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At Ball State, for Teaching About Intelligent Design, Physicist Eric Hedin Is Still Left Twisting in the Wind

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It's been nearly three weeks now since Ball State in Muncie, Indiana, received a complaint about a professor from an extremist atheist group and agreed to investigate, explaining that "We take academic rigor and academic integrity very seriously." That's how long physicist Eric Hedin has been twisting in the wind, thanks to the administrators at his university. He is accused of teaching an undergraduate honors course with a bibliography favorable to intelligent design.

For goodness sake, please take a moment now and sign the petition in defense of his freedom to teach.

Last week Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin was on the Michael Medved Show debating with Dan Barker, whose group, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, lodged the original complaint against Dr. Hedin after being alerted about the completely phony First Amendment aspect of the case by Jerry Coyne. I was just reading Coyne's reaction to the Luskin-Barker matchup.

Coyne, a University of Chicago biologist who writes the Why Evolution Is True blog, has never demonstrated much familiarity with the arguments for intelligent design. I don't believe he's ever made a serious attempt to investigate what ID proponents say or what evidence they present. He's among those who have "reviewed" Stephen Meyer's forthcoming book, Darwin's Doubt, before reading a word of it. Coyne's lunatic summation of Meyer's argument: "Yes, baby Jesus made the phyla!" It's hardly surprising to find, then, that in his comments on Luskin v. Barker, Coyne gets so much all bungled up.

He thinks Michael Medved is a radio host "of the Rush Limbaugh stripe." I mean no offense to Rush Limbaugh, but that's hardly an accurate comparison, as anyone who listens to both programs can tell you. The style and content, I would even say the worldview of the respective hosts, are quite different.

Coyne thinks Casey Luskin is a "creationist." Again, not true of course, unless you want to define anyone who doubts the Darwinian account of evolution as a "creationist." But that would make Thomas Nagel an "atheist creationist." Need I say more?

Coyne thinks he's uncovered something scandalous when he reveals that

Medved is obviously not an unbiased moderator, and I found out with a few strokes of the keyboard that he is in fact a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute. That’s unbelievable: Medved has no scientific training whatsoever.

Whoah, so Jerry Coyne is "unbiased"? Give me a break. And Michael refers on the air to his longstanding association and friendship with Discovery Institute. On the new weekly Science & Culture Update, he certainly makes no secret of that. Surely if Coyne, who has no legal training, can hold forth absurdly on the First Amendment, then it's fair for Medved (who does have legal training) to moderate a discussion on the Eric Hedin case.

The one amusing thing I find in Coyne's post is the admission that he's relieved it was Barker and not Coyne who went on the Medved Show to debate Casey Luskin, since "Barker is a much better debater than I." That's funny because Barker is famous for interrupting an opponent in a debate, a Christian pastor at the outset of the latter's opening statement, with strenuous, repeated instances that the pastor should not be allowed to quote published work by Barker himself! You've got to watch this yourself. It's the so-called "Don't Quote Me, Bro" fiasco. Some debater.

What I find so scary about Coyne's role in the intimidation campaign against Dr. Hedin is not his bias -- we're all biased -- but his brazen, shameless ignorance. Hedin's purported crime is to have taught about intelligent design, a subject of which Coyne knows very little. And let's recall what's at stake here: a man's career is on the line. Yes, there is a bigger picture too, the broad issue of academic freedom and the idea that any teacher should be free from fear that, for introducing students to a scientific controversy, she'll be fired, punished or made to sit in the corner with a dunce hat.

But that's all a bit general and abstract. In the specific instance of what's going on at Ball State, the specific person of untenured physicist Eric Hedin is in very real danger of losing the specific job he holds. It's a cold, hard world out there for a guy like that who has to go out seeking academic work all over again after being knocked off the climb to tenure. Think of what this means to the actual human being, Eric Hedin. The administration at Ball State is currently letting him wait, agonizingly, for some public assurance that his job is safe.

Even if he keeps his job, being made to wait in menacing silence like this is a humiliation for him. Obviously it's also a warning to other scholars not to violate the enforced "consensus" on Darwinian evolution.

Even among those in the Darwin-defending community who don't like using the law to strike at Hedin, the talk is ominous. Jason Rosenhouse teaches math at James Madison University. At his own blog, he writes:

I do think it would be perfectly reasonable to take [Hedin's teaching favorably about ID] seriously during annual reviews and tenure evaluations. If the course is as bad as it appears, then his behavior is at least arguably unethical. I would want to take a good hard look at what sort of assignments he assigns and how they are graded, for example. Academic freedom counts for a lot, but at some point your department gets to say that it does not approve of your activities.

So in the view of Jason Rosenhouse, who comes across as a lot less splenetic than Coyne, if Hedin did not violate the law he may very well have committed an ethical breach!

You see, Hedin's employers really need to immediately make a public statement of support for him. That’s why we have been gathering names on the petition I referred to; go here, please. Your signature will be delivered to the administration at Ball State. Remember: They hired the man. His department approved the course that's at issue. To allow Hedin to go on this way, not knowing if his career at Ball State is effectively over, that, it seems to me, is the real breach of professional and collegial responsibilities.

Image credit: dwhartwig/Flickr.