We’ve got a sudden rash of ID activity here in Michigan. The MCFS board got word yesterday that the House Education Committee in Michigan was going to hold a hearing this morning on HB 5251, a bill that would require the teaching of all the major ID arguments in public school science classes. We had thought this bill was dead in light of HB 5606, which was signed into law in April. But the pro-ID language had been taken out of that bill, so the sponsors of 5251 have revived it. The language of the bill is as follows:
10) Not later than August 1, 2006, the state board shall revise the recommended model core academic curriculum content standards in science to ensure that pupils will be able to do all of the following:
(a) Use the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theories of global warming and evolution.
(b) Use relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and to formulate arguments for or against those theories.
We hastily arranged to have several members of our board at the hearing to testify against the bill. The way it works in such hearings in Michigan is that you have to show up before the meeting and fill out a card asking to testify, telling them who you are and what group you represent. The committee chair then goes through the cards during the hearing and calls people up. Committee chairman in the Michigan house are essentially all-powerful. If they choose, they can only allow one side to testify and not the other. They can give an hour to one side and 5 minutes to the other. And they can schedule a hearing on a bill with only a 24 hour public notice. Thus, the reason we didn’t find out about the meeting until yesterday. Several interesting things happened at the hearing.
First, it was obvious that the other side had far more than 24 hours notice to prepare to testify. They brought in a professor from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to testify on behalf of the bill and he read from a prepared speech, so clearly this was set up well in advance. This professor’s testimony, however, was quite telling. After Rep. Moolenaar, the bill’s chief sponsor, declared in no uncertain terms that the bill had nothing whatsoever to do with intelligent design, the professor’s speech was a laundry list of ID arguments – irreducibile complexity, specified complexity, peppered moths, and so forth. The two main sources he cited were Behe’s book, Darwin’s Black Box, and Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial. And then after taking all of the material of his testimony from the ID movement, he himself claimed that this had nothing to do with ID.
When ID advocates say, “we don’t want to teach ID, we just want to teach the arguments against evolution”, they are saying nothing meaningful at all. All ID is at this point is a set of arguments against evolution. There is no ID model or theory of the natural history of life on earth, there is only a set of arguments against evolution, with the illogical conclusion that if evolution can’t explain something, God must have done it. This is a “god of the gaps” argument, an argument that has failed time and time again and is, as Michael Ruse likes to say, a science stopper. This bill is nothing more than an attempt to get ID arguments into classrooms without calling it ID, to avoid judicial scrutiny. But as the ruling in the Dover trial last year showed, this strategy does not avoid being unconstitutional:
“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.”
MCFS board member Frank Ravitch was allowed to testify and he informed the committee that, just like in Dover, this policy would be deemed unconstitutional by the courts. The other board members were not called to testify. No vote was taken on the bill at this hearing, and we are hoping that more testimony will be heard next week at their regular committee meeting so that we can finish giving them our perspective on the bill. In addition to MCFS, other groups opposed to the bill include the ACLU, the Michigan Science Teacher’s Association and the Michigan Department of Education. Stay tuned for further developments.