BSU reviewing alleged ‘atheism’ class

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Ball State University is reviewing courses — including one that reportedly focuses on atheism — that it received complaints about from an intelligent design think tank.

“You can be assured that the syllabi and curricula of all of the courses you singled out, as well as those of other courses offered by the Honors College and elsewhere at the university, are reviewed and updated on a regular basis,” BSU President Jo Ann Gora wrote in a letter on Monday to The Discovery Institute.

The institute is an anti-evolution, pro-creationism intelligent design think tank in Seattle that maintains supernatural forces shaped the universe.

“Some were undergoing this process before we received the inquiry regarding Honors 296, and others are being reviewed and updated at the present time,” the letter read. “Our intent is to ensure that their content and pedagogy reflect the highest academic standards.”

Gora earlier this year received a complaint against Eric Hedin, an assistant professor of physics, who was accused by the Freedom From Religion Foundation of indoctrinating science students in his Honors 296 seminar with a conservative, faith-based agenda promoting intelligent design.

Written By: Seth Slabaugh
continue to source article at thestarpress.com

28 COMMENTS

  1. Every university should be permitted to teach classes on various religions. I don’t think they should be mandatory, or Christians will use them to sell Christianity. The whole point of university is freedom of ideas. When anyone threatens that, they deserve to be pounced on globally.

    • In reply to #1 by Roedy:

      Every university should be permitted to teach classes on various religions. I don’t think they should be mandatory, or Christians will use them to sell Christianity. The whole point of university is freedom of ideas. When anyone threatens that, they deserve to be pounced on globally.

      Agree 100%. Which is why when the Freedom From Religion Foundation did this:

      Gora earlier this year received a complaint against Eric Hedin, an assistant professor of physics, who was accused by the Freedom From Religion Foundation of indoctrinating science students in his Honors 296 seminar with a conservative, faith-based agenda promoting intelligent design.

      I thought that was wrong as well. Academic freedom is meaningless if you only want to give it to those you agree with.

      • I think there is a difference between having a religious opinion, for example justinesaracen’s catholic Shakespeare professor interpreting plays with a Christian slant, and attempting to teach Christian physics especially at the undergraduate level which is what the FFRF was objecting to. Discussing King Lear from a Christian or an atheistic perspective can be good critical thinking but injecting Christianity in a physics class does not sound like it you are actually learning physics.

        In reply to #10 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #1 by Roedy:

        Every university should be permitted to teach classes on various religions. I don’t think they should be mandatory, or Christians will use them to sell Christianity. The whole point of university is freedom of ideas. When anyone threatens that, they deserve to be pounced…

        • In reply to #11 by Jjcob82:

          I think there is a difference between having a religious opinion, for example justinesaracen’s catholic Shakespeare professor interpreting plays with a Christian slant, and attempting to teach Christian physics especially at the undergraduate level which is what the FFRF was objecting to. Discussing…

          I agree that the course the FFRF protested didn’t makes sense as a science course. That isn’t the issue. The issue is academic freedom. If you believe in academic freedom then it applies even to decisions you think are wrong. I don’t want the Creation Institute sticking their nose in at all on decisions made at universities. So if I’m going to be consistent I should say the same thing about groups that I like who say things I agree with like the FFRF.

          Deciding to let the Creationist class be taught was a bad decision I agree but it was an internal decision to the University and there was no point in the FFRF getting involved in it and when they did it was predictable that the other side would do the same.

  2. Hopefully much ado about nothing – it appears the University was in the process of reviewing a number of courses including this one, and simply passed that fact along. The “think” tank objects to the course being taught around the book “What is your dangerous idea”, which is hardly a promotion of atheism. They’re just looking for something to get mad about after the school tossed it’s intelligent design class.

  3. I’ve never heard of Ball State University so I can’t judge its academic standards, but if it is a secular institution of learning, then non-required courses in just about any intellectual subject should be admitted. On the other hand, having to listen to religious (or any) propaganda from a professor, and possibly being graded on your acceptance of it, should NOT be admitted. The difference is between discussing and advocating.

    My Shakespeare prof was a pious catholic and I remember being annoyed at his occasional Christian interpretations of the plays, but that was at the University of California, where the general atmosphere was not conducive to preaching. He also seemed to know his legal limitations, since he did not penalize me for my overt atheistic analysis of King Lear on the final exam.

  4. Gora earlier this year received a complaint against Eric Hedin, an assistant professor of physics, who was accused by the Freedom From Religion Foundation of indoctrinating science students in his Honors 296 seminar with a conservative, faith-based agenda promoting intelligent design.

    In that case, Gora concluded that intelligent design is “not appropriate content for science courses” in a public university classroom because it is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief, not a scientific theory.

    The institute objected to that decision and filed its own complaints against other BSU courses, including associate professor of English Paul Ranieri’s Honors 390 seminar “Dangerous Ideas,” which allegedly uses “What is Your Dangerous Idea?” as its sole textbook.

    The OP link suggests that the review process is routine.

    This is just the “Discovery” muppets gratuitously disputing science and ranting their nonsense as usual!

  5. Don’t describe the Discovery Institute’s mission as “pro-creationism intelligent design” as if they are two different things. “Intelligent Design” is the DI’s pseudo-science label for creationism in order to get around the Establishment Clause as described in the Wedge Document.

    The DI’s only objection to “indoctrination” is that someone other than them appears to be doing it (and given their obsession with the “appearance” of design, this must be the significant word). When the DI or some other creationist group, wish to do it (indoctrination) or insert their dogmatic assertions into science classes it is somehow ok, and may not be challenged, but my don’t they squeal as soon as someone objects that they have no evidence.

    The DI may have a valid objection, or may have one one day, but their record is against them. They don’t do research or experiments to support their assertions (how could they?), they only produce hot air (in volumes which must surely make a contribution to global warming) and throw mud at real science. Which is what they appear (there’s that word again) to be doing here.

  6. Two things appear to have collided here.

    On the one hand we have the Discovery ‘Institute’ raising a serious question that needs to be answered. On the other hand we have a University that has attempted to make a simple rule that doesn’t actually clarify anything.

    The Discovery ‘Institute’, largely by accident, has raised the important question:

    • To what extent should a tertiary education establishment’s pedagogy be subjected to supervision?

    Traditionally, it has been acknowledged that Universities should have founding constitutions that make them independent institutions. The good reasons for that independence include that: Those who fund Universities may not be competent to run Universities. By definition a University should be engaged at the frontiers of human knowledge and, therefore, only the academics are competent to decide how courses of study will be designed.

    The Discovery ‘Institute’ appears to be saying that US law has changed this imperative – does anyone know how accurate the D’I”s position on this is?

    Clearly the Discovery ‘Institute’ (D’I’) has reacted to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) complaint. The FFRF were, of course, complaining on a matter of fact – while the D’I’ are complaining on a matter of political fairness.

    To what extent should a University be subject to direct rule by politicians, and / or courts on the subjects it teaches, and how it teaches them?

    Meanwhile the University (BSU) has introduced a new rule:

    “forbidding its faculty from favoring or endorsing one side of a religious debate over another.”

    If The Star Press is to be believed, this is a blanket rule that is not in accordance with the long-established rules of Academic Freedom:

    Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.

    College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. … As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the Institution.

    On this basis Eric Hedin, by teaching creationism, was not accurate and therefore broke the rules.

    • BSU does need to re-think its response. A review of courses and the way in which courses are taught could too easily turn into the antithesis of academic freedom. This is further indicated by the D’I’:

    D’I’: In particular, we will be looking at the make-up of the various committees to see if they are as ideologically one-sided as the ad hoc committee appointed to investigate Eric Hedin.

    If they are not very careful, BSU will be manipulated into the D’I’s agenda.

    It’s not clear from any part of the D’I’s statements what other members of BSU’s faculty may have broken the Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure – or even how?

    BSU’s President, Jo Ann Gora, seems to be trying her best to avoid a legal wrangle with a rich, pugnacious and legalistic, politically-motivated organisation. But really; what can anyone do when faced with such infantile and obtuse nonsense?

    If the D’I’ sue I hope someone will open a charitable fighting fund for BSU – they shouldn’t have to waste their time on such ridiculous garbage.

    Peace.

    • In reply to #9 by aquilacane:

      Not sure why they bothered to deliver a reply. Surely the university community ranks The Discovery Institute among the irrelevant.

      That’s just good PR. Better to head off a problem earlier if you can. And while you are probably right about what the people at the University think about Discovery they have to worry about big donors who may be conservative Christians and politicians who may sense the chance to whip up their fanatic base by making this an issue.

    • In reply to #9 by aquilacane:

      Hi aquilacane,

      Not sure why they bothered to deliver a reply. Surely the university community ranks The Discovery Institute among the irrelevant.

      Academically the DI are irrelevant – however, they are very rich and they are politically motivated.

      This means that the DI could seek legal redress if it’s complaints are simply ignored – or even if they don’t like BSU’s solution.

      It seems to me very unlikely that BSU would lose, but that won’t deter the DI which is awash with money. Is the BSU? My guess is no.

      My next guess is that the BSU’s lack of funds (relative to other Universities) may have been a factor in the DI deciding to make a cause célèbre out of Eric Hedin.

      Either in or out of court, with a protracted public dispute the DI’s strategy is clear: Making political capital.

      The BSU has little option but to play along at this stage. After all, no institution is immune from PR.

      Peace.

      • In reply to #15 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

        This means that the DI could seek legal redress if it’s complaints are simply ignored – or even if they don’t like BSU’s solution

        I might be missing something but I don’t see how this could be a legal issue. Free speech is something that is actually very well protected in the US. You could make a case that it’s almost too well protected, that people like Fox News can print outright lies with impunity, but given how consistent the US courts have been on speech issues I can’t see how the university could be brought into court on this.

        I agree with the rest of your comment though, it’s a PR issue. Universities do have to worry about protests, donors, etc.

        • In reply to #16 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #15 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

          Hi Red Dog,

          I might be missing something but I don’t see how this could be a legal issue.

          From the OP:

          [Discovery Institute Vice President John West] accused Ball State of … potential violations of the law, the federal and Indiana constitutions, and its own guarantees of academic freedom and due process.

          I count at least 4 legal threats in that statement: A Federal Constitution suit, an Indiana Constitution suit, a Civil Suit protesting BSU’s leadership not keeping to their own rules and (assuming BSU is partly funded by the State or other arm of government) a legal challenge that BSU is not fulfilling rules set down by funding bodies.

          Free speech is something that is actually very well protected in the US. You could make a case that it’s almost too well protected …

          That statement seems to me to be an oxymoron: Speech is free, or it isn’t.

          … people like Fox News can print outright lies with impunity, but given how consistent the US courts have been on speech issues I can’t see how the university could be brought into court on this.

          The best response to that statement echoes down to us from the 18th Century – as crystal clear and as fresh today as it was then. François-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name Voltaire, was one of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers. He said:

          I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

          Fox News, and anyone else, has the right to their own Observer Bias. However, if you were to say that we have insufficient access to redress where facts have clearly been false – as opposed to merely misrepresented – I wouldn’t argue.

          Voltaire didn’t live in an age of Mass Media. I believe he would have recognised the need for greater accountability, even the need for a mechanism to apply that accountability – if he could accept that publishers are necessary – today.

          Peace.

          • In reply to #22 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

            I count at least 4 legal threats in that statement: A Federal Constitution suit, an Indiana Constitution suit, a Civil Suit protesting BSU’s leadership not keeping to their own rules and (assuming BSU is partly funded by the State or other arm of government) a legal challenge that BSU is not fulfilling rules set down by funding bodies.

            The threat of a lawsuit is not the same as a credible danger of a lawsuit. The Discovery Institute is one of those places where people live in their own echo chamber. Their understanding of US law isn’t much better than their understanding of evolution. I stand by what I said. Given US law there is no way I can imagine a credible criminal case even being brought on this. Can you be a bit more specific, what law exactly would an AG be accusing Ball State of violating? The idea that you can take a University to court for discrimination against Christians because some class presents a point of view that Christians don’t like is nonsense. No competent AG would ever bring such a case to court. It would be thrown out immediately as unconstitutional.

            Having said that I admit — thanks to US politics — there are some incompetent AGs in power in Republican controlled states and I think Indiana is very Republican. So I can’t rule out completely that some Creationist AG with a political agenda might take the university to court but if they did it would get thrown out.

            Civil Suits are of course a different issue. I don’t think there would be a chance to win a civil suit but you can bring a civil suit for lots of groundless reasons and you can make the university have to slog through court which in itself is a terrible burden. It’s why I think all the bluster here about how cowardly Ball State is is also nonsense. As some others have said they are between a rock and a hard place and I do agree that the FFRF has some responsibility for starting this mess by interfering in the internal decisions of the University in the first place.

            Although to be clear, I think the FFRF was absolutely correct in what they were saying. The university did make a bad decision when they included creationism as a science class. But since I believe in academic freedom I believe it should apply even when I disagree with the decisions.

          • In reply to #25 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #22 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

            Hi Red Dog,

            The threat of a lawsuit is not the same as a credible danger of a lawsuit.

            I agree the threat of a lawsuit, even if it is carried through, may pose no danger to the defending party. Forgive my being blunt, but I think that misses the point. The D’I’ has shown itself ready to pursue legal options for three reasons: The above option of wining legally binding redress is one. The others are P.R. and bullying. The mere threat of costly and time-consuming legal projects which are, of course, additional workload for defendants is only the first part of the bullying. The P.R. achieves the rest because the noise generated is used to get politically active citizens to add their own pressures on the Defendant.

            The Discovery Institute is one of those places where people live in their own echo chamber. Their understanding of US law isn’t much better than their understanding of evolution. I stand by what I said. Given US law there is no way I can imagine a credible criminal case even being brought on this.

            I agree. If anything I said suggested criminal proceedings I apologise. That is clearly irrelevant.

            Can you be a bit more specific, what law exactly would an AG be accusing Ball State of violating?

            I am not a lawyer. The D’I’, as far as it is possible to tell from their secretive ways, has a lot more lawyers than scientists on its staff. Curious.

            To repeat: you’re assuming that a suit would be designed to win in court. The D’I’ people are foolish and ignorant – but they’re not stupid.

            The idea that you can take a University to court for discrimination against Christians because some class presents a point of view that Christians don’t like is nonsense.

            I bow to your superior legal nous.

            No competent AG would ever bring such a case to court. It would be thrown out immediately as unconstitutional.

            While I’m sure that the D’I’ would love the Attorney General to shoulder some of the burden, it seems to me highly unlikely that the D’I’ would plan to involve that office until they have achieved their short-term objectives (probably, and not limited to: Hedin’s promotion to Conservative sainthood as an oppressed Christian, BSU’s capitulation on some points [e.g. Setting the precedent that an Outsider's complaint can alter course content - if they are offended enough], politicians getting on board the D’I’ agenda and re-writing University funding rules, and /or constitutions to increase political control and influence over courses and content, stirring up Conservative citizens outrage at State-funded Universities while subliminally promoting Christian ‘Universities’ – just your basic undermining academic freedom and free inquiry.).

            I can’t rule out completely that some Creationist AG with a political agenda might take the university to court but if they did it would get thrown out.

            That sounds like a D’I’ wet dream. Great fantasy, but I don’t see the D’I’ gaining that kind of support until they collate some evidence that BSU have significantly broken existing funding rules.

            Civil Suits are of course a different issue. I don’t think there would be a chance to win a civil suit but you can bring a civil suit for lots of groundless reasons and you can make the university have to slog through court which in itself is a terrible burden.

            Aha, so you do get it.

            It’s why I think all the bluster here about how cowardly Ball State is is also nonsense. As some others have said they are between a rock and a hard place and I do agree that the FFRF has some responsibility for starting this mess by interfering in the internal decisions of the University in the first place.

            The FFRF are only guilty of raising the issue of the balance between academic freedom and administrative oversight (in both meanings). The D’I’ have raised the stakes. I think you may be right, the FFRF might just have bitten off more than it can chew.

            Although to be clear, I think the FFRF was absolutely correct in what they were saying.

            Agreed.

            The university did make a bad decision when they included creationism as a science class. But since I believe in academic freedom I believe it should apply even when I disagree with the decisions.

            I disagree. The FFRF was right to point out that Hedin’s course broke the rules of academic freedom (as in my post #7). The pedagogy of any course must be factual. Where the course is teaching facts. Where a course is teaching opinions – such as religious viewpoints in a comparative religion course – creationism would be accurate, and therefore allowed. In a science course it is not factual and therefore not accurate and therefore not allowed.

            Really the D’I’ are doing nothing new. These are the same arguments they’ve been using for High Schools for decades now. The difference is that there is already a National standard for Academic Freedom at this level

            Peace.

          • In reply to #22 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

            The best response to that statement echoes down to us from the 18th Century – as crystal clear and as fresh today as it was then. François-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name Voltaire, was one of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers. He said: I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Fox News, and anyone else, has the right to their own Observer Bias. However, if you were to say that we have insufficient access to redress where facts have clearly been false – as opposed to merely misrepresented – I wouldn’t argue.

            To call what Fox News does “observer bias” is bullshit. They lie. Period. It’s not bias, they say things every day that are provably wrong and they almost never issue corrections.

            Having said that I agree with you that under US law they clearly have the right to lie and can’t be prosecuted for it and there is no way that law is going to change. Whether it’s completely right or not I’m not honestly sure. If the US laws were more like the UK or parts of Europe then Fox wouldn’t be able to get away with the more blatant things they lie about IMO.

            I’m no lawyer so I can’t really say for sure but from what I know it is much easier to bring charges of libel outside the US. In the US you have to prove that the person knew it was a lie and you have to prove that they had intent to defame the individual they lie about. Also, in the US it’s almost impossible to bring a libel suit for someone who is a politician. I don’t know the specific reasons but I know it has almost never been done and there are precedents that make it virtually impossible. On that issue, I’m not quite sure what I think to be honest. On the one hand I very much believe in free speech and believe the best way to counter bad speech is just with more speech. On the other hand, I can see making a case that there are limits to how much an individual should have to put up with someone lying about them endlessly and it’s clear that the misinformation has a devastating effect on US democracy.

          • In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #22 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

            Hi Red Dog,

            To call what Fox News does “observer bias” is bullshit. They lie.

            They do both, it’s called propaganda.

            … they say things every day that are provably wrong and they almost never issue corrections.

            Yep, that’s how propaganda works.

            Having said that I agree with you that under US law they clearly have the right to lie and can’t be prosecuted for it and there is no way that law is going to change.

            True, and the FCC has dropped the Fairness Doctrine.

            Whether it’s completely right or not I’m not honestly sure.

            I am. John Stuart Mill put it best:

            If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and one, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind

            Of course Mill was talking about individual free speech and expression. To me that standard cannot be extended, wholesale, to a publication. There are issues of restricted market access, limited space (and in broadcasting, time), the costs of production and so on. Hopefully, the Net will eventually level the playing field – it certainly seems to be moving us in that direction. However, vested interests are forcing through anti-Net legislation and the full propaganda power of existing licensed publishers is being turned, full time, on the Net. Our freedoms are in more danger now than at any time in the last two centuries.

            If the US laws were more like the UK or parts of Europe then Fox wouldn’t be able to get away with the more blatant things they lie about IMO.

            That’s demonstrably true. Murdoch owns a big stake in a TV station called Sky in Europe, it is not as bad as Fox on facts, but it’s bias is very heavy.

            The issue of libel and defamation is interesting. The US is tougher on the evidence required to prove defamatory intent as you point out. In Britain we have been campaigning to get the law changed.

            I’m no lawyer so I can’t really say for sure …

            Me too. I think I’ll leave defamation for another day.

            On the one hand I very much believe in free speech and believe the best way to counter bad speech is just with more speech.

            I agree. Note that our position is perfectly aligned to a policy of extending Equal Time beyond the current limitation of political candidates. Media regulation does not mean, automatically, limiting free speech. Old Media are of course already learning this lesson through on-line forums. The difference is that, as those forums are owned by private commercial enterprises, they are censored. We need to find a way of removing that censorship.

            Peace.

  7. At the age of eight, I quit taking priests and nuns seriously which got me kicked out of catholic school. In public elementary and middle school I learned about Egyptian mythology, Roman mythology, Greek mythology, Aztec mythology, etc. but not christian mythology. That was reserved for home and church. By the age of ten, I knew all mythologies were all the same, fractured fairy tales and superstitious nonsense. How anyone can take any mythology serious is beyond my ability to comprehend.

  8. The only thing the Discovery Institute will discover is that, by their own mission statement, they are doomed to eventual failure, and dismissal into the annals of history as irrelevant.

  9. The Ball’s state (misspelling on purpose) administration seems as reliable as a sports fan wearing a yankees hat, a redwings jersey, a patriots jacket, and a pair of lebron’s sneakers. These people are chameleons. They do not stand up for or care about anything that resembles character or morality; but rather, take the easy road out of everything. Ball’s state is dangling between my legs.

    • In reply to #19 by crookedshoes:

      Hi crookedshoes,

      The Ball’s state (misspelling on purpose) administration seems as [unreliable] … They do not stand up for or care about anything that resembles character or morality; but rather, take the easy road out of everything.

      That seems to me to be a very unfair analysis of the OP and Ball State’s Administrators.

      Ball State are between a rock and a hard place – the Administration are being forced by the FFRF, the D’I’ , Faculty, and probably unseen politicians to juggle their opposing political views of what a University is, how it should act, it’s level of socio-political accountability and its position in society at large.

      I envy Jo Ann Gora, I would love to fight this fight in person – even with the handicap (probably) of little or no legal fund and (probably, given BSU’s lack of fame until now) few or no alumni with funds to help.

      It is the lack of funds, and the FFRF’s intervention that has drawn in the D’I’. The D’I’ have obviously started with a scatter-gun attack to see what they can hit. They will focus on just one or two things once the initial BSU response comes into focus. In the meantime BSU has to respond to the D’I’s threats and (10-pages of ! ) complaints. BSU has to try to cover all these angles while it works out where its friends and enemies are.

      Peace.

      • I do see your point and (as I am sure you have perceived) I can be very harsh and am often my own victim when it comes to strong language and such. Perhaps I am needlessly screaming here, when a whisper would do. Ball’s state is in a hard spot, but because they allowed themselves to be.

        In reply to #23 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

        In reply to #19 by crookedshoes:

        Hi crookedshoes,

        The Ball’s state (misspelling on purpose) administration seems as [unreliable] … They do not stand up for or care about anything that resembles character or morality; but rather, take the easy road out of everything.

        That seems to me to be a ver…

  10. Nothing new here!
    The Dishonesty-cover-up Institute will always describe competent science as atheism, and whinge on about their YEC pseudo-science through any complaints procedure available to them.

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