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Freethought Today · June/July 2013

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF creationism complaint leads to Indiana probe

After receiving a student complaint, FFRF called for Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., to investigate allegations that a physics and astronomy professor appeared to be teaching creationism at the public university.

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a May 15 letter to BSU President Jo Ann Gora urging investigation of professor Eric Hedin’s honors course, “The Boundaries of Science,” described in the syllabus as an honest, objective investigation on the intersection of science and religion. The elective class is not part of the core curriculum.

“It is our information and understanding that this class has been used to proselytize students and advance Christianity by using gaps in scientific knowledge — the ‘boundaries of science’ — in an attempt to prove religious belief correct,” Seidel wrote. 

“We fully understand and support the need for academic freedom and free inquiry, particularly at the university level. But, as taught, this class crosses ethical and constitutional lines. BSU appears to offer a class that preaches religion, yet gives students honors science credit.”

Seidel wrote that he’s concerned Hedin may also be “preaching” as opposed to “teaching” by injecting religion into his introductory astronomy class. Students taking both of Hedin’s courses remarked on the religious bias at the Rate My Professor online site. Comments range from “The class had an extremely Christian bias and he doesn’t not believe in evolution,” to “Constantly talks religion. As an atheist, I was slightly concerned my science teacher is a devout Christian.”

Jerry Coyne, a biology professor at the University of Chicago and author of the book Why Evolution Is True, started blogging about the situation May 16 and has been posting regular updates.

Coyne, an honorary FFRF director, remarked, “The students are being duped. It’s straight theology with no alternatives. It’s a straight Christian intelligent design/creationist view of the world, which is wrong. It’s not science. It’s not that it’s not science, it’s science that has been discredited. It’s like saying the Holocaust didn’t happen.”

Terry King, Ball State provost and vice president of academic affairs, told the student newspaper June 23 that he expects a report by the end of June from the committee reviewing the academic integrity of the honors course. Three are Ball State faculty: Gary Dodson, professor of biology; Richard Fluegeman Jr., professor of geological sciences; and Juli Thorsen Eflin, professor of philosophy. Catherine Pilachowski, a professor of astronomy at Indiana University, is the fourth member.

The controversy has been widely covered by  mass media.

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