• November 1, 2014

Ball State U. Bars Teaching of Intelligent Design as Science

Ball State University's president, Jo Ann M. Gora, on Wednesday sought to quell the controversy surrounding two faculty members who espouse the concept of intelligent design—a rejection of evolution as it is commonly understood—by offering assurances that intelligent design would not be taught in Ball State's science classes or otherwise presented there as truth.

In a statement issued to the Indiana university's faculty and staff, Ms. Gora said intelligent design, which argues that an intelligent force guided the shaping of the universe and life on earth, "is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory," and therefore it "is not appropriate content for science courses."

Intelligent design and creationism can appropriately be discussed at Ball State in social-science and humanities courses that deal with religion, Ms. Gora said, but cannot be presented as more valid than other views.

"Teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom—it is an issue of academic integrity," Ms. Gora said. She said that allowing intelligent design to be presented in a science course 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."

In a separate statement issued on Wednesday, Joan Todd, a Ball State spokeswoman, said Eric Hedin, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy who had been accused of teaching intelligent design in an honors symposium, and Terry King, the university's provost, had reviewed the findings of a faculty panel charged with investigating the allegation and "are working together to ensure that course content is aligned with the curriculum and best standards of the discipline."

Ms. Todd said Mr. Hedin had actively cooperated with the process and "remains an important and valued member of our physics and astronomy department."

The university continued on Wednesday to stand by its decision to hire Guillermo Gonzalez, a leader in the intelligent-design movement, as an assistant professor of physics and astronomy. The university has argued that Mr. Gonzalez, who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007, is qualified to teach science at Ball State.

Evolution of a Controversy

Andrew Seidel, a lawyer for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an advocacy group that sent the university a letter of complaint over Mr. Hedin's teachings, said on Wednesday that his organization was "very, very pleased" with President Gora's statement.

Although Ball State has not released the results of the review of Mr. Hedin's class and it remains unclear exactly how the class will be changed, the university appeared to be taking the foundation's concerns "very seriously," Mr. Seidel said.

But John G. West, vice president of the Discovery Institute, a group that promotes the teaching of intelligent design, said in an e-mail that Ms. Gora's position is "anti-academic freedom and Orwellian in the extreme."

"Academic freedom was designed to protect dissenting and unpopular views among faculty," Mr. West said. "Redefining it as the freedom to teach only the majority view isn't academic freedom; it's an academic straitjacket."

Mr. West argued that Mr. Hedin's honors symposium, "The Boundaries of Science," was interdisciplinary and covered not just science but the bigger questions that science raises. He said science courses can cover the debate over intelligent design without teaching intelligent design as scientific theory.

He asked whether Ms. Gora's ban on discussing intelligent design in science classes bars scientists from attacking intelligent design because, he argued, according to her logic, an attack on intelligent design would amount to an unconstitutional attack on religion.

The controversy over how Ball State deals with intelligent design began in April, when Jerry A. Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, published a blog post accusing Mr. Hedin of teaching religion in the context of science courses. He cited as evidence the syllabus for "The Boundaries of Science," which said students would examine "features of our existence which may lie outside the naturalistic boundaries of science" and provide "possible indications of the nature and existence of God."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent its letter of complaint to Ball State in May, and the university announced its review of Mr. Hedin's course the next day.

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