Eric Hedin, an assistant professor of physics at Ball State University, has come under fire for an honors course called, “Boundaries of Science.” The problem: the course appears to be little more than thinly veiled Christian evangelism. From The USA Today:
“BSU appears to offer a class that preaches religion, yet gives students honors science credit,&rdqu; foundation attorney Andrew Seidel wrote to Gora. “BSU appears to have a class with a non-biologist undermining genuine science and scholarship of the Ball State biology department by teaching creationism, a religious belief … masquerading as science.&rdqu;
Hedin and department chair Tom Robertson declined to comment to The Star Press.
But Provost Terry King, a chemical engineer and the university’s chief academic officer, said, “Faculty own the curriculum. In large part, it’s a faculty matter. But we have to ensure that our teaching is appropriate. All I have so far is a complaint from an outside person. We have not had any internal complaints. But we do take this very seriously and will look into it.”
He added that the class is an elective course and not part of the core curriculum.
“All the books are by creationists, IDers (intelligent designers), or people who try to show that science gives evidence for God,” evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, a professor at the University of Chicago, told The Star Press, referring to the bibliography for Hedin’s course. “There are no straight science books.”
It appears Hedin “presents a non-view of science in a science class,” said Coyne, author of the book Why Evolution is True.
“The students are being duped. It’s straight theology with no alternatives. It’s a straight Christian intelligent design/creationist view of the world, which is wrong. It’s not science. It’s not that it’s not science, it’s science that has been discredited. It’s like saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.”
Especially interesting is the response of some of the other faculty, as quoted in the article:
He suspects Hedin is “asking people to think a little broader, outside the box, which causes controversy. It’s funny.”
Ruth Howes, a retired professor from the department who now lives in Santa Fe, said, “The people I know in the department are very straightforward thinkers. I don’t think they mean to preach to anybody, except possibly F = ma (one of Newton’s laws of motion).”
Hedin replaced Howes when she retired.
“It is the university’s job to help students understand viewpoints that differ from their own,” Howes said. “Students are not expected to totally agree with these viewpoints, but they are expected to understand them. I think that is probably what professor Hedin is trying to do, and I would expect the university to back this effort thoroughly. For example, if I were teaching a class on Islam, I would not expect students to convert to Islam, but I would expect them to understand the basic tenants that Muslims believe.”
These explanations are not credible in the face of the reading list for the course:
Behe, Michael, Darwin’s Black Box (1998).
Brush, Nigel, The Limitations of Scientific Truth. Why Science Can’t Answer Life’s Ultimate Questions, (2005).
Collins, Francis, The Language of God, A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, (2007).
Consolmagno, Guy, God’s Mechanics, (2008).
Davies, Paul, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? (2006).
Davies, Paul, The Mind of God. The Scientific Basis for a Rational World, 1992.
Davies, Paul, The 5th Miracle (1999).
Dembski, William A. “Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information”
Dubay, Thomas, “The Evidential Power of Beauty. Science and Theology Meet”, 1999.
Flew, Antony, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, (2008).
Gange, Robert “Origins and Destiny” (1985). Online: http://www.ccel.us/gange.toc.html
Giberson, Karl W. and Collins, Francis S. The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions, (2011).
Gingerich, Owen, God’s Universe (2006).
Gonzalez, Guillermo The Privileged Planet (2004).
Lennox, John, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (2007).
Lennox, John, God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway? (2011).
Lewis, C. S., Miracles, (1947).
Malone, John, Unsolved Mysteries of Science, (2001).
Meyer, Stephen C., “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories”, Proc. of the Biological Society of Washington, 117, 213 (2004).
Meyer, Stephen C., Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (2010)
Penfield, Wilder, The Mystery of the Mind (1975).
Penrose, Roger, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, (2005).
Polkinghorne, John and Beale, Nicholas, Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions About God, Science, and Belief, (2009).
Quastler, Henry “The Emergence of Biological Organization” (1964).
Ross, Hugh The Creator and the Cosmos (2001).
Ross, Hugh Why the Universe is the Way it is (2008).
http://www.reasons.org (Extensive materials on reasons for faith and science).
Ross and Rana, “Origins of Life” (2004).
Schroeder, Gerald L., The Hidden Face of God. Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth, 2001.
Seeds, Michael A., Astronomy: The Solar System and Beyond, 3rd Ed. (2003).
Spetner, Lee, Not by Chance (1996).
Strobel, Lee, The Case for a Creator. A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence that Points Toward God, 2004.
Von Baeyer, Hans Christian, Information: The New Language of Science, (2003).
Sorry, but that reading list has nothing to do with expanding students’ horizons. That’s just straight up Christian evangelism. There’s no attempt at balance, and there’s very little in the way of straight science. Worse, several of the entries on that list are outright garbage. Lee Spetner’s book Not By Chance, for example, is just one of those sleazy creationist tomes that has no place in any serious science course, regardless of the religious viewpoint of the professor. If you know rudimentary probability theory and a smidgeon of biology, it should be obvious within a few pages that Spetner hasn’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about. Similar criticisms could be leveled at anything by Lee Strobel, Hugh Ross, or Gerald Schroeder. Including these books in any course related to science is the equivalent of reading books by Ann Coulter in a political science class.
For that matter, if a political science professor based his course reading list on Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and Sean Hannity, that would be prima facie evidence that it was not a serious course at all. But Hedin’s reading list is little better.
To seal the deal, the article reports on some student comments about the course:
Some of the students who have taken Hedin’s class have reported on Rate My Professor that he is a very nice guy who “constantly talks religion,” has “an extremely Christian bias and does not believe in evolution,” and who is “constantly bringing religion into class,” Seidel complained to Gora.
The right is constantly going-on about left-wing indoctrination in college courses. You can be sure that they would go ballistic over a professor who constantly talks about atheism or who is constantly criticizing religion in class. Well, there’s plenty of right-wing indoctrination as well. There are unprofessional people on both sides who are willing to use their classrooms as their own personal soapboxes.
A professor can make clear his own viewpoint without being dogmatic and one-sided. If I were teaching a course about the religious implications of evolution, I would not try to hide my skepticism about the possibility of reconciling Christianity and evolution. But I would also be sure to include readings from the best writers on the other side, and I would treat their views respectfully in class discussions. I would consider it irresponsible to do anything else. The extremely one-sided nature of Hedin’s reading list is very troubling, as his inclusion of cranks and crackpots.
Jerry Coyne has been covering this extensively, and he has argued that, since Ball State is a public university, this course represents a first amendment violation. I’m pretty sure he’s wrong about that. Professors at public universities are not agents of the state in the same way that public high school teachers are. But I don’t really know this area of the law. Is there no point at which the first amendment comes into play? What if I conducted my class like a Pentecostal preacher and graded my students based on their ability to convince me they had come to Jesus? That would certainly be unprofessional, but it would specifically violate the first amendment? Would it matter if the course were required or not? If anyone knows of any court cases on this point I’d love to hear about them.
It also makes me queasy to have outsiders tell college professors what they can and cannot do in the classroom. As bad as this course appears to be, trying to shut him down would be even worse. When the creationists start arguing that it’s a first amendment violation for a biology department to teach about evolution, we want them to be laughed at. I think it’s better just to glare at him in faculty meetings, and let him teach his course.
But I do think it would be perfectly reasonable to take this seriously during annual reviews and tenure evaluations. If the course is as bad as it appears, then his behavior is at least arguably unethical. I would want to take a good hard look at what sort of assignments he assigns and how they are graded, for example. Academic freedom counts for a lot, but at some point your department gets to say that it does not approve of your activities.
I would feel the same way about any professor who was constantly pushing atheism in a science class. College professors are given quite a lot of latitude, and they have considerable power over their students. It is incumbent on us to be responsible in our use of that power. Our job is to educate, not indoctrinate. That doesn’t mean completely suppressing our own views and opinions, but it does often mean giving respectful treatment of views different from our own.
Frankly, I don’t understand professors who preach and indoctrinate on class. In my math courses it’s all I can do to get the students to do the problems right. Who has time to worry about anything else?