A Few More Comments on The Alabama Academic Freedom Act

| 7 Comments

Reed Cartwright is correct about how the Lemon test ought to be applied--and of course he's right about the real intent of the authors of the law in question. What I find interesting about the law is its careful, even scrupulous avoidance of the teaching of religion.

The text of the act says:"Every...teacher...shall have the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views concerning biological or physical origins in any curricula or course of learning," ( 3) and that "No...teacher...shall be terminated, disciplined...[et cetera] for promoting scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views concerning biological or physical origins." ( 4). Of course, the First Amendment already protects a teacher's right to present scientific evidence--and even to discuss non-scientific views, like ID or creationism, so long as it is not done in a way that stamps these latter things with any government imprimatur. If the law were simply intended to protect the right of a teacher to present scientific evidence, then it's totally unnecessary, since freedom of speech already protects that right. And if it were intended to protect the right of a teacher to discuss religion as an academic discipline, it would again be unnecessary, since the First Amendment protects that, as well. The law goes on to provide that while "[s]tudents may be evaluated based on their understanding of course materials," they may not "be penalized in any way" for "subscrib[ing] to a particular position on biological or physical origins." ( 5). Again, this is already the case, due to the First Amendment.

The law would therefore be redundant unless it's intended to encourage teachers to teach creationism. Yet the law then specifically disclaims this intention: "Nothing in this act shall be construed as...encouraging any change in the state curriculum standards," ( 6) and "Nothing in this act shall be construed as promoting any religious doctrine...or promoting discirmination for or against religion or non-religion." ( 7).

So there are two things that this law is intended to do. First, it is intended to placate religious conservatives who demand that the legislature "Do Something" to compromise evolution education, while at the same time not doing anything substantive. That's a possibility, and no doubt some legislators voted for it because they saw it would let them appear noble in the eyes of their constituents, while doing no real damage.

But second, and more sinister, is that the law will encourage teachers to go into class and teach ID creationism as if it were a "scientific view[ ]" protected by this law. Then, if a teacher is disciplined by a principal who wishes to preserve the quality of science education in his school, the teacher will file suit, arguing that ID is "science" and therefore protected by the law. So this law is designed to create a test case on the scientific validity of ID creationism.

Some might think this isn't such a big deal, because science will most likely win such a case, the way it did in McLean v. Arkansas Bd. of Ed., 529 F.Supp. 1255 (E.D.Ark. 1982). But the problem with that is that school principals are unlikely to want to bring on such a lawsuit. Lawsuits are a big hassle; they take a lot of time and involve many lawyers. So the most likely practical effect of this law is to provide a disincentive for principals to ensure the scientific integrity of evolution education in their schools, because they will be less likely to call teachers to task for teaching creationism in class--while the law simultaneously emboldens teachers to do so. Alabamans who care about the scientific education of their children ought to be outraged at their lawmakers for instituting what is at the very least a massive waste of time and resources.

7 Comments

Perhaps stating the obvious but, … The law will at first allow a teacher in a department (science) to teach ID/creationism and then require all teachers to teach ID/creationism because after all, if its good enough to have in one classroom, then why the heck isn’t it good enough for everybody else’s classroom? Shouldn’t the kids get the ‘same’ curriculum in any of the departments classes? There’s no doubt that the law will eventually mandate the teaching of ID.

If this law goes through I would really love some teachers start teaching Hindu views on the origins of life and see how many parents that where for ID or creationism protest about these, obviously false, view of the origins of life.

Note that I do not support or refute Hindu views on the creation of life and the universe. The “obviously false” comment is what the ID/Creationist would probably call the Hindu views.

Tim, didn’t the USSC explicitly say that science is what scientists as a community say it is (in Edwards v Aguilar, IIRC)? And haven’t all the major scientific organizations (NAS, AAAS, you name it) already explicitly declared that ID is not science? If so, wouldn’t just a simple reiteration of that judgement block any attempt to teach ID, even under this new law?

Wayne write, “ . ….Hindu views on the origins of life . ….”. Creation isn’t a particularly important event in Indic/Hindu myth philosophy (I include the three ancient streams of deistic philosophy, Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism). Hindu mythology is vast and overlaps with the myths of the other two streams in places. There are 3 accounts that I know of that relate creation processes but none of them treat creation as an ab initio activity; no one supreme being; no days/ages of creation, nothing particularly important about it either. Indic myth treats the universe as timeless and infinite – an idea explicitly described by Jaina philosophers. 5 kinds of infinity the simplest in one direction (natural numbers), then 2 directions, then in area, then volume and then in space and time. Most people are familiar with the idea of the Hindu Trinity, Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer (or regenerator). This is supposed to be an endless process that happens not just sequentially but also simultaneously. Vishnu himself is described as appearing in many different avatars over eons; starting from the form of a fish thru a turtle, thru a half-man half-beast thru higher forms. Much has been read into these stories; suffice to say that Hindus as a rule do not find the idea of common descent by modification demeaning of the human form and neither do they believe that man is created in god’s image. God itself is transcendent or with form. The ISCKON/Hare Krishna guys have produced interpretations of Hindu myth that are more in line with current Creationism accounts with Krishna playing the lead role. I would have a problem if my children had to learn any sort of pseudoscience in class including Creationism in all its forms. ID being the most insidious of the lot is particularly disturbing, since its proponents attempt to prove that the practice of science is Christian. I studied in a Jesuit college and the priests who taught me never attempted any such thing – regardless of what their beliefs might have been. So I cannot take ID’s claim of “Christ-inspired scholarship” seriously.

My point is that I’m sure many creationist would find alternate beliefs offensive as they find evolution. With the number of christian faith splinters out there I’m sure many have crossed paths with religions and tried to reconcile the differences just as you can get Hindu, Buddhism, etc interpritation of the bible. One of my favorites being a Hindu interpritation of Adam and Eve and the “Apple” actually signifying Eve’s genitals and the “eating of the apple” being Adam and Eve ingaging and learning about sex.

Adam and Eve and the 7 days of creation are far from the only religious views on the creation of the Earth and life on it. The way the bills are reading it doesn’t limit the views to just ID/Biblical creation. So if the damage is done I would like to see some type of type of class (hopefully seperate from science class) look at the many religions out there.

Not being religious myself I still feel that a true knowledge of religions, their origins, history, beliefs, etc is a good thing. I would just like to turn a potential bad and destructive bill into something that is a bit more useful.

Religious myth and fable could be taught anywhere but in a science class. They have served their purpose and must now give way to science. I say this not as an agnostic/atheist (equivalents or their opposites within my Hindu belief do not exist). Public schools must be free of any sort of religious instruction even as an academic/historical study. Schoolgoers are far from mature to critically analyze such stuff. The right place is the university where students can be expected to apply their minds rationally. Science shd be taught as a discipline that eschews any reference to unseen/unknown/immeasurable authorities. Even attempts to read faith into science and vice versa as some theistic evolutionists like to do must be avoided at all costs. Here we have an impartial and objective way to make sense o the world around us, why do it any other way? Dr.Abdus Salam when asked if the Big Bang confirms the creation verses of the Koran; replied that he would like to avoid any such comparisons. The Big Bang is a scientific theory that is only as good as the objective evidence and methods used to process them and may well be revised. If and when that happened he would not like to revise the Koran!

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on May 12, 2004 5:35 PM.

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Cooling of the universe: Hugh Ross’s pseudo-thermodynamics revisited is the next entry in this blog.

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