Ball State has made a controversial move in hiring a prominent intelligent design scholar to teach in the department of physics and astronomy.

Individuals on both sides of the intelligent design debate are commenting on the addition of Guillermo Gonzalez, who is slated to teach “The Sun and Stars” and “The Solar System” as an associate professor in the fall. 

Gonzalez was the center of a debate at Iowa State University when he was denied tenure in 2008. The Discovery Institute, a major intelligent design organization, fought the decision to deny tenure, saying it was based on religious grounds. ISU responded by saying he was hired due to academic reasons.

Gonzalez’s 2004 book “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery,” which explores evidence supporting intelligent design, received criticism from his fellow professors at ISU, including a petition that was signed by more than 100 of his fellow professors there asking to publish a statement against the legitimacy of intelligent design as a science.

“Privileged Planet” was on the syllabus for astronomy professor’s Eric Hedin’s “Boundaries of Science” course, for which he is under review by the university for accusations of teaching creationism.

A petition with more than 7,000 signatures from the Discovery Institute has been sent to Ball State president Jo Ann Gora asking her to guarantee the academic freedom of Hedin. Gora has not yet responded to the petition.

Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, voiced his disapproval of the hire of Gonzalez to the Muncie Star Press and on his blog.

“This [hiring] is a very unwise move for Ball State, particularly when one of its other astronomy professors, Eric Hedin, is under investigation for teaching [intelligent design] in an astronomy class,” Coyne said. “If the university wants to retain any scientific credibility, they should start hiring scientists who will teach real science and not religious apologetics.”

He said he is pointing out what he believes to be a violation of the First Amendment, not trying to destroy careers.

“I’ve repeatedly said that I don’t think Hedin should be fired, but only that his course be deep-sixed. And I’ve said that BSU should keep an eye on Gonzalez to make sure he doesn’t teach ID in his science classes,” Coyne said. “The Discovery Institute is being a drama llama here, trying to set up these guys as martyrs.”

John West, the vice president of the Discovery Institute and a colleague of Gonzalez, told the Star Press he doesn’t think Ball State has any intelligent design leanings.

“My understanding from Guillermo is that he had been seeking a university more supportive of scientific research, and so Ball State was simply one of the places he had applied,” West said.

“The fact that a department of physics and astronomy doesn’t immediately blacklist someone who has argued for cosmic design does not supply evidence that the department is a hotbed of intelligent design. It simply means the department doesn’t believe in the kind of knee-jerk censorship engaged in by some Darwinian biologists.”

Ball State spokesperson Joan Todd has said Gonzalez’s qualifications can be viewed in his curriculum vitae and has declined to answer other questions.