Tag Archives: academic respectability

Education Redefined

When I was a young girl growing up in Anderson, Indiana (circa Ice Age), Ball State University, located in nearby Muncie, was sort of a joke. It was a “Teachers’ College,” attended by kids who didn’t have the grades to get into more rigorous or respectable schools.

Over the years, Ball State’s reputation has improved tremendously. It is no longer just a teachers’ college enrolling substandard students. It has become a respectable and respected University.

Or so I thought.

Suddenly, Ball State’s motto–“Education Redefined”–has taken on a whole new meaning. A recent news item was nothing short of appalling.

Ball State University has hired a controversial astronomer who is a national leader in the intelligent design movement (Slabaugh, Muncie Star Press). President Jo Ann Gora approved the hiring of Guillermo Gonzalez as an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy on June 12 at a salary of $57,000. He will start teaching at BSU in August. The hiring occurred after Ball State had launched an investigation into a complaint that another assistant professor in the same department, Eric Hedin, was promoting intelligent design in a science class…

Every court that has considered the propriety of teaching “creationism” or “intelligent design” (interchangable terms, no matter how desperately their proponents claim otherwise) in public school science classes has concluded that intelligent design is religion, not science. That includes Republican judges appointed by conservative Republican Presidents. Among scientists, intelligent design is a joke–not because it postulates the existence of God (many scientists believe in God), but because it is not science. Intelligent design or creationism can be taught in a class on comparative religion, but it simply cannot be taught as science.

Let’s talk about what science is.

Science is the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence. It requires the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena. Science is characterized by empirical inquiry.

The scientific method begins with the identification of a question or problem, after which relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated based upon that data, and the hypothesis is then subject to additional empirical testing.

Development of a scientific theory is a part of the scientific method. It involves summarizing a group of hypotheses that have been successfully and repeatedly tested.  Once enough empirical evidence accumulates to support a hypothesis, a theory is developed, and that theory becomes accepted as a valid explanation of a particular phenomenon.

In the scientific method, a clear distinction is drawn between facts, which can be observed and/or measured, and theories, which are scientists’ explanations and interpretations of those facts. Scientists can draw various interpretations from their observations, or from the results of their experiments, but the facts, which have been called the cornerstone of the scientific method, do not change. A scientific theory is not the end result of the scientific method; theories are constantly supported or rejected, improved or modified as more information is gathered so that the accuracy of the prediction becomes greater over time.

Nonscientists use the word theory to mean speculation, or guess—“I have a theory about that.” When we fail to distinguish between our casual use of the term and its very different scientific meaning, we confuse discussions of science education. This has been particularly true of arguments surrounding Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Some religious people (certainly not all) believe that the theory of evolution is inconsistent with a belief in God, and they challenge the teaching of evolution in biology classes because they believe that it is “just a theory.”

In order to be scientific, hypotheses and theories must be subject to falsification.

A falsifiable assertion is one that can be empirically refuted or disproved.

Observing that a woman or a sunset is beautiful, asserting that you feel sad, declaring that you are in love and similar statements may be very true, but they aren’t science, because they can be neither empirically proved nor disproved. Similarly, God may exist, but that existence is not falsifiable—God cannot be dragged into a laboratory and tested. One either believes in His existence or not. (That’s why religious belief is called faith.)

It’s unfortunate that so many people don’t understand the difference between science and religion, but it is inconceivable that an institution of higher education would confuse the two, or allow religious doctrine to be taught as science.

I don’t know what’s going on at Ball State, but apparently that institution is “redefining education” in ways that will return it to its previous status as a third-rate institution.

Jo Ann Gora should be embarrassed, and Ball State alumni–who are seeing their credentials devalued–should be furious.