Ball State Imbroglio Update — 04 Oct 2013

There’s an editorial in the News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Indiana with this headline: Another fight over religion at Ball State University.

The subject is one we’ve been discussing lately. All the background information can be found here: Ball State Imbroglio Update — 03 Oct 2013. The editorial reviews the facts and then perceptively analyzes the issues. They amusingly refer to the Discovery Institute as:

the Discovery Group, a think tank devoted to “intelligent design”

Getting their name wrong is a splendid touch. It suggests that the Discoveroids are an obscure, virtually unknown bunch of cranks. But the editorial is good on substance too. A few excerpts (with bold font added by us) will show you what we mean:

In the first case [about physics professor, Eric Hedin, who was allegedly teaching intelligent design in his course on the “Boundaries of Science”], BSU President Jo Ann Gora investigated and concluded that intelligent design “is not appropriate for science classes” in a public university classroom because it is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief, not a scientific theory.

Right. Now the the next issue — the Discoveroids’ allegations than an honors seminar titled “Dangerous Ideas,” taught by English associate professor Paul Ranieri, is promoting atheism and bashing intelligent design:

She says she will investigate this case, too, to determine the course material’s appropriateness.

A lot of people will be watching to see how she rules. If it’s wrong to bring religion into the classroom, is it just as wrong to bring in atheism (assuming the charge against the class is true)? Does keeping one out but not the other amount to “favoring or endorsing one side of a religious debate over another,” as the Discovery Group is contending?

That’s the claim of the Discoveroids (a/k/a the “Discovery Group”). Let’s read on:

One big difference is that the intelligent design objection was raised about a science classroom, which made the introduction of religion obviously inappropriate. Certainly intelligent design and other forms of creationism belong in college, just not in science classes.

Yowie! They understand! The editorial continues:

But the dangerous ideas book is being taught by an English professor. Should such a class be required to have balance by presenting counter-arguments to everything? Or is it just religious and anti-religious ideas that have to be pitted against each other? Isn’t college exactly the place for “dangerous ideas” as demanding teachers push students to think critically about things?

That’s enough. You can click over there to read it all. But now that we have your attention, we’ll take advantage of that and give you our own thinking about how we see the Discoveroids’ litigation strategy.

First, as has always been the case, the Discoveroids will not directly appear in the litigation as a party. As in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, they may advise the parties privately, they may supply a witness or two (as they did with Behe — see Kitzmiller v. Dover: Michael Behe’s Testimony), they may even file an amicus brief or two, but their name will not be directly involved. Why? A full frontal defeat would be catastrophic. They prefer to send in useful idiots as expendable troops; that way they can shrug off their losses and keep going.

We see the coming litigation shaping up as a pincer movement, sometimes called a “double envelopment.” According to Wikipedia, that’s a military maneuver in which the flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent (in this case, Ball State University) has predictably advanced towards the center.

In the forthcoming Battle of Ball State, the university has made a predictable move and has assumed a position in the center — the university’s president, Jo Ann Gora, has clearly announced a defensible policy that intelligent design doesn’t belong in science classes — see Statement from Ball State University’s President.

That makes sense. We already know that some creationist types have obtained positions on the Ball State faculty. First there’s Eric Hedin, and of course we know about Guillermo Gonzalez. There may be others. It’s good that the university has awakened to their presence, albeit belatedly, but they may not yet grasp the whole picture. They probably see this as a faculty vs. administration policy issue, because those are the forces that now seem to be opposing each other in the center. But in our humble opinion, the coming litigation will not be decided on that front alone.

One of our commenters, ladyatheist, provided us with some insight by linking to Ball State students want all topics, including religion, to be discussed in classes. And thanks to the Christian Broadcasting Network, whose story we wrote about yesterday, we know about a creationist group of students (possibly including those who wrote that letter) who are already spouting the Discoveroid line to the press, and who may be ready to participate in whatever litigation is being planned.

As we see it, the litigation being orchestrated by the Discoveroids will simultaneously hit the university from two directions: (1) a few creationists on the faculty will claim that their “academic freedom” is being suppressed; and (2) a group of creationist students will claim that they are being indoctrinated by atheistic professors. The university will then have to defend itself against accusations that it is not only abusing its faculty, but that it is also abusing its students.

And while that is going on, the distracted university may also be attacked in its rear. The Discoveroids undoubtedly have an imbecilic stooge or two in the Indiana legislature. They will introduce legislation to curb the “abuses” of the university, and they will also hold legislative hearings about the university’s “one sided” science policy. We’ve seen that in Louisiana, where the list of “experts” called to testify is loaded up with bible college professors, so the appearance of a scientific controversy is created, thus justifying a policy of teaching “both sides” — see Louisiana Legislature Used Creation Science Witnesses.

In the din of battle, as resources are diverted to protect the flanks, the center will weaken. The university’s fundamental position that intelligent design has no place in science class may be lost in the chaos. It would be a classic pincer movement.

Your Curmudgeon suggests that the university should study the victory of Alexander at the Battle of the Granicus. Alexander was outnumbered. Before the battle began he conspicuously led a cavalry movement to his right. The Persians deployed a force to counter that, thus weakening the Persian center, through which the Greeks immediately charged. It’s somewhat like a quarterback who deploys a wide receiver, and when the opposing team shifts around to guard against that, he keeps the ball and runs up the center.

What are we suggesting? Ball State should avoid getting crushed in a pincer movement. They should throw their opponent off balance, as Alexander did at the Granicus River. But don’t merely pretend to move from the center; actually do so. Attack the Discoveroid flanks now, before the litigation begins. Investigate that student creationism group. Do they discriminate on the basis of religious belief? It’s quite possible that they do. Then revoke their charter. Toss ’em off campus. De-legitimize them, so there’s one less group of plaintiffs. Then it really will be a contest between a few creationist faculty members and the administration. What about the legislature? The university undoubtedly has friends there. Talk to them — now. Prepare them for what’s coming. Then the university can’t be outflanked. After that, let the Discoveroids give it their best shot. The center will hold.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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23 responses to “Ball State Imbroglio Update — 04 Oct 2013

  1. Richard Olson

    Proactive defense — best way to go about it. No-holds barred against this bunch of ruthless fanatics. That is the sort of force they muster, after all. Also, it is possible to be civil and forgo disrespectful terminology toward opposition litigants while simultaneously sawing the balls off the positions they hold. Limit their legitimate post-defeat whining options from the outset, because FSM knows they will concoct plenty of those without any assistance from the reality community.

  2. Am I wrong to assume that the more prestigious public universities in Indiana would come to the aid of Ball State?

  3. SC: I approve your suggestions for action. Has Ball State administrators received your suggestions? If not, how can they get your suggestions? Anyone know faculty there that might send your post to the president or at least pass on the suggestions? There is faculty member I know at Ball State (in biology) that seems uninterested in taking action, although a strong supporter of evolution.

  4. Vhutchison asks: “Anyone know faculty there that might send your post to the president or at least pass on the suggestions?”

    I can’t think of anyone I know there. But all it would take is for one person — the right person — to pass the link on to Gora.

  5. “They understand!”
    Really? Then do I correctly understand that in the USA also Flat Earth Theory and pastafarianism belong in college? If no, why not while creationism does?
    I mean, in the country where I live, Suriname, which is about as religious as the USA, none of these three are taught in whatever college.

  6. “Or is it just religious and anti-religious ideas that have to be pitted against each other?”
    Wait a minute. Do not the IDiots from Seattle maintain that ID is not a religious faith but a scientific theory? Then how can banning ID be part of pitting religious ideas and whatever you want?

  7. “so the appearance of a scientific controversy is created”
    “that intelligent design has no place in science class may be lost in the chaos.”
    Great analysis – this makes a lot of sense.
    Now we also know what “the remedies” where – attacking BSU for atheist propaganda. I must admit it’s pretty clever.
    I agree with you, it will be exciting how this is going to play out.

  8. Our Curmudgeon sagely predicts

    as has always been the case, the Discoveroids will not directly appear in the litigation as a party

    Indeed–and if I recollect correctly, the ‘useful idiots’ they con into acting as proxies tend to fare rather badly in these things.

    Another safe prediction: the Discoveroids won’t get any assistance from the Templeton Foundation, which has in the past already had its fingers burned by previous entanglement with the DI.

  9. MNb – The Disco Tute tries to have it both ways. Banning ID by itself is viewpoint discrimination. Banning ID can also be religious discrimination because you are incorrectly perceiving ID as a religious notion. That was the rationale, to use the word lightly, behind the Coppedge defense.

    By banning Coppedge from discussing ID in the workplace, JPL was committing religious discrimination because they incorrectly perceived ID as religious. Clear as mud?

  10. Ceteris Paribus

    SC’s strategery might work on an even battlefield playing field. But in the case of Ball State the very fact that Gonzales landed a tenure track position points to the presence of a “fifth column” inside the administration.

    The same powers-that-be which were able to bypass normal faculty candidate screening for Gonzales will no doubt be able to defuse any legal strategy that has a chance of winning by Ball State.

  11. Ceteris Paribus says: “The same powers-that-be which were able to bypass normal faculty candidate screening for Gonzales will no doubt be able to defuse any legal strategy that has a chance of winning by Ball State.”

    I don’t see it that way. Assuming Gora is serious, she probably already knows how the creationists got hired. Those “fifth columnists” will either: (a) emerge from their closets and join in the litigation on the side of the “abused” faculty; or (b) they’ll stay in stealth mode. It doesn’t matter. Their activities are now known, and (again if Gora is serious) no more creationists will be hired, and if the litigation goes well they’ll keep creationism out of science class.

  12. Ceteris Paribus

    SC says: “Assuming Gora is serious, she probably already knows how the creationists got hired.”

    On reflection, I will take that as correct. Presidents of universities the size of Ball State aren’t likely to get directly involved in faculty hiring decisions to fill an entry level tenure track position. The long tenure process itself is supposed to magically separate the winners from the losers, as it did for Gonzales earlier.

    So my working hypothesis now is that she got sandbagged by the department itself, which didn’t make sufficient fuss about Gonzales prior to his appointment, and thus avoid embarrassment for Ball State as an institution.

    Anyway, Gora likely would have wanted to find out who she was addressing her strong public statement to, prior to putting it in the press.

    If my conjecture is correct, just watch the Ball State course schedule for 2014 and see which current Geology professor has been assigned to teach Rocks for Jocks 099 at 8am. Tenure has many protections for professors, but scheduling is still the prerogative of the administration.

  13. docbill1351 has a good point concerning the DI’s standard claims that people are simply not understanding their dogma correctly.

    The right way to frame DI might be to ignore what they say and simply offer up the record of what they actually do and who they seem to consistently be involved with.

    None of their complaints or legal actions ever seem to be without some religious taint, the people they bandwagon with (until the kitchen gets too hot) are clearly attempting to push forward religious agendas. The DI has never come to the aid of any other form of mysticism besides U.S. based Christian groups.

    Regardless of their claims, their track record is far more damaging to them than any amount of debate over the details of their convoluted interpretation of reality. They can’t revise or take back what they have already done.

    I wonder if their current supporters are even aware of their consistent record of leaving someone else holding the bag.

  14. re: Indiana legislature, I think Kruse is the name you want: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/01/27/indiana-legislative-panel-clears-creation-science-bill/ (I posted this link rather than a newsy one because I like this blog post!)

  15. Do we have a new name for the Discoveroids? The Discovery Groupies!

  16. @ladyatheist: This is interesting. Currently, the state rep for the area around Ball State (Muncie, IN) is Sue Errington. If I’m reading this correctly, Errington, who is now a state representative, was at one time a state senator also for Ball State. Further, she was at one time on the same education committee as Kruse.
    Unfortunately, it appears she was not on the committee at the same time that he was pushing his creationist agenda. I can’t find her voting on any creationist legislation (she may not have been in office at the time), but she did vote against expanding the school voucher program earlier this year.

  17. @SC: My last comment had a fair number of links. It’s sitting in your moderation queue.

  18. Gary says: “My last comment had a fair number of links. It’s sitting in your moderation queue.”

    I have made the perilous descent into Cyber Hades and brought it back, unharmed.

  19. Our Curmudgeon heroically reports

    I have made the perilous descent into Cyber Hades

    Bravo–but I trust you eschewed any virtual pomegranate seeds therein…

  20. SC said:

    I have made the perilous descent into Cyber Hades and brought it back, unharmed.

    Thanks, SC! Your valor and courage are much appreciated!

  21. Sue Errington is a Democrat and I voted for her 😀

  22. Hey SC, check out Westie’s letter to the editor in the Star Press (Muncie’s local paper): http://www.thestarpress.com/article/20131006/OPINION03/310060028/Intelligent-design-creationism

  23. ladyatheist says: “Hey SC, check out Westie’s letter to the editor in the Star Press”

    I’m already on it. It’ll be posted in about 5 more minutes.