Pharyngula

Have you seen Missourie House Bill 291? Wow, it’s pushing intelligent design, um, boldly. Like a gibbon that just sat down in a pool of sriracha sauce in a big tub of feces, that kind of “boldly”.

It starts by defining evolution in one paragraph, and by evolution we mean just common descent. It says nothing specific about mechanisms or evidence, and is most concerned that evolution denies “operation of any intelligence, supernatural event, God or theistic figure”. And then we get 12 paragraphs defining Intelligent Design, which consist mainly of pointing to biological processes and phenomena and claiming that they are the result of intelligence.

I only point out the disparity in the length of the treatments to contrast it with one of the major demands of this law: equal treatment.

(6) “Equal treatment”, the approximate equal teaching of each specified viewpoint for a single course of instruction in course textbooks as follows:

(a) Course textbooks contain approximately an equal number of pages of relevant material teaching each viewpoint. Textbook materials include text, pictures, illustrations, graphs, tables, questions, discussion items, student exercises, teacher support material and other material supplied with the textbook, with freedom allowed the textbook publishers to arrange, substitute, or size material to provide an approximately equal teaching of each viewpoint for a specific textbook;

(b) In the absence of course textbooks which provide equal treatment, written interim material may provide alternate viewpoints, with interim textbook material developed pursuant to subsection 6 of this section as a recommended source;

No credible science textbook on the planet meets those requirements, and they’re just plain silly. Even setting aside the content, the scientific community is churning out hundreds of papers on evolutionary biology every week, we have a million scientists in biology, while Intelligent Design creationism is a fringe idea producing virtually no results of any worth, virtually no publications (and most of what they’ve got are in house journals, hothouse environments set up to protect their work from criticism), no data, no signficant complexity that needs careful pedagogical explanation—yet they’re demanding equal page counts in our textbooks?

I’m looking at our current introductory biology textbook, Life, by Sadava, Hillis, Hiller, and Berenbaum. Not counting the appendices and index, it’s 1259 pages long, it’s saturated with evolutionary biology, and it doesn’t say anything at all about intelligent design. So those authors had better get to work and make it 2518 pages long, half of it fluff, to satisfy a Missouri crackpot? Who gains from that? (Well, the textbook publishers would, I suppose.)

Their demands are also contradictory. Here’s their definition of “standard science”, which must be taught:

3. All science taught in Missouri public elementary and secondary schools, including material concerning physics, chemistry, biology, health, physiology, genetics, astronomy, cosmology, geology, paleontology, anthropology, ecology, climatology, or other science topics shall be standard science. All standard science course materials and instruction shall meet the following criteria:

(1) If empirical data is taught, only such data which has been verified or is currently capable of being verified by observation or experimentation shall be taught. Data with the appearance of empirical data which has never been verified and is currently incapable of being verified shall be identified as nonverifiable when taught orally or in writing;

(2) If scientific law is taught, written textbooks statements identified as scientific law shall have no known exceptions of verified empirical data;

(3) If scientific theory is taught, the theory shall be identified as theory when taught orally or in writing. Empirical data and conjecture may be presented to support taught theory where considered instructive. As used in this subsection, the term “theory” shall mean theory or hypothesis;

(a) If a scientific theory concerning origin or destiny is taught without the teaching of opposing scientific theory, the taught theory may be criticized by the teaching of conflicting empirical data where considered instructive;

(b) If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a course of study, biological evolution and biological intelligent design shall be taught. Other scientific theory or theories of origin may be taught. If biological intelligent design is taught, any proposed identity of the intelligence responsible for earth’s biology shall be verifiable by present-day observation or experimentation and teachers shall not question, survey, or otherwise influence student belief in a nonverifiable identity within a science course;

(c) If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a textbook, the textbook shall give equal treatment to biological evolution and biological intelligent design. Other scientific theory or theories of origin may be taught;

(4) If an event previous to written history is taught, the event shall be supported by physical evidence. Physical evidence and data concerning the event may be taught where considered instructive. Conjecture concerning an event previous to written history as to the occurrence of the event, cause of the event, date of the event, length of time for the event to occur, subsequent effects of the event, or other speculative details shall be taught as theory or hypothesis as specified in subdivision (3) of this subsection;

(5) If a naturalistic process previous to written history is taught, the naturalistic process shall be duplicated by an analogous naturalistic process. Details of the analogous naturalistic process may be taught where considered instructive. Conjecture concerning a naturalistic process previous to written history as to the occurrence of the process, cause of the process, date of the process, length of time for the process to occur, process conditions, process mechanisms, process materials, or other speculative details shall be taught as theory or hypothesis as specified in subdivision (3) of this subsection;

(6) If a scientific theory or hypothesis proven to be false is taught for historical, illustrative, or other reasons, the theory or hypothesis shall be identified as false when taught orally or in writing.

So half of the pages of the textbooks must be dedicated to intelligent design, and all the pages must contain only material backed up by evidence. But intelligent design lacks evidence. If this were entered into a computer on Star Trek, it would blow up.

Pay special attention to this very interesting clause.

If biological intelligent design is taught, any proposed identity of the intelligence responsible for earth’s biology shall be verifiable by present-day observation or experimentation and teachers shall not question, survey, or otherwise influence student belief in a nonverifiable identity within a science course;

Think that through. So if you’re going to teach intelligent design, you’re either going to have to be totally silent about the identity of the designer, or you’re going to have to back up that identification with evidence. So either you’re going to teach this stuff as supported by evidence while avoiding any suggestions about how it was done by this designer, or you’re going to have teachers turning the science classroom into a Bible studies class while they trot out tired theological arguments about the nature of God.

But catch that cunning last bit: you’re also not allowed to use evidence to question the students’ faith in a nonverifiable being — an entity without evidence or contradicted by the evidence.

There isn’t going to be a single textbook on the market anywhere that meets these criteria. But they have an out: they’re going to put together a committee that will provide supplemental material on creationism of equal weight to the textbooks. And that’s where the state of Missouri will throw a big chunk of their education budget…into authoring and publishing a creationist textbook that will be given to all of their schoolkids, written by a select team of “nine individuals who are knowledgeable of science and intelligent design and reside in Missouri.”

There is another problem there. All of the people who are knowledgeable about both, who actually understand how science works, will also know that intelligent design creationism is bunk.

I notice the bill was introduced in August, and the last action was to refer it to the elementary and secondary ed committee; there are no hearings scheduled, and it’s not on the House calendar. I suspect that means it’s going to die the slow silent death of neglect. That’s good, but how about if you Missourians take the next step and make sure the author of the bill, Rick Brattin, and his partner in crime, Andrew Koenig, don’t get elected anymore?

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    February 1, 2013
    If a scientific theory concerning origin or destiny is taught

    All future is destiny now? How revealing.

    they’re going to put together a committee that will provide supplemental material on creationism of equal weight to the textbooks

    Equal weight – in kilograms of paper.

  2. #2 Nick Theodorakis
    February 1, 2013

    We are in Indiana, and even though it’s one of the reddest states, I was grateful to see our local public school district used Miller and Levine’s “dragonfly” biology textbook that unabashedly teaches evolution as central to biology.

    Nick

  3. #3 Conrad
    February 1, 2013

    How bad are Stephen C. Meyer’s credentials?

  4. #4 Emily L. Williams
    February 1, 2013

    I’m sad to say that I’m from Missouri (St. Louis, one of the few democratic locations in the state), though now residing in Kentucky. It astounds me how little homework the writers of this bill have actually done on Origins of Life science. I just hope the rest of the MO government will see this bill as asinine as it truly is.

    This is excruciatingly outrageous. Talking about things like chirality when they clearly don’t even understand what they’re saying! When will they understand that evolutionary events are never random, and so a lack of that randomness does not necessitate an intelligent hand in the design. Under chemical and physical laws, some occurrences are more probable than others.

    It’s ironic how many of the people who talk so much of Intelligent Design seem to speak with so little intelligence. :/

  5. #5 Mike
    February 2, 2013

    Missouri is advancing backward!

  6. #6 Patrick McGann
    United States
    February 2, 2013

    This silly law will be completely unenforceable as more and more schools move away from textbooks and toward e-readers in the classroom. Ironic. Evolution will lead to this law’s extinction.

  7. #7 Howard Brazee
    February 3, 2013

    It would be fun to give the legislature an example text – apologizing for only including 50 religions’ different creation stories.

  8. […] When it comes to the anti-science movement, most pandering politicians cannot be persuaded, they are unwilling to compromise. But they can sure as hell be fired by ballot box: […]

  9. #9 David Marjanović
    Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin
    February 4, 2013

    It would be fun to give the legislature an example text – apologizing for only including 50 religions’ different creation stories.

    I like the Klingon one best.

  10. #10 Flo
    February 4, 2013

    “As used in this subsection, the term “theory” shall mean theory or hypothesis;”

    How the hell does that work? That’s like saying: “The term “chair” shall mean chair or 4-cylinder automobile.” It doesn’t work. Clearly, their lack of understanding extends to the very basics of scientific terminology.

    I guess number 6 means the teachers constantly have to explain that ID’s examples of supposed irreducible complexity have been proven false time and time again then.

  11. #11 Dick
    February 5, 2013

    According to section 3.2 “If scientific law…”, the laws of classical mechanics can’t be taught since there are empirical data contradicting them (relativity). Ideal gas law is also out since it is only an approximation of the true behaviour of gases.

    Actually, many scientific laws would fall under the axe because they ignore nuances. This is a bad thing, as despite their deviation from reality they make really good starting points for learning (Mendel’s Law, anyone?).

  12. #12 Kerry
    St. Louis, MO
    February 12, 2013

    I live in Missouri (St. Louis specifically) and I was floored when I found out about this bill. I’ve written emails to several representatives identifying many of the bill’s weaknesses, but also specifically pointing out the double standard with regard to presenting evidence. The bill states that any naturalistic process (evolution) must be demonstrable directly or through an analogous process. However, there’s no requirement of demonstration for processes that are supernatural (ID).
    Fortunately, there are many reps who are on science’s side on this. It is also likely just a political move because bills with almost exact wording have been defeated before making it to the G.A.

  13. #13 Phoenix Woman
    The frozen tundra
    February 14, 2013

    I wonder if these mokes have ever heard of the spanking given the Dover School District in Pennsylvania over this? You know, the one that put stakes in the hearts of both creationism and its ID mask?

    Do they think they can get around the Dover decision by simply redefining science to mean whatever they say it means? Do they really want to see Missouri high school students get turned away from respectable colleges? Are they that stupid?

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