Officials at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., have decided to censor what their science teachers and instructors say, ordering them not to discuss the evidence of intelligent design during science classes, according to a report from the Discovery Institute, which monitors such battles.
“In a blatant attack on academic freedom and the unfettered consideration of scientific viewpoints, the president of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., has imposed a gag order on science faculty forbidding their discussion of the theory of intelligent design in science classrooms,” the organization announced this week.
The school had been in the headlines since the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which wants to eradicate references to faith in the public sphere and on university campuses, demanded an investigation “into whether Ball State physicist Dr. Eric Hedin had informed his students about the theory of ID,” the Institute said.
Hedin’s interdisciplinary honors course “Boundaries of Science” included a “Partial Bibliography” listing books favorable to, and others critical of, intelligent design.
The Institute said the order came from BSU President Jo Ann Gora, who declared ID is a “religious” idea at variance with “the consensus of science scholars” and may not be discussed in science classes, since that would be a violation of “academic integrity.”
“Students and the public are owed a genuine evaluation of the merits of ID, touching as the theory does on ultimate questions of life’s origins,” said Dr. Stephen Meyer, director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. “However, when scientific discussion is censored by a university, fair-minded evaluation becomes impossible.”
Added Dr. John West, associate director of the Center for Science & Culture, “In the Orwellian world of Ball State’s president, academic freedom apparently means only the ‘freedom’ to support the majority’s view. This is exactly how the academic ‘consensus’ against the theory of intelligent design is maintained – by intimidation, fiat, and legal threats.”
Under the concept of intelligent design, the complexity of observable and testable features in living creatures and nature are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather than an unguided process such as natural selection.
The petition by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute was sent to Gora and the school’s board of trustees.
The controversy erupted when FFRF objected to Hedin’s elective seminar called “The Boundaries of Science,” which according to the syllabus explores evidence of intelligent design in nature as well as the limits of scientific knowledge.
Officials at the school have confirmed the bibliography for the course includes distinguished scholars such as Oxford University mathematician John Lennox, Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich, Oxford mathematical physicist Roger Penrose and physicist and Anglican priest John Pokinghorne.
“Questions about the evidence for design in the universe and the boundaries of science are perfectly legitimate topics for a university seminar,” the Discovery Institute said in support of the professor. “Indeed, these topics have provoked scholarly interest and discussion during much of the history of Western civilization, and the scholars cited in Hedin’s bibliography are some of the leading voices in these discussions.”
The school responded to FFRF’s demands by launching a review.
The Discovery Institute noted at the time that among the review team members are three people “publicly connected to groups explicitly opposed to [intelligent design].”
The members were Catherine Pilachowski, who is part of a group that denounced ID in 2005; Gary Dodson, who signed an anti-creationism petition by a pro-evolution organization; and Richard Fluegeman, who has spoken at “Darwin Day” conferences organized by anti-Christian freethought groups.
“Can panelists publicly connected with groups like the National Center for Science Education, the Clergy Letter Project, and the Ball State Freethought Alliance really be fair or impartial when investigating?” Discovery Institute experts asked.
The petition states: “We, the undersigned, urge the administration of Ball State University to support Prof. Eric Hedin’s academic freedom to discuss intelligent design and related issues in the classroom. We call on you to reject demands by the Freedom from Religion Foundation to censor or punish Dr. Hedin for exercising his right to free speech.”
Academic groups in general insist that professors must have freedom to work with their own curriculum but largely have remained silent on the Hedin case. Hedin’s critics have accused him of violating the so-called separation of church and state and claim that his teachings are illegal.
In a report by Inside Higher Ed, Hedin’s immediate supervisor, Thomas Robertson, the chief of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, dismissed the Freedom From Religion Foundation concerns.
“The syllabus published was approved by our department Curriculum and Assessment Committee,” he said. “We review faculty performance regularly through student and peer/chair evaluations. I receive complaints and concerns from students familiar with faculty performance in their classes and investigate when appropriate. Given the totality of information available to me at this time, I do not share the opinions expressed on the websites cited below. We will continue to monitor our faculty and their course materials and practices and take appropriate action when deemed necessary.”