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Proliferation of Academic Freedom Bills Is Darwin Lobby’s Worst Nightmare

The recent front page New York Times article on academic freedom legislation offers a stark reminder that the intelligentsia is very worried about the prospect of teachers gaining academic freedom, as a bill presently in the Kentucky legislature would allow, “to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, including but not limited to the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

From 2008-2009, 12 academic freedom bills were submitted into state legislatures, including Florida, Alabama (2), South Carolina (2), Missouri (2), Michigan, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Iowa, and New Mexico. Now in 2010, there are 3 bills already, including bills in Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi.

The Kentucky bill contains an excellent example of language refuting assertions from critics that these bills allow the teaching of religion: “This section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.” The operative language of the academic freedom bills is entirely beneficial:

  • The Kentucky bill encourages teachers to “promote critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories being studied.”
  • The Missouri bill allows teachers “to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.”

For those Darwin-lobbyists who demand nothing less than full capitulation and assent to the neo-Darwinian consensus from students and teachers, this kind of intellectual freedom is very threatening. Hence the front page panic over at the New York Times.

Thankfully, most Americans aren’t buying the dogmatism of the Darwin-lobby. The big secret in the evolution debate is that support for academic freedom goes far beyond the stereotypical religious right. Thus, despite the fact that the New York Times article tries to link academic freedom to “political conservatives” or “conservative evangelical Christians,” a 2009 Zogby poll found that support for academic freedom in evolution education comes from 80% of the American public, including over 80% of self-identified “liberals” and Democrats.

And it isn’t just academic freedom legislation from the past three years that’s calling for critiques of evolution in the classroom. The following list shows some of the currently adopted local and statewide policies that permit or require the teaching of scientific critiques of evolution:

  • Texas: Students must “analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations … including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking.” Students must also “analyze and evaluate” core evolutionary claims, including “common ancestry,” “natural selection,” “mutation,” “sudden appearance,” the origin of the “complexity of the cell,” and the formation of “long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life.”
  • Minnesota: “The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including… [the] theory of evolution….”
  • New Mexico: Students will “critically analyze the data and observations supporting the conclusion that the species living on Earth today are related by descent from the ancestral one-celled organisms.”
  • Pennsylvania: “Critically evaluate the status of existing theories (e.g., germ theory of disease, wave theory of light, classification of subatomic particles, theory of evolution, epidemiology of aids).”
  • Missouri: “Identify and analyze current theories that are being questioned, and compare them to new theories that have emerged to challenge older ones (e.g., Theory of Evolution…).”
  • Alabama: “[E]volution by natural selection is a controversial theory. … Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”
  • South Carolina: “Summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”
  • Mississippi: “No local school board, school superintendent or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing and answering questions from individual students on the origin of life.”
  • Grantsburg, Wisconsin: “Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of Creationism or Intelligent Design.”
  • Ouachita Parish, Louisiana: “[T]he teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy … [T]eachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.”

And then of course there’s Louisiana 2008 Science Education Act, which requires that Louisiana schools shall “create and foster an environment…that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Darwin, who wrote that “[a] fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question,” would probably be gratified that some still dare to treat the modern version of his theory in a scientific fashion, subjecting it to rigorous critical investigation. But Darwin’s latter day defenders are horrified by the prospect of Darwin’s ideas being subject to serious questioning by students. Now we understand the panic over at the New York Times.

If you’re tired of the false New York Times stereotypes and the dogmatism of the Darwin lobby and want to support academic freedom in evolution education, visit


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, 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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