Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Jerry Coyne steps up his inspections of science classes

"Haben Sie über die Religion in Wissenschaft Klasse gesprochen?"


Jerry Coyne is shocked to find that someone, somewhere is discussing God in science class:

Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana, is a public university (i.e., part of the state university system). As such, it must abide by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which has been interpreted as disallowing religious viewpoints (or religiously based theories) in public-school science classes. It is of course kosher to teach courses on the history of religion, or on the relationship between science and religion, but those must not pretend to be “science” courses, and must present balanced views—they can’t push a particular religious viewpoint. 
But it’s come to my attention that a science course at Ball State University—actually two courses, because it seems to be cross-listed—is little more than a course in accommodationism and Christian religion, with very little science. It’s my firm opinion that teaching this course at a state university not only violates the First Amendment, but cheats the students by subjecting them to religious proselytizing when they’re trying to learn science. 
Herr Coyne has astutely identified the "can't pretend to be science courses" clause of the First Amendment. 

Of course Jerry has nothing to do with Ball State University. He's not a student, nor an alumnus, nor is he on faculty. But a science inspector's work is never done.

Jerry provides an example of the verboten course description, and proclaims:

Can you believe that? It’s all pro-religious, and heavily larded with the works of Intelligent Design advocates (Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe), old-earth creationists (Hugh Ross!), and scientists who are Christian or religious (Guy Consolmagno, Owen Gingerich, and Paul Davies). 
The syllabus for the cross-listed Honors course, which the chair of the department verified to me as accurate, is even worse, for it includes Francis Collins’s book The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Anthony Flew’s There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, and Polkinghorne and Beale’s Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions About God, Science, and Belief.” As the ultimate insult, the Honors syllabus further includes C. S. Lewis—his book Miracles! What is going on here? C. S. Lewis in a science course? 
You’ll have noticed, of course, the absence of any counter-accommodationist books like The God Delusion, Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing, or any of Victor Stenger’s books on physics and religion.

Inspector Coyne relentlessly tracks down his suspect: the chairman of the astronomy department, whom Jerry threatens:

Dear Dr. Robertson, 
Although I’m not at Ball State, it’s come to my attention that one of your faculty members, Dr. Eric Hedin, is teaching a senior Honors course that is heavily infused with creationism and religion. The course is Honors 296, “The Boundaries of Science,” and to my understanding is listed as a science course, which students take for science credit. 
I have a copy of last year’s syllabus, which is apparently the same as this year’s, and I attach it. Have a look, and you’ll see that it is basically a course on the religious implications of science. The reading list tells the tale: there are books by old-earth creationists (Hugh Ross), advocates of intelligent design (Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer), and various people who comport science and faith. 
As as scientist, I find this deeply disturbing. It’s not only religion served under the guise of science, but appears to violate the First Amendement of the Constitution. You are a public university and therefore cannot teach religion in a science class, as this class appears to do. Clearly, Dr. Hedin is religious and foisting this on his students, and I have seen complaints about students being short-change[d] by being fed religion in a science course. 
Could you please confirm for me that this course is indeed being taught in your department, and that this is indeed the sylllabus? 
Perhaps you are not aware of this, in which case I’m calling it to your attention as chairman of that department. 
Cordially, 
Jerry Coyne

Hmmm... Public universities 'can't teach religion in science classes'? That's a new one. I am unaware of any federal or state laws or judicial precedents that regulate religious speech in public university science classes. It's a voluntary course, taken by adults.

Jerry must have us confused with the Soviet Union.

I doubt that in America federal judges will be monitoring university science classes for speech crimes. Perhaps they don't need to, with Jerry doing the monitoring and all...

Coyne didn't post Dr. Robertson's reply, but it sounds like Robertson told him to shove it.

Coyne explains:

What I want to say here is that I tried to register a complaint—a complaint that, I think, is completely legitimate—and was rebuffed by Hedin’s chair. 
This has to stop, for Hedin’s course, and the University’s defense of it, violate the separation of church and state mandated by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“freedom of religion”) and which has been so interpreted by the courts. It’s religion taught as science in a public university, and it’s not only wrong but illegal. I have tried approaching the University administration, and have been rebuffed. 
This will now go to the lawyers.

The good folks at Ball State provide a course for students who want to discuss the deeper scientific, philosophical and theological implications of astronomy, biology and cosmology.

It sounds like a great course. All colleges should offer it.

Characteristically, Coyne, who believes that religion doesn't belong in science class, inserts lawyers and judges into science class.

Coyne's reply to a university's exploration of the deep philosophical questions raised by science is to call the police.


:-/




25 comments:

  1. Well, in this case, Jerry Coyne is wrong. University lecturers have academic freedom (unlike school teachers in publicly funded schools).

    Although, it's not much of a science unit. It won't do much in assisting a student in achieving a science based career, if that's the student's aim.

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    1. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyMay 1, 2013 at 8:42 AM

      backfire, I might or might not agree with you about whether it's "not much of a science unit" if I knew the actual content of the course. Apparently you do, so would you please enlighten me?

      Or is it the word "boundaries" you object to?

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    2. Bach,
      "Well, in this case, Jerry Coyne is wrong. [...]"
      Nice to see you side with reason, Bach.


      "Although, it's not much of a science unit. It won't do much in assisting a student in achieving a science based career, if that's the student's aim."
      Well, the assumption that the students aim is career based is interesting. I would assume those serious students of the sciences who are so engrossed in 'their work' that they could be one day called 'scientists' see it as a 'calling' or a 'purpose' rather than a mere job.
      With that assumption (my own) in mind, I would think a study on the limits and boundaries of science would be as instructive as a study on the history an origins. That is to say, I would think it would be essential in producing a well rounded, moral, guided scientist - rather than a mere technician trained to do a certain job and produce certain results.
      Simplified: The course is good if you want to produce an interested, engaged, open minded scientist; and the course is a waste if you're after widgets.

      Amd.
      "Or is it the word "boundaries" you object to?"
      A very interesting question. Check out my comment to Pépé below. I wont repeat myself, but I do think that is a real objection.
      Not sure if it is Bach's.
      I guess he;ll have to answer that himself!

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    3. Georgie,

      I'm certain if you look, you will be able to find an YouTube video outlining the unit. Failing that, you could look at Jerry Coyne's thread which lists the subjects covered and the recommended reading material. Very little dealing with science, which is 'observation and reason, with no faith allowed' and a lot of religion, which is 'faith and reason, with observation occasionally allowed'.

      There are some questions in science for which the best current answer is 'we don't know'. Replacing it with a supernatural cause (read 'miracle') is a science stopper. God did something somewhere somewhen, for unknown reasons and by unknown mechanisms doesn't encourage further enquiry.

      There are religious scientists, doing real science. They manage by asserting that God is the agency. The scientific theories they're investigating is the mechanism used to effect the results observed.

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    4. As a former student of Dr. Hedin's who took the class in question, I can clear up some questions. First of all, the class is a course for the honors college, so the course asks more questions than it answers (as do most of the honors courses at Ball State). But while technically listed as a science course, it would be more aptly listed as both science and philosophy because we spent a great deal of time discussing the intersection of the two. However, many honors courses overlap disciplines in a similar manner.

      The course is very strongly discussion based and Dr. Hedin does a very good job of asking open-ended questions that allow the students to direct the conversations towards topics of interest or confusion. For my class in particular we did talk more about the philosophical intersections and ramifications of scientific evidence because that seemed to be what interested students more(myself included).

      In regards to miracles, we only spent one or two days discussing that topic (although I believe many of us discussed it much longer in our written reflections). What we defined as miracles were observable phenomena in our world that at this time science cannot explain. I was very grateful to have a teacher discuss with the class the fact that science currently cannot explain everything because the discussion challenged us to explore issues that did not fit within our current worldview.

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    5. @Anon:

      Sounds like a great course. I would love to take it! It's such a shame that such important topics can't be discussed in class without attempts at censorship like Coyne's.

      I pray for Dr. Hedin. If only we had more professors with his integrity and courage.

      Thanks for the input.

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  2. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyMay 1, 2013 at 8:34 AM

    "This will now go to the lawyers."

    Despite the ridiculous nature of his "complaint" (apparently he hasn't heard of "standing"), I'm sure he'll dig up some left-wing loon to grub around for some free marketing. If Eric Holder weren't indisposed, he'd make a perfect choice.

    Jerry Coyne is just another Progressive yearning to punish, longing for the option of jumper cables in a basement cell. Counter-revolutionary thought criminals like Hedin must be punished and re-educated.

    Progressivism: Ideas so good they must be compulsory!

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    1. Enough with the jumper cables already! You sound like a broken record.

      -KW

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  3. Coyne believes that science buttresses his abject atheism because Coyne is a third rate scientist. Great scientists know otherwise, as stated by Francis Bacon:

    “A little science estranges a man from God. A lot of science brings him back.”

    Doing science is reverse-engineering God.

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    1. The last sentence should read:

      Doing science is reverse-engineering God's work.

      Sorry!

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    2. Pépé

      Amateurs with license, eh?
      It's an old problem when it comes to this kind of thing (academe etc).
      A modern near analogy might be that a guy who knows just a bit about an operating system - let's say linux - is much more dangerous to the functioning of that operating system and it's file systems than a guy who knows nothing and who can only defer to an expert, or the expert themselves. In a man like Coyne we see a well trained technician who knows his own craft attempting to project that discipline on to far more complex (baroque, even) problems.

      Guys like Coyne THINK they know science (some immaterial personalized / ideal all encompassing version) but they do not understand the true origins, necessary limits, and real boundaries of the studies we commonly refer to as the sciences.
      These limits being both natural as well as imposed by ourselves.
      Men like Coyne simple do not understand and seek to defy these limits for the sheer sake of it.
      The 'WHY' of science eludes him.
      Coyne seems a vocal critic of the constructs of religion and faith (ie straw men) he has created in his mind and a defender of a kind of deistic or pagan force he calls 'science', but that has only a superficial resemblance to any real scientific study.
      Worse still, he must know this on some level.

      I detest what Coyne pushes, but he himself I cannot help but feel a sort of loss. He is a wasted (strange form of) charisma. A leader of a certain kind of people who could have asserted himself for real and good change. Instead he is ... well ... him....
      Here is a shepherd who leads his sheep into a philosphical and moral desert. A boring wasteland of 'meh'.
      I cannot help but see a wasted potential.
      That said, it is his sheep I pity the most.

      "Doing science is reverse-engineering God's work."
      Agreed!
      The sciences help us understand the way the world we live in functions, the philosophies and religions help us understand how to live in that functioning universe.
      One springs from the other.
      Good science is nested in a firm, objective moral stance.
      The only true source for that, whatever you call Him, is God.

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  4. I would agree with Coyne that this course is miscategorized. It sounds more like a philosophy course, but miscategorizing a course is not illegal as he contends.

    He falls back on the old separation of church and state argument which is not in the Constitution. I wish he would keep his state out of my church, by the way. What the Constitution prohibits is Congress passing a law establishing a religion. Even if we apply that to the state of Ohio through the incorporation doctrine, that just means that Ohio can't establish a religion either. There is no section of the Constitution that deals with prohibited topics that shall never be taught in academia, or never taught in certain departments of academia.

    I don't know how many times it must be said, but the separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. It was plucked out of context from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, who literally had nothing to do with the drafting of the Constitution as he was swerving as ambassador to France at the time. What one non-framer said to a church congregation in Connecticut some two hundred years ago is not relevant.

    The heinous separation doctrine obviously does not guarantee more freedom, but rather less, as it is nearly always invoked to prohibit, stifle, and gag, as it does in this instance. It is a weapon with which militant atheists bash their opponents. Not all atheists, of course, because most atheists aren't militant nutjobs, but some are.

    JQ

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    1. That should be serving, not swerving.

      JQ

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    2. JQ: When "liberals" express reverence for the Constitution, they are almost always referring to the parts that they made up. They're gung ho about a "woman's right to choose" but rather tepid about the right to bear arms, finding every way they can to legislate around the latter. They'll go to the mat with anyone who threatens the "separation of church and state" but can't be bothered to protect the free exercise of religion.

      In both instances, the "liberals" fall into fits of apoplectic rage over a perceived threat to a right not actually identified in the Constitution while ignoring or collaborating with people who actually threaten rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

      TRISH

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    3. That's very true, TRISH. Judging from the fact that they want to force business owners to serve people they don't want to serve, I would say that people on the left also don't respect the thirteenth amendment's protection from involuntary servitude. But then again, neither do you.

      JQ

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    4. “The heinous separation doctrine obviously does not guarantee more freedom, but rather less”

      That’s simply not true. The significant minority of people who are not Christian should be able to use the services of government, and to directly participate in government, without having to undergo, or have their Children undergo, unwanted religious indoctrination. The separation doctrine simply removes government as a tool for the religious majority to force their religious practices and belief on those who do not share their faith, thus guaranteeing their liberty to practice their faith and guide their children’s religious development as they see fit. A wall unadorned with religious symbology isn’t an atheist wall, it’s just a wall.

      As I have so often pointed out, when religious conservatives complain about not being free to exercise their religion, they are almost always complaining about not being allowed to use government to force their views and practices on others.

      In this case, a college course that features so much Christian apologetic material should not be called a science class. Doing so fundamentally misinforms the students about the nature of science. I’m all for a frank discussion of religion and science in college curriculums, because science will always “win”.

      -KW

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    5. KW: It's still not in the Constitution and this class was a voluntary affair, embarked upon by adults. Coyne doesn't like it so he wants to big hand of government to put the kabosh on it. This is obviously an attempt to silence a different viewpoint. In my book, that means that it does not guarantee more freedom.

      No one is indoctrinating you, you shrieking hysterical freak.

      "As I have so often pointed out, when religious conservatives complain about not being free to exercise their religion, they are almost always complaining about not being allowed to use government to force their views and practices on others."

      Oh yeah? And now soldiers in the military will be court martialed for sharing their faith with others. So you're wrong.

      http://weaselzippers.us/2013/05/01/pentagon-threatens-to-court-martial-troops-who-share-their-christian-faith/

      Please cite one example of Christians using the government to indoctrinate non-Christians.

      Joey

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    6. JQ: Ouch. I am not in favor of "involuntary servitude." I just don't like the idea of racist restaurant owners refusing to serve black customers.

      I even agreed with you that such laws amount to forcing morality upon the restaurant owner and we should all be honest enough to admit that.

      TRISH

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    7. KW: If you cared at all about the separation of church and state you would be up in arms about the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. You're not, so that tells me all I need to know about you.

      Get your state out of my church. Thank you.

      TRISH

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    8. "The separation doctrine simply removes government as a tool for the religious majority to force their religious practices and belief on those who do not share their faith, thus guaranteeing their liberty to practice their faith and guide their children’s religious development as they see fit."

      Do we have that right too, or only you?

      And what religious majority are you speaking of? There is none in this country. Actual practicing Christians are a minority.

      Ben

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    9. Ben,

      'Actual practising Christians are a minority'.

      Good. Then why should a minority impose its will on the majority? It's Egnor's argument that Christians are being oppressed by an atheist minority. Which is it?

      Separation of state and church isn't designed to protect atheists alone. It's also designed to protect less popular Christian denominations and other religions.

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    10. Show me where Egnor ever said that atheists are a majority.

      Separation of state and church isn't designed to protect atheists alone. It's also designed to protect less popular Christian denominations and other religions.

      I don't know if it's "designed" to do that, but it certainly never functions that way. All it does is enable the prayer police. Regardless of its "design" it isn't in the Constitution. It's another fabricated precept that we all have to pretend is binding constitutional law.

      No one's will is being imposed on anyone here. There's simply a professor who wants to offer a class with ideas that Jerry Coyne doesn't like. That's his real objection--he doesn't like the ideas being taught. His false veneer is that he's simply standing up for the Constitution.

      Ben

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    11. Ben,

      I wrote that Egnor had claimed that Christians were being oppressed by an atheist minority, not majority. I agree that in America, atheists are a minority. I don't agree that atheists are oppressing Christians though.

      And anyway, jerry Coyne is wrong in this case. To err is human.

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    12. The heinous separation doctrine obviously does not guarantee more freedom, but rather less, as it is nearly always invoked to prohibit, stifle, and gag, as it does in this instance. It is a weapon with which militant atheists bash their opponents.

      Except the plaintiffs in almost all of the critical separation cases have been religious. The "prayer police" that Ben complains of have generally been religious people.

      The cases that have established the jurisprudence regarding the Establishment Clause were not driven by atheists. Arch Everson, the plaintiff in Everson v. Board of Education was not an atheist. The plaintiffs in Engel v. Vitale were the families of Jewish students, supported by, among others, Jewish organizations. The plaintiff in Wallace v. Jaffree was a Muslim. The plaintiff in Lee v. Wesiman was a Jewish student. The plaintiffs in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe were a Catholic student and a Mormon student. Pretending that the current view of the Establishment Clause has been somehow perpetrated by atheists is simply wrong. There certainly have been some cases brought by atheists, for example I can't say for sure but I think the plaintiff in Lemon v. Kurtzman was a nonbeliever. But the cases have mostly been brought by members of religious minorities objecting to the government promoting religion in contravention of their own faith.

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