Ball State incinerates academic freedom
August 2, 2013 21 Comments
At first glance, this recent headline from Inside Higher Ed looks like a piece of good news: “Taking a Stand for Science.” Or, consider the alternate title, “Scientists Applaud Ball State President’s Position on Intelligent Design.” Fighting for truth, and earning accolades are good, right? To the contrary, the university’s mandate is of grave concern for those who value critical inquiry and academic freedom.
The story is that, after an inquest by an appointed faculty panel, Ball State physics professor Eric Hedin will take remedial measures to ensure that his course, The Boundaries of Science, will be in line with Ball State’s “view that science instruction should be about science and not religion.” This scrutiny results from a complaint and threat of legal action by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
On Wednesday, University President Jo Ann Gora released a statement reading, in part:
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.
What’s striking about the Inside Higher Ed article is it’s uncritical coverage of the university’s decision. To the author’s credit, she inserts virtually zero commentary; the piece is straight reporting. But, the bias lies in her decision to cite President Gora, and two supportive partisans, while only featuring one voice of opposition.
Sadly, the author does not provide comments from informed outsiders on the issue proper. What do philosophers of science and religion think of President Gora’s ruling? What about Constitutional scholars and experts in academic freedom issues? We’re left with a “she said, he said,” tilted three to one.
In terms of information, the article leaves much to be desired. What does the Ball State administration mean by “teach,” “science,” and “religion?” Do Neo-Darwinian mechanisms credibly explain the origin of phyla, or might they be the same kind of “speculation” that Gora alleges intelligent design to be? Why does religion “have its place” in the social sciences and humanities, but the scientific establishment gets to determine not just what is science, but what is “religion” as well? While the report remains under wraps, it looks as if scientism is bullying the ivory tower. Thanks to the ever-handy threat of litigation.
As for intelligent design itself, I don’t see what’s religious about the theory, or how it’s not a hypothesis that’s at least a valid candidate for becoming a scientific theory. Stephen Meyer advances a case for ID as science in Darwin’s Doubt. In making the radio interview rounds, I’ve heard him repeatedly describe the theory as an inference to the best explanation, drawn from uniform and repeated experience. These same inference principles are used in evolutionary anthropology, forensic science, and the increasingly popular study of animal cognition. Maybe these are just speculations that have their place too.
Given that ID draws from the same fossil record used to support the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, it certainly seems that its proponents will be able to make predictions with respect to future discoveries.
If we are to take the thesis of Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies seriously, a case could be made that some retrenched Neo-Darwinian defenders are propagating a religion of metaphysical naturalism. This is an unnecessary step beyond the epistemic naturalism that has been a cornerstone of modern science.
If Ball State is in danger of transgressing upon the First Amendment, it is for establishing a church of atheism, consistent with the beliefs and dogma of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. As John West at the Discovery Institute points out, FFRF initiated this scrutiny to squelch critical inquiry–essential to academic freedom–in the name of Neo-Darwinian orthodoxy. He finds the move is simply Orwellian.
Meanwhile, Wintery Knight characterizes Ball State’s clamp down as an inquisition. This is sufficient, but to describe Ball State’s retrograde policy as McCarthyism or a witch hunt would be just as apt.