State Legislators Seek Bills to Allow Questioning of Evolution Theory in Schools
Thursday , May 01, 2008
By Julienne Gage
MIAMI, Fla. —
The debate over evolution is evolving. Although federal courts have banned teaching “creation theory” or “intelligent design theory” in public schools, legislators in several states are seeking new ways to allow teachers to cast doubt on the theory of evolution.
The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill this week that will require schools to teach “critical analysis” of evolution.
On Tuesday Michigan introduced a similar “academic freedom” bill. Louisiana, Alabama and Missouri also have legislation under debate, although no state has adopted a law yet.
Opponents say these bills that allow the questioning of evolution are a smokescreen for teaching creationism or intelligent design.
Creation theory is the religious belief that God created all life. Intelligent design is the theory that some features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an “intelligent cause.” While advocates contend intelligent design is a scientific theory, a federal judge in 2005 ruled that the theory is religious in nature and it is unconstitutional to teach it in public schools.
In Florida, Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who sponsored the House bill, insists it would “not permit, nor authorize, nor allow the teaching of creationism or intelligent design” or any other religious theory.
But the bill would offer supplementary scientific information and encourage teachers and students to engage in discussion that criticizes evolution.
“I do not expect teachers to go into the classrooms and present a bizarre array of theories,” Hays told FOXNews.com. “The theory of evolution, which most practicing biologists are teaching today, is inadequate in explaining our existence in the eyes of some scientists. Teachers need to be able to bring their students up to date.”
The state already has a measure that protects teachers who challenge evolution, but the Florida Senate has stopped short of ratifying the House’s proposed bill requiring it be taught.
But critics of these “academic freedom” measures say they are backdoor entries to teaching creationism.
“These anti-evolution bills are really the creationism du jour, an end run around the legal decisions that have banned the outright teaching of creationism,” said Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif.
Scott said these bills tap into American cultural values of free speech and equality, but with the intended result of allowing the students themselves to “flip over to this dichotomous thinking that God must have created us.”
John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute — a Seattle-based think tank that supports intelligent design and offered language that most state legislatures have used to pattern their bills — said the measure merely encourages discussion, not outright teaching, of intelligent design.
“We oppose intelligent design mandates,” West said. “The text of both (Florida) bills make very clear that this isn’t protecting the right to give religious critiques.”
He added that the Discovery Institute opposes teaching creationism in the classroom and supported the 2005 ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania that banned a policy requiring ninth grade science teachers in Dover, Pa., to read a statement acknowledging the existence of intelligent design theory before teaching evolution.
Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland, Mich., who sponsored his state’s academic freedom bill and was a science major in college, said it’s only fair that students and teachers question, for example, phenomena like the sudden appearance of diverse species, not explained by theories of gradual progression.
“Educators should have the freedom to bring in the best scientific information to facilitate those discussions,” Moolenaar said. “We’re trying to get students to ask the question: What scientific evidence exists for what theories?”
But Scott said applying a “fairness” argument to science teaching is “wrong-headed,” and that such legislation is a disservice to Florida and the country’s science and biotechnology industry.
“Any student shaky on this subject can kiss those careers goodbye,” she said.
Dean Falk, Chairwoman of Florida State University’s Department of Anthropology, agreed. “I was totally taken aback. Florida already has a reputation for being very conservative when it comes to education and teaching science. This underscores that, so I think it’s an embarrassment,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Louisiana Senate passed a bill allowing local school boards to approve supplementary materials to be added to the science curriculum. Some teachers in the state are using 7-year-old textbooks.
In similar moves, the Alabama State Senate passed a non-harassment bill for teachers expressing critiques of evolution, and Missouri’s House of Representatives is expected to vote next week on a bill that would allow for intelligent design to be taught as a hypothesis.
Michigan’s bill, introduced Tuesday night, protects teachers and students from being penalized for discussing challenges to traditional scientific theories on such topics as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, human impact on climate change and human cloning.
The hot button issue of course is how far to push the scientific debate and whether proposed legislation is really going to be limited to just scientific discussions.
1. I think it is great that some states are taking action to end the monopoly that evolution has had in science classrooms for decades.
2. Why is it that almost every other scientific discipline welcomes new ideas and research, but evolutionary biology seems intent on not even giving competing views a chance to be heard. To me this practically screams of how inadequate the theory of evolution is. If scientists are so confident that evolution is a fact that is irrefutable than the thought of a competing theory should not alarm them. In fact, since evolutionary theory is so perfect in its explanation of the origins of life, they should welcome the debate because they could prove just how silly other theories are when compared to evolution. Unfortunately, it appears that they do not have this confidence in their theory. Instead of promoting an intelligent debate, they seem content to sit in their ivory towers and lob verbal bombshells claiming that intelligent design is a completely unscientific theory that is steeped religion rather than science.
3. “Any student shaky on this subject can kiss those careers goodbye.” Eugenie C. Scott-executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif. I find this statement highly disturbing. Ms. Scott is essentially threatening that anyone who is stupid enough to believe in religious creationism, like ID, will/should be blacklisted by the scientific community. This is a prime example, from one of the America’s leaders in science education, of the complete and total bias that is pervasive among many in the scientific community. She intends to squash any thought of ID by insuring that those who think to question evolution are not given a forum to pass on their ideas.
4. Here are some excerpts from an article written by my Natural Science professor (Michael Newton Keas) when I was at Oklahoma Baptist University. He is currently a professor at Biola and is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute. He advocates “teaching the controversy” and I fully agree with him.
One way to motivate students to study science and to think critically is to examine case studies of scientific controversy. Through case studies students will gain insight into the standard scientific procedure of inferring the best explanation from among multiple competing hypotheses. Charles Darwin argued, “a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question” (Origin of Species, p. 2). In today’s climate of public educational policy, this would mean, at a minimum, teaching not just the strengths of Darwin’s theory, but also the evidence that challenges it….A “teach the controversy” approach presents biology in a livelier and less dogmatic way. Students will learn science as it is actually practiced. Scientists often debate how to best interpret data and they even argue over what counts as legitimate “scientific explanation.” Controversy is normal within science (not just an intrusion). Students will learn to distinguish better between evidence (factual data) and inference (reasoning to conclusions). Students need these skills as citizens, whether they choose careers in science or other fields.
Dr. Keas and others in the ID movement are right, it is time to “teach the controversy.” There are more resources than ever available to those who wish to see what ID is all about and to study the areas where Darwinian evolution falls short.
My wife and I plan on homeschooling our kids for at least the first 2/3 of their education. I think we would be remiss not to explain to them the theory of evolution, however, we would also be remiss not to show them books like Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution which refutes some of the main tenants of the theory. We would also be remiss not to teach them about many of the facts presented in Guillermo Gonzalez’ fabulous book The Privileged Planet. I think it is obvious where our bias will lie, but at least both sides will be taught and evolutionary theory will be presented as just that, a theory. One that is so full of holes it looks like moldy swiss cheese and forces the scientific community to attempt to hide the stench by squashing anyone who shows up with a rosier smelling idea.