Ball State University president unequivocally rejects intelligent design; not good news for Eric Hedin or the Discovery Institute

July 31, 2013 • 11:11 am

This email was sent today by Ball State University (BSU) president Jo Ann M. Gora to all her faculty and students.  It unequivocally rejects the teaching of intelligent design and religious ideas in BSU science classes (I’ve put the relevant parts in bold).

It looks like Eric Hedin will no longer be able to push religious ideas in his Physics and Astronomy class.  Note that Gora also says, contra P. Z. Myers and Larry Moran, that “teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom—it is a matter of academic integrity.”  This undoubtedly reflects the report of the five-person committee assigned to review Hedin’s course, whose report must have been something like “it’s not science.”

Note as well, in the third-from-last paragraph, that Gora says this is a First Amendment issue, and that BSU should “maintain a clear separation between church and state.” That is an added bonus, making it clear that at least one public university is cognizant of this issue.

I count this, perhaps a bit prematurely, as a victory.  And it would not have been possible if “outsiders” like the Freedom from Religion Foundation hadn’t warned BSU what was going on. I thank my anonymous informants at BSU, those students who complained about the course, and, of course the FFRF, whose attorney Andrew Seidel kept the heat on BSU.

Now one can speculate that this is a move designed to save BSU’s credibility as a purveyor of good science.  But now is not the time for such cynicism. I’d like to think that the university simply recognized that it’s in nobody’s interest to teach religion in a science class.

Kudos to Dr. Gora for writing this no-nonsense statement, which gives no cover to those who want intelligent design taught at that school. We can expect some fulmination from the Discovery Institute, and grumbling about bullying and martyrdom.

Gora’s letter:

Dear Faculty and Staff,

This summer, the university has received significant media attention over the issue of teaching intelligent design in the science classroom. As we turn our attention to final preparations for a new academic year, I want to be clear about the university’s position on the questions these stories have raised. Let me emphasize that my comments are focused on what is appropriate in a public university classroom, not on the personal beliefs of faculty members.

Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory. Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies’ independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science. The list includes societies such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Astronomical Society, and the American Physical Society.

Discussions of intelligent design and creation science can have their place at Ball State in humanities or social science courses. However, even in such contexts, faculty must avoid endorsing one point of view over others. The American Academy of Religion draws this distinction most clearly:

Creation science and intelligent design represent worldviews that fall outside of the realm of science that is defined as (and limited to) a method of inquiry based on gathering observable and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. Creation science, intelligent design, and other worldviews that focus on speculation regarding the origins of life represent another important and relevant form of human inquiry that is appropriately studied in literature and social science courses. Such study, however, must include a diversity of worldviews representing a variety of religious and philosophical perspectives and must avoid privileging one view as more legitimate than others.

Teaching religious ideas in a science course is clearly not appropriate. Each professor has the responsibility to assign course materials and teach content in a manner consistent with the course description, curriculum, and relevant discipline. We are compelled to do so not only by the ethics of academic integrity but also by the best standards of our disciplines.

As this coverage has unfolded, some have asked if teaching intelligent design in a science course is a matter of academic freedom. On this point, I want to be very clear. Teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom – it is an issue of academic integrity. As I noted, the scientific community has overwhelmingly rejected intelligent design as a scientific theory. Therefore, it does not represent the best standards of the discipline as determined by the scholars of those disciplines. Said simply, to allow intelligent design to be presented to science students as a valid scientific theory would violate the academic integrity of the course as it would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.

Courts that have considered intelligent design have concurred with the scientific community that it is a religious belief and not a scientific theory. As a public university, we have a constitutional obligation to maintain a clear separation between church and state. It is imperative that even when religious ideas are appropriately taught in humanities and social science courses, they must be discussed in comparison to each other, with no endorsement of one perspective over another.

These are extremely important issues. The trust and confidence of our students, the public, and the broader academic community are at stake. Our commitment to academic freedom is unflinching. However, it cannot be used as a shield to teach theories that have been rejected by the discipline under which a science course is taught. Our commitment to the best standards of each discipline being taught on this campus is equally unwavering. As I have said, this is an issue of academic integrity, not academic freedom. The best academic standards of the discipline must dictate course content.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues. Best wishes in your preparations for a new academic year. I look forward to seeing you at the fall convocation in just a few weeks.
Sincerely,

Jo Ann M. Gora, PhD
President

128 thoughts on “Ball State University president unequivocally rejects intelligent design; not good news for Eric Hedin or the Discovery Institute

  1. Dr. Gora was absolutely clear in her letter, a sign of a true leader. Perhaps FFRF should send copies of her letter to all the superintendents at Pennsylvania high schools that seem to think that “creation science” is a viable scientific alternative to evolution. Let’s hope that the tide is turning!

    1. Good idea. School leaders should here this from other school leaders in addition to scientific institutions.

    2. In contrast to Jerry, I think it’s always the right time for cynicism, but I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity and straightforwardness of Dr. Gora’s letter.

  2. No wiggle-room there! Good for her for coming down on the right side and making it crystal clear what is expected of any professor, really. Course content should match the course description in every department!

          1. Which makes me wonder, is there anything like “journalistic integrity”? Whatever, MS seems to have none of that.

  3. It is rare to get such a statement from a university president; they are basically politicians. I wonder if Ball State will see a dip in alumni contributions as a result of this.

    And finally: “The American Academy of Religion” – I did not know such a thing existed.

      1. What surprised me was that their view of Creation and ID versus science is as balanced as it is: “Creation science, intelligent design, and other worldviews that focus on speculation…” A refreshing change from the lunatic stance taken by the likes of the Discovery Institute.

  4. I never much liked the “academic freedom” argument that some made. The “academic integrity” terminology seems a far better fit.

    All in all, that’s a good response from Ball State.

    1. Academic freedom and academic integrity are two sides of the same coin. You can’t really have one without the other — the trick is finding the right balance between them, which I think this letter does well.

  5. Great that she wrote that teaching ID is not an academic freedom issue but an integrity issue. TWICE!

    It seems clear that she found the media attention embarrassing and with the DI cheerleading their support of Hedin, the embarrassment increased as the university’s reputation decreased so it isn’t surprising that she reminded everyone that the “….trust and confidence of our students, the public, and the broader academic community are at stake.

    1. I’m sure she also got input from the science faculty who don’t want this stain on their departments.

      1. I look forward to their regular meltdown. Much ado, followed by much whining, over nothing.

  6. A tad late to the party, but not by much.

    Dr. Gora’s letter is exemplary; it could not have been written better. She is to be heartily commended for championing reason and integrity in such an unambiguous and unapologetic manner. She has set a most high standard by which her peers should be judged.

    I intend to send a letter to her stating as much, and I strongly encourage others to do likewise. We get vocal when we bitch, but we need to be even more vocal when people do the right thing.

    Cheers,

    b&

      1. It’d also be worth copying the department chair, the student newspaper, Seth Slabaugh, the FFRF, and Jerry. I don’t happen to have all those addresses handy, but none of them are hard to find….

        b&

      2. Thank you for the email address. I just sent Dr. Gora a letter thanking her for the very clear and concise explanation of why “Intelligent Design” has no place in a biology course.

    1. I think its great, and exemplary, but I did have one small quibble (that takes nothing away from the main point).

      She quotes: “Such study, however, must include a diversity of worldviews representing a variety of religious and philosophical perspectives and must avoid privileging one view as more legitimate than others.”

      I think its fine to have a class dedicated to a single religious worldview. Not every religious class has to be comparative religion, there is plenty of room in the course book for the Islam (only) elective in religion, the Shakespeare (only) elective in literature, and the Design Theory (only) elective in philosophy. A deep dive into a narrow subject is what a lot of academia is about. The AAR is absolutely right, however, about the non-privileging part. The Islam class should not be teaching that Islam is the one true religion; the Shakespeare class should not be teaching that he is the only legitimate playwright, and the Design class should not be teaching that it is a true theory. In all of these cases, a “depth instead of breath” class needs to demonstrate a certain level of academic objectivity. A recognition that the goal of the class is to master a specific subject matter or a specific technique, and not give the student the impression that it is the only subject matter or technique that is important.

      1. You are correct, but then a a good university would have to maintain diversity. (And, I would argue, a comparative religion class is mandatory before delving into specifics. In Sweden those are the only religious classes we have outside of religious free schools.)

        Nitpicking aside (which aim to uphold academic integrity).

        1. Did you know that Hedin spent two years in Sweden on a “church planting” mission. Apparently it wasn’t very successful

          1. He’d have better luck selling snowshoes in Barbados! Those poor, backward Swedes probably weren’t sophisticated enough to understand what he was talking about. Do you know what sort of church it was? And how did you learn this?

    2. Ben:

      When you have your letter drafted, would you make that draft available someway to those of us lazy folks who would be happy to say “I’m with Ben Goren on this, Dr. Gora,” but who might not write their own letters? Thnx.

      (No, I’m not looking for a petition, or a multi-signature screed. I’m just looking for, as I said, something I can “chime in” on — something to which I can say “me too!”

      pH

    3. Excellent suggestion Ben.

      I always say: No one hear’s their name or “thanks” often enough. I try to act on that at every opportunity.

  7. Thanks belong also to Jerry and the FFRF without whom Pres. Gora wouldn’t have had to clearly delineate BSU’s policy.

    1. Indeed. Jerry brought the issue to national attention. Combined with a few letters from the FFRF to encourage the focussing of minds, the result was a formality for any university genuinely concerned about academic integrity. The only question was whether Ball State was such a university. Pres. Gora has answered the question in exemplary style.

  8. President Gora writes a clear and compelling statement, one that would be very useful in any discussion with people interested in portraying ancient myths as faact (that would be you, Texas Textbook Commission).

    A very useful statement indeed, right up until this:

    ‘However, it (academic freedom) cannot be used as a shield to teach theories that have been rejected by the discipline under which a science course is taught.’

    NO, NO, NO, President Gora. If a claim is rejected by a scientific discipline, it IS BY DEFINITION NOT A THEORY.

    I’m very sorry for shouting, but goddamit, you may not think you just wrote a statement saying creationism is a not a scientific theory, but Rick Perry and the TTC members heard you say creationism IS a theory, one of many other theories that scientists reject. And as Rick knows, the same atheist scientists accept their own pet theory of evolution.

    It is also what the Discovery Institute and their constituency heard. Same goes for the AIG community, fundie clergy, the politicians & media who are members of these groups or controlled by them, and what will be passed along to all the folks who seldom investigate things for themselves, instead relying on authority figures to tell them the right thing to believe in.

    You write in the para I quote, President Gora, that there is more than one theory, even if that is actually the exact opposite of what you really mean. And the fundies read that, and their eyes get big, and they instantly repeat their demand that all of the theories get taught, then, so a winner among them can be determined. And another lap around the ignorance tree commences.

    Religious zealots are consistent and offer absolutes; their message is simple to comprehend.

    Scientists and educators, on the other hand, all too often in one paragraph say something is not actually a theory and therefore must not be taught, and in the next paragraph they turn around and — bigger’n Dallas — refer to that same damned thing a theory!

    As far as the creationist crowd is concerned this is because ‘science’ is lying in order to silence the truth of (Abrahamic desert monotheism of your choice). It is further evidence of the liberal commie fascist Dept of Ed indoctrinating the youth of ‘Murica.

    1. I’ll argue that her statement is stronger the way it is. Geocentricism is a perfectly valid scientific theory in the sense you’re using, and yet we no more want it taught as fact to students than we do Idiot Design.

      That ID doesn’t even rise to the “theory” bar is important, yes, but irrelevant.

      Besides, she made it painfully clear that ID is religion, not science. That’s all the clarification and classification needed.

      b&

    2. If a claim is rejected by a scientific discipline, it IS BY DEFINITION NOT A THEORY.

      No, it’s just a bad theory. Or, more accurately, it is a theory that is not supported by the data.

      Geocentrism could have been true. So could phlogiston theory. And so could intelligent design. The issue is that they are not supported by the data, not that they aren’t actually theories.

      1. No, it’s just a bad theory. Or, more accurately, it is a theory that is not supported by the data.

        Wouldn’t that be called a hypothesis?

        1. Geocentrism, phlogiston, and ID are all attempts to provide broad underlying explanations to a variety of observable phenomena, so they all seem more properly to be theories than hypotheses. From each of these theories one can derive hypotheses, and those hypotheses are generally not supported empirically, meaning these are not theories that conform to empirical reality.

          1. Well, as a layman I went by the Wiki explanation of hypothesis:

            A scientific hypothesis is a proposed explanation of a phenomenon which still has to be rigorously tested. In contrast, a scientific theory has undergone extensive testing and is generally accepted to be the accurate explanation behind an observation. A working hypothesis is a provisionally accepted hypothesis proposed for further research.[

            The keywords being rigorously tested and extensive testing. It would seem to me that ID can’t show anything like that, so it’s still stuck in the phase of hypothesis. To me, not even a working hypothesis.

            1. Yes, not even that. David Deutsch describes a scientific hypothesis “worth investigating” as one that has explanatory power (i.e., the mechanism is clear), is testable (by further observations or experiment), and is “simple” (a “complex” hypothesis is to be preferred over a simple one only if it provides better explanations or more detailed predictions).

              Triple strike for ID!

              /@

              1. Of course ID is testable. As just one example, Craig Venter developed a bacterium with fully synthetic DNA, and encoded his name, some literary quotes, and other non-functional information into the string of nucleotides. Surely if every organism on earth had the same set of similar sequences in its DNA, that would be evidence for design by some outside intelligence. Indeed, aren’t the ID folks opposed to “junk DNA” precisely because it invalidates the notion of careful design?

                ID fails largely because there is overwhelming evidence of poor, sub-optimal, historically bound and contingent “design”, an approach no designer would actually take, and no evidence that any “designs” in nature could not have evolved by selection from earlier forms.

                ID is testable — it’s just wrong.

              2. I should’ve taken more care: “is testable” » “makes predictions that are testable”.

                ID doesn’t, afaik, predict that God’s signature is in our DNA. (Except in the same metaphorical sense that the CMB is the footprints of God.)

                /@

              3. ID doesn’t, afaik, predict that God’s signature is in our DNA.

                No, but it does predict that all or almost all DNA is functional, that such biological features as the flagellum, the eye, and the immune system do not have a plausible evolutionary history, that some biological features/organisms/body plans will appear all at once in the fossil record without any obvious antecedents, etc. etc. etc.

                I think these can reasonably be called testable predictions. They are just clearly wrong (or, more precisely, obviously not supported by well-established empirical findings).

    3. Even in science terms are defined by usage.

      Your usage is idiosyncratic, and certainly not ground for yelling. Most scientists would distinguish between good/valid and bad/invalid theories.

  9. I’m sure Ceiling Cat will do a puss in boots tap dance tonight!

    Clear win, and clear headed response from Gora. What she calls “academic integrity” is what I called academic “quality”.

    It will even be a win-win for education, since Hedin will be fully and conscionably free to teach ID religion in humanities. With the religious controversy over “creation”, and each religion’s strength and weaknesses, in mind of course.

    1. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book but the cover, but it’s usually a good idea to avoid anything with strange glows behind human bodies or what my family calls “Jesus clouds” — the sunlight shining through clouds that you see in a lot of Christian themed greeting cards.

        1. I know many who would argue with you that, not only are spirits very real, that they practically can’t get out of bed in the morning without them.

          Utility, of course, remains debatable….

          b&

              1. Well, well, well — that pitcher puts a different perspective on the matter. At least, when one looks at it through clean glasses.

                b&

      1. Well, it’s got complimentary blurbs from Deepak Chopra and one Jerry Cohen (say WHAT?) – oh, that’s Cohen, C-o-h-e-n. Still gave me a start when I first glanced over it, though. 🙂

  10. We can expect some fulmination from the Discovery Institute, and discussions of bullying and martyrdom.

    Looking forward to it. Maybe we’ll learn something new from the superior line of reasoning behind ID.

    Because surely we haven’t heard it all before.

  11. Brava, Dr. Gora.

    A clear statement that’s completely in line with academic standards befitting a class A learning institution.

    ID is not science. It’s religion. Teaching religion is fine; but not in science class.

    Teaching a specific brand of religion is not fine — it has to be contextualized.

  12. Well done. I just want to say thanks to all involved in this matter, and especially Ms. Gora. That letter is painfully concise and very much on the side of reason. It should be used as a template for schools across the country.

    Is it possible to perma link that letter to every ID claim on the internet?

    1. Dr Gora’s response is only after Dr JC’s prompting, who’s the real hero here?
      And this happpened under Dr Gora’s watch.

      Thank you Dr Coyne!

  13. I’m done reading the news today. I’m sure nothing I read will make me feel better about humanity than this article.

  14. ….and we have the whining from our pals at a href=”http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/07/ball_state_univ_1075021.html”>evolution news.

    1. Damn that’s my second tag fail today:

      a href=”http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/07/ball_state_univ_1075021.html”> This is the link grrrr

        1. Thank you both! I looked forward to these responses, and they don’t disappoint in their whining and whingeing. It is ID trolling science of course, which is all what they do, but for once I want to disregard the tactic of not responding to trolls and analyse:

          – FFRF is “extremist”, presumably because they push adherence to US law and academic quality.

          – IDiots still doesn’t get what science is:

          — “ID theorists”.

          IF ID was a biological theory, where is the peer reviewed work?

          — “ID theorists hold that a variety of features observable and testable in living creatures and in the fossil record are best explained as the product an intelligent cause rather than an unguided process such as natural selection.”

          If you have a theory which purports to “best explain” features purported to be “observable and testable”, you need to predict and test it. Not against the existence of observable, testable constraints, but against the predictions of your theory.

          Else it amounts to something inane. Such as pointing to a feature and go “godsdidit”. Or pointing to _another theory_ and go “itdidn’tdoit”.

          If ID was a theory, where is its predictions and tests?

          – IDiots wants to slip through something which they admit isn’t a theory [but in the other post it was] as “teaching about the controversy over intelligent design”. It is a retreat from the usual “teach the controversy”, but it is still ineffective against Gora’s recognition of that ID is religion, not a scientific controversy.

          – IDiots threaten with … something:

          “If anyone thinks that Gora’s statement is the end of the Hedin matter, they are mistaken. This is just the beginning. BSU is a state university, and its blatant double standard on academic freedom raises fundamental questions that will need to be answered.”

          Which means either they have given up (since the legal route was the one landing us here). Or that they will try another round of trying to fool the public that Gora’s and other’s response was against instead of in support of academic freedom and integrity.

          1. I somehow feel a bit shameful after frequenting and adding my traffic to a site like that.

          2. Their threat at the end just means they’ll drive Gora crazy with petitions and haughty demands.

  15. Academic integrity.

    That’s going to sting the Disco Tute for quite a while.

    “It’s not a matter of academic freedom, but a matter of academic integrity.”

    I’ll get working on the t-shirts!

  16. “scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom—it is a matter of academic integrity.”

    I’m glad she made this very clear. This is exactly what I have been arguing when it appeared overriding concern was academic freedom for the poor professors. Screw that, students deserve better.
    Kudos to Dr. Gora for recognizing this.

  17. Thank you, Jerry, for championing this cause. Without your persistence, it may have come out this way regardless….but I doubt it. This is a feather in your cap.

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