Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ball State Makes the Front Page

USA Today is carrying a story about a professor at Ball State that is, apparently, teaching creationism in science class.  Originally from the Star Press of Muncie, Indiana, the article, written by Seth Slabaugh, has this to say:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, whose mission is to act as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the principle of separation of state and church, filed an objection to Eric Hedin's teaching.

In a letter to BSU President Jo Ann Gora, the group claims Hedin's "Boundaries of Science" Honors College class "takes your school motto, 'Education Redefined,' too far."

"BSU appears to offer a class that preaches religion, yet gives students honors science credit," 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."
If he were teaching these subjects in the context of differing perspectives on origins and creation along with mainstream scientific viewpoints, then the course would probably earn its name. Such would only be the case if the problems of these perspectives were pointed out, however. According to Jerry Coyne, however, that is not what is happening:
"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."
First, there is not a single book by what is commonly known as a "creationist" on the list that Coyne produces in his blog.  Some are ID, quite a few are theistic evolution in bent and some address the fact that there exist components of life beyond science.  It would be more appropriate to call the course "theological ruminations on science," or some such thing but it is pretty clear that nobody is being taught young earth creationism.  I think the charge of undermining genuine science might have some merit with regard to the ID books, but given the reputation of people like Francis Collins, Karl Giberson, Nigel Brush and Roger Penrose, it is pretty hard to argue that genuine science isn't being taught at all.  It might be taught in a philosophical arena, with musings on the ultimate questions of life's origins and things like that but there is nothing necessarily inappropriate about that.   It seems to me that the professor wants his students to try to think beyond the realm of science to address ultimate causes.  It is not clear, in the least, that he "wants his students to believe in Jesus."

In this case, it appears that Coyne has a case of the vapors only because he can't stand religion of any kind.  It sounds like a fun course to take.

2 comments:

  1. 1) Intelligent Design Creationism IS "what is commonly known as a 'creationist'". It retreads all the old Creationist arguments. The only difference between it and older forms of creationism is that it attempts to obfuscate its religious nature (e.g. by relabeling God as "the Intelligent Designer").

    2) The reading list includes Creationists not generally associated with ID, e.g. Lee Spetner.

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  2. This is obviously a philosophy course about science and religion. The use of ID books certainly raises some red flags. I'm wondering why the only book by Polkinghorne included is "Questions of Truth," which he co-wrote with Nicholas Beale. It's a fine book, but it would be more appropriate for a college course to feature Polkinghorne's "Theology in the Context of Science."

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