The Questionable Authority

On Friday, Florida State Senator Ronda Storms introduced an anti-evolution bill to the legislature. She did so quietly, and without fanfare. No press release was issued, and so far the legislation has not received any attention in the press. It also doesn’t seem to have attracted any attention from the Discovery Institute or any of the other major anti-evolution websites, either. That’s actually a bit of a surprise, since the bill in question is remarkably similar to a “Model Academic Freedom Statute” that the Discovery Institute posted on a website that they (and a media company) set up to promote a movie.

This whole thing raises so many issues that it’s hard to decide where to start. There’s the Orwellian language of the act itself. There’s the egregious misunderstanding of the concept of academic freedom that’s contained in the bill. There’s the remarkable similarity between the bill before the Florida legislature and the Discovery Institute’s “model statute.” There’s the narrow focus of the law. There’s the lack of concern shown for “academic freedom” as it relates to anything but teachers and students who want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that evolution’s not a real, solid scientific concept. And that’s just scratching the surface. There’s just no way that I can address all of this in a single post. Fortunately, I’m confident that between the comments section for this post and whatever other bloggers may decide to write on this topic, most of the things I miss will be covered in short order.

Right now, I’m going to focus on the mockery that the circumstances surrounding this bill make of the Discovery Institute’s frequent assertions that religious beliefs have absolutely nothing to do with this sort of thing. (Yes, I know it’s hard to make a mockery of a mockery, but they’ve managed it. Again.)

Let’s start with the very narrow focus of this bill. The bill in question provides “academic freedom” only to K-12th grade teachers and students who want to question evolution. It provides absolutely no protections for anyone who wants to question whether or not e is really equal to mc2. It gives no safe harbor to those who disbelieve PV=nRT. And if you dare to suggest that the mathematical establishment is dogmatically indoctrinating their unsubstantiated belief that the square of the length of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the remaining two sides, you’re not going to get any help from the Florida legislature.

Now, as we all know, evolution gets some religious people – particularly those who come from conservative Christian backgrounds – more worked up than anything else in science. They’ve got no problems with the Ideal Gas Law. They’re more or less cool with Einstein’s Theories. They manage to deal with the the Pythagorean Theorem. But the mere mention of evolution makes their heads explode. This legislation seems intelligently designed to give them a legal opportunity to push their religiously-motivated prejudices onto other students.

But we’re supposed to believe that’s a coincidence.

Then, there’s the bill’s sponsor. The anti-evolution act is not the only bit of pro-religion legislation that Senator Storms has introduced recently. Two weeks ago, she introduced a bill that, if passed, will have Florida issue license plates that say “I Believe”. The proceeds from the sale of those plates will go to a religious group that will use them to “fund the short falls that [faith-based] educational programs experience as a result of their inability to receive public funds.” In the past, she’s acted to strip funding from a Planned Parenthood-run sex education program, and was the driving force behind a Hillsborough County resolution that barred the county from “acknowledging, promoting or participating in gay pride recognition and events”. She feels that she was “called by God” to her current political position.

But we’re supposed to believe that it’s coincidental that the bill was introduced by someone with a long history of injecting narrow-minded religious bigotry into politics.

Finally, there’s the website that the Discovery Institute and Motive Marketing teamed up to create. Motive Marketing is a firm that has a very, very narrow specialty. They’re all about marketing movies to a Christian audience. They’re the ones who got conservative Christians excited about Passion of the Christ. They did the same for Narnia. They’re trying to do it now for the upcoming Ben Stein anti-evolution hackjob, doing things like putting together private screenings at megachurches for conservative Christian pastors, running “press conferences” where only hand-picked Christian media outlets get to ask questions, and generally conducting themselves with the same dedication to the concept of free and open inquiry seen at the official media outlets of third-rate banana republics. The “model statute” that the Florida bill was cribbed from was first posted on the website that Motive and Discovery set up as part of their marketing effort for the Stein movie.

But that’s a coincidence, too.

Apparently, the Intelligent Design folks think that people should only be looking for evidence of design in nature – and not in their own actions.

Comments

  1. #1 Pierce R. Butler
    March 3, 2008

    Is Senator Ronda any kin to Serge Storms?

    She seems almost as talented at multidimensional manic mayhem.

  2. #2 Ichthyic
    March 3, 2008

    My guess is that this is just window dressing to placate the fundies in FLA, so when elections come up, they can point to it and say:

    “See? We tried our best.”

    meanwhile the bill will most likely get tabled in some committee.

    I will add, though, that in my mind, there is hardly a difference in lying to your constituents about an issue that legislators should really be LEADING on, vs. just being a plain demented fuckwit.

    Of course, there’s always the other possibility…

    the person who introduced the bill really IS a demented fuckwit, and the rest of the legislature is using them to placate their fundie base.

    The proceeds from the sale of those plates will go to a religious group that will use them to “fund the short falls that [faith-based] educational programs experience as a result of their inability to receive public funds.”

    ah, I see, she really is a demented fuckwit after all.

    ahhh, Florida, what a wondrous cesspool.

    still, that said, I’m still betting this particular nugget will get lost in some committee.

  3. #3 Mike Dunford
    March 3, 2008

    I don’t disagree with the sentiments, but I’d appreciate it if the language used here is kept at a child-safe level.

  4. #4 Jedidiah Palosaari
    March 3, 2008

    Thank you for your post. I appreciated what you shared. Just a minor correction though- it was not only conservative Christians who got excited about The Passion and Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe- plenty of liberal Christians got excited about those through the efforts of these companies too. Especially since L,W,&W was based on a work written by a liberal Christian.

  5. #5 Bobby
    March 3, 2008

    She feels that she was “called by God” to her current political position.

    Indeed she was. She just doesn’t realize that she has been worshipping Loki in a long white robe.

  6. #6 Frank J
    March 3, 2008

    Mike Dunford says:

    “It gives no safe harbor to those who disbelieve PV=nRT.”

    As you probably know, PV does not exactly equal nRT. I often give the analogy that students are taught, in order:

    1. That PV=nRT
    2. That PV does not exactly equal nRT
    3. That there are more accurate equations, but PV=nRT is still a very useful approximation.

    AIUI, high school biology rarely gets past the analogy of 1, an over-simplified version of evolution. Shrewd anti-evolution activists want to emphasize the analogy of 2, the phony “critical analysis,” where there would be the greatest doubt and greatest misunderstanding.

    Usually only the biology majors, most of whom would accept evolution regardless of what misrepresentation they are fed, would make it to the “critical analysis of the (phony) ‘critical analysis’,” and often not until college.

  7. #7 Pete Dunkelberg
    March 3, 2008

    A new organization has appeared in support of the bill:

    Founded in central Florida, the Florida Coalition for Academic Freedom
    is a grassroots organization of concerned citizens who strongly urge Florida schools to adopt policies which present both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution to students.
    ===============

    and there is support from another source:
    Evolution, academic freedom and ‘Expelled’
    ——————————————

    By JAMES A. SMITH
    Executive Editor

    Published February 28, 2008
    Florida Baptist Witness which tells us:
    ‘Stein hopes “Expelled” can help address America’s moral crisis.’

  8. #8 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    March 3, 2008

    Academic freedom is to me both the right to do research freely, and to teach the science freely. It is not the right to skew the basic curricula with either religious material on non-existent conflicts or the latest questions at the research front.

    (3) Every public school teacher in the state’s K-12 school system shall have the affirmative right and freedom 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 origins. [My emphasis.]

    Annexing biological evolution with abiogenesis is probably unavoidable, as long as there is no conflation, say of the type “biological and chemical evolution”. But lifting up this small and annexed area, where there is precious little data and much hypotheses, instead of acknowledging that there isn’t much to cover in a basic education, confirms the religious obsession.

  9. #9 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    March 3, 2008

    as we all know, evolution gets some religious people – particularly those who come from conservative Christian backgrounds – more worked up than anything else in science.

    One can expand on that. The Wedge document is obsessed with evolution, and part of the reason is that they, or rather many of their half-wit supporters that they want to scam, wrongly identify it as a weak area of science with little support but wishful thinking. These people are afraid to learn about the facts of the subject, and in their ignorance they project their own wishes onto it. As we all know the DI scam want to use the perceived weakness to wedge open a gap in teleological natural science to work their teleological creationism into it. (Yes, “design theory” can be non-teleological but proposes superfluous agents instead. Bait-and switch.)

    The other part is of course the correct assumption that some among the public will accept such a scheme.

  10. #10 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    March 3, 2008

    Thinking further, academic freedom is more properly the right of researching freely. The basic education isn’t all that “free”, but properly constrained, if I put the described safeguards onto it. And later education connects to research so is freer.

    teleological natural science

    Uh oh. The secret is out.

    No, I mean non-teleological science of course.

  11. #11 DavidK
    March 3, 2008

    A site being referenced has two items:

    1. Biology professor P.Z. Myers at the University of Minnesota, for example, has called for “the public firing and humiliation of some teachers” because they question Darwin.

    2. The Columbia Journalism Review published an article promoting the idea that critics of evolution and supporters of intelligent design not be allowed to express their views in Americas newspaper and magazines, and that reporters not include their side of the story.

    Where do these appear and/or how are they taken out of context, e.g., quote mining, etc. This is the ammunition creationists use, so are these fair references?

  12. #12 Pete Dunkelberg
    March 3, 2008

    DavidK: Prof Myers is able to speak for himself:

    Myers says gross incompetence is reason for termination. Do you agree?

    As for the statement regarding The Columbia Journalism Review, even if you didn’t know that the creationists only bring something up to misrepresent it, does not common sense tell you not to believe that claim? Seriously, what do you think are the odds of the statement being correct?

  13. #13 MartinM
    March 3, 2008
  14. #14 Stacy S.
    March 3, 2008

    Mike,

    First and most importantly – I’d like to thank you for the most excellent post :-)

    Secondly, and slightly OT, after reading your link to David ” PZ’s response” – I couldn’t help getting a sinking feeling in my gut.

    It’s hard to DEMAND that teachers meet a minimal amount of expertise in the subject matter that they are teaching (which of course, I would LOVE to agree with) but teachers are paid so poorly in some areas of this country, that just finding someone to show up every day is an accomplishment in itself. Sad but true.

    Hopefully, the Florida legislature will promptly send this bill to the waste basket where it belongs.

  15. #15 raven
    March 3, 2008

    I don’t see how this bill is even legal under US law. It seems to promote only a narrow sectarian Xian fundie agenda. Separation of church and state and all that.

    To be even close to legal it would have to recognize all religious viewpoints as equally deserving of “academic freedom.” Hey, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Vishnu, Coyote, and Nemu the Galactic Overlord, here we come.

    The very name of the bill is also just a lie. It has nothing to do with academic freedom. It is strictly a bill against teaching evolution in secondary schools.

  16. #16 michaelf
    March 3, 2008

    Many of the problems with issues such as evolution and global warming stem from the common media “copout” of giving two opposing sides of an issue equal time and weight (see Ian Masters, one of the best public affairs broadcasters, at ianmasters.org for an interview with Susan Jacoby). I read articles in the LA Times with advocates from two sides of an issue presenting contradictory evidence and coming to polar opposite conclusions, but no comment from the reporters as to which side has their facts correct and the evidence supports.

  17. #18 John Jackson
    March 3, 2008

    Growing up, I attended the same church as Ronda Storms and I can tell you that even in that (Baptist) church, most of us thought she was crazy. When she started running for political office, it became a long-standing joke whenever I returned home from college: “So, what has Ronda been up to these days?” In any case, I no longer attend church or support its teachings, preferring reason and understanding to what it offers. I couldn’t help but write the Senator a letter. I’m hoping she will reply :-) But be comforted, even among her congregation, she doesn’t hold much sway. It seems the same holds true for the FL senate (we hope).

  18. #19 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 3, 2008

    Help Me Ronda! (w/apologies to the Beach Boys)

    Since Judge Jones put us down,
    I’ve been out doin’ in my head.
    I’m trollin’ all the blogs
    From the morning till I go to bed!
    Oh Ronda, your faith is fine,
    And I knew it wouldn’t take much time,
    For you to help me, Ronda,
    Get evolution out of our schools!

    Help me Ronda, help help me Ronda! (6X)
    Evolution, No! Get it out of our schools!

    We had “Pandas” paid for,
    Curriculum was ready to roll,
    But the parents filed a lawsuit,
    We’re a million dollars in the hole!
    Ronda, you’re got my ear,
    I’ll stop crying in my beer,
    If you’ll help me, Ronda,
    Get evolution out of our schools!

    Repeat Chorus

    Sorry, couldn’t resist…

  19. #20 Larry Fafarman
    March 4, 2008

    The Florida state science standards still contain the Big Lie that evolution is the “fundamental concept underlying all of biology.” That is just plain wrong.

    Biologists have an inferiority complex because of the kind of attitude expressed by Lord Rutherford: “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” As a result of this inferiority complex, biologists have been waging a prestige war against other branches of science by boasting that biology has something that the other branches don’t have, a grand central unifying principle, evolution.

  20. #21 Jonathan Smith
    March 4, 2008

    T. Bruce McNeely: OUTSTANDING!!!!!

  21. #22 Science Nut
    March 4, 2008

    The CJR article said of KvD:

    “The trial is likely to be a media circus. And, unfortunately, there�s ample reason to expect that the spectacle will lend an entirely undeserved p.r. boost to the carefully honed issue-framing techniques employed by today�s anti-evolutionists.”

    It was delightful to read the false prophesy of the p.r. results. Jones’ decision blew them back to the bronze age!

    Wanna prophesize what “Expelled” will do their cause?

  22. #23 Mike
    March 4, 2008

    Look for the bill to come to committee shortly after the release of “Expelled”. Remember, we’re dealing with delusional people. They believe that “Expelled” will be wildly popular.

  23. #24 GvlGeologist, FCD
    March 4, 2008

    Science Nut said

    Jones’ decision blew them back to the bronze age!

    Theologically and mentally, they’ve always been in the bronze age.

  24. #25 Melana
    March 4, 2008

    It seems like this bill is simply allowing the full range of views to be allowed to be talked about. Is that wrong?

  25. #26 MememicBottleneck
    March 4, 2008

    I think the spellcheckers need to be updated. It’s

    F-l-o-r-i-d-u-h

  26. #27 Jonathan Smith
    March 4, 2008

    Have you all read Brandon’s latest post at FCS

    It looks like the state House has a companion creationism bill (academic freedom act)
    to match the state Senate one. Its HB 1483 filed by D. Allen Hays.
    Another Southern Baptist,and I thought this had nothing to do with religion?

  27. #28 GvlGeologist, FCD
    March 4, 2008

    Melana,
    In a mathematic class, would you agree that all views should be allowed, such as 2 + 2 = 5? Would you agree that all views should be allowed in a history class, such as the Confederacy winning the Civil War? Would you agree that all views should be allowed in an astronomy class, such as the Sun orbiting the Earth?

    These are all views that have been shown to be demonstrably untrue, despite the possible deeply held beliefs of some. They have no place in a class trying to teach children about the actual world. In addition, the views that this bill attempts to allow the teaching of are not even science, but religion.

  28. #29 MelM
    March 4, 2008

    There’s no way that a teacher can be allowed to bring in whatever and drop it on the kids.
    If a true scientific controversy is to be presented to the students, it should be included in the science standard.

  29. #30 Metro
    March 6, 2008

    @MelM
    You’re absolutely right. Where is the “scientific” controversy here? This is a controversy between that ol’-time religion and the real world. Science wins.

    They can either provide real, credible, peer-reviewed research to back the claims of a conflict in science, or they can shut up and teach their kids mumbo-jumbo in Sunday school as they always have.

    Since the antievolutionists are stating their position falsely in the first place, they can’t win. They claim that secular science is in conflict, but can’t support the claim credibly.

    I’d even raise a flicker of interest if they found me a single atheist scientist who said that evolution was in dispute. But those claims always come from True Believers, for some as-yet-undisclosed reason. Perhaps you could offer some insight?

  30. #31 Elle Rayne
    March 6, 2008

    “Academic freedom is to me both the right to do research freely, and to teach the science freely. It is not the right to skew the basic curricula with either religious material on non-existent conflicts or the latest questions at the research front.”

    And I believe this is how academic freedom was originally conceived. It’s been bastardized by ID activists.

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