More press on the Hedin affair

August 2, 2013 • 9:22 am

UPDATE: The Christian Post piece is up, and appears pretty objective: “Ball State University denounced intelligent design, keeps professor accused of ID bias.


I am a bit surprised that the national press is paying attention to HedinGate, but I suppose it’s expected since a university president issued such a strong statement against the teaching of intelligent design—and at the college level, and invoking the First Amendment.  The more publicity the better, I think, as other universities will certainly pay attention to Ball State president Jo Ann M. Gora’s statement.

The coverage has mostly been positive, much to the chagrin of the Discovery Institute. Here’s a few links.

Huffington Post:Ball State University bans teaching intelligent design in science classes.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Ball State U. bans teaching of intelligent design as science

Inside Higher Ed:Taking a stand for science

SFGate (ironically, by writer Tom Coyne): “Ball State prez: Intelligent design not science.”

I was interviewed this morning by The Christian Post, which has always taken a pro-Hedin and pro-ID stand. We’ll see how they spin the issue; I’ve learned to record my conversations to make sure my views aren’t distorted.

If you want to LOL, read the Discovery Institute’s latest tantrum at Uncommon Descent:An open letter to BSU President Jo-Ann Gora” (her name doesn’t have a hyphen).

And an Urban Planning professor at Ball State, one Eric Damian Kelly, beefs about improper procedure in a long letter at the Muncie Star-Press,Ball State fumbles handling of Hedin case,” He manages to get in a zinger against science, too:

With the limited knowledge of a non-scientist, I believe that the Big Bang is much closer to reality than any theory of so-called intelligent design. I note, however, a couple of factoids: Stephen Hawking in “The University in a Nutshell” (2001) referred to the Big Bang as a “theory,” not a scientific fact; and there is a long history of persecution of astronomers and others in the field for pursuing unusual theories — perhaps beginning with the Catholic Church’s charging Galileo with heresy 500 years ago for asserting that Copernicus was right and that the planets revolve around the sun, not around the earth.One era’s heresy sometimes becomes another era’s theoretical anchor. Has the administration controlled a loose cannon or repressed a Galileo?

Beg your pardon, Dr. Kelly, but Eric Hedin, with his theories of intelligent design, is no Galileo.

The comments sections after Kelly’s letter is amusing, with Kelly weighing in himself.  But he’s schooled by a Ball State alum:

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77 thoughts on “More press on the Hedin affair

  1. Oh burn on the Urban Planning professor. I almost feel bad for him but he should know better than to vomit forth his opinion before thinking through the meanings of his words here, let me google that for you

    I bet he never does that again….I hope.

    The DI whining proved to be too difficult an endurance test for me & I wussed out of completely reading the page but not before I got the strong impression that the ID folks see themselves as maverick scientists (yeah you and every other looney with a stupid idea). The Infinite Monkey Cage had a good show on science mavericks where they elucidate the difference.

  2. Kelly: “If Hedin was doing something weird in his course, deviating from the approved course description, he should have expected to hear from his department chair, Thomas Jordan.

    Kelly fails to mention that this escapade began under the now-retired chair, Thomas Robertson. Just one more sign of how poorly researched his op/ed is.

  3. Urban Planning? Is that still a field? Talk about a pseudo-science.

    Seriously, though, when this all started I was a little dubious, but I came around, and I have to say good on you, Jerry, for making this an issue.

  4. How about capitalizing, as a new convention, the term “Theory” when it refers to a recognized scientific Theory?

    If only to help eliminate the torture of reading yet another brilliant analysis like that from Urban Planning professor at Ball State, one Eric Damian Kelly.

    1. The problem is that “theory” is used by different sciences differently.

      In physics, things that are completely hypothetical and based only on mathematics have been dubbed “theory”. As in string theory. Thing is, it’s not based on any empirical observations. Nor are many other models that are currently in vogue for the early and/or “pre” universe. But those also are dubbed “theories”. M-theory, multi-verse theory, and all the rest.

      Until scientist start doing a better job of using theory in only one sense and not idiomatically based on individual disciplines, I’m afraid it’s going to be a long hard climb.

      1. The examples you give would be better described as “hypotheses” or “conjectures” or even “interesting speculations”.

        1. M-theory is a rigorously worked-out mathematical theory in the same sense as number theory or group theory. And it remains a valid theory (in the mathematical sense) even if it turns out to be unsuitable for modelling physics.

      2. Well, I somewhat disagree. English is full of words with more than one meaning. We deal with all the other ones by educating people to distinguish between uses – NOT by insisting the language be changed. I don’t see any reason to treat this case differently or treat creationists with kid gloves on this issue.

        No, we will not stop having both a formal and vernacular use of this word. The solution is not to truncate or amputate our language in order to accommodate your confusion – which is probably feigned, rhetorical, and not based on honest ignorance in any event. Rather, the solution is for you to educate yourself on this simple and well-known property of the language you claim to speak.

        1. Formal and vernacular use of theory by scientists and journalists is necessary in their fields and I am not aware of any movement to change this. And when discussing the differences between a theory, a hypothesis, and an unsupportable claim with students in high school biology class, there exists an excellent opportunity — ne’ necessity — to explore applicable nuanced definitions of scientific terminology.

          When dealing with parents & school boards, and with state and national education policy voters, however, there is a far more immediate objective than seizing upon a teachable moment to bring them up to speed on terms they should have learned while in school themselves.

          It’s always going to be plenty hard to communicate with the ideologically rigid in those groups. Expecting them to recognize when theory means vernacular and when it means something formal — or to acknowledge so when they do — is quite a long shot.

          The members of the group who might be reached, and perhaps end their support for the not-so-stealthy theocrats, need consistent repetition of definitions that apply to high school biology courses. KISS, trite as that is.

          Then there is a chance these people will make sound decisions in voting booths and at meetings, and students might afterward graduate cognizant of the difference between vernacular and formal theory.

          1. scientists and science journalists, I mean to say, not all journalists (and all others in scientific endeavor I fail to include in my not-list)

      3. I don’t know if it is fair to say that string theory is “NOT” based on any empirical observation. While I don’t know anything about string theory, I am sure it does a fairly good job of explaining the world that exists. I believe the problem with string theory is that the testable predictions made are perfectly explained by existing theories and the unique predictions of string theory are too difficult/impossible to test.

        1. No, it’s actually very challenging to get a string theory model that actually resembles the world as we see it. How close people have come is actually a matter of spirited debate.

  5. Was he seriously comparing Hedin to Galileo? Some ofthe commenters over there seem to agree. Today I learned that this comparison has a name, Galileo gambit -

    Can anyone explain why all scientists are referred to by their second name, except for Galileo?

    1. Well wait a minute now. If you take the name “Galileo”, take away some letters and add others, you get the name “Hedin”. Maybe he’s onto something here.

    2. At the time, people still only had one proper name. The second name was used for disambiguation, and was typically a father’s name or a profession. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, was just Leonardo, who came from a small town called Vinci. Referring to him as “da Vinci”, though common, is entirely wrong. It wasn’t his name at all.

      In the case of Galileo, the surname Galilei was in his family for a while, but so was Galileo. He referred to himself solely as Galileo, and because it was a rare enough name, it was sufficient.

      Later, when last names became more formalized, it became common to use them to refer to people whose first names were more common.

      1. Naming around the world by no means follows western European models. In Hungary the surname comes first, followed by the given (“Christian”) name. Example: the composer known in the west as Béla Bartók is known in Hungary as Bartók Béla.

        In Indonesia, many names are single made up words. Example: Sukarno.

        In Iceland, many people use patronymics, not family names. Example, a recent prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir.

        Cultural differences between societies, even in this era of cultural homogenization, remain common and plentiful. In Japanese homes, there are special slippers to wear when using the toilet. In Russia, the armed forces quite recently switched from having the men wrap their feet in a length of cloth to wearing socks. In the US, the naked human body is considered indecent no matter what the context. (John Ashcroft having statuary draped.)

          1. I’m not sure any Danes has ever named any moon craters…maybe that’s the reason. 🙂

  6. Somewhat off topic, but –

    You wrote, “ironically, by writer Tom Coyne…”

    I would have used “coincidentally” in place of “ironically,” but I’m not sure I have a firm grasp of the proper usage of the word “irony.” Perhaps some other commenters (or our host) can tell me if I am wrong to think it’s not really “ironic” that Tom Coyne wrote that article.

    And please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not trying to be the grammar police here. I’m sincerely unsure and hoping to learn something. I apologize if this inappropriately off-topic.

    1. A friend told me once told me I didn’t understand the definition if irony. Which was ironic because it was raining at the time.

    2. I urge you to join the grammar police! Your bookshelf need contain only two books: Fowler’s “Modern English Usage” and Otto Jespersen’s “Growth and History of the English Language” (a corrective to Fowler’s prescriptivist tendencies).

    3. Example of irony…

      It is ironic that Copernicus’ studies formed part of the foundation for the Calendar Reform** by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 & yet 49 years later Galileo was found “gravely suspect of heresy” for holding to Copernican principles

      ** For this Erasmus Reinhold’s Prussian Tables were used, but Reinhold used Copernicus’ heliocentric mathematical methods translated BACK into a geocentric system

      1. Irony example: The lawyer on the local rock station, who does only DWI defense, getting hit and killed by a drunk driver. Double points if the driver is a guilty former client whom he got off.

  7. It’s reassuring to know that if I lost my job I could always get one at Ball State as faculty. It seems they’ll hire any fool.

    1. As I think I’ve said before in these comments, Ball State is well-known as not a university of the highest caliber.

      1. I have the utmost respect for President Gora. So maybe BSU’s caliber is on rise. All credit to those with the good sense to choose her.

  8. Has the administration controlled a loose cannon or repressed a Galileo?

    Where’s Lloyd Bentsen when you need him?

  9. The Christian Post piece is up, and appears pretty objective

    Not a lot of content – just some facts – but hey, it doesn’t look like they quote mined you. No doubt the DI will foam at the mouth that they weren’t as slanted as they should have been.

    1. This quote from West is hilarious: “The people leading the charge against Hedin largely have no academic qualifications whatever in the area of physics.”

      But I’ve heard the DI say this is completely okay when it comes to say Meyer’s book.

      1. West also complains that the class was primarily about physics, while the reading list was littered with ID propaganda which is primarily about biology.

  10. Larry Moran has still not changed his mind on this.
    What Would Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins Do at Ball State University?
    I have been unable to comment on Larry’s site since he changed his commenting system, so I’ll leave this here instead:
    What would Arthur Butz do at a hypothetical Larry Moran University? Would he be entitled to teach Holocaust denial in his electrical engineering classes? Or would the History dept. be required to allow him to set up a history course on that topic?
    Larry also ignores the distinction between what goes on in the classrom vs. outside the classroom.
    Most professors have graduate students. They do not hide their opinions from their graduate students. Nor do they hide them from their colleagues or the administrators in their university.
    I can’t seem to recall any discussions on the topic of religion with my graduate advisor.

      1. Meh, just ignore him. Do like the song Lisa Simpson and Paul Anka sang to get rid of the monsters rampaging Springfield:

        Just don’t look, just don’t look!

  11. “the Catholic Church’s charging Galileo with heresy 500 years ago.” See- they thought he was nuts but now we know he was right. Therefore if I say something which you think is nuts then it’s pretty obvious that I’m going to be proved right at some point in the future.

    1. Why do I get this feeling you’re “against” something [e.g. evolution]? Difficult for me to tell because you’re not explicit. Sorry if I’ve just misunderstood a joke.

      The RCC didn’t think he was nuts. Galileo pushed his heliocentric view into “theology land” & the RCC pushed back & no outfit at the time could “push” as hard as the RCC. Also there was an interesting objection to the heliocentric theory ~ there was no measurable parallax of the stars over a half-orbit of the Earth. We understand now that this is due to the stupendous distance to the stars & thus it wasn’t until 1838 that annual parallax was used to measure stellar distances. Nobody could believe 200 years earlier that the “eight sphere” [the fixed stars] were so ridiculously far beyond Saturn.

    2. The RCC didn’t think he was nuts. Galileo pushed his heliocentric view into “theology land” & the RCC pushed back & no outfit at the time could “push” as hard as the RCC.

      Also there was an interesting objection to the heliocentric theory ~ there was no measurable parallax of the stars over a half-orbit of the Earth. We understand now that this is due to the stupendous distances to the stars & thus it wasn’t until 1838 that annual parallax was first used to measure nearby stellar distances. Nobody could believe 200 years earlier that the “eight sphere” [the fixed stars] was so ridiculously far beyond Saturn, the “seventh sphere”.

      1. So far as I understand it, Copernicus’s theory (endorsed by Galileo) didn’t ‘save the appearances’ (fit the observations) any better than Ptolemy’s geocentric theory did. The Ptolemaic theory required the use of cycles and epicycles to account for planetary motions – but so did Copernicus’, because he assumed circular orbits. It wasn’t till Kepler came up with elliptical orbits that the heliocentric theory was a good fit.

        1. Yes. I don’t know about the relative accuracy, but I do know the Copernican system required more epicycles than the geocentric system.

  12. The first comment on the Christian Post article is pretty funny:
    John Matthew Tramel – “Hello I am a biology teacher who teaches that the earth is flat…”

  13. Headline at the Sacramento Bee: Ball State University President Imposes Gag Order on Scientists Supportive of Intelligent Design

    1. It appears they ran a press release straight from the Discovery Institute without any editing.

      1. Indeed! One thing I’ve learned from reading all the press on this is how lazy reporters are. Most of the articles are cut and pasted from other sources without any new information added. This one, however, is unconscionable. Could you paste a link here so I can see it? If they ran a straight press release, it’s journalistically unethical.

        1. Well, at least it is labelled as such.
          This section contains unedited press releases distributed by PR NEwswire…


  14. I’ve got it right here. But I also note this header to the article:

    This section contains unedited press releases distributed by PR Newswire. These releases reflect the views of the issuing entity and are not reviewed or edited by the Sacramento Bee staff.

    Modern journalism at its finest, apparently.

  15. World: Today’s News | Christian Views runs an article:
    Ball State backpedals on intelligent design

    In response to pressure from the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), Ball State president Jo Ann M. Gora released a statement Wednesday saying the school will limit intelligent design inquiries to humanities or social science courses.

    “Inquiries” – The writer, Samantha Gilman, fails to distnguish between faculty research and teaching.

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