Monday, May 27, 2013

Jerry Coyne: I told them to stop talking. Why are they still talking?

Professor Coyne: I don't understand why they are still talking.

(Dissociated Press parody) Dr. Jerry Allen Coyne, professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, noted atheist, author, fruit fly geneticist, and eponym of a nearly extinct Ecuadorian toad, is dissatisfied.

People are still talking, after he told them not to.

A month ago, Dr. Coyne wrote threatening letters to Ball State University about a course offered at Ball State in the department of astronomy. The university offered a course called The Boundaries of Science, which examines the philosophical and theological implications of cosmology, physics and biology.

Dr. Coyne wrote the chairman of the department:

... 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... the course seems engineered not to challenge students, but to propagandize them into thinking that religion is completely compatible with science, and, perhaps, to think there is merit in creationism and intelligent design. As an evolutionary biologist, I find this very distasteful.
The chairman's reply was unsatisfactory to Dr. Coyne.


This will now go to the lawyers.

The lawyers-- from the Freedom from Religion Foundation-- sent Ball State a threatening letter:
As a public university, BSU is subject to the strictures of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which separates state and church... We request that Ball State thoroughly investigate all of [the professor's] classes and his teaching/preaching methods and if your investigation bears out these allegations, to [sic] remove [the professor] from the class at issue... May we hear from you at your earliest convenience as to what steps Ball state is taking to correct the violation of the Constitution...  

We at Dissociated Press wanted to know more about the controversy, so we sat down with Dr. Coyne for an interview.

(DP) Why are you upset with Ball State University?

I told them not to talk about religion and science. 

What did they do?

They're still talking about it. After I told them not to. 

The course is an elective, taken voluntarily by adults who choose it. Doesn't the First Amendment guarantee free speech, especially in the public sphere?

I think that, unfortunately, the Founding Fathers made a transcription error in the First Amendment. They meant to say "speech-free" instead of "free speech". It was before Darwin, so people made a lot of mistakes.

Why would the Founding Fathers want the public square to be speech-free?

It was a founding principle of the men who wrote the Bill of Rights-- Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln-- that you're not supposed to say things that experts don't like.  

Um... well... among other things, you're not really an expert on the things you object to in the course. You're not a philosopher, or a theologian, and you're not a Constitutional scholar.

The unconstitutional learning at Bell State effects me as a student, a professor, a citizen and a biologist.

You're not a student nor an alumnus of Ball State, nor a member of the faculty of Ball State, nor a citizen of Indiana. And the course is in astronomy, not biology.

I'm an atheist.


Atheists always tell people to shut up

Well... uh.. what is it exactly about the course that offends you?

The students and the professors discuss the philosophical and theological implications of science. 
What's wrong with that?

You can't discuss philosophy and theology in a science class. It's unconstitutional.

What part of the Constitution bans that?

The Separation of Church and State part.

That's not in the Constitution.

It's right after the "We hold these truths to be self-evident..." part.

That's the Declaration of Independence, which says nothing about "separation of church and state". In fact, it attributes our rights to God.

And the Constitution says nothing about separation of church and state. "Separation of church and state" was not mentioned even once in the Congressional record from June 7 to September 25 1789 during the Founders' official debate on the First Amendment.

That's unconstitutional. 

After a short break, the interview continued.

Next question, Dr. Coyne. You have asserted that the offending course didn't present a balanced view of the origin of the universe. What would constitute a balanced view?

The atheist view.

What is the atheist view on origins?

Everything just happened. 

Why did everything just happen?

No cause. It just did. 

How did species happen?

Evolutionary theory. The Neo-Darwinian synthesis. Random heritable variation and natural selection, punctuated equilibrium, kin selection, and neutral drift.

Sounds complicated. If everything just happened, why didn't species just happen?

Everything just happened except species. 

Dr. Coyne, what other objectionable viewpoints have you gleaned from the course syllabus?

It looks as though they are going to discuss free will.

What's wrong with that?

There is no free will. Neuroscience has proven it. 

But, Dr. Coyne, how could you hold the Ball State professors legally accountable for teaching a course when they weren't free to do otherwise?

Coyne shifted in his chair.

Did I ever tell you that they named a nearly extinct Ecuadorian toad after me?

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