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Lawmakers question Ball State on intelligent design

MUNCIE, Ind. – Four conservative Republican Indiana legislators -- including two from northeast Indiana -- are questioning Ball State University’s decision to prohibit the teaching of intelligent design in a science course.

The legislators sent a letter this week to Ball State President Jo Ann Gora, saying her decision last summer raised questions about whether the school had violated the religious and academic freedom of the professor involved, The Star Press reported (http://tspne.ws/PA9JfV).

Gora’s decision followed complaints that the “Boundaries of Science” class taught by Eric Hedin, an assistant professor of physics, was promoting the idea that nature displays evidence of intelligent design, as opposed to evolution. Intelligent design holds that the order and complexity found in nature must be the result of rational design, as by God, and that evolution or other processes are insufficient to account for them entirely.

Gora concluded that intelligent design is overwhelmingly regarded by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory.

The letter was signed by Senate education committee Chairman Dennis Kruse of Auburn, along with Sens. Travis Holdman of Markle and Greg Walker of Columbus and Rep. Jeff Thompson of Lizton. Because the university has declined to release a report prepared by a faculty review panel, “we feel unable to judge whether the investigation was fair and impartial,” the lawmakers wrote.

“In order to determine if legislative action is required, we feel obligated to investigate whether BSU has acted in accord with state educational policy, legal requirements, and BSU’s own published standards,” the letter said.

The legislators wrote that they also were “disturbed by reports that while you restrict faculty speech on intelligent design, BSU authorized a seminar that teaches ‘Science Must Destroy Religion.’ ”

Ball State spokesman Tony Proudfoot said the legislators apparently were referring to an honors seminar, “Dangerous Ideas,” which uses a book that includes an essay with that title.

“This is not a seminar that teaches that ‘Science Must Destroy Religion,’ ” Proudfoot said. “That phrase is simply the title of one four-page essay among 109 others.”

Proudfoot said the university is limited in what it can say about the situation with Hedin because it’s a personnel matter for the 18,000-student school.

“Dr. Hedin’s academic credentials are an asset to the university,” Proudfoot said. “He remains an important and valued member of our physics and astronomy department.”

The Discovery Institute, a Virginia-based intelligent design think tank, has defended Hedin’s course.

John West, the group’s vice president, said he hoped the lawmakers will force Ball State to release the review panel’s report.

“That report should be public so the public can judge whether what happened was fair or biased or whatever,” West said.

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