A national group that supports the belief that a higher power had a hand in the rise of life on Earth is questioning the fairness of a Ball State University panel reviewing allegations that an honors course is religion disguised as science.
The Discovery Institute contends that three of the four panelists are linked to groups opposed to intelligent design— the belief that a higher power must have played a role in life's origins and that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.
John West, vice president of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, said the panelists' affiliations raise "huge red flags" and it appears that course instructor Eric Hedin is "being railroaded by the university through a process not applied before."
"In fairness to the panel, people are sometimes able to go against their ideology and prejudices," West told The Star Press. "Maybe the panel is willing to do that."
Hedin, an assistant professor of physics, teaches an honors class called "Boundaries of Science," which explores the nature of the universe.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist organization, filed a formal objection with Ball State officials in May, contending that Hedin's course is "a one-sided monologue by a government-paid employee whose agenda is to show that science proves the truth of religion — in this case one particular religion, Christianity."
That complaint prompted Ball State Provost Terry King to name a faculty review panel to evaluate the allegations. Its members include Catherine Pilachowski, a professor of astronomy at Indiana University and past president of the American Astronomical Society, or AAS.
The three other panelists are Ball State faculty members Gary Dodson, a professor of biology; Juli Thorson Eflin, a professor of philosophy; and Richard Fluegeman Jr., a professor of geological sciences.
West said Pilachowski was on the governing council of AAS when it issued a declaration denouncing intelligent design in 2005 and stating that it should not be taught in science classes.
He also said Dodson signed an anti-creationism petition circulated by the lobbying group the National Center for Science Education and that in 2009, Dodson was a presenter and discussion leader for a Darwin Day conference organized by the Ball State Freethought Alliance.
Fluegeman delivered the opening lecture at the same Darwin Day conference.
Pilachowski and Dodson declined to comment, referring questions to Ball State's office of marketing and communications. Fluegeman could not be reached for comment.
King told The Star Press he selected the panel to help determine the validity of the complaint against Hedin's course. Michael Maggiotto, dean of the college of sciences and humanities and professor of political science, helped choose the panel.
"Each is an expert in his or her field," King said in a prepared statement. "Faculty always have the best understanding of what is essential in a field and what represents the best academic standards. That is why I have asked these scholars to review this matter."
King emphasized that the panel is not a disciplinary one and that based on its input he will "determine if any additional action is required."