FFRF commends Ball State’s support of science and academic integrity

Ball State University's president issued a statement today agreeing with the Freedom From Religion Foundation about the inappropriateness of teaching intelligent design in public universities.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel first alerted Ball State officials to Professor Eric Hedin's "teaching" style in a May 15 letter, which involved teaching "intelligent design" as a fact and proselytizing Christianity in the classroom. "There is a serious difference between teaching religion and preaching religion," Seidel wrote in his original letter.

Ball State President Jo Ann M. Gora, PhD, released a July 31 statement, attached below, that concurs with the principles FFRF enumerated in its letters, following an investigation by a committee of four professors.

Gora wrote that neither creationism nor any of its derivatives belong in a science classroom. She reiterates that intelligent design is a religious theory and has been rejected by reputable scientists.

Gora stated that academic freedom, while important, is not an issue in this case. "Teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom – it is an issue of academic integrity," Gora wrote. "[Academic freedom] cannot be used as a shield to teach theories that have been rejected by the discipline under which a science course is taught."

FFRF raised concerns about academic integrity and a possible state-church violation when the same Ball State department that hired Hedin also hired another prominent creationist. "As long as the principles in Gora's well-written letter guide the curriculum and classes, the constitutional and ethical concerns should be cured," Seidel said.

The only outstanding issue is precisely how Gora's principles will alter Hedin's course, "The Boundaries of Science." FFRF has been told that Ball State is working "to ensure that course content is aligned with curriculum and the best standards of the discipline."

The prominent evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne first alerted FFRF to Hedin's actions, after a non-Christian student reported the proselytizing nature of Hedin's class to Coyne.

FFRF works to enforce a firm separation between state and church, including protecting public school students from being subjected to a teacher's personal religious beliefs in what should be a secular classroom.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., is a national state/church watchdog with 19,000 members across the country including 300 in Indiana.

The statement from Ball State University President Jo-Ann Gora, PhD


Dear Faculty and Staff,



This summer, the university has received significant media attention over the issue of teaching intelligent design in the science classroom. As we turn our attention to final preparations for a new academic year, I want to be clear about the university's position on the questions these stories have raised. Let me emphasize that my comments are focused on what is appropriate in a public university classroom, not on the personal beliefs of faculty members.

Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory. Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies' independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science. The list includes societies such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, theAmerican Astronomical Society, and the American Physical Society.

Discussions of intelligent design and creation science can have their place at Ball State in humanities or social science courses. However, even in such contexts, faculty must avoid endorsing one point of view over others. The American Academy of Religion draws this distinction most clearly:


Creation science and intelligent design represent worldviews that fall outside of the realm of science that is defined as (and limited to) a method of inquiry based on gathering observable and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. Creation science, intelligent design, and other worldviews that focus on speculation regarding the origins of life represent another important and relevant form of human inquiry that is appropriately studied in literature and social science courses. Such study, however, must include a diversity of worldviews representing a variety of religious and philosophical perspectives and must avoid privileging one view as more legitimate than others.

Teaching religious ideas in a science course is clearly not appropriate. Each professor has the responsibility to assign course materials and teach content in a manner consistent with the course description, curriculum, and relevant discipline. We are compelled to do so not only by the ethics of academic integrity but also by the best standards of our disciplines.

As this coverage has unfolded, some have asked if teaching intelligent design in a science course is a matter of academic freedom. On this point, I want to be very clear. Teaching intelligent design as a scientific theory is not a matter of academic freedom - it is an issue of academic integrity. As I noted, the scientific community has overwhelmingly rejected intelligent design as a scientific theory. Therefore, it does not represent the best standards of the discipline as determined by the scholars of those disciplines. Said simply, to allow intelligent design to be presented to science students as a valid scientific theory would violate the academic integrity of the course as it would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.

Courts that have considered intelligent design have concurred with the scientific community that it is a religious belief and not a scientific theory. As a public university, we have a constitutional obligation to maintain a clear separation between church and state. It is imperative that even when religious ideas are appropriately taught in humanities and social science courses, they must be discussed in comparison to each other, with no endorsement of one perspective over another.

These are extremely important issues. The trust and confidence of our students, the public, and the broader academic community are at stake. Our commitment to academic freedom is unflinching. However, it cannot be used as a shield to teach theories that have been rejected by the discipline under which a science course is taught. Our commitment to the best standards of each discipline being taught on this campus is equally unwavering. As I have said, this is an issue of academic integrity, not academic freedom. The best academic standards of the discipline must dictate course content.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues. Best wishes in your preparations for a new academic year. I look forward to seeing you at the fall convocation in just a few weeks.

Sincerely,

Jo Ann M. Gora, PhD
President

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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