Eric Hedin beefs about being “canceled” at Ball State by the FFRF and me, but forgives me, showing a cat leading me to Jesus!

May 7, 2022 • 12:15 pm

You’d have to be a long-time reader of this site to remember the story of my interaction with Eric Hedin, a physicist at Ball State University (a public college) in Muncie, Indiana. It’s recounted in many posts here going back 2013 (see here and here, for instance).

In short, Hedin, a deeply religious Christian, couldn’t bring himself to leave God out of his non-major’s honors course at Ball State: “The Boundaries of Science”. I got hold of his syllabus, did some investigation, and realized that Hedin was teaching his students a form of Intelligent Design in a public university.  Much of the course was directed, as the title suggests, at showing why phenomena in nature could not be explained by science, naturalism, or materialism—implying that a supernatural God was responsible.

Now the 2005 case of Kitzmiller v. Dover, argued in a federal district court in Pennsylvania, ended in a ruling by John Jones (a Republican judge!) that intelligent design, being taught in the school, was “not science”. ID was instead, ruled Jones, a disguised form of religion whose teaching violated the First Amendment.

As Wikipedia notes,

On December 20, 2005, Jones issued his 139-page findings of fact and decision ruling that the Dover mandate requiring the statement to be read in class was unconstitutional. The ruling concluded that intelligent design is not science, and permanently barred the board from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring ID to be taught as an alternative theory.

Another happy ending: all eight of the school board members who had approved the use of an ID textbook in the Dover High School lost their election bids to candidates who opposed the teaching of ID. Further, the Dover Area School district had to pay over a million dollars in fines. Faced with similar outcomes and bankrupting of schools, no more cases like this were adjudicated. The defendants indicated they would not appeal, and since then teaching ID in public schools has been a legal no-no.

So, eight years later, when I saw that Hedin was teaching ID at a state University, I wrote to his chairman (and, as I recall, his colleagues), calling attention to this violation. I was blown off, but then the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) got involved (Ceiling Cat bless them). Note that at no time did I call for Hedin’s firing or desired to damage his career; I simply wanted the school to stop teaching creationism as a form of science.

The FFRF wrote one of its official (and implicitly threatening) letters to the President and officials of Ball State, them that Hedin’s course was violating the Constitution. The President launched an investigation, and it transpired that Hedin was ordered to stop teaching that course. A rare victory for good science!

Hedin was later promoted to associate professor, a promotion I supported so long as he didn’t drag religion into his teaching. Still, he beefed all the while that he, a “young assistant professor”, had been hounded and harassed by the likes of an established professor (me) and the FFRF.

Hedin eventually gave up his job at Ball State and moved to teaching physics at Biola University in Los Angeles (the name comes from its former one: The Bible Institute of Los Angeles). There he apparently found a congenial niche, since it’s a private religious school and he can drag God and Jesus into any science course he wants. (I weep for the poor students subjected to this nonsense.)

Then Hedin went public with his “story”—the story of how a assistant professor just trying to do his job was canceled by the FFRF and a well- known professor. The implication was that the FFRF and I were trying to destroy Hedin—to “cancel” a man.

But he wasn’t canceled—his course was. The man was promoted, for crying out loud!

Hedin recently published a whole book about this dustup: Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You to See, published in February of 2021 by the Discovery Institute (presumably no reputable publisher wanted it). It didn’t sell very well, hardly got any reviews, and is way down there in the rankings of creationist books, many of which have sold well in the past (e.g. Darwin’s Black Box, and Signature in the Cell; the books, I suspect, are snapped up by the many anti-evolution and religious Americans who seek confirmation of their views).

I also suspect that the poor sales and lack of reviews of Canceled Science are the reason that the Discovery Institute continues to flog the book on its website (e.g., see here, and here), at the same time denigrating the FFRF and me for trying to “cancel” Hedin. I have to laugh when I see this campaign; nobody got canceled, for it was all about the separation of church and state. But it’s too late for Hedin to beef, as nobody’s interested, and his 15 minutes of fame are up.

Here’s the book:

Recently, the Discovery Institute taped a 45-minute lecture by Hedin on his book and his persecution (he sees himself in the tradition of Christian martyrs tortured for their faith), and I put the video below. Its YouTube notes:

Eric Hedin, author of Canceled Science, explains how he was canceled by the scientific establishment and reflects on the lessons he learned during the experience. He also discusses scientific evidence which points to a Creator. This talk was presented at the 2022 Dallas Conference on Science and Faith in January 2022.

You can listen to it if you want, though the “evidence” for ID, filtered through a physicist rather than a biologist, is even more risible than usual. The reason I’m putting it up is because reader Beth sent me the video link adding, “Eric Hedin drew a cartoon for you, showing you with a cat being invited by Jesus to “come Home” (22:47 in the video).”  Now how could I resist that?

Actually, it was Hedin’s wife who drew the cartoon, as a “picture for Jerry Coyne” as well as “offer of forgiveness” for me (in good Christian tradition, Hedin forgives all of us who “persecuted” him). And the cartoon is below, captured from a screenshot of a slide:

LOL! Well, I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Hedin, but I ain’t coming home to Jesus, and neither is any cat: it’s well known that all cats are atheists.

Now that you’ve seen that, you may, if you wish, listen to Hedin’s talk, heavily larded with references to God, Jesus, and the Bible. (As I said, he’s found a good home at Biola.)

If you want to skip the self-serving and humble beginning, I’d listen to the last 20 minutes, beginning at 24:40 (before The Picture), and listen to Hedin tick off the things that science can’t ever explain and therefore prove Jesus.

Here are a few of Hedin’s “failures of naturalism”:

  • It can’t explain the beginning of the Universe, and thus of space and time, using principles of physics within space and time. You have to go outside that stuff—i.e., you have to invoke God.
  • The existence of complex living things can’t be explained by naturalism. Hedin apparently sees evolution as a “random” process, and has forgotten about natural selection, which acts to order random changes in the DNA into well adapted organisms.
  • Materialism can’t explain the “information barrier”: the suggestion that if there are more ways for a process to go wrong than right, then the process will go wrong. Thus there can be no increase in “information” under evolution. No anteaters, dandelions, or humans. That takes God. But this is wrong. Of course there can be an increase in information over evolutionary time; there’s just no decrease in entropy. 
  • Materialism can’t explain the ability of humans to think rational thoughts.

I won’t waste my time rebutting this all in detail; Google is your friend here. All I can say is that, as a physicist, he makes a damn poor critic of evolutionary biology. Years ago I wrote a critique of ID, “The case against Intelligent Design,” which appeared in the New Republic and is now reprinted on the Brockman Edge site. If you want my views on ID, see that.

One of the most telling statements by Hedin occurs at the end of his talk, when he confesses that his Christianity is based not on evidence, but on “faith”, euphemistically called “the witness of the spirit”:

“I’ve written a lot more about evidence for design in my book and I’ve even made the connection with my own faith there. I believe that what we see in nature can strengthen our faith, but that my faith is really based is really based on my relationship with God: through the witness of the Spirit in my inner being.”

So, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, here’s the video of Dr. Hedin, a man of soft manner and amiability, showing how he’s become the modern equivalent of Christians thrown to the lions. (I’ve recently read, however, that the Roman scenario of lions and Christians is false.)

Start 24 minutes in, and then you have to listen for only 20 minutes:

h/t: Amy

18 thoughts on “Eric Hedin beefs about being “canceled” at Ball State by the FFRF and me, but forgives me, showing a cat leading me to Jesus!

  1. That whole “I’ll pray for you” schtick smacks of equal parts hostility and smugness.

    Those attributes seem to be characteristic of most religions, not just Christianity, but Christianity wallows in them.

    Ick.

    L

  2. Why has Jesus got no feet and only one disembodied arm? The crucifixion must have been more disruptive than we’ve been told.

    Henin’s fourth point (“Materialism can’t explain the ability of humans to think rational thoughts”) is basically the Argument from Reason, which CS Lewis was on about some 70 years ago, and had his backside handed to him on a plate by Elizabeth Anscombe as a result. Is this really still the best that creationists have got?

    1. Agreed, pretty weak. His arguments have been debunked so many times over.
      He does not appear to understand -or want to understand- the ‘apposition’ mechanism of evolution, he algorithm of evolution. If something goes in the ‘right’ direction it will automatically replace the ones in the ‘wrong’ direction, and continue from there, that is how ‘reproduction’ goes. There is no other mechanism known to achieve complexity. He thinks -or pretends to think- evolution is a kind of random process, something that has been debunked so often that it is shameful to dredge that up. What is true is that we have not yet a theory, a certainty, about abiogenesis, but there are some pretty good hypotheses.

      And then there remains the obvious elephant in the room: how did this complex ‘designer’ originate? Replacing something relatively improbable -but far from impossible- by something infinitely more improbable?

      Indeed, is this the best they’ve got?

  3. I listened to an interview with Hedin in which he discussed the book. He did not have anything of note to say and I did not read his book. But I did try reading Ken Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God. In that book he rejects the common notions of god, including the god of Intelligent Design; then he goes on to build his own god 🙂 I must read it again.

  4. Honestly, this is so tiring, and why give Mr. Hedin any attention at all when any one youtube of Christopher Hitchens cleanly and emphatically explaining how religion poisons everything is so concise, brilliant and convincing. We will not convert the diminishing subset of intelligent designers out there who are incapable of seeing their flawed reasoning and actually revel in this silly need to outsmart natural selection.

  5. Christians thrown to lions – since g*d could have saved them if he wanted/could be bothered to, that really is a case of cats and “Come home son(s)”.

  6. I love the cartoon. G*d is just a huge giant somewhere. Glad he speaks English.
    I couldn’t follow the lecture at all. I tried.

  7. The first argument, that the natural world cannot explain the existence of the natural world, begs the question of how anything is supposed to explain itself. How is that dialogue supposed to go: “Why God?” “Because, God!” “Oh, now I understand.” ????

    It’s a classic case of The Argument Proves Too Much

  8. “…it’s well known that all cats are atheists…”

    That raises an interesting question; Since cats are deities, what is the nature of their beliefs? Do they believe in themselves? Other cats? Do they believe in us only if the dishes are empty or the litter box needs cleaning? The last time some godbotherers rang my doorbell, my cat went to the door and told them, “I’m the only deity this place needs.”

  9. I’ve been told God is not just a man in the sky. But of course he is. Only when this is not suitable to the occasion, he becomes — briefly — an abstract entity at the edge of the universe who kicked it all off, with a plan (note that virtually every debate between apologist and atheist is distant and cosmological). Once the believers turn to their flock, God is Jesus and an imaginary friend or father figure.

    It’s puzzling to me how intelligent people cling to beliefs that are clearly absurd, and obviously man-made, with an obvious ideas-history that left a well-documented trace across time. We know that the god of the medieval period was a very different one, and the Bronze Age version was yet different. It’s not difficult at all to see that an all-knowing God with a revelation (i.e. intention to be known) is totally at odds with plain history, where only very few people even have a chance to know him, and that is true from every conceivable vantage point. We never know if the Catholic God is the true one, the Pentecostal, or Hindu, Islamic one etc. It’s an outright impossible demand to find the correct one, and it’s also deeply unfair. Some community need not do anything special. They just happen to believe in the correct God, their kids are automatically in the correct faith and so on. It doesn’t require to be a genius to see that none of this is compatible with the assertions of believers.

  10. Good on you, Jerry.
    And yes, that, “I’ll pray for you” stuff would set my teeth on edge, too. But a colleague did once challenge me with, “So if you shook a crate of car parts long enough it would turn into a Chevy?”

    The information barrier is such a canard. I’m surprised the ID people are still flogging it. I didn’t see it mentioned in your New Republic article, so here’s a recent article on the thermodynamics of living cells exchanging mass and energy with their surroundings in non-equilibrium conditions. (These are difficult conditions to make measurements in.)

    https://www.science-direct.com/science/article/pii/S2405844018385852

    Even non-religious popularizers get this wrong. Accumulating information-laden molecules like proteins in a cell increases its entropy. It doesn’t reduce it. Entropy in the surroundings also increases from dissipation of heat and waste molecules into them, thus ensuring that the entropy of the universe always increases as it must for any real irreversible process not at equilibrium and thus able to do work. Life does not somehow export net entropy to the surroundings as a way of increasing its information content. It does not “cheat at the game”, divinely or otherwise.

    When one arranges a shuffled deck of cards into a specific order that subjectively constitutes “information”, one hasn’t reduced the deck’s thermodynamic entropy. It’s still just 52 pieces of paper, ink, and celluloid. What you have done is increased the entropy of the air molecules in the room—the surroundings—owing to the metabolic heat your muscles and brain gave off in observing and manipulating the cards.

    I think both the ID people and the science popularizers have taken too literally the metaphor of entropy as macroscopic disorder….order out of chaos and all that Biblical stuff.

    The entropy of storing information in a computer RAM was modelled quantitatively in a wonderful Scientific American article many years ago. The heat cost of information was something like one billionth of the electrical power that a real device (at the time) actually consumed in its operation. And the cost was all in erasing the memory to receive the next bit, not in writing the ordered information as it arrived.

  11. A week or so ago some group with a name that suggested scientific credibility showed up in my FB feed about some problem with the fossil record. Curious, I clicked on it and sure enough, it was some wholly-owned subsidiary of the DI, and I left a comment that I think started “As suspected…” The guy then wanted to know what my credentials were, but before I had had a chance to notice that, a number of others had chimed in that one needn’t have credentials to be right, and overall the tide of comments seemed about 85% opposed to them.

    Doubtlessly because of Z’berg’s algorithms that I had commented, a couple more from them showed up, but after I went back to the first one and pointed out that they weren’t getting much traction with this stuff, and suggested that they fold their tent, sell off their real estate and find gainful employment, I haven’t gotten anything more from them.

  12. Yes, this religious fervor that is growing in the US, and in many other countries, is ridiculous. But it has a frightening side to it:
    https://barry-gander.medium.com/ancient-rome-did-not-fall-why-real-story-is-even-scarier-for-america-and-how-it-connects-to-elon-ffac2cc68b9d

    Only 2 percent of the population follows CPB, PBS and NPR. What is the percentage for CNN? To my horror the CNN has a news announcer that carries a religious symbol on her head!

  13. “Materialism can’t explain the “information barrier”: the suggestion that if there are more ways for a process to go wrong than right, then the process will go wrong.”

    One question I like (and it’s not new; I sort of glommed onto it from evolution blogs) is: if you think natural laws can’t explain evolution, then what makes you think natural laws can explain development? What I mean is that to my eyes, the fact that a single cell can turn into a tree an another can turn into an elephant appears nothing short of miraculous.

    But I don’t consider it a miracle. I believe it is the result of molecular processes that need to be understood at several different levels of emergent complexity. We see that it works because it’s repeatable. Scientists reject vitalism and therefore believe that it can be explained from naturalist assumptions. But in fact, there is still a great deal to learn about how it fits together. (A lot more than DNA to protein for instance.)

    To tie it to the quote, the process of development absolutely has more ways to go wrong than right, and we count these wrong ways all the time when we observe early death and deformity. However, the process works most of the time or no living species could continue to exist. This observation in itself makes the the quote nonsensical. You don’t count “ways”. You calculate probabilities.

    Evolution is clearly a different process and one that is not repeatable for the most part on an observable time scale. Still, the same argument holds. When an ecosystem is subject to changes, there are “more ways” of the members of that ecosystem to fail than to succeed. On the other hand, assuming the change is not too drastic, there is a high probability of finding “some ways” in population of responding to change (which pass on to later generations).

    So I really have little patience for this variation on the argument from incredulity. If you really have trouble believing that evolution works, then why do you believe anything works, except by magic?

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