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Ball State University has recently hired a controversial new professor for their astronomy department. Guillermo Gonzalez, the new professor, is a well-known proponent of the theory of intelligent design. He had previously taught at Iowa State University, but was denied tenure because of his views. This is contemptible. Regardless of whether or not someone believes in intelligent design, atheistic evolution, or pure creationism, a professor's appointment should exclusively involve the professor's relationship to academia and his or her field of study. Ball State made the prudent decision in hiring Gonzalez because he is qualified and academically competent in the fields of astrophysics and astrobiology. 

Gonzalez has received grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation, among others for his work and research. In addition to having a Ph.D. in astronomy, he has also published at least 75 peer-reviewed articles. There is little else a professor of astronomy needs to do to prove himself competent. All human beings have proclivities that go beyond their daily work. For some, these take larger pieces of time and thought than others. Just because Gonzalez has spent time on intelligent design does not disqualify him from his other work.

Opponents of his hiring understandably want to preserve the separation of church and state and prevent an religious seep into academic astronomy. Intelligent design, because of its lack of evidence and creationist roots, is the reason for controversy. Critics level complaints that it is essentially a reworked version of creationism that seems easier to swallow intellectually. Creationism should be kept out of the classroom, as decided in Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District. Students of higher education should also, however, maintain the cognitive ability to differentiate between theory and fact.

Intelligent design should not just be overlooked as a complete fallacy, though. William Paley's watchmaker analogy (worth a read) or Aquinas' Five Ways, two of the predecessors to the intelligent design theory, are thoughtful, though still certainly not definite versions of the teleological argument. They are relevant and still read today because they answer a question that evolution does not give great thought: the origin of life. Although Paley's or Aquinas's teleological arguments are not scientific, observational conclusions, they are still theories worth exploring regardless of religious background. Difference in background and discussion provoking ideas are part of what makes higher education worthwhile.

It is also important to remember that evolution is still a theory. Evidence is certainly surmounting in its favor, but no human alive has actually observed the whole process. This theory does seem the most likely and is the generally-accepted explanation among scientists for species development. Atheistic evolution falls short, though, in explaining how life began. Spontaneous life lacks just as much evidence as alternative theories.

Finally, evolution and intelligent design is not terribly relevant to astronomy or astrophysics. It is reasonable to expect that Gonzalez will keep discussion of either theory out of his classes at Ball State. Perhaps the university will ask him to explore his theories in a non-astronomy class setting, in which case he offers additional value as a faculty member.