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Shock: At Ball State University, Non-Science Courses May Contain Non-Science

Joshua Youngkin

Once, Ball State University (BSU) physicist Eric Hedin was free to teach Honors 296, Inquiries in Physical Sciences, a course in which design-in-nature was open for discussion. Then came the hammer.
BSU President Jo Ann Gora got a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, investigated Dr. Hedin, and called him out thusly:

  1. “Intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses.”
  2. “Teaching religious ideas in a science course is clearly not appropriate.”

Admins tend to talk about particular cases by gesturing toward general rules so as to appear detached, impartial, “above the fray.” I can translate admin speak into English. Here’s what Gora is really saying:

  1. Only science in science class.
  2. Honors 296 is a science class.
  3. Intelligent design is religion, not science.
  4. Hedin allows intelligent design in Honors 296.
  5. Hedin thus allows non-science in science class.
  6. Hedin thus broke rule number 1.
  7. Gora angry.
  8. Gora smash.

Now, rule 1 looks nice and neat, but it’s a mess to mark out and enforce in real life. And rule 3 is contested. Still, let’s grant the general perspicuity and inviolability of rules 1 and 3 for the sake of argument. Rule 4 is undisputed, so 5 and 6 follow (and puts Gora into beast mode) if 1 and 2 hold in this case. However, as Discovery Institute’s recent letter to Gora makes plain, all sections of Honors 296 — and of parallel courses like Honors 297, Inquiries in Earth Sciences, and Honors 298, Inquiries in Life — are interdisciplinary by design.
FreedomUnderFire.jpgFor all sections of Honors 296, BSU’s master syllabus requires each offering of the course to “emphasiz[e] the relationships of the sciences to human concerns and society,” and to attend to the “social and ethical consequences of scientific discoveries and their applications to critical issues confronting contemporary society.”
So it is unsurprising that Honors 296, “‘Old’ and ‘New’ Science,” does per its syllabus a week on “Science and Religion” then another on “Science and the Individual.”
And, as part of the honors college agenda, it is less-than-shocking that Honors 297, “The SustainABLES (Air, Biodiversity, Land, & Energy, Seas),” dives headlong into public conservation and the “greening” of business, its syllabus explicitly stating that the course will cover “social, economic, political, [and] cultural … issues facing modern society,” and that students will to meet course objectives “[e]xamine and discuss the political and legal issues behind sustainable or ‘green’ guidelines.”
No less interdisciplinary, Honors 298, “The Biology of Life,” promises in its course description to address “the numerous ethical and societal issues surrounding such topics” as “aging, cancer, cloning, euthanasia, genetic engineering,” and the like. The syllabus further states that students will “[o]penly discuss the moral and ethical issues within modern biology.” In fact, the syllabus requires students to write seven papers on ethical case studies assigned during the course.
Clearly, even those courses offered for science credit were never meant to be straight science courses. It is an open secret that they are all science-and-x courses, where x is some bit of non-science intended to give to honors college students a wide lens on science.
None of this is news to the academy. For example, interdisciplinarity is all the rage in legal education. At theory-loving law schools, the Ivies in particular, you can in your second and third years load up on courses in the areas of law-and-philosophy, law-and-economics, law-and-sociology, etc., if you want, though purists like Justice Scalia and Stanley Fish will for very different reasons say that that’s a bad thing. Steven Pinker basically told the humanities to act more like science, or else, which is less a collegial interdisciplinarity than academic imperialism.
Anyway, since Honors 296, 297, and 298 are science-and-x courses, Gora has to either go ape on pretty much the entire honors college, or she has to stop pretending that mixing science and non-science in BSU’s honors college is novel, unexpected, and sinful.