A friend brought a news item to my attention. It reads, “Ball State Adds Clarity to Science-Religion Debate.” Note the leading paragraph, which apparently puts the end to a troublesome matter: “Can science and religion exist in the same classroom? In a word, no.”
According to the story, an assistant professor of physics discussed intelligent design with his students in a way that did not involve burning Michael Behe and Bill Dembski in effigy. As he stood accused, it seems the controversy rose to the level of the Ball State University president, Jo Ann Gora. She provided helpful clarity by decreeing, “Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory. Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses.”
Whether or not one thinks intelligent design should be addressed in university science courses, I certainly hope that people would not address the dispute in the way Ball State’s president has. Anyone who has read books and articles on intelligent design can easily see that it is not religion. Intelligent design presents arguments based on things such as probability and irreducible complexity. At no point does it advert to revelation or divine inspiration. What intelligent design really is, is a competing theory to the dominant neo-Darwinism. Let us be clear. It is a competing theory that is not well-accepted by the scientific establishment. It is a minority position fighting for a hearing. What will not do, however, is to attempt to prevent it from being discussed or heard by simply declaring it is religion.
Let us entertain a further question. We might imagine a professor at Ball State invoking intelligent design several times during a semester in an unfavorable manner. Perhaps this instructor would demonstrate facts that he believes disprove intelligent design or make it appear less likely than other, more dominant explanations. Would Ball State University then ask this professor what business he has talking about religion in a science course? Of course not. It would be properly understood that the professor is favorably comparing the scientific theory he favors to the one he thinks has less explanatory power.
Just because you call something religion doesn’t make it so. A declaration from the chair is not effective in debate.