A while back Ball State allowed an openly creationist and evangelical physics teacher (as in, he’s so open that he talked about it in his classes) to schedule a class in which they would explore what could be learned beyond the boundaries of science. One would think that this would relegate it to somewhere that’s not a science class.
Anyway, the FFRF sent them a letter and it seemed like the President of Ball State was going to balk behind “academic freedom.” I’m happy to report that this ultimately did not happen. In a statement the President of the school said:
“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,” Jo Ann Gora wrote.
She wrote that more than 80 national and state scientific societies have said that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science. Such ideas can be taught in humanities or social science courses, she said, but must be discussed in comparison to other views and philosophical perspectives, each other, with no endorsement of one perspective over another.
“Our commitment to academic freedom is unflinching. However, it cannot be used as a shield to teach theories that have been rejected by the discipline under which a science course is taught. Our commitment to the best standards of each discipline being taught on this campus is equally unwavering,” she wrote. “As I have said, this is an issue of academic integrity, not academic freedom.”
That last part is very important. Academic freedom means that you can pursue even wonky ideas in the name of curiosity. It’s a great thing! It doesn’t, however, mean you get to teach those wonky ideas if they haven’t exceeded the rigorous standards for what gets accepted as scientific fact.
This is a distinction that is lost on the Discovery Institute, either because they are dishonestly playing dumb or because they really are that obtuse:
“If all it means — which seems to be the argument that she is making — is that you have the freedom to teach what the majority of people think in a discipline then that is a sham. It really is Orwellian,” he said. “It’s no news that there is evidence of intelligent design is a minority viewpoint in the sciences.”
It is not Orwellian to teach what is supported by evidence and not what is rejected by the experts in a discipline. If a teacher wanted to teach their students that the sun is powered by a giant fire-proof hamster on a wheel, it’s not Orwellian to say that’s not allowed until evidence is presented that survives peer review.
It would be Orwellian if we jailed someone for believing the hamster is there or that a dude rose from the dead 2,000 years ago, but nobody’s doing that. What we are saying is that you need to put up or shut up if you want to play the academic game, just like all the people submitting evolution articles to peer review rather than spending exorbitant amounts of money to convince non-scientists that they’re right.