Professors Respond To Ball State ‘Intelligent Design’ Course

Ball State President Jo Ann Gora wrote a letter to faculty last week. Her message – “intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses.”

Ball State President Jo Ann Gora at her desk.

Photo: Georgia Perry / WFIU-WTIU News

Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora at her desk in Muncie, Ind. Her letter came as a response to complaints from a third party that a physics professor is advocating intelligent design over evolution in his classroom.

In his syllabus for the honors physics and astronomy course “The Boundaries of Science,” Ball State Professor Eric Hedin asks, “Intelligent design: is it science?”

Well, the answer is no. “It’s a faith-based statement that cannot be tested through experimental analyses,” Professor Roger Innes says.

Faith And Science

Innes has taught biology at Indiana University for more than 20 years. He is not aware of any science course at the school with a focus on intelligent design.

“In the case of intelligent design, to teach that as scientific theory, with equal weight to views of evolutionary theory, I think that would just be patently incorrect,” Innes says.

In her statement, President Gora wrote:

“Teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom – it is an issue of academic integrity.”

Gora also cited official statements about intelligent design from the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in her letter. The consensus is intelligent design falls outside the realm of science.

But Innes says getting students to think beyond their religion is one of the struggles of teaching science.

“There are many students at Indiana University and any university in Indiana that are brought up with a strong belief in intelligent design. And I actually feel one of the challenges that science faculty face is explaining the difference to them between faith and science,” Innes says. “And I think intelligent design is a great example of that situation.”

He says the material is more appropriate for a religion course or a religious university.

Teaching Vs. Preaching

The nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation first contacted Ball State earlier this year with concerns about the way Hedin teaches his class, after hearing from students in the course.

“It’s the dichotomy between teaching and preaching,” Andrew Seidel, an attorney for the organization, says.

Seidel says teaching religion as fact is a problem, and students fear grade penalties if they don’t agree with a professor’s religious beliefs. So they’re often afraid to speak out.

President Gora also wrote that Ball State, a publicly-funded university, must maintain a separation of church and state.

Professor Eric Damien Kelly, who teaches urban planning at Ball State and is a practicing lawyer, believes a true conflict with the first amendment would only arise if the university itself declares a position.

“If a publicly-funded university announces ‘We are now a formally Christian university, and we are only teaching only Christian courses’,” Kelly says. “Yeah, that’s a big legal problem.”

Academic Freedom

President Gora’s remarks also cause Kelly to question the effects on an instructor’s right to speak. Kelly says he thinks the announcement will influence course material beyond intelligent design.

“Every pre-tenure faculty member and every contract faculty member – which is more than half the faculty – will be very nervous about what they teach,” Kelly says. “It is not unusual to have Marxists on a college faculty, to have communists on a college faculty, to have Tea Partiers on a college faculty. I mean in a sense, those are all somewhat all offbeat.”

He says one of the strengths of a university is diverse viewpoints. But Kelly admits forcefully advocating one position over another, instead of more objective instruction, and teaching innaccuracies would be inappropriate.

Professor Innes says he would mention intelligent design in his biology classes perhaps to draw a contrast.

“I think it’s important for students to understand what the scientific process is, and why intelligent design is not a hypothesis that can be tested by the scientific process,” Innes says. “So in that context I might bring up intelligent design.”

For now, a Ball State provost is working with Professor Hedin to review his course material.

Professor Hedin declined to comment.

Amanda Solliday

Amanda Solliday is a reporter for WFIU/WTIU News and a news anchor on WFIU’s Morning Edition. She has won awards for radio news reporting from Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRDNI) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). You can follow her on Twitter @AjSolliday

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  • flippertie

    I’ve had a couple of comments disappear into moderation purgatory for the sin of including a link or two…. But in summary you are flogging what I see as two very dead horses.

    First – Irreducible complexity has been refuted over and over. It’s logically, legally and scientifically dead.

    Logically: 1) You can’t prove that something “could not have evolved”. 2) Behe’s definition of IC assumes that evolution can never re-purpose or remove a feature.

    Legally: The Dover trial reviewed all the evidence far more thoroughly that you or I have time to and concluded “We therefore find that Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers”
    Scientifically: Judge Jones continued that IC “has been rejected by the scientific community at large”. The three examples that Behe claimed were IC have each been shown to have simpler precursors.

  • THEMAYAN

    You have not shown any evidence that IC has been refuted you only claim it has. Icited the papers that tried and showed they did not. Judge Jones is not trained in science and I already cited papers that refuted the same modern synthesis the counter argument were based on. Its not up to anyone to disprove something that has yet to be proven. It is up to those who claim that neo Darwinism can produce an IC system. You have nothing.

    In fact Kenneth Miller who was on the side of the plaintiff tried to use the T3SS model as a precursor for the BF and falsely claimed that if you remove forty proteins from the BF, you would end up with T3SS because the remaining proteins were the exact same proteins as in the BF. He lied. They are not the exact same protein. They are similar but not the same. But he never informed the the judge of this fact. And he was never able to do this even in the lab. So his proposition has failed. The co- option argument has never been demonstrated empirically. Again, even if we adhere to evolutionary paradigm. It is now considered that the BF was actually a precursor for the T3SS. And I can also cite the data that supports this.

  • flippertie

    The second area you’re fighting a lost battle is claiming that ID has nothing to do with creationism.

    That may be true on the surface- the putative designer *might* have been an alien… But it ignores the reality that the modern ID movement has been conceived, funded and promoted almost entirely by Creationists in the USA and the overwhelming majority of active ID supporters are conservative and /or creationist protestant Christians.

    You probably know most or all of these connections:
    >> Creationism evolved into > Creation Science then into >Intelligent design
    > Remember the “cdesign proponentists” ?
    > the Dover Trial finding that ID is religious in nature not scientific.

    Funding for the Discovery institute comes from
    > Howard Ahmanson, Christian Reconstructionist.
    > MacLellan Foundation, supports organizations “committed to furthering the Kingdom of Christ”.
    > Henry P. and Susan C. Crowell Trust. dedicated to “the teaching and active extension of the doctrines of evangelical Christianity.”
    > AMDG Foundation. The initials stand for ‘Ad Majorem Dei Glorium’ , Latin for “To the greater glory of God,”

    Quotes:
    > Discovery Institutes Wedge Document goal – “to replace
    materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God
    > Dembski : “intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory”
    > Dembski again :”The Designer of intelligent design is, ultimately, the Christian God.”
    > Behe “With the argument arranged this way, evidence against Darwinism does count as evidence for an active God,”

    Claiming the ID movement is not religiously motivated is at best disingenuous and to me seems more like “Lying for Jesus”….

  • THEMAYAN

    This is really kind of silly. A majority of Americans are Christians. Why would scientist be excluded? Did you think all scientist are atheist? Almost half of all scientist still go to church or are theist. Francis Collins is an evangelist, and he is an evolutionist. And he is not the only one. So your logic falls short. Secondly, of course they are going get funds from churches because the implications are theological friendly. But because it is theologically friendly, means about as much as neo Darwinism being atheist friendly. So what? We should go where the science leads us, and not be concerned about what side of the fence it falls on.
    Most types of organization will accept funds from those who are willing to donate it. Do you think atheist groups would turn down funds from Christian? Or that the NCSE (which was created to defend neo Darwinism) does not get funds from mostly atheist? There is nothing wrong with an alternative theory, and especially one that can, and has made testable predictions. The material world reeks of design.

  • flippertie

    “This is really kind of silly”
    No, it’s not. The drivers behind ID and Evolution denial in the USA are the beliefs of biblical literalists, and Young Earth Creationists. I’m not talking about ‘mainstream’ Christian sects, Eg Catholics, CoE, most European
    denominations which have no problem with evolution.

    The scientific evidence for the age of the earth and
    common descent of all species is in direct conflict with Biblical literalists’ core beliefs: If mankind evolved rather than being a product of ‘special creation’, if the evolutionary interpretation of the fossil record is correct, then the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true and the foundations of their world view are threatened – hence their implacable science/evolution denialism.

    Francis Collins is a Christian – but he rejects ID and YEC for theistic or guided evolution so he doesn’t have those internal conflicts.

    The DI do not just “get funds from churches”. Their funding
    organisations and others like them have been actively working to bring the USA in line with their view of Christianity for decades. Look up ‘Dominion Theology’, ‘Christian Reconstructionists’, ‘Chalcedon Foundation’ for more.

    As you must know, over a series of court cases, legal precedents have been set to stop the overt teaching of christian creationism in US public schools. ID is merely one step in that process. Since the Kitzmiller/Dover judgement took momentum from the push to teach ID the Discovery
    Institute has been concentrating on its “teach the controversy” campaign, and the new batch of “academic freedom” laws its supporters have been sponsoring around the US.

    In the bigger picture Intelligent Design is just one part of a much older dispute over the role that Christianity has or should have in shaping US society and laws.

  • THEMAYAN

    Maybe you missed my point. I already said that Collins was an evolutionist. And I’m not sure why you are bringing up WEC. ID has nothing to do with anyone’s personal metaphysical beliefs, even if they are friendly to them as in a creator who designs. You also missed my earlier points about Dover where the now debunked neo Darwinian synthesis was held up as an unquestionable axiom. And is still taught even till this day. Even when evo devos, and not just ID theorist, are now rejecting it.

    Based on common sense then neo Darwinism is a religious belief, and the fact that it requires a judge (who is not even trained in science) to hold up a failed theory that modern science is now rejecting, is pretty much proof in the pudding. The last time a theory required judicial activism to maintain it, was Lysenkoism in Stalin’s Russia and that turned out to be a very negative thing. Classical Darwinist ignored Mendel for fifty years. Russia ignored Mendel for about 80. This set science back for those same amount of years.

    Neo Darwinist ignored the implications of ncDNA as far back as the fifties when Barbara Mcclintock was working on transposon (which latter became known as junk DNA. And the Junk DNA paradigm also set science back for many decades as John Mattick and many others have pointed out. In fact, even with all the evidence refuting this useless junk DNA paradigm, neo Darwinist are still cling to this same paradigm.

  • flippertie

    We’re talking past each other. Points that I see as pretty much undeniably true are below, each of which you will vehemently disagree with – so we may as well stop here…

    > The Modern Synthesis view of evolution is as robust as anything in science. It may be tweaked in future but the fundamentals are as near as anything in science gets to being ‘proved’.

    > Changes in our understanding of the details of the
    evolutionary process (like the utility or otherwise of so-called non-coding or junk DNA) will continue to arise about as the result of scientific research.Some ideas now held as true will be shown to be false, others that were once rejected may come back into currency as the result of new evidence. This is how science progresses, and is one of the scientific method’s strengths – not a weakness.

    > ID, a modern restatement of the classical ‘Argument from Design’ is a religiously motivated political movement, largely funded by conservative Christians in the USA, looking for a way to undermine the teaching of Evolutionary Theory as fact in US public schools, and elsewhere.

    Denials of the above and claims about Darwinist this and debunked thats and the like may be honestly presented, but they are beside the point – The overwhelming majority of professionals working in biology, biochemistry, medicine, the life sciences, and related fields agree that “Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology”.

    As side note – what is an ‘activist judge’, and what makes Jones one? He read the briefs, heard the witnesses and came to the unavoidable conclusion that the actions of the Dover district school board were religiously motivated.

    His “finding of fact” that ID, as presented by Behe et al. is not science was a good use of public funds – in that it removed the need for future trials to go through the time and expense of re-hashing the same stuff in the future.

  • THEMAYAN

    I disagree. I have been responding to you point by point. While many of mine have been ignored. As for the theory supposedly being robust. You say this because you have not kept up with the current scientific literature. The modern synthesis is a dinosaur that is on the verge of extinction, and in the eyes of many, has been dead for many years as even Jay Gould admitted this thirty years ago when he wrote that neo Darwinism… “is effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy” (Gould, 1980)”

    If a new theory does comes along, then it will have to be reformulated. But so far, all efforts have been resisted by the crypt keeper of academia. The men and women of the Altenberg meeting in 2008 tried to propose a badly needed extended synthesis, and they were not supported by the NCSE or NAS. According to Eugenie Scott director of the NCSE. The NCSE will not support any new theory that utilizes self organization models because in her own words “people would get it confused with intelligent design” Sadly this is where we are at.

    Will some genius someday propose a cohesive and empirical theory? Who knows? I don’t see it, but anything is possible. But what we do know now, is that it has not happened. Like a person who is in between addresses. We are in between theories, and it is the best kept secret out there right now.

  • flippertie

    In an earlier post you thought I was quote mining -( My reply was one of the comments that got lost to moderation). If I did misrepresent Tipler – it was only because the abstract of his article does not mention design. The paragraph you quoted was someone else’s commentary – not Tipler himself, and not part of the abstract..

    You however quote Gould as saying “neo Darwinism… “is effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy” . i.e you represent Gould as rejecting orthodox Darwinian as failed. This could be used as a textbook example of quote-mining to misrepresent the authors intended meaning.

    Gould was discussing some ideas of Ernst Mayr, and with the preceding clause the sentence reads like this “if Mayr’s characterization of the synthetic theory is accurate, then that theory, as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy.”

    Gould then goes on to argue *against* Mayr’s ideas, and *for* the neo-Darwinian position: “None of this evidence, of course, negates the role of conventional selection and adaptation in molding parts of the phenotype with obvious importance for survival and reproduction.”

    As far as I know that piece of misrepresentation (and several more like it) originated in Philip Johnson’s “Darwin on Trial”, and has been circulating in ID discussions for the past 10 years….

    Altenburg – I tend to believe the organizers and partcipants about the content of the discussions, rather than outsiders speculation. Check Rationallyspeaking, the blog of Massimo Pigliucci who organised the meeting, rather than the fiction of Suzan Mazur or Casey Luskin -neither of whom were participants.

    “We are in between theories, and it is the best kept secret out there right now”.
    Hardly. A good analogy might be with Newtonian Physics at the end of the 19th century. The theory had held up for a century or more without problems. There were a few oddities and unexplained details but nothing major seemed unexplained. Then Einstein came along and threw Relativity into the pot. Lots of things changed, lots of new knowledge and refinements, but a century later NASA still uses Newtons equations to send robots to Mars.

    There are exciting new things happening in biology and evolution with the advent of cheap genetic sequencing. The possible uses of non-coding DNA, 3D computer modeling of protein folding and epigenetics spring to mind.
    But a century from now people will still be learning about variation, random mutation and differential survival rates as the basics of evolution.

    And do you have a source for that Eugenie Scott quotation? Googling it returns no results.

  • THEMAYAN

    My quotes clearly came from the cite that actually cited these articles. Thats why I placed quotation marks and put it beneath the abstract. Secondly your point id moot since even the abstract clearly speaks of specified and irreducible complexity as scientifically viable options.

    As for the A16 meeting, Pigliucci not only tried to downplay the significance of Altenberg, but also lied about Suzan Mazur and her so called sensationalism, and which you can read more about the actual facts here.
    “Pigliucci Deceit Drags Publisher Into Big Muddy”

    This is originally what Pigliucci said to Mazur in a documented email after the article was released.

    “Suzan

    very nice article indeed!

    Cheers,

    Massimo”

    It seems he didn’t get upset until the rest of media picked up on it and started asking questions, as well as when Lynn Margolis and Eva Joblanka (who were also present at the meeting) started to speak critically and openly of the modern synthesis. This is when he changed his tune.

    Einstein’s general relativity did not refute Newtons universal law of gravity, (as the papers cited are) It only showed how gravity works on different, or more precisely, on a different scales. But Newtonian gravity and physics are still used today in construction mechanics. We use Newtonian physics in the mechanical world not, general relativity which again is used on a different scale.

    Secondly, there is of now, no official extended synthesis. And we are still teaching (well known to be) obsolete and false information. As for source. The source is Mazur herself, and Scott has never denied this. Go to (part 4) of “Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand up?”

    Also see “Do we need a new Theory of evolution?”

    I can back up everything I have said.

  • THEMAYAN

    Beyond neo-Darwinism—an epigenetic approach to evolution
    M.W. Ho

    The Origin at 150: is a new evolutionary synthesis in sight?
    Eugene V. Koonin

    The new biology: beyond the Modern Synthesis
    Michael R Rose1* and Todd H Oakley2

    Soft inheritance: challenging the modern synthesis
    Eva JablonkaI; Marion J. LambII

  • flippertie

    1) google “Frank J. Tipler, “Intelligent Life in Cosmology,”” click the first link (Cornell Uni). Read the abstract. No mention of design or ID – True or false?

    2) Your quotation of Gould in another post misrepresented his views by selective omission ( = quote mining, intentional or otherwise). Do you accept or deny that ?

    3) You claim above that Lynn Margolis was present at Altenberg – Can you back that up?

    4) You quoted Eugenie Scott as saying “in her own words” that the NCSE will not support any new theory that utilizes self organization models because “people would get it confused with intelligent design” .Can you back that up?

    5) I’ve argued in a couple of posts that Intelligent design is largely promoted and funded by non-scientific Christian creationist and fundamentalist sources. Do you accept or deny that ?

    6) Wikipedia lists at least 20 respected national and international scientific societies that explicitly reject ID. Can you find any equivalent groups that explicitly support it?
    [ NB ICON-RIDS, a 1 man show, on a free blog, with less than 60 posts does not count....]

    7) Epigenetic effects on gene expression rely on the genes existing, and only carry on for a couple of generations, so while they are an interesting addition to existing evolutionary knowledge, but they do not in any way refute or render it obsolete . Care to comment?

  • THEMAYAN

    The word used in Tiplers abstract was teleology.

    teleology |ˌtelēˈäləjē; ˌtēlē-|

    noun ( pl. -gies) Philosophy

    the explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes.

    • Theology the doctrine of design and purpose in the material world.

    I already told you where to find what Scott said. And if you had bothered to look, you would have found it.
    I have also went over this Christian funding thing with you already. I’m not even sure where you got your definition of epigenetics from. But I can assure you, that’s not what it means. However it is a direct challenge to Biology’s central dogma.

    Secondly, we know even less about epigenetics than we do of natural selection, in view of this, the fact that epigenetics is now being seen as challenge, is very telling. Furthermore, epigenetics might be able to explain certain things in the here and now, but is still has yet to explain evolution with any real empirical evidence. But even without a new formulated or viable theory, one thing is now certain. Neo Darwinism is through.

    I don’t care who rejects ID. The question is, can it be refuted scientifically? I already cited MIT at Park center using design theory as a non religious and completely scientific tool in “systems biology” and with great success.

    I quoted no one out of context. It was you who did that with Tipler.

    Your whole argument rest of the fact that Christians donate money to the DI.

  • flippertie

    Ok – I give you the fact that Tipler mentions teleology in his abstract. That’s one paper that might really argue for the idea of design in the universe.

    “I quoted no one out of context” – that is blatantly untrue.

    You claimed Gould believed “neo Darwinism… “is effectively dead” when in fact he was arguing *against* Mayr’s ideas which could have been interpreted that way. See my earlier comment for detail.

    Eugenie Scott – I listened to the video. What we have is your paraphrase of a journalist’s recall of an earlier conversation which you put in quotes and claim to be “in her own words”. And Scott has never denied it ? Why should she – there’s no record of her ever having said it…

    “I don’t care who rejects ID. The question is, can it be refuted scientifically?” And the fact is that it has been refuted over and over. Tens of thousands of scientists have put their names to statements that they accept those refutations. Your refusal to accept that does nothing to alter the facts.

    And the MIT Park centre using ‘Design Theory’? So what?

    They’re researching how to *design* and understand complex systems – so the ideas, processes and the like they come up with will be ‘systems design theory’ – nothing to do with the non-existent “design theory” that ID proponents like to talk about. The fact that some of he research projects are in systems biology is no surprise either – this is the century of synthetic biology.

    My focus on Creationist backing for the ID movement in previous comments is because that is the only reason we are having this discussion. Without that money the DI would not have been set up, and ID would never have reached the public consciousness.

    I have one question left:

    What would it take to convince you that the Intelligent design hypothesis is bad science, or that standard evolutionary theory is still basically sound? Is there anything that could change your mind?

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