Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Creation Science University Class?

A reader pointed me to a recent controversy about an astronomy class being taught at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.  The topic is being discussed at Jerry Coyne's blog, Why Evolution is True: “Science” course at Ball State University sneaks in religion.

Dr. Coyne documents the contents of the course syllabus and reading list which clearly promotes an Old-Earth Creationism/Intelligent Design theology.  Dr. Coyne argues that this is a violation of  church-state separation since Ball State is a publicly-supported university.

However, Lawrence Moran @ sandwalk (Is It Illegal to Teach Intelligent Design Creationism in American Universities?) suggests this may not be a church-state separation issue as:
  1. the class is not a required class to graduate, so the analogy with American public schools breaks down, where often such a science class might be required to graduate;
  2. allowing the state to dictate content, even when it is nonsense, may be an academic freedom issue.
I found these good arguments, but the key decision point for me was PZ Myers' take at Pharyngula on the topic:  I have to disagree with Jerry Coyne.  Quoting PZ:
No, sorry, not right — academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective. The first amendment does not apply; this is not a course students are required to take, and it’ss at a university, which students are not required to attend. It’s completely different from a public primary or secondary school. A bad course is an ethical problem, not a legal one. It’s also an issue that the university has to handle internally.
Myers raises the issue that these types of things happen occasionally at universities, where a (sometimes tenured) faculty member might go loopy and the university has to find the balance between preserving its reputation and its contractual obligations.

I've occasionally done some research on the professional history of the cranks I've dealt with or heard about through this blog.  I have frequently found evidence of the things PZ describes at these universities and professional institutions, where a faculty member goes off the deep end and the university can't fire them for contractual reasons.  The university often resorts to assigning the problematic faculty member to responsibilities where their craziness can't do much harm.

It is not an ideal solution, but it is a solution.

And on a different topic: Best Response to Creationism Ever!

This is a couple of years old, but it was recently sent around a skeptics list I'm on, and I don't think I've mentioned it before.  It is probably the simplest illustration of flawed creationist reasoning.

Think Outside The Box (The Cutest Response to Creationism Ever!)  Interesting that it appears on a site promoting christianity.   An earlier site: My [confined] Space: Religious Logic which has a link in the comments to the original image source

3 comments:

eyeonicr said...

Yeah, Exploring Our Matrix is progressive, meaning that a surprisingly large amount of time is spent bashing Ken Ham. That and Doctor Who seem to make up the majority of the posts there.

Reginald Selkirk said...

"Myers raises the issue that these types of things happen occasionally at universities, where a (sometimes tenured) faculty member might go loopy and the university has to find the balance between preserving its reputation and its contractual obligations."
.

The problem in the current situation appears to be that Ball State does not realize that Hedin is loopy. His departmental chair sees no problem with the course.

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Reginald Selkirk,

I could perhaps picture that if the University said something like this in a public statement, they might open themselves up to legal actions. Consider the legal case discussed in a recent Pseudo-astronomy podcast.