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Will University Strip C. S. Lewis from Science Course?

(UPDATED) Ball State decides intelligent design must go, but professor may stay.

Update (Aug. 5): A science class that drew scrutiny for asking state university students to read Christian authors (including Francis Collins, Lee Strobel, and C. S. Lewis) will be scrubbed to remove any discussion of intelligent design.

Bringing resolution to a much-discussed investigation, university president Jo Ann Gora cited "academic integrity" in restricting intelligent design to "humanities and social science courses" that also include discussion of a variety of worldviews.

"Our commitment to academic freedom is unflinching," she wrote. "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."

Ball State is currently reviewing its "Boundaries of Science" course with professor Eric Hedin to ensure that the curriculum fits within university and academic standards. Its original syllabus—which included books by intelligent design proponents such as William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and Michael Behe—drew controversy. (Whether C. S. Lewis's Miracles will get the boot is another matter.)

Meanwhile, both the Discovery Institute and the Freedom From Religion Foundation—which represent the opposing sides of the debate—are criticizing the university for keeping records of the investigation confidential.

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Update (July 11): The Associated Press reports that Ball State University has hired Guillermo Gonzalez, a well-known astronomer and proponent of Intelligent Design, for a tenure-track position in the school's physics and astronomy department. The decision to hire Gonzalez comes just after the school faced complaints in May that another physics professor was teaching religion in his science classes.

Gonzalez, who previously was denied tenure at Iowa State University, said in a statement that any controversy surrounding his arrival at Ball State is "artificial," as he "will not be discussing intelligent design in (his) classes."

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[First posted May 20, 2013, at 10:28 a.m. under headline, "Ball State Will Investigate Course on 'Boundaries of Science'"]

One science course at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, is under scrutiny for its syllabus and reading list.

According to Inside Higher Ed (IHE), Ball State school officials say they have agreed to investigate the school's "Boundaries of Science" course, which investigates the intersection of religion and science, after the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a complaint with the school earlier this week. FFRF and other bloggers say the course endorses creationism and Christianity.

Ball State's website describes the course as "examining the nature of the physical and the living world, to increase our appreciation of the scope, wonder, and complexity of physical reality. The objectives are to give a scientifically accurate introduction to the origin and development of the physical universe (cosmology), which has led up to the formation of Earth as a uniquely suitable environment to support life. The biological complexity of physical life will also be briefly examined. We will investigate these physical realities and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within nature which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life."

Texts for the class included several books associated with intelligent design, including Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box and Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator.

Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago ecology and evolution professor, first criticized the class on his blog, titled "Why Evolution Is True," criticizing the course as "nothing more than a vehicle for purveying intelligent design and Christianity to the students."

Later, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter sent to the university president Jo Ann Gora, asking her to investigate whether or not the course was violating church-state separation.

But Thomas Robertson, chair of the physics and astronomy department at Ball State, isn't concerned. He told IHE the recent debate over the course's reading list reveals "nothing in addition to information that has been in [Robertson's] possession for some time."

"Given the totality of information available to me at this time, I do not share the opinions expressed on the web sites cited below," he said in an e-mail to IHE. "We will continue to monitor our faculty and their course materials and practices and take appropriate action when deemed necessary."

IHE also noted that many critics of Intelligent Design have also opposed efforts to shut down the course, citing academic freedom.

The debate over origins is, of course, ongoing. A 2012 CT cover story examined how two Christian scientists with differing views have lived out their faith and professions. CT also examined the "evolution of the debate" and looked at the breakdown of Americans' beliefs on the subject.

More recently, CT looked at why more Christian, homeschooling parents are asking for textbooks that include evolution.

Posted:May 5, 2013 at 2:08PM
Gleanings aggregates what others are reporting. Learn more.

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