I expect that most here have heard about the situation at Ball State University (in Muncie, Indiana), where a physics professor was apparently including some Intelligent Design in a science class. There was a public fuss. And, more recently, the president of Ball State wrote a letter to the faculty about the situation. It seems to have been a classy letter. She described the issue as one of academic integrity, rather than one of academic freedom as a few commentators had suggested. She apparently agreed that there were first amendment issues, as others suggested. But she saw academic integrity as the main issue. Incidentally, I also thought academic integrity was the issue.
The ID people don’t like what she wrote, because she was blunt about ID not being science. Over at UD, vjtorley has a post “An open letter to BSU President Jo-Ann Gora” where he raises some questions that he would like the Gora to answer. I’m giving my answers here, rather than in a comment at UD, because I think the issues warrant more discussion, and I’m sure others here will want to join in.
Vincent’s first question starts with “how do you define ID”. It specifically asks about fine tuning.
My answer: It is not up to Ball State to define ID. They are reacting to a movement which has been very noisy about what it advocates.
On fine tuning: It does not matter to me whether “fine tuning” is specifically designated as ID. The relevant issues are that:
- “fine tuning” is a religious apologetics argument, and
- it has no scientific content. If the apologetics were removed, it would be philosophy, not science and not philosophy of science.
He also brings up the question of whether the cosmos could be a giant computer simulation. But that, too, I see as philosophy and not science.
Vjtorley’s second section opens with:
Would you agree that the discussion of a bad scientific theory – even one whose claims has been soundly refuted by scientific testing, such as aether theories in physics, the phlogiston theory in chemistry, and vitalism in biology – can be productive and genuinely illuminating, in a university science classroom?
To me, this seems a misdirection. ID has never shown any scientific value. By contrast, phlogiston led to a research program of measuring the mass of combustion products. It was the beginnings of modern chemistry, though that very research led to the downfall of phlogiston.
I would class the aether as an hypothesis, rather than a theory. It was a background assumption but played no direct role in research with the exception of the Michelson-Morley experiment. But it did provide a useful background for discussing apparent wave-like phenomena in light transmission. Perhaps it’s role is similar to that of origin-of-life questions in biology. The physics itself did not depend on anything about aether, just as biology does not depend on how life originated. As far as I can tell, ID does not offer anything comparable.
I don’t know much about the history of vitalism, so I won’t comment about that.
The next section begins with:
If you answered “Yes” to question 2, as I expect you did, then I shall assume that for you, the decisive reason for keeping intelligent design out of the science classroom is that it is essentially religious in nature. As you wrote in your email: “Teaching religious ideas in a science course is clearly not appropriate.”
It then goes on to discuss Fred Hoyle’s ideas.
Honestly, Vincent, this is absurd. Nobody would have heard of Hoyle’s view of evolution, if he were not already famous for his astrophysics. An famous astronomer says something laughably dumb about biology, and you really think that’s worthy of time in a biology class?
Now I hope you can see where I’m heading with this line of inquiry. If the discussion of the flaws in intelligent design theory belongs in a university science classroom, it logically follows that discussion of the theory itself belongs in a university science classroom.
Sigh! Creationists and ID proponents are still confusing “theory” and “hypothesis”. ID was never a theory. At best, it is an hypothesis, and a rather bad one at that. Compare it to phlogiston, which was a genuine theory and did lead to useful empirical research. The research we see coming out of the ID community seems to be little more than a search for gaps in which to put your “god of the gaps.” You don’t even need an ID hypothesis for that kind of research.
The next section is about Richard Smalley. The whole section reads like apologetics. I am wondering why vjtorley thinks that an apologetics argument would persuade people that ID is not religion.
So my question to you is: if a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry thought that intelligent design belongs in the category of “science”, what makes you so sure that it belongs in the category of religion?
Another non-biologist says something stupid about biology. It should be obvious that this is not useful to discuss in a science class.
The Ball State statement said that particular viewpoints should not be endorsed, even in humanities classes. Vjtorley begins his question with:
I’d now like you to consider the hypothetical case of a humanities or social science lecturer at your university who is asked a very direct, personal question by a student: “Do you believe in intelligent design?”
If a student asked me that in class, I would decline to answer and rule it off-topic. If he asked me informally out of class, perhaps I would answer. But, in my opinion, this sort of viewpoint endorsement does not belong in the classroom. I agree with president Gora that this is an issue of academic integrity.