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In the Ball State University/Eric Hedin Affair, Jerry Coyne Thinks He's Got the Smoking Gun

Hanuman_Mistakes_the_Sun_for_a_Fruit.jpgAt Why Evolution Is True, Coyne is brandishing what he thinks is the definitive evidence that Eric Hedin's course on "The Boundaries of Science" should be "deep-sixed" ("'No Hindu monkey god': One of Hedin’s students exposes his Christian proselytizing, and I’m called a bully"). According to one self-identified, pseudonymous former student of Hedin's who took the class at Ball State University, Hedin at one point was asked, if a God really does stand behind the design of the universe, why is that necessarily your own God? Couldn't it be the god of another faith?

Supposedly, Hedin replied with a comment that was insulting to Hinduism. Says the student, an atheist, writing in a thread at reddit:

As soon as I realized how firm [Hedin's] beliefs were, I knew what I was getting into. The biggest thing I remember was when I asked him why it is HIS god (the Christian god) that must be the “answer” to what science cannot explain. He said “it’s not like it’s some sort of Hindu monkey god.” That was very over the line.

The student continues (my emphasis):

We argued for about five or ten minutes, and it was one of those situations where the other students got uncomfortable and quiet. He was not mean or hurtful, but I think he wished he hadn’t said it, and I wish I had been calmer. I ended saying something along the lines of “It takes a lot of ignorance to put your own beliefs on a pedestal above reason and evidence.” He got very calm then (he is an EXTREMELY calm, soft-spoken person; the monkey god comment was very out-of-character for him) and said that it was obvious our debate wasn’t going to change anyone’s minds and that we should revisit the topic in the future.

What I take from this, if it is reported accurately, is that after Hedin made a remark that was "very out-of-character" for him, that was "not mean or hurtful" and that he seemed to "wish he hadn't said," the student blew up, spoke disruptively and disrespectfully in class, to which Hedin replied by "very calmly" suggesting they "revisit the topic" another time.

That hardly seems like grounds for "deep-sixing" a popular course taught by a well-liked and respected professor. (Remember that his persecutor Dr. Coyne's teaching is so popular at the University of Chicago that not a single student has bothered to review him at Rate My Professors.com, compared to Hedin's overwhelmingly positive reviews there.) In any event, I think Hindus would agree that no "Hindu monkey god" can claim responsibility for sparking the Big Bang and the rest of the history of the cosmos and of life.

I'm no scholar of Hinduism and in general I distrust brief, simple summaries of other people's religious or other beliefs, the kind you read on Wikipedia. Nevertheless, the article at Wikipedia on the Hindu monkey god Hanuman indicates, for whatever such a source may be worth, that in Hindu tradition this particular god was born well after the beginning of existence, the creation of the world or the evolution of life. He's not understood as a creator deity:

Hanuman was born to the humanoid creatures called the vanaras. His mother Anjana was an apsara who was born on earth as a female vanara due to a curse. She would be redeemed from this curse on her giving birth to a son. The Valmiki Ramayana states that his father Kesari was the son of Brihaspati and that Kesari also fought on Rama's side in the war against Ravana.[10] Anjana and Kesari performed intense prayers to Shiva to get a child. Pleased with their devotion, Shiva granted them the boon they sought.[11] Hanuman, in another interpretation, is the incarnation or reflection of Shiva himself.

So what we have here, again assuming the truth of the student's story, is a professor who made a lone undiplomatic yet accurate comment, true by anyone's account including that of a Hindu believer, one that he seems immediately to have felt could have been phrased less provocatively and that he regretted. Big deal! My goodness, and for this, Jerry Coyne has helped put the untenured physicist's career in jeopardy?

Speaking of Coyne, I see he has not responded to our challenge of last week to join us here on ENV and debate the subject either of Eric Hedin's teaching or Stephen Meyer's book ("A Cordial Invitation to Jerry Coyne: Please Debate With Us at ENV"). I can't say I'm shocked.

P.S. Have you signed the petition we're gathering in defense of Dr. Hedin's freedom to teach without being threatened by First Amendment lawsuits? If not, please do.

Image credit: Hanuman Mistakes the Sun for a Fruit by BSP Pratinidhi/Wikipedia.