Prof. Eric Hedin gets Tenure

So, this story recently came to my attention:

Up until 2013, Eric Hedin, a Ball State University associate professor of astronomy and physics, taught an interdisciplinary honors course called Boundaries of Science. The course explored intelligent design, among other topics. Biologist Jerry Coyne and the Freedom From Religion Foundation caught wind of this and complained, accusing Hedin of proselytizing and teaching Christianity. Hedin was investigated, and Ball State cancelled the course, while releasing a statement prohibiting the teaching of intelligent design as science.
https://evolutionnews.org/2016/05/as_eric_hedin_e/

The ENV article makes a defense of Dr. Hedin. I’m largely ignorant on this episode.

@Patrick from FFRF, can you clarify how atheists viewed this story? Why did you all target him for this course? Was it a misfire? Is there some information missing from the ENV article relevant here?

Yes, I am familiar with this. This case was about being a professor at a secular university and going outside of established definition of science in the teaching of science. Intelligent Design has been deemed by court decision to be creationism (religion) and not science. As such ID can not be taught as science. It is illegal to even discuss ID in a science class. Dr. Hedin clearly crossed the line. He was given plenty of opportunities to jump into the very safe science but he didn’t. He wanted to put ID into the discussion in a science course. He never thought he was doing anything wrong and thought that he was with in his rights to talk about ID at the same time as modern science. He also believed that the University would support him. He really didn’t see the tsunami coming. Warning: When you see the Dawkins, Coyne, FFRF train coming at you, you had better pay attention. Ball State didn’t want anything like another Dover or Scopes Monkey Trial, they literally tossed him to the lions, giving absolutely no support. I think he was pillaged enough as he wasn’t extreme in his views so I am glad he finally got tenure. But he is damaged goods in the scientific community. It will continue to be tough for him to get funding and to publish. Although if he works really hard and discovers something grand, he will get a shot at (scientific community) redemption.

As I mentioned before walking on the tightrope between faith and science while working at a secular university is very hard. Francis Collins is really the only one to pull it off as NIH Director and Biologos Founder. But Collins scientific credential are extraordinary and stellar. And his theology is pretty mainstream. He sees God in everything and everyone. He sees the Bible and science perfectly aligned but you can never pin him down on anything in the Bible.

Realize that big corporate/university money is secular. Secular science is a worldwide ten trillion dollar a year behemoth and growing. The money in Christian causes is a tiny fraction of this and declining.

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That is kind of you.

So he was saying ID was science? Wouldn’t it be fine to teach ID in a course as something beyond science (i.e. not science)? Ignore for a moment the arguments they make in scientific error. For example, the fine tuning argument is based on solid science (or at least it can be), but the argument itself is beyond science.

I would hope so. What was he told?

Which is why people should know and follow The Rules of the Game.

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Government must remain neutral on religion. Secular university professor is considered speaking for the government, just like an elementary school teacher in public school. ID deemed to be religion by a court decision. Therefore a professor even mentioning ID in a science class can be perceived as a government endorsement of the religion of ID and is illegal. He wasn’t saying ID was science, it is subtler than that. He was putting ID at par with science. Can’t do that. Remember in the secular world there is nothing beyond science. You can have doubts about science but you can’t talk about things beyond science in science class. The fine tuning argument is science and has already been shown that the universe is not fine tuned for life as 99.9% of the universe in both space and time are lousy for life to evolve.

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Human rights are acknowledged in the secular world, and that is beyond science…

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The fine tuning argument is certainly not definitive. It is a matter of perspective, though it is an important place where philosophy interacts with science.

You might enjoy this article by a Christian Philosopher:

He was give so many opportunities to backtrack. FFRF does not like to go after teachers, professors especially if they are not ideologues. We always go several steps above them and say that it is the administrations responsibility to train the staff about the law. They get many chances to fix and correct before lawsuits and social media is engaged. But sometimes it gets like shark feeding time. Richard Dawkins Society, FFRF and Coyne are friends but each go after their pound of flesh in different ways. Each have expertise, each have their own style and success rate. FFRF really tries to limit the collateral damage to those involve. We rarely ask for firings or dismissals. But FFRF is a Church government separation legal group. Coyne is much more about going after wayward scientists. Dawkins is more focused on Islam.

Yes, you do follow the rules of the game but you are so very close to the line and as a nontenured Professor at a major secular university you are vulnerable. Keep doing good science and make your mark there. Be like Francis Collins. He plays by the rules even though in the Trump administration he really doesn’t have to. In Collins’ senate confirmation hearings, atheist Sam Harris spoke against Collins appointment as NIH director because Collins wrote the Language of God and Founded Biologos. When I watch the confirmation hearing for DeVos at Education and Pruitt at EPA, I was wishing we could get more Collins.

You are also vulnerable to unfounded, untrue, lies about you by unscrupulous people. I think that you are more vulnerable from the YECs than the secular atheists. If you get pulled into a Ken Ham discussion by some kind of accident, you get sucked in. Then you get pillaged from all sides. And secular funding will vanish and you won’t even realize it until after it happens. .

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That is so very true. I have to trust that my colleagues will treat me fairly in the end…so far they have.

If I get pulled into a Ken Ham discussion, I’ll know then I’m getting famous, hehe. I’m not sure I’ll ever be big enough to attract their attention.

I’m trying…getting a lot of papers submitted this week, and one accepted today! The one accepted is important. It is a way to improve how we do kidney transplants. This is a really important study. I am proud of this one.

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This is great cutting edge science. Solving real problems. Helping people now. Thank you. And please continue. I was trying to figure out how as an atheist, I could say “you just made your father proud” but I realized that your father saw this paper in you many years ago, perhaps at young age he saw it in you perhaps while you were in college. But he certainly saw it before he died and it certainly made him proud. So I am just reminding you again that your father was always proud of all that you accomplished. The rest of us, just want you to continue as the work is important to all of us.

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By “secular” here I assume you mean “state-funded.” There are plenty of private universities that are “secular”, i.e., without religious foundations or commitments, yet, being private, would not be governed by separation of church and state rulings.

However, your discussion overlooks something very important. If state-funded universities must be neutral regarding religion, they must be neutral in all subjects, not just science subjects. Yet the majority of Arts professors at state-funded universities lean strongly to the political left and to secular humanism, and a good number of them make casual comments against Christianity in their lectures, or even programmatically attack it. Christian students frequently report a hostile attitude from professors of sociology, psychology, English, philosophy, and even Religious Studies. Yet no one says anything about church/state violations in these cases. It’s only when intelligent design is taught – in some cases not even taught, just mentioned – in science classes that the howl goes up about church/state violations.

The chance that ID will be taught in a biology class at the university level in the USA is only a tiny fraction of the chance that an Arts professor is on any given day, somewhere in the USA, at a publicly funded university or college, attacking Christians or their views (on sexuality, the status of the Bible, God, immortality of the soul, free will, etc.), while explicitly or implicitly endorsing atheism, materialism, Marxism, or other anti-Christian views. What do you make of this double standard at state-funded institutions of higher education?

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Philosophy is beyond science. (Indeed, philosophers developed natural philosophy which became modern science as a subset of their academic field.)

Many aspects of the arts are beyond science, such as poetry and the aesthetics of music. Indeed, aesthetics is an academic field within philosophy and is studied and respected on secular university campuses.

Ethics is an extremely important field within philosophy which is beyond science. Was the work of Martin Luther King and the entire civil rights movement “nothing” because it was and is beyond science?


POSTSCRIPT: @Patrick, how would you respond to the potential criticism that “Remember in the secular world there is nothing beyond science” is an example of the error of scientism?

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Are you saying that I could not discuss ID in class as a fine example of pseudoscience?

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Patrick, if that is true, then @Eddie’s post expressing concerns about political ideologues and anti-religion firebrands using their university classroom pulpits to promote their personal opinions becomes all the more important.

If what Patrick says is true, then such professors are considered to be speaking for the government and they are deceptively presenting their personal opinions as if they are endorsed by state and/or federal governments.

If indeed “Government must remain neutral on religion”, does @Patrick agree that such faculty ideologues deserve cease and desist letters from those concerned about Constitutional law?

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I’m taking this with a grain of salt.

Too often, I hear these kinds of complaints from religious spokepeople. But they are not consistent with my experience.

Yes, when I was a grad student at Yale, I would see announcements of public lectures that might raise objections from theists. But perhaps that’s just part of the marketing. In real life as a faculty member, my experience is that most of my colleagues were pretty stable people who attempt to present their material in a balanced way, and without political or religious overtones.

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Neil:

I hope you are not expecting me to take seriously an objection based on your seeing an announcement of public lectures when you were a Math grad student at Yale! You are talking to someone who has spent most of his adult life on the Arts side of campus, who has sat through hundreds upon hundreds of Arts lectures in dozens of courses, who has listened in his office to complaint after complaint from Christian students who report bad-mouthing of their faith by other professors, who has himself experience anti-Christian edge when being interviewed for undergrad teaching jobs by atheists, Marxists, deconstructionists, etc.

You’re a Math prof, not an Arts prof. You were a Math student, not an Arts student. Your adult life has been spent talking to people from the Science side of campus, not the Arts side. So either you have to remain neutral on this question, or go along with someone who knows the territory well. I know the territory well. And I can tell you that undergrad profs in the Social Sciences and Humanities frequently denigrate Christianity and religion generally, sometimes obliquely, sometimes quite directly. That has been the case for at least 40 years, at most universities on this continent (excepting specifically denominational institutions).

You probably are less likely ever to have seen this, since Math and Science and Engineering, by their very nature, rarely deal with “values” or metaphysical or religious questions, whereas the Arts subjects cannot escape them. The prejudices of the faculty members inevitably come into what they choose to study, what conclusions they come to, what they think should be on the curriculum, who they think should be hired, etc. The personal and professional are nowhere near as easily separated as in your academic area.

The biases are especially strong in religion and philosophy programs, which tend to be taught by secular humanists or ultra-liberal Christians and Jews who are hostile to more traditional or conservative interpretations of their faith. Their students quite often feel that hostility.

Sit in some Women’s Studies lectures sometime, and try to determine whether the average Women’s Studies professor gives a “balanced treatment” of the story of Adam and Eve, i.e., leaves the student with the sense that the traditional Augustinian interpretation of Adam and Eve might well represent the truth about man and woman and therefore should be treated as a serious intellectual position alongside modern feminist positions.

Eddie, based on what I used to hear from my students (and many others in the years since), I do think that the phenomenon you report is far more severe in particular departments, especially political science, women’s studies, sociology, perhaps anthropology, and various kinds of literature courses.

I did not personally observe these problems when I was a student, probably because (a) I did not take many of those most likely to be problematic departments’ courses, and (b) I did not take any undergraduate College of Arts & Sciences courses at East Coast or West Coast schools. I mention the coasts because the most egregious anecdotes I heard from students and others seemed to correlate heavily with California and New England schools.

Perhaps I was fortunate that my undergrad religious studies professors were totally professional and they never denigrated any religious tradition nor the beliefs of a particular student (at least, that I ever observed.) Yet, I know that departments and universities can vary considerably and that my university was in a conservative state where administrators understood that harmony with legislators and citizens in general was important to generous funding. If I had attended a University of California school, I think my experience might have been different.

I believe those who say that they never observed any negative bias among their professors. But I also believe those who report otherwise. Academic environments vary considerably on this, I assume. Meanwhile, I also tend to suspect: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I’ve seen it confirmed too many times.

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I think you are overestimating the influence of the FFRF, Dawkins, Coyne, and co. Physicists in general do not care about these shenanigans. I have not heard of this case and have never heard a physicist refer to it at all - this case might be common knowledge for the FFRF crowd, but it’s mostly unknown to the general physics community. Indeed, Eric Hedin is still going to physics conferences and is still publishing.

Looking at his publication records, if anything he might damage his scientific reputation by publishing some fringe physics articles (that has nothing to do with ID) in semi-questionable journals - but this does not seem to slow his career down much, as he still got tenure in the end.

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I agree; the phenomenon I am reporting may vary in intensity from place to place. And I’m not surprised to hear of the correlation with “Blue State” areas. But Neil seemed to doubt that the phenomenon occurs at all, and I wanted to assure him that it does. A Math professor who hasn’t taken an undergrad Arts course in the past 25 years or so, or who doesn’t regularly speak to religious undergrads in Arts programs, is not likely to be aware of the problem, any more than I would be aware of intellectual prejudices that might be exhibited by current undergrad professors of Game Theory or Topology.

My own undergrad professors in Religion were pretty even-handed, but things have changed drastically over the past 40 years, in a good many places where Religious Studies is taught. In 1975 this would not have been a pervasive problem, but in 2018, it is. What is more alarming is the creep of anti-religious attitudes from the Social Sciences (where one would almost expect such attitudes) into the Humanities, such as English, Classics, and Philosophy. Again, this may well be worse in certain regions and at certain schools. I don’t dispute that. But the general trend is very clear. In 1958, an obviously traditional Christian Ph.D. had no problem landing a job in most Humanities or Social Science departments; in 2018, such professors are, in many places, as rare as hen’s teeth.

If state universities are truly neutral on religious matters, as Patrick contends they need to be, then one would expect that, by sheer chance, the proportion of traditional Christian professors in the Arts departments would be somewhere near (not exactly, but somewhere near) the proportion of traditional Christians in the general population. But this is simply not the case. Atheists, agnostics, and ultra-liberal Christians and Jews are disproportionately represented on the faculties of state-funded universities, in many places. And since faculties hire their own replacements, this has to represent a bias, whether conscious or unconscious, of the faculty themselves. Further, the fact that a Dean or Vice President would be hugely concerned if a professor spoke in a belittling way about homosexuals, or women, or visible minority populations, but rarely shows concern when an atheist professor belittles Christian ideas, indicates a lack of will to apply the neutrality policy consistently, and that lack of will indicates something about modern academic culture, vis-a-vis traditional religious belief.

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Indeed.

I have not researched the statistics, but I would suspect that since WWII the percentage of evangelicals with advanced degrees has greatly increased—and yet their representations on university faculties have decreased.

Yes, it’s a selective tolerance of intolerance.

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