Latest news on HedinGate from the Muncie newspaper

June 15, 2013 • 9:00 am

Seth Slabaugh has been covering the Eric Hedin case for the Muncie [Indiana] Star-Press, and has published a longish piece in today’s issue, “Panel investigates Christian BSU prof’s class” (note, it’s four pages long, so click at the bottom of the story to continue).

As you will remember, Eric Hedin is the Ball State University professor who taught an honors science class at that public university, a class that was infused with Christian religious prosyletizing, including teaching intelligent design. I became aware of this course through an anonymous student who complained to someone in the area, and that person then informed me. After investigating Hedin’s syllabus, I wrote to Hedin’s chair, letting him know about the course and its strongly pro-religion syllabus. The chairman blew me off, defending Hedin’s course as having been approved by the University and offering a diversity of viewpoints (not true). You can read more about Hedin’s course here.

Nothing else happened until the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), whom I contacted after being tossed under the bus, wrote to Ball State letting them know that they may be in violation of the First Amendment requiring that government not promote specific religions.

Slabaugh’s piece begins with a picture of one of the three textbooks used in the course, John C. Lennox’s odious God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Answer: of course not!). Here’s a picture of the book; I’ve looked at it and the one other textbook available in the University of Chicago Library (the third is apparently a nonreligious book on cosmology).  The cross on the cover gives it away, and it’s as expected: a deeply Christian analysis of science, showing that everything we know about evolution, physics, and biochemistry comports with Christianity. It’s also creationist, suggesting that the gaps in the fossil record mean that macroevolution didn’t happen, and that natural selection on random mutations couldn’t possibly explain evolution. (It also goes after our ignorance of how life began, slyly insinuating that maybe God did it.) Those are classic creationist arguments.

Praise the Lord and pass the pipette!

The other textbook I’ve seen is The Hidden Face of God by Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jew. It does the same thing as Lennox’s book, but using the Old instead of the New Testament, also comporting science with the Bible. (It’s not quite as bad as Lennox’s book, but that’s not saying much.) Clearly, the use of both books as texts, with no dissenting material, constitutes proselytizing for religion. It’s unconscionable if you have any love for true science untrammeled by the albatross of woo.

Slabaugh’s story has some new information of interest, including the following (quotation marks include direct quotes from the paper):

  • “State Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, was among the first to call Ball State University President Jo Ann Gora after news broke that Eric Hedin, an assistant professor of physics, had been accused of encouraging students in a science class to believe in the Bible.. . . “I come from a Christian perspective and a conservative perspective,” Kruse told The Star Press on Friday. ‘I’m under the impression academic freedom should be for everybody, not just liberal, non-God people but Christians as well, who should have the liberty to teach what is the best thing for kids to learn.’ The chairman of the Senate education committee, Kruse last year unsuccessfully sought the teaching of creationism in schools. This year he filed a bill, also unsuccessfully, that would allow public schools to require the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, though individual students could opt out if they or their parents preferred.”

LOL.  Kruse is the perfect advocate for Hedin!  Several of Hedin’s students also wrote the University’s president supporting his course, but there are also dissenting students whose complaints have not been made public, either because they are currently wary of revealing their names (no surprise!) or because the University won’t release the student evaluations, despite the fact that they are anonymous:

  • “Ball State denied The Star Press’ request for access to student evaluations of Hedin’s ‘Boundaries of Science’ course, even without the students’ names. The university said the evaluations are private because they are ‘deliberative documents that are used for the purpose of recommending personnel decisions about promotion, tenure and salary.’. . . Hedin lectured only a few times, [one] student wrote to Gora. ‘The sole content of these lectures involved the life cycle of stellar bodies and the Big Bang Theory.’ Twice, while Hedin was away at conferences, the class watched movies, one of which ‘detailed specific gaps in evolutionary theory,’ the student reported.

I am nearly 100% certain, from what I’ve heard, that the movie in question was the intelligent-design movie “Expelled”, featuring Ben Stein.

It’s heartening that a former BSU trustee also wrote to the University’s president:

  • “Academic freedom is not to be confused with the right of freedom of speech, former BSU trustee James Garretson wrote to Gora on May 26. ‘Instructors are not free to teach whatever they want but are obligated to present the best knowledge of the day on their particular subject,’ wrote Garretson, a member of FFRF. When authorities can’t be convinced that they are breaking constitutional law when they sponsor sectarian activities, ‘FFRF sues, and it wins more often than not,’ he wrote.A retired social studies teacher at Carmel High School, Garretson told The Star Press his interest is ‘merely academic and pride in BSU. I have no problem with creationism being compared to evolutionary science, so long as it is not taught as a science. The Supreme Court settled this years ago …'”

And we now know who will investigate Hedin’s class and his behavior.

  • “Following established policies, a review will be conducted by four faculty members, [spokeswoman Joan Todd] told The Star Press. ‘They will consider carefully all the course materials and speak with Dr. Hedin. They will then render a decision on the academic integrity of the course.’ The review committee members are Catherine (Caty) Pilachowski, a professor of astronomy at Indiana University and past president of the American Astronomical Society; and three BSU faculty: Gary Dodson, professor of biology; Juli Thorsen Eflin, professor of philosophy; and Richard Fluegeman Jr., professor of geological sciences.”

The only thing that irks me is that Hedin’s chair, Thomas Robertson, brushed me aside when I complained, and it took a complaint from the FFRF to get the investigation launched. Well, such is the power of that organization, and I’m glad they interceded. But I say this to Dr. Robertson: “Pity you didn’t listen.”

Finally, this statement early in Slabaugh’s piece threw me for a loop (my emphasis): “A variety of others also have contacted Gora, including a trumpeter from Tempe; a school teacher and ex-Hoosier from Okeechobee; alumni; a former member of BSU’s board of trustees; academics; a Methodist church member from Fort Wayne; the parent of a BSU student; and students who have taken the controversial course.”

A trumpeter from Tempe? That sounded familiar! Sure enough, it was our own reader and owner of Baihu, the prolific Ben Goren:

“As a fan of atheist Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago who brought the complaint against Hedin to FFRF’s attention, Ben Goren, a semi-professional trumpet player and database consultant from Tempe, felt compelled to contact Gora. He claimed two of the textbooks used by Hedin are ‘as outrageously off-the-wall as those on conspiracies of space lizards who directed the building of the pyramids.'”

Classic Ben Goren!  I’m not sure, though, why I was identified as an “atheist”. And I’m not sure, either, how Christians will react to the comparison of Jesus with a space lizard!

Picture 3

39 thoughts on “Latest news on HedinGate from the Muncie newspaper

    1. A quick note for Jerry… I have never come across the term “macroevolution” except when used by evolution deniers. If this really isn’t a scientific term, when scientists use it they should put it in quotes, perhaps followed by a disclaimer that the micro/macroevolution distinction is a false dichotomy.

  1. The “albatross of woo.” I like the sound of this character, what does it do? Sounds like something that sits on Deepak’s head and feeds him ideas like a chick for him to later regurgitate when needed.

    1. That reminds me of the English cuckoos that Dawkins discusses in ‘The selfish gene’.
      Deepak is a cuckoo (kinda rhymes with woo) chick that kicked the other eggs out of the nest, and the parents who dont know any better think he’s the real thing.

  2. Following established policies, a review will be conducted by four faculty members…

    It’s good to see they put a professor of biology on the committee, but I was hoping they would select Prof. Kamal Islam.

      1. I assume that all departmental colleagues would be recused, probably by their own choice. I would not want to formally review an untenured colleague on something like this once the official wheels have been set in motion. I would want to base future P&T decisions on the outcome of an official inquiry, not intermediate information I might have heard along the way.

        On the other hand, I would have had plenty to say prior to the course being taught. In that light, an outside reviewer is also preferred. The department allowed this course to run, after all, and I expect a tendency toward self-defense.

      1. If Dr. Dodson has any influence with the committee, this will probably turn out for the best.

        I base this on the fact that the first specific interest he lists is in the sexual selective pressures on arthropod behavior and his paper on the evolution of antler shape and mating behavior in antlered flies. That strikes me as good, solid, sane evolutionary biology.

        Whether he has any religious sympathies I don’t know and I don’t care. But I do expect him to take one glance at Hedin’s reading list and recognize it for the bullshit it is.

        In my fantasy, the first meeting of the committee opens with Dr. Dobson saying, “Guys, I hate to tell you this, but this is really bad. I’m all for freedom of expression, but this is thoroughly-discredited pseudoscience of the worst kind, right up there with astrology and and spoonbending and climate change denialism, and we just can’t let our institution’s name be sullied by giving honors science credit for it.”

        And, after a bit of silence as his words sink in, they try to come up with the best way of saving face for all as they go about pulling the plug on Hedin’s class.



        1. Do most biologists really keep up with the lunatic fringe? I would expect them to have enough trouble finding time to keep up with their peer-reviewed journals and attend conferences besides their own research and teaching duties.

          1. Even if he’s not already aware of Idiot Design (and how couldn’t he be?), it won’t take him to figure it out once he starts reading the texts.


        1. Her specialist academic area is feminist epistemology. I think it unlikely she is a Christian, post-modernist maybe?

          She attended and was a contributor at:

          Feminist Legacies / Feminist Futures
          25th Anniversary Conference
          October 22-24, 2009
          University of Washington, Seattle

          A conference named afte Hypatia, the geat female pagan astronomer and mathematican of Alexandria, who was brutally matyred by a Christian mob. I would suspect she has little sympathy for Christianity and Christians in general.

  3. How long before we hear: “Jesus died on a cross for you! Who’s going to stand up for him?” Anyhow, things seem to heading in the right direction. Glad to hear Ben blew it on this one!

  4. Dismissing this issue when Jerry called it to their attention is a small price for BSU to pay for the lesson in how to avoid such unwanted attention in the future. I bet that Chair is wishing he acted differently.

    On another note, it may be post migraine cognitive issues, but somehow it makes me laugh thinking of “not quite as bad as Lennox’s book” as a review on the cover of Schroeder’s book: 🙂 Maybe this will be the next quote mine.

  5. Well, I’m not sure why Seth chose to identify you as an atheist rather than an evolutionary biologist, either, but that seems to be about the only thing to criticize in an otherwise well done thorough and detailed summary of what’s going on with the case right now.

    I’m sure Seth was facing space constraints, as the piece is a bit on the long side by today’s standards. If he wasn’t, he might have been able to include my email to Dr. Robertson (copied to Dr. Hedin, Dr. Gora, Jerry, the NCSE, and the editor of the BSU student newspaper) in its entirety:

    Dr. Robertson,

    As a fan of University of Chicago Professor Jerry Coyne’s efforts at expanding public understanding of the foundational theory of biology, I keep an eye on his Web site. And I was dismayed to learn this morning about Ball State’s blatantly unconstitutional endorsement of religiously-motivated pseudoscience in the science classroom — in particular, in Professor Hedin’s HONR 296. Indeed, texts such as Behe’s and Dembski’s are as outrageously off-the-wall as those on conspiracies of space lizards who directed the building of the Pyramids; if they have a place in academia, it’s primarily in abnormal psychology as case studies.

    If there’s one thing that school administrators everywhere should have learned from Kitzmiller v. Dover, it’s that “teaching the controversy” does nothing but waste taxpayer money and ruin the reputation of the sponsoring institution. I’m really quite surprised that an university such as Ball State would have failed to have learned that lesson. As a concerned citizen, I truly hope that Ball State learns this lesson quickly before even more harm is done to what I had thought was such a fine institution.





    1. WRT your last paragraph:

      It’s a common characteristic of the ill-informed (including clueless university administrators) to live in a bubble insulated from what’s actually happening in the world. I offer you masses of fundagelicals who plaster anti-evolution screeds all over the web, but who in doing so are only echoing what they heard in church. They never bother to actually read Darwin, for example, though his books are not difficult to comprehend.

      Thomas Robertson may very well never have heard of Kitzmiller v. Dover or, if he did, it went right in one ear and out the other. ISTM that for a university administrator at any level not to be fully cognizant of that litigation, its outcome, and its significance to publicly funded institutions of learning (e.g. Ball State) is unconscionable. If I were the dean over him, I’d be asking him to step down as department head.

      1. I can maybe understand Dr. Robertson, the department chair, not being aware of the most famous science education case of the century, a case that was all over the national news when happened less than a decade ago and has already been the subject of a PBS documentary.

        But I copied Dr. Gora on my letter, the university’s president, on that letter. And for her to be ignorant of that case is inexcusable. Indeed, I can’t imagine how she could possibly be ignorant of the case.

        It’s good that BSU has started its own formal investigation. I’m not that familiar with their internal regulatory process. I don’t see this as anything but an open-and-shut case of gross academic misconduct and incompetence, but I’ll grant that they might have policies in place that state anything short of criminal arrest must go through their internal processes.

        But, there are really only two possible outcomes at this point. Either BSU resolves the matter internally in a manner that results in HONR 296 no longer being offered for science credit in anything remotely resembling its current form; or BSU will get beat down, hard, by the courts.

        The former option is much better for all in question.

        Let Hedin teach HONR 296 off campus at his local church for any who want to hear what he has to say. Let him teach it for credit at a seminary. Let him fix it so it’s devoid of Idiot Design and truly discusses the cutting-edge boundaries of science such as the implications of the discovery of the Higgs and the uneven distribution of the cosmic microwave background and the role of group selection in biology and the search for metamaterials and high temperature superconductors and all the rest. Or even let him cover the Idiot Design controversy in a current affairs class that presumably will spend at least a month on the Dover trial.

        Just don’t let him preach his blitheringly idiotic anti-scientific Christian propagandistic bullshit in the state’s science classroom.

        After all, if he was a biology professor who offered an honors class “teaching the controversy” about astrology, he’d be out on his ass right quick, no?



        1. The formation of the committee is a very good development.

          On the subject of ill-informed people (and, unfortunately, policymakers) living in bubbles . . . . State Senator Dennis Kruse, whose district is far from Muncie and Ball State, introduces some nutball “stand up for Jesus” bill in just about every session of the General Assembly. I have seen him in action in committee hearings, and he soes seem clueless about the blatant unconstitutionality of these bills that he offers. (Without exception, they have died in committee in one chamber or the other because party leaders notice that the bills violate federal appellate court decisions that are squarely on point.)

          I’d like to think that even Sen. Kruse is smart enough to eventually realize or notice that his bills are going to fail, and fail quickly. But maybe he already has realized this, and he is merely wasting staff time and public resources in order to do some pious showboating for the voters in his district. We have defiantly, arrogantly ignorant voters in plentiful supply throughout the Hoosier State.

          Sen. Kruse is not a lawyer, but he has a conservative fundagelical brother who is a lawyer and who apppears to be very-closely aligned with him on these educational-policy issues.

          1. There have always been vocal idiot fringe politicians. And, so long as they’re inconsequential blowhards such as Kruse, they actually serve a valuable function: to give an outlet to the idiot fringe nutjobs who vote them into office.

            What gets scary is when they become numerous and / or influential…such as is happening right this very moment with the Republican War on Women. That’s some really scary shit going down right now….


    2. Nitpick here (sorry, but I can’t restrain myself) – it should be “a university,” not “an university.” Unless, that is, you happen to pronounce the word “ooniversity.” Which is just weird. 🙂

      1. If you use “an” before “history,” then you should also use it before “university.”

        Remember, written and spoken English are two completely different, though certainly related, languages.



        1. I never understood why anyone would use “an history.” The H is not silent, so why us “an?” It’s like saying “an hairball” or “an ham sandwich.” It just sounds wrong.

          1. Again, write, not say.

            Written and spoken English really are two different languages. Nobody speaks as they write, and, typically, only really bad writers write as they speak. Twain was a notable exception of somebody who could pull off dialectic writing, but damned few others can manage it — and most know better than to try.



  6. Assuming the four professors looking at Hedin’s course conclude that it is Intelligent Design Creationism naked and unadorned, then Ball State will have to decide whether their university will continue to award science status to said course.

    The Design Institute sorry Discovery Institute folks must be praying hard for a miracle.

  7. The more I hear about this course the more I wonder if it’s even a rigorous course worthy of “honors” credit. These small group discussions seem strange. What ideas could come up in discussion that could be equal to ideas that have come from scientists? Then bringing them up after a period of time for what purpose? I’d love to know what these discussions were supposed to be about and how students were supposed to prepare for them.

    And with a course that has such a broad sweep how difficult would it be to find someone to fill in for an hour? Showing a movie is a total cop out even if it’s a good movie. Other people teach this course so couldn’t such a nice guy find someone to do a swap?

    I disagree with PZ Myers about what they should do with Hedin but more and more I’m agreeing with his assessment that it’s a “crap course”

  8. Re John C. Lennox book, ” God’s undertaker ” with crucifiX on cover.

    In the realm of Control of Substances Hazardous to Health, COSHH, the warning symbol of an irritant or harmful substance has been X though really more of a + with each of the lines at 45 degrees. ( Depends how you look at it )
    The warning symbol for a toxic substance is a skull and cross bones.

    So maybe the new Globally Harmonized System of hazard pictograms should be employed by requiring
    that a pictogram of a crucifix at 45 degrees with a skeletal jesus be placed on the cover of bibles etc ?

    There could also be a warning message, ” Toxic ! Caution contains high percentage of fiction ”
    ” Proof not determined “,
    ” In the event of ingestion, swallowing: irrigate with detailed evidence of Theory of evolution by natural selection and other bits of reality. Consult Dr Jerry Coyne ”

    By the way the new Health Hazard symbol looks like someone who has just swallowed a star of David.

    It is possible to compare bible with it’s summary, alsoran, on…
    Anyone with a reasonable memory who had heard the bible stories could have written the quran, but I guess being illiterate would help.

  9. ‘It’s unconscionable if you have any love for true science untrammeled by the albatross of woo’

    Oh man. Just once before I die I would love to see The Albatross Of Woo trammel something…… anything.

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