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Misrepresenting the Facts about Eric Hedin’s “Reading List”

Hedin_Eric.jpgMisinformation about what physicist Eric Hedin actually teaches in his “Boundaries of Science” honors seminar at Ball State University continues to circulate. This week the Muncie Star Press published an inaccurate and tendentious article about what the reporter describes as the “reading list” for Hedin’s course. The article starts out with a discussion of Stephen Meyer’s peer-reviewed journal article in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, asserting that the article is on the “reading list” for Hedin’s course and making it seem as if the article is an important focus of the course.

Now, there would be nothing wrong from my standpoint if Hedin actually did require students to read Meyer’s article or examine the subsequent campaign by the Darwin lobby to censor it after publication. But in point of fact, there is no evidence that Hedin even asked students to read the article.

What the reporter identifies as the course “reading list” is actually labeled by Hedin in his syllabus as a “Partial Bibliography.” According to email correspondence from the reporter, even the university spokesperson described this bibliography not as a “reading list” but “as a list of possible books to review.”

By transforming Hedin’s “Partial Bibliography” into an assigned “reading list,” the Star Press article misleads readers about the list’s importance and misrepresents the content of Hedin’s course. But the unfairness of the article goes deeper than that: If the reporter was going to discuss Hedin’s “Partial Bibliography” fairly, he should have noted that it includes writings that attack both intelligent design and creationism, such as Francis Collins’s The Language of God, which devotes an entire chapter to bashing intelligent design in biology. The bibliography also includes writings by scholars who hold a variety of religious positions. Physicist Roger Penrose is an atheist. The late philosopher Antony Flew was an atheist-turned-deist. Physicist Paul Davies is perhaps best described as a pantheist. The authors represented by the “Partial Bibliography” are much more diverse than the critics of Hedin have claimed.

The Star Press article does eventually discuss one of the two books that are genuinely assigned to be read in Hedin’s course: God’s Undertaker by John Lennox. However, the second book required by Hedin isn’t even identified, let alone discussed. That second book is a straight science text, The Expanding Universe. A Beginner’s Guide to the Big Bang and Beyond, by Mark A. Garlick. Of course, discussing Garlick’s book wouldn’t fit the caricature being offered by critics of Hedin’s course either.

The article’s discussion of the book by John Lennox, meanwhile, is preceded by a quote from the Freedom from Religion Foundation complaining about the supposed lack of science credentials of some of the authors assigned by Hedin. Lennox’s book is then described dismissively as a work of “apologetics.” Readers are left to assume that Lennox must be one of the alleged authors without science credentials because Lennox’s background is not described in any way.

In reality, Lennox is a distinguished Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and a Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Oxford’s Green Templeton College. Lennox is one of the major players in debates over science and religion, and he is certainly qualified to write a book about the relationship between science and faith. His book God’s Undertaker has been widely praised by a number of leading scientists, theologians, and other intellectuals, including agnostic Alan Emery, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Edinburgh, and Oxford University Professor of Human Metabolism Keith Frayn. Why was this information suppressed?

The Star Press article also discusses the book The Hidden Face of God, by Gerald Schroeder, which it mistakenly identifies as one of four textbooks for Hedin’s course. In fact, Hedin only requires two textbooks in the seminar, and Schroeder’s book isn’t one of them. Instead, Schroeder’s book is listed as an “optional” text, another fact that the reporter neglects to disclose, along with information about Schroeder’s academic background. Readers are told that Schroeder is an Orthodox Jew, but not that he earned a PhD in Physics from MIT.

Eric Hedin deserves better from his hometown newspaper than this kind of inaccurate reporting.