Ball State University, a public institution in Muncie, Indiana, is purportedly looking into claims that a course centered around the subjects of creationism and intelligent design constitutes a violation of the separation of church and state. The college purportedly began its investigation after the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a church-state separatist group, sent a letter of complaint regarding physics and astronomy professor Eric Hedin.
Hedin's offense? He apparently encourages students to read books by scientists, journalists and proponents who embrace intelligent design. The description of his course, as reported by World on Campus, claims that students will "investigate physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life."
Screen shot from the Ball State University website
While the course, "Inquiries in Physical Sciences," is an elective, that hasn't stopped critics like University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne, in addition to the FFRF, from speaking out against it as an alleged violation of the separation of church and state. In addition to sharing pages from the course syllabus on his blog, he wrote:
Note the numinous implications, especially the course objective to consider the implications of physics, life, and consciousness for “indications of the nature and existence of God.” As you’ll see, the syllabus is clearly slanted to show that scientific phenomena do indeed provide evidence for God.
Note that on page 2 (below), the course outline itself, the students are to discuss theistic evolution, intelligent design, irreducible complexity, and, for crying out loud, “miracles and spirituality!” There’s also “Beauty, complex and specified information, and intelligent design: what the universe communicates about God.”
Professor Eric Hedin (Photo Credit: Ball State University)
Not everyone agrees with Coyne, though. Despite having negative comments to throw Hedin's way (he called him a "dingbat professor"), PZ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota who is also an atheist, defended the professor's right to tout and explore unpopular ideas in the classroom. After all, isn't that what academic freedom is all about?
"Academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective," Myers wrote, going on to place the course -- and the situation -- in context. "The first amendment does not apply; this is not a course students are required to take, and it’s at a university, which students are not required to attend. It’s completely different from a public primary or secondary school. A bad course is an ethical problem, not a legal one. It’s also an issue that the university has to handle internally."
The FFRF, though, an atheist-activist mouthpiece, is siding more with Coyne's camp, as the group's letter sparked an investigation by school administrators -- an inquiry that was launched just one day after the atheist group's letter of complaint was received. While the university did not cite Hedin's name in its response, it was clear who was being referred to.
"The university received a complaint from a third party late yesterday afternoon about content in a specific course offered at Ball State. We take academic rigor and academic integrity very seriously," read an official response from Ball State. "Having just received these concerns, it is impossible to comment on them at this point. We will explore in depth the issues and concerns raised and take the appropriate actions through our established processes and procedures."
What do you think about the debate -- and the university's response? Let us know in the comments section.
(H/T: World on Campus)
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