Good News from Alabama


Last week I discussed the constitutionality of the Alabama Academic Freedom Act, an act that sought to empower any teacher in the state of Alabama “to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views concerning biological or physical origins in any curricula or course of learning.” Timothy Sandefur also had some choice words to say about it.

With great pleasure I am happy to report that the Alabama Academic Freedom Act did not come up for a vote on the final day of the Alabama legislative session. The house spent most of the day dealing with the General Fund budget and did not have time to consider the many bills that the religious-right had proposed but not passed.

Two days after Timothy and I discussed the Alabama bill, DeWolf, Cooper, and West of the Discovery Institute released their own constitutional analysis of the bill. It is marred by several problems.

A growing number of scientists have begun to question key aspects of the theories of chemical and biological evolution on scientific grounds. More than 300 scientists, including professors at such institutions as Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Georgia, recently published a statement expressing their skepticism of modern evolutionary theory’s “claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” A book by molecular biologist Michael Denton has even described Darwinian evolution as “a theory in crisis.” Such scientific debates over key aspects of Darwin’s theory are entirely appropriate to include in public school biology curricula. …

This is completely and utterly wrong. The examples that the DeWolf et al. refer to, a statement signed by a mysterious “300 scientists” and a popular book, are not scientific debates. Real scientific debates occur in the scientific literature. If the activists of the Discovery Institute want to argue that a scientific debate exists on evolutionary theory, then they need to provide examples from the scientific literature. Typical scientific debates are published as a group of papers and responses in a relevant journal. I challenge the activists of the Discovery Institute to find a single such debate dealing with evolutionary theory from the last fifteen years that is suitable for presentation in high school biology classrooms. Inability to do so demonstrates the paucity of their position.

Speaking of challenges, I challenged Cooper last week to present even a single instance where a teacher was punished for presenting “mainstream scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory.” He responded inadequately in the Discovery Institute’s analysis of the Alabama bill. I specifically laid out three things that he needed to demonstrate:

  • what the teacher presented,
  • that it is part of mainstream science, and
  • that the teacher was indeed punished.

Although he lists three names–LeVake, DeHart, and Bryson–and asserts with no justification that there are “numerous similar cases,” he fails to demonstrate any of the above three things. Without such demonstrations, the statement that “around the country teachers have been punished or even fired for simply trying to present mainstream scientific criticisms about evolutionary theory” is without merit. The Discovery Institute has manufactured an academic crisis where none exists.

[T]he more immediate problem addressed by the bill is the persecution of those who raise scientific criticisms of chemical and biological evolution, this wording in the bill clearly extends equal protection to professors, teachers and students to also discuss the scientific merits of chemical and biological evolution.

Speaking for the nonexistant academic crisis, what persecution? Or more specifically, what persecution in the state of Alabama? According to Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, there is no known incident in an Alabama classroom where a teacher was punished for teaching about origins. Despite the claims of anti-evolution activists, the bill would have addressed a problem that simply does not exist for the state of Alabama.

The constitutional analysis of DeWolf et al. fails to address criticisms of the Alabama Academic Freedom Act that have been raised. Specifically, those by Timothy Sandefur, Sterling DeRamus (of an earlier version), and myself. However, it really doesn’t matter too much anymore. The bill didn’t pass, and Alabama is not headed to a showdown on the legality of teaching intelligent design in public school classrooms.


That is great news! Let’s cross our fingers and keep getting the message out regarding the slimy tactics of ID advocates and their worthless “theory”.

But isn’t the real tragedy that students are being taught by high school teachers who are not trained well enough in biology to understand for themselves why intelligent design creationism is not science, or sophisticated enough in their understanding to convey the complexities of evolutionary theory.

In the past year, ID advocates lost big in Texas, they lost in the Minnesota legislature (and got the education commissioner fired in the offing!), mostly lost in Ohio, and lost in Alabama.

Instead of a press release claiming falsely that “a growing number of scientists” have difficulty with Darwin’s theories, wouldn’t it be more accurate to note that a growing number of states reject the claim the ID is science?

At least 8% of the states in the U.S. have officially rejected “intelligent design” in the past 12 months. Isn’t this a trend?

Very well said, Mr. Klymkowsky. Very well said. I will never forget my own high school chemistry teacher saying that the law of entropy prohibited biological evolution. She was set straight by my high school physics teacher right in the middle of class. It was delightful to watch–but also extremely dispiriting that my chemistry teacher had never encountered a competent explanation of that point.

The threat to scientific literacy posed by creationism is serious. But it’s nothing compared to the threat posed by teachers who are themselves ignorant of the subjects they purport to teach.

Before I went to NCSU (go wolfpack!) I wasted time at a community college in Florida. There I encountered an adjunct teacher who claimed that evolution was unreasonable because mutations were always bad, and a ‘full professor’ named Karen Belcher (i think) who said that humans were distinguished from the animals by having no instincts whatsoever. It is definitly possible to get a BS or MA or sometimes PhD in the sciences while being a complete idiot, if you can be trained to do what’s expected in the classes. Which is unfortunate. Knowledge of this has led to the diminished status of scientific intellectuals, perhaps.

Interestingly, many of the folks that want to ban Darwin’s theories from biology classes want Social Darwinism taught in economics. Although not a scientific argument, it could be asserted that if the “Intelligent Designer” believed in a centrally-planned Creation, that same Designer would favor centrally-planned economies - i.e. COMMUNISM.

I wonder how Alabama’s legislators would react to banning teaching SOCIAL Darwinism-based theories, like free-market theories, in public schools?

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on May 18, 2004 2:00 PM.

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