Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

March 20, 2014

Bangert: Boundaries of science under scrutiny

When a creationist lawmaker starts asking about university science.

The scientific community, including the one at Purdue University, might scoff at what’s going on at Ball State University these days, as a handful of Indiana legislators circle the Muncie campus, questioning whether a physics professor has been unduly stifled from exploring the topic of intelligent design in a science class.

But this is some potent stuff, as reported by Seth Slabaugh of the Muncie Star Press. And the implied threat by the lawmakers, including state Sen. Dennis Kruse, shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Lawmakers are pressing Ball State to explain restrictions and official actions when dealing with “Boundaries of Science,” a class taught by assistant professor Eric Hedin. Ball State says it’s a personnel issue. The legislators want to know if it’s a case of lost academic freedom.

Kruse, a Republican from Auburn and chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, is no stranger to floating the possibility of opening the doors of Indiana’s science classrooms to teach creationism or intelligent design — two approaches that have been dismissed as the equivalent of teaching religion by the bulk of the science world, not to mention the courts.

In 2012, Kruse led an unsuccessful effort to allow school districts to incorporate creation science into their curricula. That bill eventually was watered down and cast aside. In 2013, when discussing the possibility of a bill that would have protected public school teachers if they strayed from the science curriculum, Kruse made his feelings known about university towns, science and his gauge on popular opinion.

“I’d guess 80 percent of Indiana would be oriented with the Bible and creation,” Kruse said in November 2012. “Where you’re at, at Purdue or IU, you might have more who are for evolution. But once you get out away from there, out into the hinterlands, I think you’ll see a lot more people receptive to it.”

You might add Ball State to that “where you’re at.” Take it from Kruse: The lawmakers who are asking believe they have broad, “hinterland” sentiment on their side, no matter what the science shows.

That’s nothing to scoff at when you’re looking at guys who control the flow of money to universities. Heaven help us all.

Dave Bangert writes for the (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.

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