Anti-evolution bill in Iowa

I am so incredibly tardy with this information that Arizonian John Lynch and the lovely folks at Uncommon Descent have already blogged this, but recently an “academic freedom” bill was introduced in Iowa. For those who may be unfamiliar, in addition to “teach the controversy,” these “academic freedom” bills are one of the new tactics for creationists who want to introduce creationism into science classrooms via the back door by claiming that teachers need the protection to teach “the full range of scientific views” when it comes to evolution (in other words, to teach creationism/ID). The bill states that:

It is therefore the intent of the general assembly that this Act be construed to expressly protect the affirmative right and freedom of every instructor at the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary level to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological evolution.

As John notes, we’ve circulated a petition showing opposition to the bill (this was covered Wednesday in The Chronicle of Higher Education), and the latest word is that the bill is unlikely to get anywhere. (Fellow blogger John Logsdon had a few choice quotes in the article).

This is the first anti-evolution bill in Iowa in roughly a decade, and according to Glenn Branch at the NCSE (quoted in The Chronicle article), the first state-wide effort by college faculty to organize opposition to these bills. So far, similar bills died in Mississippi and Oklahoma, were signed into law in Louisiana, and are still pending here in Iowa and in Missouri, Alabama, and New Mexico. Expect to see more of these in the future.

Finally, if you’re an Iowan and you’re not on the Iowa Citizens for Science email list yet, drop me a line (Iowascience at gmail dot com).

Comments

  1. #1 Rob Jase
    February 27, 2009

    I’d like to propose a bill that all religion be taught as theory with the controversy over which one is real.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    February 27, 2009

    I clicked on your Uncommon Descent link… WHOA! There are some serioulsy deluded people posting there! Very scarry, so thanks for staying on top of this.

  3. #3 Jonathan LaTourelle
    February 27, 2009

    I guess I don’t quite get it, because I read the bill and it seems like this wouldn’t apply to creationism/intelligent design at all? “The bill defines “scientific information” to mean germane current facts, data, and peer=reviewed research specific to the topic of chemical and biological evolution.”

    and again: “The bill prohibits an instructor from being disciplined, denied tenure, terminated, or otherwise discriminated against for objectively presenting scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological or chemical evolution.”

    I mean, creation/intelligent design isn’t a scientific idea even by their definition. (Quite an odd solution to the problem of demarcation, leaving it up to peer-review.) Unless by “peer=reviewed research” they mean something quite unusual. It seems like this bill would protect teachers teaching biological and chemical evolution from creationists. But perhaps I’m being naive?

  4. #4 Mike
    February 27, 2009

    This is my first time posting on your blog, but I have read it for a while and really enjoy it. Unfortunately, these bills are far too common. Many are proposed, but shot down well before they even make it to the floor of a state legislative chamber. There is a pretty cohesive group of people monitoring and working against these bills now. Many are members of the Free Exchange on Campus Coalition. Hopefully we can put these things to a rest soon.

  5. #5 Wes
    February 27, 2009

    Jonathan,
    The dead give-away is that these bills single out the theory of evolution, as opposed to any other scientific theory. They idea is to introduce ambiguity into the law, so that teachers can introduce “weaknesses” in the theory, which are really just trumped up nonsense from the creationists rather than actual weaknesses.

    The creationist Discovery Institute has been pushing these bills for a while now, and a lot of the bills just copy language from the DI website.

    Though they couldn’t pass off creationism as “peer-reviewed”, they could probably sneak it in as “germane facts”, by claiming that there’s a “controversy” over evolution. That’s been the creationist M.O. for a while now: “teach the controversy” and all that.

  6. #6 Tara C. Smith
    February 27, 2009

    Though they couldn’t pass off creationism as “peer-reviewed”, they could probably sneak it in as “germane facts”, by claiming that there’s a “controversy” over evolution. That’s been the creationist M.O. for a while now: “teach the controversy” and all that.

    And there have been a few “peer-reviewed” ID papers–mainly snuck into journals by ID-friendly editors.

  7. #7 Tom
    February 27, 2009

    “I’d like to propose a bill that all religion be taught as theory with the controversy over which one is real.”

    Brilliant

  8. #8 Larry Fafarman
    February 27, 2009

    Jonathan LaTourelle said (February 27, 2009 9:18 AM) –

    The bill defines “scientific information” to mean germane current facts, data, and peer=reviewed research specific to the topic of chemical and biological evolution.

    So — what is the big problem with this bill? A scientific theory that depends on censorship might as well be thrown out the window.

    Wes said (February 27, 2009 10:45 AM) –

    The dead give-away is that these bills single out the theory of evolution, as opposed to any other scientific theory.

    Greasing a squeaky wheel singles out that wheel, as opposed to wheels that don’t squeak.

    If the bill did not single out evolution, you Darwinists would be complaining that evolution is the intended target. Trust me.

    They idea is to introduce ambiguity into the law

    Where is the ambiguity? The bill specifically says “scientific information” and “scientific views.”

    Tara C. Smith said (February 27, 2009 11:05 AM ) –

    And there have been a few “peer-reviewed” ID papers–mainly snuck into journals by ID-friendly editors.

    It was you Darwinists who made a fetish out of “peer review.”

    Also, some scientific and pseudoscientific criticisms of evolution are so technically sophisticated that they can be properly taught only by qualified science teachers and should not be taught by typical parents, typical Sunday School teachers, or typical social studies teachers. You Darwinists say that these criticisms of evolution are wrong, yet you want them to be taught by unqualified people. Duh.

  9. #9 Steve Sorensen
    February 27, 2009

    So many are incredibly intimidated by creation. If you want a completely naturalistic search for origins, go for it. But it’ll leave you forever without an answer to the “big” question. But then on the other hand, if there is a God who created beyond our comprehension, you won’t be able to avoid that knowledge, ultimately. If you search the etymology of the word “science” you’ll find it linked closely to the word knowledge. It all depends on what you want to know and how satisfying you want that knowledge to be. Whatever it was you discovered as the first cause in a naturalistic way would drive you to forever insist on a naturalistic cause for that, and so on, and so on. Ad infinitum, as they say. And the truth is, it could only end up with something supernatural. Or else you would be forever frustrated with not naturally finding that First Cause. Nothing more needs to be said (unless you’re asking spiritual questions).

  10. #10 InkRose
    February 27, 2009

    Steve, if you follow the argument that a god created things in ways incomprehensible and intrinsically unknowable to humans to its logical conclusion, how can any priest or preacher (or anyone else for that matter) claim to understand or know what that being intended or might want? How could we possibly “not avoid that knowledge” (of how and/or why a god would do such a thing, I presume), if that knowledge is categorically and by definition beyond our comprehension?

    Also:
    Would an alien civilization setting off the chain of chemical events billions of years ago that has lead to us sitting here arguing about this be considered a natural or supernatural “First Cause”? I’m not saying I find this hypothesis much likely, to be honest, than the Flying Spaghetti Monster releasing a droplet of Celestial Bolognese into the primeval seas of a barely-formed Earth, thus beginning the evolution of biological life, mind you. Though if pressed, I might just have to admit to leaning towards the first alternative of the two. Neither one has any evidence for it that I’ve found at all compelling, and so for the time being, I find myself agreeing with the Evilutionists(tm) on this point. At least until better evidence comes along.

    Oh, and isn’t anything “supernatural” rather strongly a spiritual matter, or one of faith? If the primus motor is “above (or beyond) nature”, how could we ever hope to prove it is so? We’re stuck in the natural world, with limited senses and very imperfectly evolved organs that can’t perceive beyond the scope of the natural (as far as I know, anyway), so, to reiterate the earlier point, we can’t possibly know of anything supernatural, even if there was something there. Except in our imaginations, of course, which we can usually choose or refuse to believe.

    Apologies to the gracious host for nudging the discussion further into PZ-land, and for taking so long to make a simple enough point.

  11. #11 Steve Sorensen
    February 27, 2009

    Well, the truth is, if you want to know God, look carefully at Jesus in the Bible. You would have to take time to very thoughtfully reflect on his words and deeds, and the claims he made about himself. God has made known the revelation of the knowledge of himself in His word. And life is awfully short. So what do you want to find before it’s too late?

  12. #12 John Marley
    March 1, 2009

    @Steve Sorenson:

    Can you demonstrate that the Bible (and therefore Jesus) is any more real than Beowulf, Aesop’s Fables, or Ovid’s Metamorphoses?

  13. #13 Brian Foley
    March 1, 2009

    It’s not an anti-evolution bill, it’s a procreation bill.

  14. #14 Heraclides
    March 1, 2009

    I hope that the petitions includes information that makes is easy for the law-making to see the larger patterns, e.g.

    - these bills being presented by Republican Christians,

    - these bills focus on one part of science to the exclusion of all other, one that is the “target” of a particular class of religions (i.e. the motivation can really only be religious, not scientific)

    - these bills have common templates, based on those from the private Discovery Institute (etc)

    - these bills routinely fail in committee.

    Regards the last: precedents are useful for law makers.

  15. #15 Ben
    March 2, 2009

    Tara, great post as always. I think you and your group do a lot of good for the quality of science and I hope you keep up the good work!

    Steve, Three quick points:
    1. This logical ad infinitum process that you’ve come up with as a justification for the existence of god presupposes that the universe needs a justification or a cause. That’s a philosophical position which I have yet to see a good reason for.
    2. Even if I were to agree that the universe needs a supernatural “prime mover”, I have yet to be convinced that this prime mover is the Christian God as laid out in the Bible. Why not Allah of the Quran? Or Buddha? Or the Hindu or Shinto gods?
    3. Even if I were to grant that the Christian conception of God is the supernatural prime mover that I must somehow assume — I’m still left with the issue of how literal or allegorical to treat the Bible. We hardly follow all the prescriptions to the letter from the Book of Leviticus today, mainly because many have interpreted that to be a story about what is sin and what isn’t — at that point who is to say that the Book of Genesis is not a allegory/lesson than a literal interpretation of how life came to be.

  16. #16 wheatdogg
    March 5, 2009

    Two observations:

    (1) Scienceblogs needs better spam control — in German, too.
    (2) Any discussion about evolution and knot-headed legislation to “teach the (sic) controversy” or “the full range of scientific views” invariably brings out visitors who want to convert the rest of us to religion, thereby undermining the idea that Intelligent Design is not really religion, it’s science.

  17. #17 andrea
    March 8, 2009

    Brian Foley said, “It’s not an anti-evolution bill, it’s a procreation bill.”

    Er, do you mean “pro-creation” or “procreation” (as in reproduction)?

    andrea

  18. The people who propose this type of legislation are very serious. Therefore we should take them seriously. By this I mean that although it is tempting to mock them, and I don’t blame those that do, it is more important to contact your elected representatives about your opposition to this line of thinking, if you are so inclined.

    The procreationists/religious right is a very well organized, intelligent group. They count on people making fun of them so that they can use it as ammunition to rally their own troops.

    It is my opinion, and I certainly understand that there is a lot of room for disagreement, is that for people like myself, who support the teaching of true science, should be more politically active. Support those politicians who support your ideas, both finacially and philosphically. Write letters to the editor and/or articles/blogs that support your ideas. We must all be diligent and active, while at the same time keeping a sense of humor about this and not letting our anger get the best of us.