As a pastor with members who are studying at Ball State University, it saddened me to learn that Ball State had a lawsuit filed against it by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, apparently because Ball State hired a professor who wrote a book on intelligent design and/or a student accused a professor for “teaching creation” in a science class. In response to the lawsuit filed, the president of the university sent a letter to faculty and staff “saying intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses.”
When I went to the Ball State website, I didn’t see any mention of this matter. Instead, when I searched “intelligent design” on the website, I found the syllabus of a physics course: ASTR 151 The Boundaries of Science. You too can find it here. http://cms.bsu.edu/-/media/WWW/DepartmentalContent/Physics/PDFs/MasterSyllabi/Master%20Syllabus_ASTR151.pdf After examining the course description and resources used, I’m assuming that students taking this course in the future (if it continues to be offered) will no longer receive science credit for this class or any others like it.
My initial reaction to this matter is mixed. First, I am personally not a fan of secular schools teaching my students or children anything about the origin of the universe other than the physics and theories behind current secular models of universal development. But what makes this issue particularly difficult for Christians is that we live in a culture that is so science-driven that scientists often have a free pass in their classrooms to venture from speculation about HOW (science) the universe began into proposing godless or anti-god reasons WHY (religion) it may have come into existence. So denial of God is currently acceptable in the context of a “science” class. Yet, Christians are prohibited from discussing science from a Christian perspective in the very same class where an anti-god view of the universe (by definition a religion) could be promoted. Here is a paragraph from On Our Origins that summarizes one of the reasons for my sentiment:
When the same scientist who uses Occam’s razor to limit experiment to observable, physical phenomena makes a case, based upon his science, to argue against the existence of a spiritual God, he has misled himself. Such science denies God by mixing pure observational science with the scientist’s godless worldview. A spiritual God can’t be observed in physical experimentation, but that doesn’t mean He couldn’t possibly exist. In the end, such pseudoscience promotes an anti-God religion (On Our Origins, 136).
Those who think that eliminating a discussion of “creationism” or “intelligent design” will remove God from science classes deceive themselves. Every time a professor or teacher makes any statement about God, positive or negative, they bring God into the science class and mix science and religion. We do a disservice to students who live in a country where the majority of adults still believe in God when we, in the freedom from religion, are allowed to disallow certain talk about God (I would most often agree with) from public discourse in university classrooms while tolerating certain other talk about God (I probably wouldn’t be so keen on).
There are ethics classes offered and even required by many universities for science and medical degrees. Is the study of ethics scientific? Which field of medicine does ethics fall under?
Ethics over-arches both of these fields as a matter of public interest. But let’s not kid ourselves, the study of ethics falls under philosophy. That’s where the study of religion also belongs according to secularists. It seems that we are allowed to study and apply certain philosophies in these fields but not others. In the interest of being well-rounded, shouldn’t we study multiple philosophies to deepen our reflection instead of limiting ourselves to the one which seems to be compatible with a certain constituency?
Exploring the limitations of science (even if done from a theological viewpoint) in a science classroom equips students to limit science to that which can be physically observed. It keeps scientists from mixing the scientific study of the physical realm with the religious study of the spiritual. Instead of contaminating science, exposing students to “critiques” of science keeps science pure, just as the proper use of ethics keeps the practice of medicine and science pure.
If students never consider the limitations of science, the pure and proper pursuit of science may quickly be replaced by a paralyzing groupthink. A world of people not allowed to question current theories doesn’t strengthen science, it threatens science. This is the world we will live in if nobody of a different perspective is allowed to be a part of conversations which are often times best fostered in a university setting.
So instead of prohibiting “intelligent design” from the science classroom, why not engage in a conversation with it? Such a conversation will equip people from all angles to grow in their understanding of themselves and others. And done right, most will hopefully grow-up a little bit by learning to tolerate those who are different, while critically reflecting upon what science can or cannot do.
We don’t need to accept each other’s perspective in this regard, but we are all called to tolerate each other. I pray that’s a virtue we can all agree with. If not, we’re all in trouble. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45a ESV).
Tagged: Ball State, Ball State University, Baptist, Christian, Creation, Creation Museum, Creationism, Discovery Institute, faith and science, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Guillermo Gonzalez, Intelligent design, Jo Ann M. Gora, Lutheran, Matthew 5:43, science and religion, Science education