Ball State U Controversy: When should a teacher be allowed to discuss intelligent design?

    Controversy has been brewing all summer over a course at Ball State University called The Boundaries of Science, by associate physics and astronomy professor Eric Hedin. At issue is his discussion of “intelligent design” – an incarnation of creation science that purports to show some supernatural being(s) helped guide the evolution of life.

    There are some plausible scenarios by which teaching about intelligent design might make sense. In a class on distinguishing science from pseudoscience, for example, it would be of great interest as long as the instructor explained why “intelligent design” or any other form of creation science falls into the latter category.

    Or it might be taught in a history of science class that delved into the important 2005 trial in Dover, PA, in which the judge ruled against those who wanted to add “Intelligent design” to required biology instruction. No one could object to a history of science course discussing ideas that were later overthrown. What are mistakes for if not to help us learn from history?

    Was Hedin’s class indoctrinating students into religion or simply helping them understand how to distinguish science from non-science? According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the class is under review and the university president has stated clearly that she will make sure “intelligent design” isn’t taught as science.

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    University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne (a science advisor to Higgs) has found some clues as to what’s going on in the class. In his blog Why Evolution is True, he’s posted the syllabus, which is full of books by promoters of “intelligent design” and other scientists who have pushed religious ideas. The books are not balanced by the works of non-religious science writers, such as Richard Dawkins or physicist Victor Stenger, both of whom have not only debunked intelligent design but have written more generally on the lack of a need for gods to explain the physical and biological worlds.

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