there legal precedent?

  28. 28
    Xanthë, Amy of my threads

    Troll sockpuppet clean-up on aisle 28 required, stat!

    Bill Hicks [hush]​ [hide comment] 26 April 2013 at 9:21 am (UTC -5) I love this. It proves PhDs are ivory tower morons. One (Behe) is a complete moron (ID proponent). Another (Coyne) is slightly a moron (Do what I want or I’ll sue!). The last (P Zed) is an intermittent moron (right on ID, wrong on everything else). Also: All three are Exhibit A when it comes to ending tenure. Time to make these ivory tower denizens fully accountable for their actions, and force them to compete in an increasingly dynamic world. Force them to compete like the other 99.999% that don’t have tenure protections. (P Zed: I’ll just use Tor, or other proxy services if needed.)

  29. 29
    David Marjanović

    if I read the UCLA Statement on Academic Freedom correctly, it allows for even tenured faculty to be dismissed for “failure to satisfy faculty-determined academic standards”.

    At the other extreme, in France the joke goes that once you’re tenured, you can only be fired if you kill your boss, his wife, and their children.

    That almost sounds like a free market argument.

    It’s an empirical fact that the free market works as advertized under some conditions and fails, sometimes epically so, under others. Stop trying to make an ideology out of this and projecting it into other people’s heads.

  30. 30
    michaelbusch

    @wcorvi @14:

    There is no “controversy” to be taught. ID is an entirely religious idea that does not include the sort of entirely non-interventionist gods of gaps that are not currently excluded by science.

  31. 31
    michaelbusch

    @Bill Hicks:

    Cut the crap.

  32. 32
    raven

    Professors like Hedin are a side effect of tenure.

    You just have to deal with them and hope the good of tenure outweighs the bad.

    They really should transfer him to a better fitting department. Religious studies, philosophy, or the Department of Crackpot Theories.

    It happens occasionally and it isn’t just professors who go crackpot. The day one of my professors got tenure, he came in smiling and said, “I’ll never have to work another day in my life.”

    We all laughed, funny joke. He never did another experiment in his entire career. The U. just carried him on for 30 years. They assigned him to teach the intro course in the department. He was so incoherent, they also had to assign another assistant prof. to team teach it.

  33. 33
    w00dview

    @ iknklast

    I’m curious what kind of crankery would get taught in Environmental Science? Shit about positive energy and a heap of the natural fallacy or something else?

  34. 34
    iknklast

    w00dview:

    Perfect oneness of the universe. Everything is perfectly designed to work together. All chemicals are bad. Genetically engineered food is less nutritious. Those are the left wing.

    Right wing. Global warming is a hoax perpetrated by scientists who want to get rich and destroy the free market. All chemicals are good. There is no such thing as evolution.

    You get the picture. Many of the left-wing environmental science teachers follow gurus, and talk about plants having souls and liking music. The right wing ones simply channel Fox News.

  35. 35
    cyberCMDR

    So, if this nut gives a test and the student answers it correctly (i.e. without the Godbot explanation), can the student sue if they are downgraded for the correct answer?

  36. 36
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I don’t see how the non-compulsory nature of this course changes the fact that government resources are being used to promote religion. That’s still illegal, I think.

    Actually, at the college level, no. Since college isn’t compulsory, and religion is still considered a valid area of study.

  37. 37
    whoknew

    The course description said that the class would focus on how physics relates to current society and human issues.

    I was surprised the course description gave no indication of there being intelligent design introduced.

    There are several professors who teach this course (although not usually in the same semester), and they are all allowed to choose their own topics and create their own syllabus. However, when choosing which section to take, there is no way to know what will be discussed.

    I have friends who took another section that had no discussion of intelligent design. I thought I was signing up for that one!

    I was just surprised that this class was being taught as a science class. If a student is not a science major, this could possibly one out of two science classes that student will take in their entire college career.

    I have nothing against Dr. Hedin, or what he believes. As a teacher, he is superb, I just don’t think this should be in the science department. Perhaps it would be better suited in a philosophy department, or just better described in the course description.

  38. 38
    amitxjoshi

    I don’t think the 1st amendment violation is as clear here as in public schools, but neither do I think it’s as clearly violation-free as PZ believes.

    An elective course explicitly in Christianity or ID would be perfectly fine. In fact, that would probably be ok in public schools as well, with a few caveats, perhaps–are equivalent courses offered in other religions, are there enough alternative courses so it’s truly an elective, etc.

    But Ball State presumably is a public university, deriving at least a big chunk of its budget from taxes. So it IS subject to 1st amendment obligations. I don’t understand PZ’s point about students not being required to attend university–students aren’t required to attend public schools either. And unlike (say) Catholic schools, public schools and universities have an obligation to be secular.

    Finally, the course isn’t, in fact, an elective course on Christianity or ID. It is a course on astronomy. If Christian dogma is taught in an astronomy course, then it constitutes preaching, in a way that an elective course on Christianity wouldn’t. In the latter case, the study of Christianity would be considered an academic pursuit; in the former case, it’s propaganda, because a specific religious viewpoint colors material in an unrelated, secular subject.

    It’s very much like requiring all students in (say) a calculus class say a Hail Mary at the start of every class.

  39. 39
    Sastra

    PZ wrote:

    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.

    Over at Jerry’s I agreed with his approach — but apparently the legal issue is more complicated than I thought. The fact that this course is being taught as a science course for science credit in a public university on the surface does look like a violation of the separation of church and state. But if different rules apply for universities, then it probably doesn’t matter what it looks like on the surface.

    I think this problem is running right into the problem which was hidden inside the Dover decision: you can’t legally teach ID creationism not because it is WRONG, but because it is religious — and the judged affirmed the legal presumption that science has nothing to say about the truth or falsehood of anything religious. The truth then is beside the point. The only thing the law cares about is whether or not a view can be tied to ‘religion.’ Which makes it illegal to teach creationism … but perfectly legal to teach ancient astronaut theory, homeopathy, and ghost hunting on the public dime. The supernatural is separated from “religion” and religion is made safe from scientific scrutiny.

    Frankly, I think I’d rather Hedin was thrown out on ethical AND scientific grounds. Unlike Dover’s separation of religion-and-science perspective, it places the focus where it belongs.

  40. 40
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    . I don’t understand PZ’s point about students not being required to attend university–students aren’t required to attend public schools either.

    Read up on truancy laws. Yes, some type of education is compulsory until a certain age.

    Which makes it illegal to teach creationism

    Sorry, it doesn’t make it illegal to teach creationism in the public schools. It just can’t be branded as science and forced on science classes in the public schools. It can still be taught in comparative religion courses (which are also perfectly legal), philosophy, or mythology courses.

  41. 41
    birgerjohansson

    It would be fun if Hedin is a distant relative of Swedish explorer Sven Hedin, last swede to get a knighthood and good friend of Adolf Hitler (this is not a Godwin, it is the truth: he was the only swede to show up and say farwell to the German embassy personnel when they took a train home in the summer of 1945).
    But I don’t know if Sven was religious.

  42. 42
    screechymonkey

    As far as I know, the legalities here are very much an open question. The major precedents of which we’re all aware have, to the best of my recollection, all arisen in the context of high schools. I don’t think that’s an indication of the legal merits one way or the other, I think it’s just that this kind of situation doesn’t arise that much at public universities, because creationists tend to focus their efforts on pre-secondary education. (In fact, I think either PZ or Jerry Coyne recently posted on how the ID movement’s insistence on marketing to high schools rather than institutes of higher learning further puts the lie to its pretensions of being an academic movement.)

    I suspect that’s a combination of creationists’ belief that you have to get ‘em young, that students who want to student science at a public university are already being exposed to so much godless liberal propaganda that they’re probably a lost cause anyway, that universities are a much tougher target (their curricula are less tightly regulated by the state in general, I think), and that public high schools while not technically compulsory are at least a highly preferred option.

    Plus, I think that for many of its proponents, creationism, like school prayer, is less about controlling their own children and more about using government to pressure other people’s children into believing “this is a Christian nation.” Having goddified science courses at public universities might be useful for churning out the next generation of Templeton candidates, but they already have their private religious schools for that.

    All of which is to say that I don’t know how a legal challenge would go on this, but I don’t think this is the leading edge of a trend.

  43. 43
    jaranath

    Nerd:

    amitxjoshi said it better than I was planning to. The point, I think, is that this isn’t a course on religion. It is ostensibly a science course, and (apparently) is effectively religious proselytization. I doubt the legality of both. Even when it comes to the idea of this being a class on religion, if it’s actually proselytizing, my take would be that’s illegal, or should be if the courts have interpreted otherwise (anyone know?), because it still represents government promoting religion.

    To me, the problem with government saying or helping someone say “Religion is awesome and you should believe it!” starts with “Religion is awesome!”

  44. 44
    unclefrogy

    I agree with the general opinion here that if it is religion as science it is bad and should not be taught as science.
    In reading this thread I started to think about it a little differently I have no way to know for sure about the course as taught.
    From the syllabus it does sound like a religion class but how is it actually taught?
    We have seen here before description of science classes as that were nothing but christian apologetics and creationism. so how is this class actually taught. I do not doubt that some here could easily follow the class description as given but imply a very different conclusion and in stead install considerable doubt about the reality of the mythological origin of reality.
    Could this course not be aimed at those students who have a strong religious perspective and introduce them to the other point of view in a less threatening way then just jumping into a “pure science” course.
    I would like to be optimistic maybe I have too much imagination.

    uncle frogy

  45. 45
    eleutheria

    > the department may be avoiding confrontation until it gets dealt with decisively in Hedin’s tenure year.

    Obviously the issue isn’t first amendment so much as incompetence.

    Can’t you fire him at the end of the academic year? Isn’t that the point of (non-)tenured professors, that you can let them go? Why would they have to wait the X years until his tenure year?

  46. 46
    nullifidian

    brive @ #13:

    Seriously though how is this “public square” really different from other non compulsory spaces where officially sanctioned religion is banned (say town halls and army bases). Last time I looked I didn’t have to attend these locations and yet…..

    Officially sanctioned religion is banned from town halls and army bases? Have you ever heard of an Army chaplain or of prayers delivered before town hall meetings? And again, the justification for retaining these is that nobody has to attend a meeting or seek out a chaplain.

    Where in the constitution does it limit the separation of church and state to obligatory social practices? I suspect PZ has simply made a subjective decision to prioritise academic freedom (obviously of some interest to him) in favour of church/state separation in public funded institutions. And that’s fine – but call it for what it is.

    The question is not “where in the constitution” but “where in the case law”? And the case law is very clear that there’s a more relaxed approach to the public university vis-a-vis the public K-12 school. And even if we had strict enforcement of the separation of church and state at the university level, it’s not clear that this course would be banned anyway. Ball State is not (I am assuming) requiring that its professors teach ID’s nonsense in class, otherwise we’d have heard about this sooner. Therefore it is only one individual who is not necessarily acting as an agent of the government. That is the crucial point: who counts as a state actor. Just because tax dollars may go in part to pay his salary (although in practice there’s also tuition, endowments, grants, etc.), it doesn’t mean that he’s legally seen as a state actor promoting a state agenda.

  47. 47
    w00dview

    @ iknklast

    It has been a long, busy day…forgot I asked this question! Wow, that is really crap. I thought it was just the anti GMO, new age cranks but you have got climate denying right wingers as well? Damn that is a lot of stupid. You have my sympathies. I never knew environmental science was where they dumped all the kooks.

  48. 48
    brive1987

    Nullifidian,

    Not sure about case law but I’ll assume you have specific knowledge. I was arguing that on principle no public space should be exempt from the 1st. PZ seemed to claim that public universities had a special status not accorded other locations that did not require attendance. In general (i know broad generalisation) the atheist movement is keen to adopt a firm line, but not it seems in what are hopefully liberal institutions.

    The examples I was referring to were atheist opposition to memorial (non compulsory “attendance”) crosses on Marine Corps land and (say) nativity scenes on public space that you could in theory simply avoid.

    I assume a state employed professor doesnt get a free card by being deemed an independent agent?

    If as you say the law is selectively applied then I’d expect an uproar from the secular community. Apparently not.

  49. 49
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    The examples I was referring to were atheist opposition to memorial (non compulsory “attendance”) crosses on Marine Corps land and (say) nativity scenes on public space that you could in theory simply avoid.

    The examples you cite are about “inclusiveness”. Either they include all religions, which makes them permissable, or religion is ignored. By having only one symbol, it becomes “establishment of religion” by the state.

  50. 50
    raven

    I didn’t realize that the crackpot didn’t have tenure.

    What is it with astronomers anyway? The field seems to breed crackpots.

    Martin Gaskell who ended up costing U. of Kentucky a lot of money simply by applying for a job.

    Guillermo Gutirrez, the one in Iowa who didn’t get tenure and sued the U.. And lost.

    Hugh Ross, astronomer turned professional creationist leader.

    That weird guy at JPL who was laid off and sued them and lost.

    If Ball state is smart, they already know that if the guy doesn’t get tenure he will sue and claim xian persecution. They always, always do. They have to do what JPL did, build up a paper trail about one light year long first or pay him a lot of money to go away.

  51. 51
    Masquirina

    Well, I guess he can only hope that students take it upon themselves to find course/professor reviews, and register for something more useful (Basketweaving 101, Kabob Twirling, etc.).

  52. 52
    brive1987

    Nerd, True, though most “inclusive” efforts at public religious expression tend to be Christian smoke screen – like classic ID. I note in this specific case the course literature and student reviews are predominantly christian based ( from the referenced article).

    But to be clear. The real issue here isn’t academic freedom. It’s a science course teaching a religious interpretation of astronomy. At a public university. Officially sanctioned.

    And increasingly the issue is our lack of resolve. I have never seen a group of atheists back down from 1st Amendment in education and so quickly seek loopholes to justify inaction -and rule out legal challenges.

    “Y’know we don’t like it, but hey there’s academic free speech at risk, and y’know if we ignore it and push it in a corner then it doesn’t really count and y’know I think there’s some exemption for universities from 1st amendment anyway so it’s a non issue and …. umm…. I’m sure the uni will do something sometime … “

  53. 53
    brive1987

    The solution of course is simple. Move it out of the science Department and into a soft area of study where a religious interpretation of science makes some sense. And ensure it is a proper comparative religious take and not pseudo Christian proselytising.

  54. 54
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    But to be clear. The real issue here isn’t academic freedom. It’s a science course teaching a religious interpretation of astronomy. At a public university. Officially sanctioned.

    No, it’s academic freedom, within the course description. Unless you have been in academia, you don’t understand what academic freedom means and the lengths the administration/faculty will go to defend it. As it does apply to them.

  55. 55
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    The solution of course is simple. Move it out of the science Department and into a soft area of study where a religious interpretation of science makes some sense. And ensure it is a proper comparative religious take and not pseudo Christian proselytising.

    I agree with your solution…to a degree. But you are still under the impression colleges are just super high schools. They operate under separate rules. Mostly due to the voluntary nature of attending college, which is well established in law. When you try to extrapolate laws for public high schools unto state colleges/universities, it doesn’t work. Category error.

  56. 56
    ladyatheist

    “If Ball state is smart, they already know that if the guy doesn’t get tenure he will sue and claim xian persecution. ”

    He’s still an assistant professor many years after the first postings about him on ratemyprofessor.com The department’s website has advertising for a tenure-track position and for a contract position. My guess is that he’s on a year-to-year contract…. in which case they can simply not renew his contract. But first they’ll have to fill those other positions plus one to get someone to take over his course load. I wonder how many applicants withdrew their names this week.

  57. 57
    brive1987

    Nerd, I wasn’t aware the principle of the 1 Amendment could be boiled down to a “high school law”.

    But you are right, I do see a public education body using public money to teach a Christian interpretation of science and claiming a transcendent right to bastardise education off the public purse. All wrapped up with a form of special pleading (“those rules dont apply to us, we are special, we are tertiary”)

    The general concept of academic freedom is being misapplied here as being somehow relevant to basic curriculum courses taught to kids still learning to learn. What we have here is an “objective” wrong.

    I’m still amazed though. Some academic gumby writes a silly fiction story and let’s slip his “Bewitched” era gender stereotypes and we let fly to the point where real world demands are made of his University. But here we twist and turn, invoke magical get out of jail free terms, equivocate and end up accommodating a Christian science course. It’s amazing how flexible certain principles can be when we suddenly get skin in the game.

  58. 58
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Nerd, I wasn’t aware the principle of the 1 Amendment could be boiled down to a “high school law”.

    Belief me, I am against proselytizing as much as you. But reading many years of SCOTUS decisions on subject a pattern has emerged. It isn’t the pattern I would like, but it is reality. And reality says a world of difference between high school and college.

    For example, somebody sued because veterans were being paid to attend babble schools to become preachers with their benefits. The plantiffs lost because: a) college level, and b) monies were compensation for serving, and up to Congress to set the rules.

  59. 59
    brive1987

    Point taken, and apologies if I come cross OTT.

    There still seems to be a difference between your “can’t sue” and PZs “shouldn’t sue” but I guess I will settle with sending a concerned email to Ball State, and taking a cold shower.

  60. 60
    coelsblog

    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.

    By that argument the government could fund and promote churches, since no-one is forced to attend them. The first amendment says government money cannot promote or establish religion, not merely that it cannot do so in K-12 education.

  61. 61
    nullifidian

    PZ seemed to claim that public universities had a special status not accorded other locations that did not require attendance.

    And so it does. There is no requirement that what is taught in a public university be viewpoint neutral, nor that professors be precluded from mentioning their religious (or political, social, economic, artistic, etc. etc.) views. It’s not just that they don’t require attendance, but that the people who are being taught are legally adults or students who are intellectually advanced enough to educated at an adult level. It is presumed that these people will not necessarily be swayed even by open affirmations of faith by those in authority.

    The examples I was referring to were atheist opposition to memorial (non compulsory “attendance”) crosses on Marine Corps land and (say) nativity scenes on public space that you could in theory simply avoid.

    And neither of these are clear-cut establishment clause violations, so they cannot be used to make a point against the “Well, you could just avoid it” response. The rulings on creches, taken as a whole, can be described most succinctly as completely incoherent, and the rulings on crosses are scarcely better. (As an aside, I strongly recommend Peter H. Irons’ God on Trial: Dispatches from America’s Religious Battlefields, which covers several recent establishment clause cases, including the litigation about my city’s Mt. Soledad Cross. Irons was also the man who wrote a delightful response to Stuart Pivar when he threatened to sue PZ and Seed Media over a bad review on Pharyngula.)

    But even taking them as clear-cut violations, the issue at hand in these cases is the appearance of state endorsement of a sectarian religion. That cannot apply to this case because there is no evidence that anybody at Ball State has singled out Hedin’s course for favoritism, and you can still get a proper education in evolution or astronomy from any of Hedin’s less godbothering colleagues.

    I assume a state employed professor doesnt get a free card by being deemed an independent agent?

    Not completely free—a professor cannot discriminate against students on the basis of religion or any other characteristic but academic achievement—but she or he does get the right to decide on the content of the course. If Hedin is teaching religion as science, that is not an establishment clause violation for the reasons I’ve already discussed, but it is a case of bad teaching. And the courts should not be roped into ruling on who is or isn’t a bad teacher; that should be left to the judgment of their colleagues.

    To illustrate the problem, let’s assume that that the IDiots actually were entirely successful in their ostensible program and were able to produce sufficient evidence to convince the scientific community that ID was true and that the designer is the God of the Bible. Such an event might in itself be regarded as a miracle, but I digress. Would you then forbid the discussion of ID in science classes? It’s religious antecedents haven’t been diminished in any way—instead they’ve been strengthened by the fact that the designer is now definitively known to be the Christian God. And yet it would be ridiculous to state that having confirmed all this scientifically, we couldn’t then teach it in science class. Such a reaction would amount to viewpoint discrimination because the only reason for exclusion would be based on enforcing atheism. And that reasoning even applies at the K-12 level, which is why the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller first had to show that ID wasn’t a proper scientific theory, and then show that the reason the school board wanted to include it was because of its religious ideology.

    If as you say the law is selectively applied then I’d expect an uproar from the secular community. Apparently not.

    There is a difference between selective application of the law and trying to apply the law where the law just doesn’t go.

  62. 62
    nullifidian

    Damn it, I can’t believe I used an apostrophe for “its”. But it’s 20 minutes to 9 on a Saturday morning, so I’ll plead grogginess.

  63. 63
    Tony Castleberry

    It is rare that I disagree to any extent with P.Z. Meyers but you are wrong on this one. Academic freedom does not grant one license to teach that watching “Mythbusters” causes cancer, that eating potato chips is a symptom of psychosis or that Creationism is science, unless you are talking about a private (religious) school.

  64. 64
    Nick Gotts

    It is rare that I disagree to any extent with P.Z. Meyers

    Fair enough – but why are you telling us this on P.Z. Myers’ blog?

  65. 65
    Tony Castleberry

    “Fair enough – but why are you telling us this on P.Z. Myers’ blog?”

    Uh, did you read the post or just the first sentence? Because your question here makes little sense.

  66. 66
    Ichthyic

    hint, Tony…

    what’s in a name?

  67. 67
    chigau (違う)

    Tony Castleberry
    The fact that you misspelled PZ’s name is usually taken as a sign that you are less than credible.

  68. 68
    Tony Castleberry

    I see what I did now and the first post makes sense as a humorous ribbing so my apologies for that.

    But really guys? I live next door to a Fred Meyers. It was an honest mistake. I have been reading P.Z. Myers’ blog for years and years now and you find me suspect because the second or third time I commented I typed too fast and unconsciously put an extra ‘e’ in there?! I am an atheist and a science advocate who takes on Creationists far and wide all across the web. I think your paranoia is misplaced.

  69. 69
    chigau (違う)

    Tuny Caztlebarry
    Are you joking?
    You can’t be arsed to check spelling when you are making a profound, earth-shaking comment like your #63?
    Well, I never.

  70. 70
    Eric Crippen

    You may claim academic freedom, but the credit for this class shouldn’t be in the science category. Maybe philosophy or religion.

  71. 71
    Ichthyic

    I have been reading P.Z. Myers’ blog for years and years now

    FWIW, if that’s the case, I can’t imagine how you missed that as ribbing, given how it’s a rather well known meme that PZ’s detractors (especially the Disco Tute) typically mispell his name.

  72. 72
    enstrom8

    There is a strong element of ridicule running through this thread in regard to Mr. Hedin. Crank, weirdo, idiot, bullshit, moron. It must be comforting to have so much mutual reinforcement of your own superiority in dealing with a cretin like Mr. Hedin. But then academia has a strong pack mentality. Any threat to the status quo or current group think must be squashed or obliterated. Darwinian evolution has now become such a monolithic dogma that high priests are necessary to maintain orthodoxy. Many of them have been posting here. Come to think of it, Inquisitors were able to force many infidels to recant and such methods would probably work on Mr. Hedin. You are many and he is just one. You should be able to completely silence him and anyone else who may challenge orthodoxy.

  73. 73
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Darwinian evolution has now become such a monolithic dogma that high priests are necessary to maintain orthodoxy.

    Citation needed, as this is an unevidenced assertion that can be dismissed.

  74. 74
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You should be able to completely silence him and anyone else who may challenge orthodoxy.

    Challenge orthodoxy all you want. Just play by the rules and science and have the evidence to support your claims. A Noble Prize awaits those who do it right.

  75. 75
    Ichthyic

    But then academia has a strong pack mentality

    ironically, and entirely counter to your position, the entire OP is dealing with the DISAGREEMENT between academics on this very issue.

    you cretinous shallow thinking twit.

  76. 76
    Ichthyic

    You should be able to completely silence him and anyone else who may challenge orthodoxy.

    *yawn*

    next you’ll be telling us, in this very thread, how you have been silenced….

  77. 77
    John Morales

    enstrom8:

    It must be comforting to have so much mutual reinforcement of your own superiority in dealing with a cretin like Mr. Hedin.

    You know exactly how that feels, since you are doing what you accuse others of doing.

    Darwinian evolution has now become such a monolithic dogma that high priests are necessary to maintain orthodoxy.

    What? This guy is a professor, not a high priest — though I grant he obviously feels it necessary to maintain religious orthodoxy by preaching against science.

    You are many and he is just one. You should be able to completely silence him and anyone else who may challenge orthodoxy.

    You are projecting your own authoritarian streak on others no less than your preferred tactics.

    Had you read the OP and the comments, the only silencing proposed is that he shouldn’t be allowed to push religion and creationism in the guise of an astronomy course.

  78. 78
    Rey Fox

    What you call “orthodoxy”, we call “being right”.

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