Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Discovery Institute Attacks Ball State's Decision to Allow Atheistic Seminar

The Discovery Institute has written an open letter to Jo Ann Gora, the president of Ball State University, asking her to be consistent with regard to the treatment of protected speech on campus.  Christian NewsWire reports:  
"If Ball State is going to ban faculty speech favoring intelligent design by claiming that it would violate the separation of church and state, then it must apply the same ban to faculty speech that promotes atheism or attacks intelligent design in the classroom," says Dr. John West, Vice President of Discovery Institute.

Discovery Institute is asking BSU to investigate its honors seminar "Dangerous Ideas." The sole textbook used in the course is an anthology edited by a prominent atheist in which the authors assert that "Science Must Destroy Religion," that "There is no God; no Intelligent Designer; no higher purpose to our lives," and even that scientists should function as our society's "high priests." The book contains an afterword by atheist evangelist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion.
In her published remarks on the issue, this is what President Gora said:
“Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory,” President Jo Ann Gora said. “Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies' independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science.”

The question is not one of academic freedom, but one of academic integrity, she added. “Said simply, to allow intelligent design to be presented to science students as a valid scientific theory would violate the academic integrity of the course as it would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.”
Nowhere in there did President Gora ban faculty speech on the discussion of intelligent design on campus.  Instead, Ball State is banning the teaching of intelligent design in science classes because it is not established science (it is not science at all, for that matter).   The two are very different things.  Leave it to the Discovery Institute to conflate them.

The other peculiar thing here is which First Amendment clause has been used.  By demanding that the atheistic seminar be investigated, focusing on the religious nature of the course and contrasting it with intelligent design, John West is focusing on the establishment clause rather than the free speech clause and, thus, is agreeing that intelligent design is religious, in nature.  Otherwise, why would he care about a philosophy seminar promoting atheism?  This is a substantial shift away from the standard position of the Discovery Institute, which has continually put forth the idea that ID is not tied to religious practice or theology.  If it is going to be argued that banning it is a violation of the establishment clause then it must be. 

It is difficult for me to believe that this is what they really meant to say or that they could have made such a rookie mistake.


  1. Your first point is absolutely correct; the DI's first paragraph is simply wrong.

    I'm not sure about your "other peculiar thing", though. It looks like (once you get past their silly free-speech claim) they're pointing out an inconsistency in allowing an atheist-promotion honors seminar, but disallowing their course which would promote ID. They've got enough of a point to be worthy of a response, I'd say -- it's not a mere mistake. My questions would include whether their claims are actually true, but also whether the two courses are actually comparable. (I don't know.) If the courses are comparable in terms of what sort of credit you get for them, it may be that Gora is inconsistent to allow one but not the other.

  2. Jordan8:36 PM

    I'll all for banning the teaching of atheism in the science classroom. It's no more scientific than ID.

  3. I firmly agree. But if It is in a philosophy class it may be theologically repugnant but it is fair game.

  4. Jimpithicus -- doh, I didn't even think of it -- of course it's a philosophy seminar. Perfectly good sense. Forget what I said.

    ID in a philosophy class, though... No, I don't see how that would work. What's there to study? It doesn't work in a theology class either; there's no passage of the Bible that tells us when God created the first cell.

    In a math seminar it might be interesting -- some of the math they imply that they talk about is interesting and could be approximated in a class, but most is impossible to work out right now, and some (irreducible complexity, as well as the various implications of NFL theorems) is outright wrong (and that proof would be fun to work with).


  5. We should all realize that science and religion can really work together for the benefit of all, not just the few.