From the NCSE:

Senate Bill 733, signed by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on June 25, continues to draw criticism from scientists and political observers across the political spectrum.

In the New Scientist, Amanda Gefter reports (July 9, 2008), “The new legislation is the latest manoeuvre in a long-running war to challenge the validity of Darwinian evolution as an accepted scientific fact in American classrooms.” Since the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision, where intelligent design creationism was found to be nonscience and unconstitutional to present in science classes, Gefter explains that “The strategy being employed in Louisiana by proponents of ID — including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute — is more subtle and potentially more difficult to challenge. Instead of trying to prove that ID is science, they have sought to bestow on teachers the right to introduce non-scientific alternatives to evolution under the banner of ‘academic freedom.'”

NCSE’s Josh Rosenau explained to Gefter why that is a misuse of the term: “Academic freedom is a great thing,” he explained. “But if you look at the American Association of University Professors’ definition of academic freedom, it refers to the ability to do research and publish.” Gefter continues: “Rosenau distinguished this from the situation the bill addresses by pointing out that ‘In high school, you’re teaching mainstream science so students can go on to college or medical school, where you need that freedom to explore cutting-edge ideas. To apply ‘academic freedom’ to high school is a misuse of the term.'”

“It’s very slick,” NCSE board member Barbara Forrest told Gefter. “The religious right has co-opted the terminology of the progressive left… They know that phrase appeals to people.”

Gefter explains that “Supporters of the new law clearly hope that teachers and administrators who wish to raise alternatives to evolution in science classes will feel protected if they do so. The law expressly permits the use of ‘supplemental’ classroom materials in addition to state-approved textbooks. The L[ouisiana] F[amily] F[orum] is now promoting the use of online ‘add-ons’ that put a creationist spin on the contents of various science texts in use across the state, and the Discovery Institute has recently produced Explore Evolution, a glossy text that offers the standard ID critiques of evolution. … Unlike its predecessor Of Pandas and People, which fared badly during the Dover trial, it does not use the term ‘intelligent design’.”

The Louisiana Family Forum’s mission statement includes “presenting biblical principles” in “centers of influence,” and the bill’s sponsor credits LFF with drafting the bill. (The “add-ons” they promote include references to young earth creationist Jonathan Woodmorappe’s flood geology, as well as attacks on the hominid fossil record by geocentrist Malcolm Bowden.) Gefter asked Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum “whether the new law fits with the organisation’s religious agenda.” Mills answered: “Certainly it’s an extension of it.”

The Discovery Institute’s John West, in an opinion piece at the National Review (July 8, 2008), insisted that there’s nothing to fear from such religious agendas. “Whether the issue is sex education, embryonic stem-cell research, or evolution, groups claiming to speak for ‘science’ assert that it violates the Constitution for religious citizens to speak out on science-related issues. … America is a deeply religious country, and no doubt many citizens interested in certain hot-button science issues are motivated in part by their religious beliefs. So what? Many opponents of slavery were motivated by their religious beliefs, and many leaders of the civil-rights movement were members of the clergy. Regardless of their motivations, religious citizens have just as much a right to raise their voices in public debates as their secular compatriots, including in debates about science. To suggest otherwise plainly offends the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

West adds “Fearful of being branded ‘anti-science,’ some conservatives are skittish about such efforts to allow challenges to the consensus view of science.”

Conservative columnist John Derbyshire, a staff writer at the National Review, replied the next day (July 9, 2008) at The Corner, the National Review’s blog. Derbyshire explains his objections to the bill by pointing out that “Whether or not the law as signed is unconstitutional per se, I do not know. I do know, though — as the creationist Discovery Institute that helped promote the Act also surely knows — that the Act will encourage Louisiana local school boards to unconstitutional behavior. That’s what it’s meant to do. Some local school board will take the Act as a permit to bring religious instruction into their science classes. That will irk some parents. Those parents will sue. There will be a noisy and expensive federal lawsuit, possibly followed by further noisy and expensive appeals. The school board will inevitably lose. The property owners of that school district will take the financial hit. Where will the Discovery Institute be when these legal expenses come due? Just where they were in the Dover case — nowhere!”

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 12, 2008

    So what? Many opponents of slavery were motivated by their religious beliefs, and many leaders of the civil-rights movement were members of the clergy.

    As a political historian, West is careful to leave out that a great deal of the resistance to the civil rights movement was also based on religious belief. Where will the teaching of the Civil Rights movement come in with this new legislation? Will a teacher who insists that the Mark of Cain is dark skin be protected? Or a teacher who says that blacks are the descendants of Ham and cursed be protected?

    West doesn’t care. He’s just trying to score points with Disco’s Donors. To get Creationism in schools they are willing to accept that they are opening a Pandora’s Box.

    It can be anything. Any nonsense can be now treated as a “Viewpoint” and protected. Thanks, John.

  2. #2 Beowulff
    July 13, 2008

    Apart from the glaring omission by John West that Mike Haubrich pointed out, the biggest problem with West’s piece is that he completely ignores that science is not performed by public debate.

  3. #3 dave
    July 13, 2008

    And in this year, let us not forget that one of the most forthright opponents of slavery was Charles Darwin. Unlike his creationist opponent, the leading American zoologiast Louis Agassiz, who argued that the races had been separately created. To the great comfort of Southern slaveowners.

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