Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Discovery Institute threatens Ball State

Unless they think Hedin can file a grievance against Ball State, the Discovery Institute has absolutely no standing to make demands, yet they did it anyway:

http://www.thestarpress.com/article/20130910/NEWS01/130910007/Group-condemns-BSU-teaching-Science-Must-Destroy-Religion-

The Sensuous Curmudgeon blog has excerpts and a link to the single-spaced 8-page letter that the Discovery Institute sent to Ball State's President JoAnn Gora, making several demands and setting an impossible deadline of September 30.  This is basically a game of tit-for-tat which can only waste Ball State's time, if they bother to do more than file it in their crackpot letters file.

The letter is an incoherent ramble despite having numbers and letters and page numbers and such.  From what I can tell, their demands are these:

Investigate all the Honors science courses to be sure nothing non-sciency is included, even though the course descriptions say these seminars are supposed to be about "the social and ethical consequences of scientific discoveries," among other things.  So.... they have to have real science in them, but also relate to real life.  A course that's basically just ID doesn't do either.  They are incensed that one of these courses includes ONE WEEK of religion and science.  Isn't that exactly what these courses should do?  The other fourteen weeks would include other social and ethical consequences of scientific discoveries.

They also complain that a biology course includes discussions of such things as cloning, gene therapy, and cancer.  Again, it sounds like this course fits the goals of the Honors science seminars exactly.  So their demand is that Gora investigate a course where the professor has done exactly what he/she is supposed to do.

They follow this up with a claim that Hedin's ID course fits the bill because it was interdisciplinary, which it clearly wasn't.  He was downright sneaky in the way he presented it, not to mention something of a prosletyzing bully, if the redditor who described his/her experience was telling the truth.  (Not impossible for them to be a liar - but I rather doubt it)

Another demand is for an investigation of a seminar course titled "Dangerous Ideas," which used the book, What is Your Dangerous Idea: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable.  They quote from a few of the atheists in the book, including Sam Harris (but not Jerry Coyne, who started the whole Hedin kerfuffle!)  They quote only atheistic excerpts, not the many, many other topics covered in the book.  They apparently can't comprehend the idea of context, nor are they able to understand that the very example they cite is the epitome of the kind of course that would put a religious discussion into a broader context -- i.e., exactly what Gora described as the appropriate way to incorporate religion in a university course.

The other problem with this demand is that it's a false equivalence to Hedin's course.  Hedin's course was offered for science credit.  The Dangerous Ideas course doesn't satisfy any particular requirement other than being a seminar course.  It's not a science course, nor is it considered part of any department in particular, though it could be a Philosophy or History course.  The course syllabus doesn't seem to be online, but if it follows the book, students would have been exposed to a wide variety of ideas, not just atheism.

They also demand the university examine the qualifications of the other professors who teach these courses, and indeed some are not scientists.  This is a fair demand, but since the course is interdisciplinary, it doesn't necessarily mean these people would be removed from the classroom.  Also, Hedin's credentials were less of an issue than the content of the course, and they affirmed his credentials in the end, so they're just being whiny.

Their legal claim is this:
Thus, in addition to banning science faculty from discussing intelligent design, you appear to have forbidden all BSU faculty from expressing their personal or professional
beliefs in favor of intelligent design in any class at BSU.  We believe that your effort to ban certain kinds of faculty speech at BSU is neither required nor justified by state or federal constitutional law, potentially runs afoul of the same law
First, they are misrepresenting what Gora's letter said.  Faculty can discuss intelligent design, but not as a science.  Second, they claim "To be lawful, your ban on the discussion of intelligent design in science classes must apply equally to science faculty who oppose intelligent design as well as to science faculty who support intelligent design."

So is this their threat?  On what grounds?  Religious expression?  That is the only possible grounds, which would undermine their claim that what they do is a science, not religion.  Stupid. Stupid.  Stupid.
But once BSU has determined that intelligent design is an impermissible topic in science classes, it cannot apply this policy selectively only to science faculty who support intelligent design; BSU must apply this policy equally to all science faculty and their classes.
Well, yes, it bloody well can apply it only to supporters of ID.  Science professors can say that astrology is baloney and that phrenology is nonsense, and that alchemy is bunk.  Add ID to the list of unscientific nonsense that deserves all the scorn a scientist chooses to waste class time hurling.   It deserves no respect at all from anybody in any field, but especially not in a science class.

So here we get to the tu quoque part of the Gish gallp: 
If all BSU faculty are now forbidden from endorsing intelligent design in any class they teach because you think their individual comments represent an official endorsement of religion by BSU, then those same faculty must also be forbidden from endorsing criticisms of intelligent design , because in BSU’s view those criticisms would be tantamount to an official attack on religion by BSU.
They also claim that Ball State "relied on stereotypes and misrepresentations from its critics" when defining ID as religion, yet one of the signatures is from a Ball State alumnus, John McLaughlin, whose credentials include missionary work in prisons and fund-raising for that horrid "Teen Mania" so-called mission (their real mission is fund-raising) that I have blogged about before.  So if they are trying to distance themselves from Christianity, why have this guy on their letter?  Stupid.  Stupid.  Stupid.

So which is it?  They don't want it to be considered a religion, except if it's convenient to them.  Would it be within a professor's rights to detail why ID is baloney?  Certainly.  It's not insulting to a particular religion, only to a religiously-motivated attack on science.  The only good reason to muzzle a professor who would be tempted to go on at length about the stupidity of ID would be to make them focus on real science that students need to learn.  There are 45 50-minute hours in a typical university course.  That's not nearly enough time to explore the wonderful and exciting discoveries made by real scientists.

They have no case.   The university can't possibly reply in time, nor should they bother.  This is simply a fund-raiser, intelligently designed to gin up support within their evangelical Christian base.

I happened to watch the Nova special on the Dover trial this past week, and in light of that video, I just have to laugh at this latest attempt on their part to be relevant on the national stage.  I highly recommend the Nova video. It's a much better use of your time than reading the DI letter:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/intelligent-design-trial.html

The case was a slam-dunk for real science.  They are on the losing side of history and they just need to get over it.

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