Recently, The Advocate in Baton Rouge, LA, has been the site of an ongoing debate over the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), with letters from professor of political science Jeff Sadow, professor of philosophy and activist Barbara Forrest, and retired management consultant Cecil Phillips. Perhaps I’ve missed others.
The dialogue seems to be occasioned by the science standards review process going on in the state. I would like to adjudicate this controversy and point out what the LSEA does and does not authorize.
Forrest, unsurprisingly and as many others have done before, labels the LSEA as permitting the teaching of creationism. She’s emphatically wrong. Yet eight years after the law was enacted, and without evidence, this myth persists.
Phillips rightly responds that the LSEA does not authorize teaching of religion. On this, he cites the text of the law.
Let’s be clear: If a teacher presents creationism and is sued, the LSEA will offer that teacher no protection. The clause Phillips cites makes clear for any court the intent of the law. In any event, teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional according to the Supreme Court (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578).
Phillips’s letter seems to suggest that the LSEA allows the teaching of intelligent design. I must correct him on that. The LSEA does not authorize teaching intelligent design. Given the amount of media misinformation surrounding academic freedom bills, it is unsurprising that even fair-minded observers are confused.
As we have pointed out on numerous occasions, the LSEA promotes “critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied.” So, the law merely authorizes instruction regarding theories already in the curriculum. Note: presenting the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinian evolution is different from teaching an alternative theory, such as intelligent design. Only theories in the curriculum fall under the LSEA — and intelligent design isn’t in Louisiana’s public school curriculum.
On the other hand, I would also like to give credit to Phillips who understands the scientific basis for intelligent design. As he writes:
[T]here are many highly qualified scientists who make a purely scientific case that Darwin’s theory of evolution cannot account for the complexity of biological organisms, and that there is strong scientific evidence that some kind of design mechanism is at work. A survey of the literature (the Amazon catalog is a good place to start) reveals dozens of books that present the evidence in great detail.
So kudos to him on that score. But back to the LSEA.
Teaching the controversy over evolution presents students with more information about biology, encourages critical thinking, and promotes scientific inquiry. And under the LSEA, teachers can objectively explore the science surrounding neo-Darwinism without fear of repercussions.
Sadow said it best:
The law creates a minor incentive for science classrooms to explore important issues and develop critical thinking skills. It also stands as a bulwark against the potential imposition of politically motivated orthodoxy masquerading as science. To oppose the act reveals an intolerance of freedom in academic inquiry — and a willingness to indulge a totalitarian impulse seeking to control information and knowledge.
It’s ironic that a law aimed at clarifying science for students should provoke so much obfuscation from its critics. Speaking of which, Forrest also claims Discovery Institute is an “intelligent design creationist think tank.” It should be obvious that “creationist” is a misnomer. Wrong again, Dr. Forrest.