Free Speech Icon Free Speech
News Media Icon News Media

Reuters (Probably) Going to Falsely Link Academic Freedom Bill to “Intelligent Design” and “Creationism” (Updated)

Casey Luskin

I just got off the phone with a Reuters reporter who wanted to discuss the recently passed Academic Freedom Law in Tennessee. She asked many normal, standard questions reporters ask about the bill but then got curiously interested in asking about intelligent design (ID). I explained to her that the Tennessee law only protects topics that are already part of the curriculum, and since intelligent design is not part of the curriculum in Tennessee (or anywhere else in the country), it doesn’t come into the classroom under this law. As the law states:

Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrators, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrators shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught within the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education. (emphasis added)

The “existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught within the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education” language is intended to mean the law only protects teachers when covering topics that are already part of the curriculum. Again, since ID isn’t part of the curriculum in Tennessee, it doesn’t come under the law. I explained all this to the reporter.

I also explained that Discovery Institute opposes pushing intelligent design into public schools. As our Science Education Policy Page states:

As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively.

Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for the reporter, who repeatedly pressed, “Well don’t you ‘promote’ intelligent design?” I replied that of course we promote intelligent design as a scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution, but we do so by funding scientific research and scholarship to help develop the theory, not by pushing it into public schools. In fact, I specifically told her multiple times that we do not support pushing ID into public schools. This was made inextricably clear.

Again, this was not enough for the Reuters reporter, who seemed to have her article already written before we even got on the phone. She read me a sentence she planned to include in the article, where I would apparently be mentioned. I don’t remember the exact language she quoted, but it said something to the effect of “creationists and proponents of intelligent design” support the Tennessee law.

I then told her that of course it’s true that I am a proponent of intelligent design (though I don’t promote creationism), but if she’s going to insist on making intelligent design an issue in the article, it would be necessary to also make it clear that Discovery Institute does not support pushing intelligent design into public schools, that we do not believe that Tennessee’s law would bring intelligent design into public schools, and that ID is not the issue. (I had already told her that religion and creationism are not protected under the law.)

Unfortunately, the reporter balked at my suggestion that fairness would dictate the article should point out we aren’t pushing ID into public schools, and the law doesn’t do that either. It seemed that Reuters already had their article written before we spoke, and they weren’t going to let the facts get in the way of their story. Reuters just wanted to find some way to plug in a quote and falsely link the Tennessee law to intelligent design and creationism.

We’ll see if Reuters decides to tell the truth about the issue, or if they’re just fishing for an irrelevant point to link the bill to “intelligent design” and “creationism” in order to promote their own partisan pro-Darwin-only agenda.

Update 1: I just learned that Reuters already put out an article a couple days ago about the passage of the bill with the headline “Tennessee law allows creationism theory in classrooms,” further stating the bill “would permit discussion of creationism in classrooms alongside the traditional evolutionary-based explanation of the origins of life.” All of this is of course false. So Reuters has already taken a partisan position on this matter which is refuted by the plain text of the law.

Update 2: Reuters has now published the article I was interviewed for, and unfortunately they printed misleading information, just as I predicted. The article states:

The law was billed as a triumph of academic freedom by proponents of creationism or intelligent design, who reject the concept that human beings and other life forms evolved through random mutation and natural selection.

The Tennessee measure “protects teachers when they promote critical thinking and objective discussion about controversial science issues such as biological evolution, climate change and human cloning,” said a statement from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design.

This gives ENV readers a taste of how biased reporting operates. The Reuters story was already written before I even spoke to the reporter. She just wanted to confirm that Discovery Institute “promotes intelligent design,” so she could plug that into her story. Of course I affirmed that is true, so long as you mean we promote scientific research and scholarship into the theory. Those importance nuances which I specifically explained–that Discovery Institute doesn’t promote creationism at all and doesn’t promote intelligent design in public schools–didn’t even make it into the article. When reporters have an agenda, the facts just don’t matter.


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.



academic freedom billReutersTennessee