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Prepared Remarks for Florida Academic Freedom Bill Press Conference

Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin is in Florida today participating in a press conference with sponsors of the proposed Academic Freedom Act there. The press conference also featured actor Ben Stein, who will be screening a pre-release version of the film Expelled for Florida legislators tonight. The press conference just concluded, and so here is the text of Luskin’s prepared remarks. (Because of limited time, some parts of these remarks may not have been actually delivered.)

Prepared Remarks by Casey Luskin, Discovery Institute, for Press Conference on Florida Academic Freedom Act

March 12, 2008
Talahassee, Florida

Charles Darwin wrote that, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

That’s the fundamental premise of the Academic Freedom Bill recently submitted to the Florida State Legislature by Senator Storms and Representative Hays.

Teachers and students should be able to discuss all the scientific evidence relating to Darwin’s theory without fear of being harassed or losing their job.

The old Scopes trial-stereotype of teachers fearing persecution for teaching the evidence for evolution has been turned on its head. Today it’s the teachers and students who are raising questions about Darwin’s theory who are being stifled.

  • In Texas, biology teacher Allison Jackson was ordered to stop presenting students with information critical of key aspects of modern Darwinian theory.
  • In Washington state, high school biology teacher Roger DeHart was banned from presenting data from mainstream science sources critical of key parts of modern Darwinism. Then he was reassigned from teaching biology altogether.
  • In Minnesota, Rodney LeVake was also dismissed from teaching high school biology after expressing doubts about the scientific evidence for Darwin’s theory.

More cases of censorship and intimidation will be told in the upcoming documentary Expelled featuring Ben Stein, who we are thankful is able to be here with us today.

The need for this bill in Florida is especially pressing because of the recent adoption by the Florida State Board of Education of one-sided science standards that seem to allow no room for critical thinking about modern evolutionary theory. These dogmatic standards create a legitimate fear among teachers and students that they may be penalized if they try to discuss the scientific weaknesses as well as the strengths of modern Darwinism.

So what does this bill do? Simply put, it guarantees the academic freedom rights of teachers and students to discuss both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolution without having to fear being fired or suffering other negative consequences.

It’s important to point out that this bill equally protects the rights of all teachers and students, both those who favor Darwin’s theory and those who question it.

Evolution proponents commonly complain that some teachers are fearful of presenting the evidence for evolution because of public pressure. This bill protects the rights of those teachers just as much as it protects the rights of teachers who want to present scientific information challenging parts of evolutionary theory.

Predictably, Darwinists are opposing the bill by promoting a lot of misinformation.

First, they are claiming that the bill would sneak religion or creationism into the classroom. Wrong. This bill only protects the teaching of “scientific information,” and the bill expressly provides that it “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine.”

Critics of this bill need to read the text of the bill, because it invalidates their fear-mongering.

Some critics have also claimed that the bill is intended to decide the debate over whether intelligent design is science and should be taught. Wrong again.

There are a growing number of scientists at universities and research institutions who believe that intelligent design raises legitimate scientific questions.

But that’s a debated opinion right now, and this bill does not decide that debate one way or another.

What this bill does decide is that teachers and students should have the right to discuss things currently considered scientific in the classroom even if it happens to be critical of modern Darwinism.

So what are some examples of scientific information that can be discussed under this bill?

  • You could talk about the Cambrian explosion, biology’s so-called “Big Bang” where over 500 million years ago nearly all of the major animal phyla appear in the same level of the fossil record without any clear evolutionary precursors.
  • Or you might discuss the scientists who believe that the practical contribution of evolutionary biology to science is minimal. In the words of National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell, “None of the great discoveries in biology and medicine over the past century depended on guidance from Darwinian evolution—it provided no support.”
  • Or you might talk about the failure of Darwinian natural selection and random mutation to account for much of the highly-ordered complexity we see in biology, a failure admitted by many evolutionists themselves. For example, National Academy of Sciences biologist Lynn Margulis has acknowledged that “new mutations don’t create new species; they create offspring that are impaired.”

So what else is the opposition saying to this bill? Well, Florida Citizens for Science went so far as to call academic freedom, “smelly crap.”

Academic freedom is not “smelly crap.” It’s the foundation of a free society.

Unfortunately, current proponents of evolution don’t seem to understand that fact.

Again, they could learn something from Charles Darwin himself: “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.