Are Academic Freedom Laws Anti-Science?

“[A] fair result can only be obtained by stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”  — Charles Darwin

To most in the U.S., February 12th is known & celebrated as Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. But, to a growing number, that date has become Darwin Day, in honor of Charles Darwin. In a counter-effort starting a few years ago, the Discovery Institute (DI) began proclaiming Feb. 12 as Academic Freedom Day.

You see, DI and others are in favor of true academic freedom, which includes being able to teach, discuss, & learn about differing scientific theories. Today’s neo-Darwinist dogmatists, on the other hand, try to censor and dismiss any criticism of their theory and its weaknesses as anti-science hogwash that has no place in the classroom — except maybe as fantasy literature. “Weaknesses? What weaknesses? Darwinian evolution explains everything, case closed!” So much for freedom.

Portrait of young Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Fortunately, some people find this attitude, which pervades many state & local school districts and administrations, quite troubling. So, several state legislatures are now considering academic freedom bills, including in Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. Similar bills in Oklahoma and New Mexico were recently killed in committee. Hopefully, more will be as successful as 2008’s Louisiana Science Education Act, which passed the state’s House of Representatives, 94-3, and the state senate, 36-0. But, true to form, the Darwinist lobbyists are proceeding to spread all sorts of misinformation about these bills.

To expose the lies for what they are, the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin has written a couple articles discussing what the academic freedom bills really say. I’ll try to give you the short version….

Lie #1: These Laws Have Led to Litigation.

Specifically, some opponents claim the abovementioned Louisiana law was subjected to lawsuits and declared unconstitutional.

Response: Wrong! While roundly criticized in the popular press and scientific journals by the pro-Darwin establishment, it hasn’t been challenged in court. In fact, Marjorie Esman, Executive Director of the Louisiana ACLU, reportedly acknowledged that “if the Act is utilized as written, it should be fine…”.

After all, the law merely allows teachers and school districts to…

“use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.”

Lie #2: These Laws Force Teachers to Change the Curriculum

The web site, for example, claimed that the Oklahoma bill “forces teachers to question evolution.”

Evolution: A Theory in CrisisResponse: Try again. The only thing mandated in these bills is that the curriculum still be followed and pro-evolution evidence be taught. The students will still be tested according to state science standards. The bills do, however, give permission to teachers who choose to to discuss credible scientific viewpoints which may challenge the evolutionary party line.

Lie #3: These Laws Open the Door for Creationism in the Science Class

As usual, everyone from local activists to bloggers to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) warn against letting “long-ago-debunked creationist claptrap” in the classroom. Oh no!

Response: None of the bills give any such authorizations or protections for teaching of creationism or any other religious viewpoint. It’s pretty plain. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example of text from one of the bills:

“The provisions of the Act shall only protect the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”

Notice that it works both ways, too. Can’t bad-mouth creationism or religion, either. Religion-neutral.

Lie #4: These Laws Bring Intelligent Design Into the Classroom

As claimed by a Santa Fe New Mexican article, the teaching of Intelligent Design — which opponents continue to insist is “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” — will be sneaked in under these “freedom” bills.

Response: Nuh-uh. Re-read that quote from the Louisiana act in my response to Lie #1. Then consider this:

“The department, school district governing authorities and school administrators shall not prohibit any teacher, when a controversial scientific topic is being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula, from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses pertaining to that topic. A teacher who chooses to provide such information shall be protected from reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so.”

No I.D. in the curriculum = No sneaky I.D. indoctrination. But, if pro-I.D./anti-Darwin evidence comes up in class, teachers are allowed to facilitate discussion without fear of professional retaliation.

Lie #5: These Laws Single Out Evolution

No fair! Evolution is getting picked on!

Response: Fail! The bills actually make it clear that they would apply to any “scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” The Oklahoma bill, for instance, refers to:

“…the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, [which] can cause controversy….”

How can evolution be “singled out” when it is one of at least four mentioned? Also, school administrators should try to make sure there is:

“…an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.”

Lie #6: These Laws Lead to Stupidity, Dishonesty, and the Adulteration of Science Education

Critics & opponents of academic freedom bills say that such legislation is “dishonest”. They try to scare people into thinking the result of passing the bills will only be “freedom to teach pseudoscientific nonsense” and that their kids won’t be able to compete in college or get decent jobs. The NCSE’s Steve Newton believes such a bill would allow “creationist teachers to attack evolution” and “adulterate science education.”

Response: I guess, when you don’t have any valid arguments, ad hominem attacks always work. Rhetorically, anyway. Let’s see, what did it say…?

“…help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.”

Can’t have that, now, can we?!

I agree with Luskin that the critics actually make the case for the bills’ proponents.

“The effect of these arguments, ironically, is to chill academic freedom through scare-tactics where teachers fear they will be subject to ridicule, intimidation, or worse if they raise these scientific controversies with students. This shows precisely why academic freedom legislation is needed in the first place.”

Lie #7: These Laws Just Aren’t Needed

While pooh-poohing the bills and denigrating anyone who disagrees with them or has the nerve to question the Neo-Darwinian party line, critics have the nerve to then claim that teachers already have complete freedom to examine all evidence in the classroom. (Of course, they don’t really think any evidence is anti-evolution. They just have to reconfigure and revise their theory so that even contradictory evidence fits.)

However, the Sixth Circuit Appellate Court in Ohio ruled last year,

“The concept of ‘academic freedom,’ moreover, does not readily apply to in-class curricular speech at the high school level.”

And the Third Circuit Court ruled in 2007 that…

“[I]t is the educational institution that has a right to academic freedom, not the individual teacher.”

Still think teachers (and students) have the intellectual and academic freedom to discuss any and all scientific theories and evidence, no matter where they lead? What would Darwin say?

There you have it. Regardless of your personal confidence or lack thereof in the neo-Darwinian “consensus”, when you hear/read such claims & accusations made against Academic Freedom bills, you know the truth.


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