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Professors Respond To Ball State ‘Intelligent Design’ Course

Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora at her desk in Muncie, Ind. She began spearheading the geothermal project shortly after taking office.

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.

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