Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Update on the Michigan Bill

Or bills, in this case. It turns out that there are now two bills in the state legislature – HB 5606, sponsored by Rep. Palmer, which contains the “arguments for and against” language that will inevitably open the door to ID; and a Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Kuipers, that doesn’t yet have a bill designation and which doesn’t contain such language. 5606 has passed the House and has been referred to the Senate Education Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Kuipers. Kuipers doesn’t have to bring that bill up for a vote if he doesn’t want to, and at the moment it appears that he is going to focus on passing his own version of the bill.

All of this leaves things quite unsettled for the moment. The ID language could be added to the Kuipers bill by amendment, or in a post-approval joint conference to reconcile the two bills should it go that far. Kuipers is very conservative himself and is pro-ID, but he appears to want to keep this bill clear of such language so that it has the broadest appeal possible. Whether he can do that remains to be seen.

In addition to the ACLU’s press release yesterday, Alan Leshner and Gilbert Omenn of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) had an op-ed piece in the Detroit Free Press pointing to the ID language in 5606 and arguing strongly against it. The AAAS is also sending a letter to every state Senator, Representative and State Board of Education member urging them to make sure such language does not make it into the final bill.

Rep. Palmer also had an op-ed piece in the Free Press responding to the AAAS officers. He writes:

Some claim, and it is a very small minority, that HB 5606 attempts to undermine evolution. A plain reading of the text shows that all that is required under the science section is that a part of the new science curriculum include, at a minimum, instruction in the scientific method.

Any scientist worth his or her salt as a professional will acknowledge that the scientific method is one of the most fundamental principles of scientific thought. It is a foundational principle upon which the entire discipline rests, and it is among the first items taught. The Michigan Curriculum framework references this in its vision statement and through its first two strands.

This is rather disingenuous. It’s not the invocation of the scientific method that is troublesome, it’s the phrase requiring students to “formulate arguments for and against” scientific theories that opens the door to ID. This is code language straight from the Discovery Institute’s playbook. it’s virtually identical of the language they pushed in Ohio’s “critical analysis” lesson plan and it’s all part of the “teach the controversy” strategy, which no less an authority that William Dembski admits is “the clarion call of the intelligent design movement”.

Likewise, Stephen Meyer of the DI has been pushing this idea of teaching the arguments for and against evolution since at least 2002 in Ohio. He uses the exact same phrase to describe his advice to the Ohio school board then:

Instead, I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory. And Ohio should test students for their understanding of those arguments, not for their assent to a point of view.

So there really should be no doubt that such language is straight out of the ID movement’s playbook. And as Judge Jones noted in the Dover ruling, this strategy is designed to accomplish surreptiously what they’ve been unable to accomplish explicitly:

ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny, which we have now determined that it cannot withstand, by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the (intelligent design movement) is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.

It is unlikely, then, that this new stealth tactic will survive a court challenge any better than the more explicit Dover policy did. The legislature, by inviting local school boards to incorporate ID into science classrooms under the guise of teaching the “arguments for and against” evolution, are essentially luring them into a “Dover trap”. Once such a policy is implemented, lawsuits will be filed and the local school boards will face legal bills that could go into the millions of dollars. The state legislators will be term limited out of office, but the results of their folly will have ramifications for local school districts far beyond that time.

Update to the Update: Kuipers’ bill, which now has the designation of SB 1124, was passed by the Senate Education Committee today and moved to the full Senate. None of the troubling language from 5606 was added to the bill, though that could still happen when it comes to a floor vote or if/when it goes to a conference committee. We testified on the bill today before the committee and told them that we support the bill as long as the language we object to is added at some point during the process, then we will oppose it.

Comments

  1. #1 Rieux
    March 10, 2006

    [W]e support the bill as long as the language we object to is added at some point during the process, then we will oppose it.

    I’m pretty sure there’s an important word or two missing from that sentence.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    March 10, 2006

    Oops. Obviously I meant as long as the language we object to is not added at some point.

  3. #3 LarryFarma
    March 11, 2006

    The lawsuit that is applicable to HB 5606 is not Kitzmiller v. Dover, which banned a requirement for mentioning ID in public-school science classes, but is Selman v. Cobb County, which banned a textbook sticker which called for critical analysis of evolution theory. An appeals court panel appears to be leaning towards reversing the Selman decision — see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selman_v._Cobb_County_School_District
    — and —
    http://nsba.org/site/doc_cosa.asp?TRACKID=&VID=50&CID=439&DID=37549

    Also, there are several scientific criticisms of evolution theory besides irreducible complexity, the only such criticism that was reviewed in the Dover case, and some of these other criticisms have little or nothing to do with “design,” intelligent or otherwise. For example, there is specified complexity (also considered part of ID, it may be similar to irreducible complexity) and criticisms related to (1) co-evolution of two co-dependent organisms and (2) the propagation of beneficial mutations in sexual reproduction.

    Also, it is clear that some individual legislators have far too much power. In the case of this Michigan bill, a single state senator is able to prevent a Senate committee from voting on a bill that has already passed the House. Recently, in Utah, a single representative in the House was able to prevent the full House from voting on a bill that had already passed the state Senate and the appropriate House committee — see http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2006/UT/603_antievolution_bill_in_utah_def_2_27_2006.asp The veto power of governors just does not compare.