Ball State University is looking into complaints by evolutionists that a science and religion class using material on intelligent design is promoting Christianity to its students.
“It is our information and understanding that this class has been used to proselytize students and advance Christianity by using gaps in scientific knowledge—the ‘boundaries of science’—in an attempt to prove religious belief correct,” read a letter sent to the school by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). It goes on to claim that the class “does not appear to be education, but inculcation cloaked in the guise of university education.”
The class, taught by Christian physics and astronomy professor Eric Hedin, asks students to read books by qualified scientists and intelligent design proponents like Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe, as well as journalist Lee Strobel. In Hedin's course description, he says “we will also investigate physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life.”
Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, first blogged about the class, claiming it violated "the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ('freedom of religion') and which had been so interpreted by the courts. It’s religion taught as science in a public university, and it’s not only wrong but illegal.”
Coyne said he approached the department chair to cancel the class, but was rejected. It was only after the FFRF wrote the school a letter that the administration decided to investigate.
But other evolutionists disagree with Coyne’s approach. PZ Myers, an intelligent design critic and biologist at the University of Minnesota, said the class should be allowed. Although he called the idea portrayed in the readings “crap” and “bad science,” he argues that academic freedom allows professors to teach unpopular, controversial issues.
“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,” he wrote in a recent blog post.
The rest of his post goes on to bash Hedin, saying the school is probably trying to keep him in low-level courses and honor or interdisciplinary courses where his “weird views can’t do much harm.”
Casey Luskin, research coordinator of the Discovery Institute, who has worked with similar cases over the years, said that often most of the class is happy to actually have an unrestricted conversation about where humans come from. Only “one or two passionate, intolerant atheist students are on a mission to persecute those who disagree with evolution,” Luskin said. He believes the critical students model behavior from leading new atheists who want to squelch dialogue, and points out that many science classes do teach intelligent design, although often in a negative light.
“If a professor is simply teaching about these ideas … from leading credible and solid scientists from both sides at the university level, I can’t imagine why it’d be considered unconstitutional,” Luskin said. “For most atheists, what they consider proselytizing is hearing intelligent design talked about in a positive way.”