Evolution News and Views (ENV) provides original reporting and analysis about the debate over intelligent design and evolution, including breaking news about scientific research.

Evolution News and Views
Academic Freedom/Free Speech NEWS

At Ball State University, the Intelligent Design Speech-Ban Story Is Heating Up


The speech-ban story at Ball State is not going away. On the contrary, with Indiana legislators now getting involved, it is very distinctly heating up. The Muncie Star Press has an article in which the university responds to one detail of a letter from the lawmakers -- regarding the lopsidedly atheist essay collection used in a course that passed muster with BSU. More about that in a moment.

FreedomUnderFire.jpgSubsidiary matters aside, it's vital to keep in mind the main point here: a large state research university has banned faculty from teaching about the theory of intelligent design. "This is a watershed thing, the first time the issue of intelligent design came up in a university," biologist Jerry Coyne, who started the whole ball rolling, told reporter Seth Slabaugh of the Star Press. He's unfortunately wrong that this is the first time a public institution has tried to silence speech in favor of intelligent design -- far from it. (Casey Luskin included an updated list of relevant incidents here.) But he's right that this is a potential watershed. If BSU's formal ban on speech about ID is allowed to stand, that sets a very disturbing precedent.

Remember, this is a state university restricting speech by its own faculty. In its own physics and astronomy department, there are at least two faculty members who are sympathetic to ID. I didn't hire them. Ball State University did, making the judgment that as scientists they are competent to evaluate scientific evidence -- for example, the evidence of cosmic fine-tuning that has led many cosmologists to the conclusion that the Big Bang reflects the intention of some purposeful intelligence that was necessarily outside nature.

Now BSU's President Jo Ann Gora has turned around and told her scientists what they can and cannot say about that. They are competent to judge scientific evidence, but they are forbidden from telling students what they conclude from their investigations. That is an enormous scandal. It also tells you how the academic "consensus" on ID is maintained: by fear and by fiat.

Actually, the extent of the ban is not quite clear -- the vagueness makes it even more threatening. That's why in their letter to President Gora, Senator Dennis Kruse, Senator Travis Holdman, Senator Greg Walker and Representative Jeffrey Thompson ask, "Does the policy forbid science professors from explaining either their support or rejection of intelligent design in answer to student questions about intelligent design in class?" The have set Dr. Gora a deadline of March 24 to give her reply.

The reporter spoke to Discovery Institute vice president John West:

"If Ball State isn't more transparent ... it is risking legislative intervention," West said. "Sen. Kruse is head of the Education Committee, so I believe he has some oversight over ... higher education. In the tool kit of legislators, you have funding ... and you also could have legislation that would create another investigative mechanism, or set up an ombudsman with power to get data and investigate things from outside the university to deal with academic freedom complaints."

In comments to Mr. Slabaugh, Ball State spokesman Tony Proudfoot sought to divert attention from the main point. Referring to questions from the lawmakers about an atheist book that was the centerpiece of another course,

Proudfoot said the legislators apparently were referring to Honors 390A, "Dangerous Ideas," which uses a book titled, "What is Your Dangerous Idea?"

One essay in the book is titled "Science Must Destroy Religion." Proudfoot says other essays in the book include these titles: "Science May Be Running Out of Control," "Science Will Never Silence God," and "Religion is the Hope that is Missing in Science."

"This is not a seminar that teaches that 'Science Must Destroy Religion,' " Proudfoot said. "That phrase is simply the title of one four-page essay among 109 others."

Look, let's get real about the book in question, What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, edited by an outspoken atheist, John Brockman. The work has some token contributions from others, but its intent, which is corrosive of faith, is evident from the table of contents, the jacket, the identity of the editor himself. It has an introduction by atheist Steven Pinker, a conclusion by atheist Richard Dawkins, and contributions by, among others, atheist Jerry Coyne, "Marionettes on Genetic Strings."

The essays are pungently titled, if nothing else: "We Have No Souls," "The Rejection of Soul," "Being Alone in the Universe," "This Is All There Is," "Everything Is Pointless," "Free Will Is Going Away," and of course Sam Harris's unforgettable "Science Must Destroy Religion." In his essay "We Are Entirely Alone," Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin lays it down: "There is no God; no Intelligent Designer; no higher purpose to our lives."

On the dust jacket, John Brockman observes, "From Copernicus to Darwin, to current-day thinkers, scientists have always promoted theories and unveiled discoveries that challenge everything society holds dear."

The bibliography that got physicist Eric Hedin in trouble was diverse, including books favorable to and critical of intelligent design. Hedin was hardly "proselytizing Christianity," as Coyne charges. The four Indiana legislators are concerned to know why Hedin was shut down. Even if the unbalanced "Dangerous Ideas" course never existed, that would be a vital question.

Coyne's role in this is disturbing. Slabaugh at the Star Press says that Coyne is "known for his blogs attacking intelligent design." But the extent of Coyne's understanding of the argument for design in nature is evidenced by his repeated lunatic summary of the contents of Stephen Meyer's recent book, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design: "Yes, baby Jesus made the phyla." To judge from the blogs for which he is "known," Coyne is blindly, pathetically, ridiculously uninformed on the subject. If ID is wrong, no thoughtful person would imagine going to Jerry Coyne to find out why.

Why did a large state university apparently feel intimidated by a lone evolutionary biologist in a different state, with village-atheist views, who thinks people are meat puppets without free will or moral responsibility, a clown whose blog Why Evolution Is True is in fact a juvenile vehicle for his obsession with cat videos, who is thoroughly ignorant about the scientific view he campaigns against?

Yes, as Slabaugh reports, we are interested to know whether Coyne is working with anyone on the inside at Ball State. We have requested relevant emails, while Coyne is keeping mum about the identity of a presumed informant ("I won't say more about this...").

Ball State, despite being answerable to the public that pays the bills there, has shown itself to be evasive. A public university should be transparent, but as the four lawmakers point out, BSU has been anything but that, particularly about revealing the process by which an apparently biased review panel sat in judgment of Hedin -- an "an ad hoc kangaroo committee," as John West told Slabaugh. Their report has so far been kept secret.


"That report should be public so the public can judge whether what happened was fair or biased or whatever," West said.

He noted the legislators' letter noted that they plan to ask Ball State more questions in the future.

"Ball State ought to be careful," West said. "I think their mishandling of this could turn into a much bigger deal. Certainly, we are not going away. The speech code against intelligent design is vague and too broad and may not be being applied evenhandedly. We determined through public documents one science class is covering intelligent design in order to bash it. If they allow that, it's tantamount to state endorsement of an anti-religious view."

On that last point, Coyne thinks he's discovered a gotcha. In a post today, he writes:

this is an explicit admission by the Discovery Institute that Intelligent Design (ID) is a religious point of view, for "bashing it" is "tantamount" to being "anti-religious." That's an admission that they've avoided making, as they claim that ID is not religion, but pure science.

No, obviously, it is not. ID is science, not religion. The argument for the theory of ID rises or falls on its scientific merits. But yes, ID has implications that leave room for a religious understanding of nature's design, exactly as Darwinism by implication forecloses such an understanding. Many people, including Coyne, hate the thesis of design not because they have weighed the evidence fairly but simply because they are anti-religious.

So Ball State University's behavior so far -- quashing a course friendly to ID, banning speech about ID, at least if that speech is favorable to the theory, all this coming at the behest of a biologist who knows nothing about ID other than that he hates its implications, even as the university does permit a course that bashes ID and bashes religion -- all in all appears to reflect a blatantly unconstitutional "state endorsement of an anti-religious view."

I'm now on Twitter. Find me @d_klinghoffer.