Freethought Radio Guest: Jerry Coyne
ALG: Hello heathens, I'm Annie Laurie Gaylor.
DB: And I'm Dan Barker, your friendly neighborhood atheist in the airways. This is July 13, 13!
ALG: Freethought Radio is the weekly production of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We have over 19,000 members, we have all kinds, we can welcome all kinds of new members who joined, signed up, from our ad campaign on July 4. Our 'Celebrate Our Godless Constitution Campaign," ad ran in twenty-five newspapers. Notably Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Seattle Times and the New York Times.
DB: It played in Peoria.
ALG: It played in Peoria. It got censored in Oklahoma City, home of Hobby Lobby. And we were actually countering the annual disinformation ad by Hobby Lobby that portrays the United States as based on a god and Jesus and so that was unfortunate censorship. So, welcome to all the new members of FFRF.
DB: Coming up on the second half of today's show, we're going to talk with Jerry Coyne again. He's the professor of biology at the University of Chicago and the author of, in freethought science circles, the bestselling book "Why Evolution is True." He's an intrepid blogger and we're going to go over some of the continuing saga at Ball State University in Indiana where the Freedom From Religion Foundation has a long standing complaint about proselytizing being done by a science professor and where they just hired a known creationist to join in their astronomy department. Jerry Coyne is one of FFRF's honorary directors.
ALG: And we will be talking about Ireland and state/church separation there. Dan and I just got back from an atheist Ireland conference.
DB: It's nice to be back in a country where we literally drive on the right side of the road.
ALG: We took some vacation time after that conference and Dan was the brave driver. And we learned a lot about the Catholic Church's role there in banning abortion, even to save women's lives. And were also going to talk about the threats by the religious right here at home. Including how the anti-abortion crusade is hitting home here in Wisconsin. But— before all that is sobering news —how about a little humor? June 17th is the birthday of comedian Phyllis Diller.
DB: Phyllis Diller was a woman pioneer in standup comedy and made a career out of her self-deprecating humor. She was born in 1917, and she died last summer at the age of 95, after living what she called a happy and fulfilled life. Phyllis Diller was talking with John Palmer on his show "Encore" about a secular self-help book that she found very useful.
Phyllis: It got to me cause it didn't involve god or anybody else. Just me, and making yourself a better person. Use your mind, use your thoughts, use them, don't throw them away. Just don't let them lie there.
ALG: So she was an atheist for most of her life and said kindness was her religion. In an interview with A&U Magazine from November 2001, Phyllis Diller said, "Religion is such a medieval idea. Don't get me started. I have thought about every facet of religion and I can't buy any of it."
DB: When Rosie O'Donnell asked Phyllis Diller what she thought about the book "The Secret," Phyllis replied that she could do without all the religion. She prefers to read books that are entirely secular.
Phyllis: I didn't want to stop and bother with god. I just wanted the magic.
Rosie: I understand. Take what works for you.
DB: So Rosie even acknowledged that some nonbelievers, we take what works for us and what works for us is freethought.
ALG: Dan and I just got back from a week in Ireland, starting with that conference in Dublin hosted by Atheist Ireland. And abortion was the big topic because of the ban on abortion in the Republic of Ireland.
DB: Just last week while we were there in Ireland, the Irish parliament preliminary voted in favor of the protection of life during pregnancy bill. Referring to saving the pregnant woman's life, believe it or not, this remains controversial in Ireland. We flew back Saturday, so we missed the huge anti-abortion demonstration in Dublin. Which unfortunately attracted some 35,000 faith heads who think it's ok if women die unnecessarily during pregnancy.
Atheist Ireland and other secularist and feminists counter picketed that rally. There were about 1,000 of them in Dublin. And Jane Donnelly who is with Atheist Ireland sent us a little video footage of the pro-choice demonstrators being impressively loud as they shouted "Shame on you!" to the antis.
VIDEO: Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!
ALG: The bill is the weakest possible response to the shocking brutal death late last October of a woman named Savita Halappanavar. She was a dentist with the misfortune to be living in Galway, Ireland. She was 17 weeks into a wanted pregnancy that went wrong. She of course was from India and had this happened in India she'd be alive today. She started to miscarry. And under amendment eight of the Irish Constitution passed in 1983, fetal life is put on par with the woman's right to life. The way that works in practice is fetal life is put above the woman's life. The Galway hospital where this dentist ended up, refused to abort her pregnancy until there was no detectible fetal heartbeat even though her uterus was rupturing. Sevita and her husband pleaded to end her doomed pregnancy. They refused to do so until it was too late, blood poisoning had set in and she died.
DB: In 1992 in the landmark Irish X case—it's called X because they didn't reveal her name—a 14-year-old girl who was pregnant from rape was barred by the government from traveling to Britain to have a legal abortion. She had threatened to kill herself if not permitted to end that pregnancy. A 4 to 1 ruling by the Irish Supreme Court was issued, allowing her to travel to Britain for the abortion, establishing the right to abortion in Ireland, if the pregnant woman's life is at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide. X ended up miscarrying in an English hospital, which clouded the precedent of that court ruling.
ALG: These outrages in Catholic controlled countries just keep on happening. You may have seen the news last week, outrageous news, that a pregnant 11-year-old girl, a fifth-grader, raped in Chile, over the course of two years by her mother's partner, is being denied an abortion there. This archconservative, arch-Catholic country admits no exception of its abortion ban.
Irish women have really been in reproductive hell, thanks to the Catholic doctrine. Contraception was only legalized in Ireland in 1985. This was over the vociferous campaigning of the Catholic Church. Today, 4,000 to 5,000 Irish women routinely fly over to Britain or elsewhere to get abortion care. If they have the funds and connections.
It was nice, Dan, at the end of our conference, you, I and Taslima Nasrin and other feminists and atheist Ireland directors attended a fundraiser. It was a stand-up comedy show to raise funds for an Irish organization that collects funds to aid women in Ireland to travel to Britain for the purpose of illegal abortion. But right now, the abortion rights campaign in Ireland is focused very narrowly on amending things, to make sure that women don't die, women like Savita.
DB: Does that fundraiser remind you of something?
ALG: Well I'll get to that. So, when we got back, we just got back late Saturday night and we came back to work Monday and boy did I have a terrible case of déjà vu because I got back to work and learned abortion clinics in our state of Wisconsin had been shut down as of that morning. While we were away in Ireland, Wisconsin's aggressive, reactionary governor, signed an anti-abortion bill, a week ago Friday, requiring that abortion physicians have admission privileges at a hospital within 30 miles at a clinic. This effectively shut down two of Wisconsin's four abortion clinics. We don't have many clinics and women have to drive long distances in Wisconsin. This is very close to home. My mother, Anne Gaylor, who is the principal founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is 86 now, and remains the volunteer administrator of the Women's Medical Fund charity that helps to pay for abortion care. It has helped pay for more than 20,000 women to get abortion care in Wisconsin, women without means. She had patients with upcoming appointments at the shuttered Milwaukee clinic, Affiliated Medical Services. We were on the phone, wondering, do we need to call these women and direct them to a Chicago clinic. It was just like the bad old days. For many of these indigent women, this would just be an insuperable barrier.
DB: National Planned Parenthood and Milwaukee's Affiliated Medical Services have filed a challenge as soon as that law was signed July 5 and a federal judge, whose bio described him as from a large Irish-Catholic family, had set the hearing date for an injunction as late as July the 15th.
ALG: And so we were all in great suspense, was he going to hold an emergency teleconference? Was it going to wait? Keep abortion clinics closed two weeks. Fortunately, by Monday the Judge Connelly announced that he would be having a hearing about and by Monday night he had issued a temporary restraining order, a strong 19-page ruling granting the injunction and noting there is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement.
This is all that we talked about in Ireland. My opening remarks at the conference there were about empowering women through secularism. I decided to talk about the circumstances in Wisconsin in the early 1970s with abortion that ultimately led to the creation of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We had a ban somewhat analogous to Ireland's ban. It was witnessing the role of religion, particularly that of the Catholic Church in legislating its dogma into our civil laws that woke my mother and I up to the dangers of religion controlling government. In that speech, I recalled this terrible time in 1971, when the Roman Catholic district attorney, here in Dane County, Madison, Wisconsin, illegally raided Wisconsin's first lawfully opened abortion clinic. It has been open about three weeks after federal court ruling in 1970 overturned our criminal law. The sheriffs forced their way into the clinic, absconded with the records of 300 pending appointments, took into custody the 17-year-old patient whose feet were in stirrups when they burst into the examining room.
Hundreds of us swelled into the City County Building to protest this tyrannical act. My mother was brought into help women. Women died because of this. It was the beginning of the Women's Medical Fund because she raised money to send women to travel to New York. So, these assaults are continuing.
DB: At the state level, assaults on abortion rights, with 43 restrictions adopted this year today according to the Guttmacher Institute. The US House passed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks that the few abortions after this point are limited to extreme cases.
ALG: That should die in the Senate and of course would be vetoed by Obama, but what a commentary that the House could command such a vote. Challenges are ongoing of bans of 6 and 12 weeks in North Dakota and Arkansas respectively. Texas, despite State Representative Wendy Davis heroic filibustering, is hell-bent on passing its own version of Wisconsin's law that would shut down nearly every clinic in that state.
DB: We are going to talk about the merging of Catholic and public hospitals in a future show. Our attorney Andrew Seidel is working with an intern, Charles Roslof about the state of Washington.
ALG: Washington residents are threatened with not being able to get any of these services that are barred by the Catholic Church. 50% of hospital beds will be controlled by the Catholic Church because of mergers. You can find out more at ffrf.org/news.
Monday's scare here in Wisconsin is a wakeup call, showing how close we are to losing reproductive rights in the United States under the relentless campaigns of the religious lobbies and their rightwing political allies. My question is, does the Pope rule Wisconsin and Ireland and Texas and Chile and you name it?
DB: Annie Laurie was talking about — your mom's group, the Women's Medical Found.
ALG: Yep, and I'm secretary. It has been an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) charity that has helped more than 20,000 women without means; mostly in the state of Wisconsin to pay for abortion care.
DB: How can people help?
ALG: We need your help. We are pure as Ivory soap, a lot purer actually. 99% of the money goes to fund abortions for poor women. It really is a pure charity. It's tax-exempt for contributors and you can send your check to the Women's Medical Fund, P.O. Box 248. Madison Wisconsin, 53701. Help women. A typical allotment is about $200. Women come up with the rest.
MUSIC OUT: OUTRO "Summertime" Miles Davis 1:00
DB: Before we talk with Jerry Coyne in the second half of the show, let's have a change of pace. It's summertime and the livin' is easy. The song "Summertime" is from the musical Porgy and Bess, written by George and Ira Gershwin, who were both nonbelievers.
ALG: Yet another example of secularists and nonbelievers to the arts.
MUSIC: "Summertime," sung by Kiri Te Kenawa.
DB: We're going to talk with Jerry Coyne. We've had him on the show before.
ALG: He's a University of Chicago prof.
DB: And author of the book "Why Evolution is True" and blog "Why Evolution is True."
ALG: Which is very assertive on state-church issues. He's an honorary officer of FFRF and helping us with the controversy in Indiana so stay tuned to learn more about that.
DB: There's a professor in Ball State who's pushing creationism in a science class.
MUSIC OUT: OUTRO "Summertime" Miles Davis 1:00
DB: We're back to talk with Jerry Coyne as we've been promising you. Jerry is an author, he's a professor of biology, he's pretty well known for his constant commenting on the intelligent design debate. He's a prolific scientist. I called the phone at his office and it said, "If I am not here to answer the phone, I'm out doing science somewhere." He has published dozens of papers. He's currently a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, or as they say "Ecology and EE-volution" over in Britain. His concentration is speciation and ecological evolutionary genetics, especially dealing with the fruit fly. He's the author of the best-selling science, popular book, called, "Why Evolution is True." He maintains a website by the same name. You can go to whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com and look for that.
Welcome back Jerry.
JC: It's good to be here.
DB: So you're not in Chicago right now, you're in Las Vegas for the Amazing Conference?
JC: The Amazing Meeting, it's the annual Randi Foundation meeting. It just started, so I haven't seen much, but it's promised to be a good one.
DB: And you're talking there?
JC: I'm giving a speech on the incompatibility of science and religion. That will be Saturday afternoon.
DB: You told me earlier that that is the major topic of a new book you just started working on: "Are religion and science compatible?"
JC: Yes. That's not the title. That is the last thing to be decided, but yes, it is definitely the topic. It is going to take me about a year to write it, so don't look for it at your bookstores anytime soon.
DB: But have you made up your mind yet?
JC: About compatibility? I am thinking anybody who knows me knows the answer to that question.
ALG: We will look forward to it.
JC: Thank you.
ALG: We thought it was time to have you on to talk about something that you have done a lot of very important blogging about, which is this controversy at Ball State University in Indiana. Maybe you want to tell the story?
JC: Are you referring to both Eric Hedin and Guillermo Gonzalez? I'll try to be brief. I was informed by somebody, one of my blog readers, who is in that area, that a student had complained to her that he or she was taking this science class in which the professor was proselytizing Christianity constantly and teaching intelligent design, which as we know is creationism in a cheap tuxedo. The informant sent me, which is public information; the syllabus of this course by Eric Hedin, which I think is called "The Boundaries of Science." It's a science course, students get science credit for it. I was pretty appalled. It was all Christian apologetics and intelligent design. There were books from Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer, the well-known co-president of the Discovery Institute. There was even a book by C.S. Lewis.
Of the three textbooks, two of them were religious, one by a Christian, it had a cross on the cover, one was by an Orthodox Jew, and then another textbook that nobody would read because although it was secular, it was extremely complicated. There were no books by physicists or scientists who claimed there is no evidence for god in the universe. People like Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Victor Stenger, Sean Carroll. It was a one-sided thing. The student was complaining because that student was a nonbeliever and was offended by the constant proselytization by Professor Hedin in the class.
Basically, I wrote to the chairman of Hedin's department, which is astronomy and physics, and said, "Hey, you know this is going on in your department? Here's the syllabus. It seems to violate the Constitution because it's religious proselytizing in a science class in a public university. You might want to look into it." Shortly thereafter, I got an email back from the chairman who said basically, "Look, this syllabus is approved by the university. We don't have any problem with the work Professor Hedin is doing. It gives the students the opportunity for open-minded discussion on the topic."
Of course, it didn't, because it was only a one-sided viewpoint represented: that science shows evidence for god. At that point I gave up, and forwarded it to you guys, the FFRF, and the rest is history. I have no leverage with Ball State University. You apparently did.
ALG: Andrew Seidel was the attorney who wrote the letter.
JC: He copied every big-macher there, the president, the provost, saying this is going on. It was shortly thereafter that they decided to have an investigation of the course. I think they appointed a five-person panel to study the issue.
ALG: We just got confirmation that a panel of four professors is investigating the claim that astronomy professor Eric Hedin is misusing his teaching to proselytize.
JC: I thought there was one other person off-campus.
ALG: Maybe there are four professors and someone else. It has taken a long time.
JC: To do the investigation?
ALG: To get somewhere.
JC: Actually, I thought it was remarkably short. I don't know how this stuff works because I don't deal with legal stuff.
DB: Well, you are dealing with millions of years of evolutionary time.
JC: Yeah, that's right. I've been told that it's not going to be too long before they make a decision. Yesterday, Ball State, one of their spokespersons, said Ball State does not think intelligent design should be taught in science courses.
ALG: I guess that we should say hallelujah.
JC: That's a pretty clear indication of how this case is going to come out, I think.
DB: You're not necessarily objecting to the idea of a class like this, it seems like interdisciplinary, more like philosophy rather than straight-science. But what you're, we're objecting to is this particular professor abusing that class to push his own religious views.
JC: Well, I am sort of objecting to the way the class is run. Some of our readers have said as well, move it over to philosophy or religion departments. But if you look at the content it is still a one-sided course that proselytizes Christianity. I don't think such a course is appropriate even as a philosophy course because it is unbalanced and basically pushing a certain form of religion at a public university. The course is unbalanced. Hedin would continue to proselytize Christianity. The famous statement he made in the science class was, one of his students, who was an atheist, said, "Well, how do you know the Christian god made the universe?" Which is what he was teaching the students. He responded snarkily, "Well, it's not like some Hindu-monkey god could have done it."
ALG: He's far out.
JC: Yes he is. I called him a kook. I felt a little bit bad about that, but upon second thought, somebody who does that is a kook.
ALG: Also, he's had all of these students at his mercy. Here they are depending on him for their grade and they go to officials and nobody does anything. They are filling out their evaluations and those were very clear.
JC: It's not yet clear whether those evaluations were actually read by anybody. The ratemyprofessors.com stuff was. They should pay attention now, that's for sure.
ALG: You've been very, very helpful in publicizing all this because you've done so many blogs on this and we wanted to get your response on, what we thought was a very bogus rejoinder, that this somehow involved academic freedom.
JC: Academic freedom, I think, is a concept that is misunderstood by, even academics. Bloggers like PZ Myers and Larry Moran have defended him by saying, "Well, it's academic freedom. The professor has the right to teach whatever he or she wants in the classroom." But, that's not what academic freedom is all about. It's a freedom to pursue researching what you want. It's not a freedom to teach anything you want to a student. If you take that to its limit you could teach homeopathy in a medical school class or astrology in a psychology class as a theory of human behavior. A professor does not have a right at any university to teach whatever he or she wants in class. There are certain scholarly standards they have to adhere to. If you don't adhere to them, you're subject to sanctions from that administration.
DB: And academic freedom necessarily requires academic responsibility. You have a responsibility to present the best information in that field that your teaching.
JC: Absolutely. Intelligent design is not the best information in either natural history or cosmology. I should add that there is no provision for academic freedom enshrined in the Constitution, but the First Amendment is. So, it certainly is subsidiary to what Hedin was doing, which was proselytizing Christianity in his class.
DB: I remember looking at the syllabus to that class and it struck me, you would think that a class about the boundaries of science, the very first item in that list should have been the Dover decision, the Kitzmiller decision, where the issue was tried in a court of law. It's wonderful reading. I think that decision should be required reading in science classes.
JC: Absolutely. You know Hedin is not going to present that. There is not a single article in that syllabus, and there are three textbooks and I think 20-odd articles, that gives an opposition to a religiously based view of the universe, that is that science, physics, biology, cosmology give evidence for god, and in particular the Christian god. I mean, putting C.S. Lewis on a syllabus for a science class, for crying-out-loud, that is just unconscionable.
ALG: Yes, it is. Now, I was wondering Jerry, if you feel as uncomfortable as I do about the news that came out that Ball State University, a public university in Indiana is set to hire a creationist for their astronomy department?
DAN: We'll talk about that after the break . . .
MUSIC OUT: Pearl Jam "Evolution" excerpt 1 0:24
MUSIC IN: "Creation Science 101" Roy Zimmerman excerpt 0:32
"God made the world in seven days,
Well, that's one week to be specific.
Now, that's what I call scientific,
Say Hallelujah, sing his praise!
Creation Science 101,
In the beginning it begun,
And you are just beginning to
Educate yourself when you shun evolution."
ALG: Let's not pull any punches about the latest development at Ball State University. You were talking about just before the break, where there's been a problem with a professor proselytizing instead of teaching, in science. And now we get word that Ball State University is planning to hire a known creationist to teach astronomy. What is your opinion about that, Jerry Coyne?
JC: The creationist in Guillermo Gonzalez, who is quite notorious if you hang around the evolution/creation debates. He was at Iowa State University, I think as a physics professor, and he is also a fellow at the Discovery Institute, which is the intelligent design outfit in Seattle. While he was at Iowa State he engaged in publishing a book called "The Privileged Planet" and a movie of the same name that he worked on, which basically makes the assertion that the earth was put in its position by god . . .
JC: . . . so humans could observe the universe. It's not only that the parameters of physics are such, you know the entropic principle, that god made the laws of physics so that humans could arise, but also we happened to arisen on earth, which just happens to be fortuitously positioned in a place in the universe where we could study the universe most effectively. (laughs)
It is sort of the ultimate anthropic argument. I've watched the movie and read part of the book. It is pretty dire. Anyway, he didn't get tenure at ISU. They booted him out. He claimed it was because of his work on intelligent design. The evidence is pretty strong, however, that he just failed to meet minimum standards of scholarship: get enough grants, publish enough papers. He moved to a small, religious school called Grove City College and then Ball State hired him not that long ago, in the same department where Eric Hedin is, physics and astronomy, which to me is a bit suspicious.
ALG: I think so.
DB: It's the hand of god, Jerry.
JC: (laughs) Well, the hand of the Chairman.
ALG: Well, I've been talking about this with some people who say, "Oh well, you know, you could teach astronomy professionally and rationally and still hold creationist views. But, the way you're describing it, how can he be a good professor? How can he even understand what he's teaching if he rejects evolution and thinks god placed the planets in a particular place for us to observe?
JC: That's a very good question. Gonzalez has been quoted the last couple of days by the Associated Press as saying he's promised Ball State he is not going to teach intelligent design, and he better not because he will get in the same mess you guys put Hedin into. You could do it, if you have the sort of cognitive dissonance,where you teach a naturalistic view in the class, but privately believe something else. But my view is someone who does that is not really a very good scientist.
JC: It's almost as if he is teaching what he doesn't believe to the students.
JC: I don't think you can do that with conviction or enthusiasm. But they made this decision if he doesn't abrogate the Constitution as a professor there, then I can't say they should get rid of him. I just say it is deeply suspicious that they have these two I.D. guys in the same department.
ALG: Right. To me, it sends a message. It's the university, in a fundamentalist state, sending a message to students that, "Gee, we think it's fine if our "scientists" are creationists."
JC: Yeah, it is. At Lehigh University, where I.D.'er Michael Behe works as a biologist, the department has a disclaimer on its website saying none of the rest of us believe intelligent design, and maybe they'll have to do that at Ball State. This came out this morning, it is public record that the job Gonzalez is hired for, the deadline is July 1 of this year. He appears to be hired before the deadline, which means other people were applying, when the decision was already made to hire him. To me, it's again suspicious, that there is some "cosmic hand" at work here in favor of intelligent design.
ALG: It kinda stinks.
JC. The whole thing stinks like old fish to me. Who knows, it could be a magnificent coincidence, but it seems too much for me to accept that.
DB: In their minds there is no such thing as coincidence. It would be like a geography professor asking students, "How do you think all those rivers were made to flow right along the state boundaries? How did that happen? That must have been designed like that."
ALG: Wouldn't it be like a geologist believing in a flat earth?
JC: Yeah it would, but then you have to teach that there is a round earth. I don't know how anybody could have intellectual integrity and do something like that.
ALG: No. I don't see how you can be a scientist and a creationist at the same time. How you could be a good scientist.
JC: Well, you can't. The facts are that if you look at the quality of scientists: scientists, and then scientists at elite universities and then scientists at the National Academy, the higher up you go, the more atheistic they become. By the time you get to the National Academy, 92% of its members are atheists. It's about 70% of scientists at elite universities and about 60% and I think it's 40% of scientists in general. The better you are as a scientist the less you believe. This is certainly going to besmirch Ball State's reputation. I think they know they put their foot in it, largely because of what the FFRF has done and I don't think we are going to see much I.D. taught there in the future.
ALG: I hope not. Listen Jerry, you might keep an eye out for FFRF's ads that are running every month now in Scientific American.
JC: I don't know, I haven't seen that.
ALG: We ran our first one and our next one's coming up. We have one on Darwin and evolution. They are theocracy alerts, the problems we are facing because of religion in our government and in our schools. We will be tackling creationism and we will be talking about how elite scientists tend to be atheists in another ad too.
JC: You say this is in Scientific American?
ALG: They are one-third of a page color ads, so everyone can look for them.
JC: I look forward to seeing those.
DB: That's my favorite magazine. I read it first every month.
ALG: Thank you so much Jerry Coyne for joining us on short notice. We appreciate all your activism. People can get "Why Evolution is True" at bookstores and they can look up your blog.
JC: Yup, it's whyevolutionistrue.com.
DB: Why thank you Jerry.
JC: It's my pleasure. And you guys keep up he good work, this is basically your doing, not mine.
ALG: Well, thank Andrew too. (Andrew Seidel is the FFRF Staff Attorney who sent the complaint)
DB: We are all collaborating.
We are out of time.
MUSIC OUT: OUTRO "Summertime" Miles Davis 1:00