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Darwinist Opposition to Academic Freedom Bills Demonstrates the Need for Legislation to Protect Academic Freedom

Much to the chagrin of those who wish to prevent students from learning about science that challenges neo-Darwinism, academic freedom bills have been submitted to the legislatures of five states so far this year. The arguments from critics against these bills are utterly predictable — but they unwittingly demonstrate the need for academic freedom legislation.

Before the Oklahoma Academic Freedom Bill died in committee last week, two Oklahoma Darwinists created a scare-FAQ to lobby Oklahoma legislators, stating: “This bill is designed to cast doubt on science as a valid way of understanding the world and to promote ideas based on religious faith. … This is a ‘Trojan horse’ bill intended to open the door for the teaching of religious concepts in school science classes.” Similar arguments were made by Iowa Darwinists, who signed a petition stating that “‘academic freedom’ for alternative theories is simply a mechanism to introduce religious or non-scientific doctrines into our science curriculum.”

These arguments are difficult to take seriously, because the actual text of the Oklahoma bill, for example, says precisely the opposite:

This act only protects the teaching of scientific information, and this act shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion. On the contrary, the intent is to create an environment in which both the teacher and students can openly and objectively discuss the facts and observations of science, and the assumptions that underlie their interpretation.

Plainly, the teaching of religion will NOT be protected by this bill; it only protects the teaching of science. What these Darwinists really don’t like about the bill, of course, is that it protects the rights of teachers to discuss scientific weaknesses in evolution. By falsely equating such discussions with religion, which is illegal to advocate in public school science classrooms, these Darwinists are creating the very climate of fear and intimidation that this bill is designed to alleviate. Thus, whether they realize or not, theses fear-mongering Darwinists have unwittingly provided an elegant justification for the bill.

The Oklahoma Darwinists further argued that “weaknesses” in evolution cannot be taught because…

Promoting the notion that there is some scientific controversy is just plain dishonest…. That fact that evolution has occurred is accepted by virtually all scientists around the world and is as well established as the fact that the Earth is round. There really are no scientific ‘weaknesses.’ If one looks at the sources of these alleged weaknesses, we find they are phony fabrications, invented and promoted by people who don’t like evolution.

Likewise, the Iowa Darwinists assert that “there is no real dissent within the scientific community.” We’ve heard this before (see “Who in Texas Is Afraid of a Little Critical Analysis of Evolution?“). More troubling, however, is the type of climate created in the classroom when you tell teachers and students that it’s “dishonest” to discuss scientific doubts about evolution because there is “no real dissent,” or that there are “no scientific ‘weaknesses'” in evolution — only “phony fabrications.” The effect of these Darwinist 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. Again, this is precisely why academic freedom legislation is needed.

Falsehoods and More Fear-Mongering
The Oklahoma Darwinists promoted the patently false claim that the Louisiana Academic Freedom bill has cost taxpayers in that state money: “In Louisiana school districts have faced serious problems implementing the law and costly lawsuits filed over its constitutionality.” The problem with that claim is that not one single lawsuit has been filed in Louisiana over their academic freedom law. Their statement is a falsehood, pure and simple.

Similar fear-mongering is found in the Iowa Darwinist petition, which states, “Similar efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in schools repeatedly have been found to be unconstitutional, something witnessed most recently in Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005) in Pennsylvania.” But the policy in Dover is in no way “similar” to an academic freedom bill for a variety of reasons:

  • First, Dover’s policy required the teaching of intelligent design, whereas academic freedom legislation compels teachers to do nothing differently, it only protects the rights of teachers to choose to teach scientific controversies in an objective manner without having to fear for their jobs.
  • Second, these academic freedom bills do not bring intelligent design into the curriculum because they do not try to settle the dispute over whether intelligent design is science. All the bills do protect is teaching science, and they expressly do not protect teaching religion. Who could object to that?
  • Finally, academic freedom legislation does not “undermine the teaching of evolution.” In fact, the bills protect the teaching of the “scientific strengths” of evolution as much as they protect the teaching of weaknesses. Eugenie Scott and other Darwinists are constantly complaining (and rightly so) that many teachers feel intimidated from teaching a pro-evolution curriculum. These bills protect those teachers’ rights just as much as they protect teachers that want to also discuss scientific challenges to evolution. These bills are true academic freedom bills: they protect the teaching of legitimate science surrounding evolution and other controversial scientific theories, whether for or against.

Projecting Charges of Censorship
Finally, the Oklahoma Darwinist engages in projection, stating: “this approach teaches our children that it is acceptable to simply ignore the parts of science they don’t happen to like.”

This allegation turns the intent of the bill on its head. This bill doesn’t remove evolution from the classroom! This bill allows teachers to ignore no part of the required curriculum, and last time I checked, Oklahoma teachers are still required to teach evolution. In fact, as noted, the bill protects the rights of teachers discuss the “strengths” of evolution as much as its “weaknesses.”

Thus, this bill is not about taking science out of the classroom, but allowing more science into the classroom. By denying that there are any scientific weaknesses in evolution, it’s these Darwinists who wish to “ignore the parts of science they don’t happen to like.”

What’s Really Going On Here?
The difference between proponents of academic freedom and these Darwinists is that supporters of this bill have no objections to teaching the pro-evolution scientific evidence. The bills’ supporters simply want teachers to have the freedom to give students access to more science on controversial scientific topics. These Darwinists are the ones who want to censor viewpoints by using intimidation tactics to convince teachers that if they discuss scientific weaknesses in evolution, then religion and “dishonesty” will come into the classroom. Such rhetoric creates a climate that intimidates teachers from feeling free to teach controversial scientific theories in an objective manner that discusses both majority and dissenting scientific viewpoints. This is harmful to education, freedom of inquiry, and the pursuit of scientific truth.

The anti-freedom behavior of these Darwinists shows precisely why legislation like this is needed.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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