An Indiana newspaper, the Journal & Courier, ran an article about an academic freedom bill in the state, inaccurately reporting that the bill would “open the door to any controversial science topic — whether it includes intelligent design or anything else.” That claim has now been picked up by the Associated Press which likewise says that the bill would “open the door for topics such as intelligent design — the theory that life on Earth is so complex it was guided by an intelligent higher power.”
No, that is not correct, on two counts. First, academic freedom bills are only intended to cover topics that are already in the curriculum. Topics that are not in the curriculum (like intelligent design) are not covered by such legislation. Thus, the current Indiana academic freedom bill states:
A teacher shall be allowed to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher.
The state board, the department, governing bodies, superintendents, principals, and other administrators may not prohibit a teacher in a public school from helping students to understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher.
The intent of the language, referring to “conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher,” is to limit the scope of an academic freedom bill to protect only discussion of topics that are already in the curriculum.
But is intelligent design part of the curriculum anywhere in Indiana (or anywhere else, for that matter)? No, it isn’t. Thus, it doesn’t come under the protection of an academic freedom bill. Anyone who says otherwise misunderstands the intent behind academic freedom legislation.
There’s a second problem: the Associated Press’s definition of intelligent design, “the theory that life on Earth is so complex it was guided by an intelligent higher power.” That is wrong because it frames intelligent design as a strictly negative argument against Darwinian evolution, and because it claims that intelligent design appeals to a “higher power.” We’ve covered errors like this many times before (see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here). A much better definition would go something like this: “intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”
Well, if the media aren’t interested even in getting the definition of intelligent design right, why should we expect them to represent academic freedom bills correctly?