Iowa Gives The Thumbs Down to the Discovery Institute

By Hector Avalos, Ames, Iowa

Count this as another loss for the Discovery Institute in Iowa—right behind its failed efforts to portray intelligent design as legitimate research in Iowa universities.

The “Evolution Academic Freedom Act,” based on the model language promoted by the Discovery Institute, never even made it out of the relevant subcommittee in the Iowa legislature. March 13 was the deadline for any further action.

The bill was introduced by Rod Roberts, a Republican legislator, in early February. By mid-February, the faculty at Iowa institutions of higher learning launched a petition that eventually gathered some 240 signatories from about 20 colleges, universities, and research institutions in Iowa.

Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education told the Chronicle of Higher Education (February 25, 2009) “that the new Iowa statement is apparently the first organized response to such a bill by college faculty members throughout a state.”

Although the bill was given little chance of passing from the start, the petition helped to inform legislators and the public of the depth of resistance to such a bill within the academic and scientific community. Iowa faculty wanted to nip this bill in the bud before we had another Louisiana on our hands.

After the faculty petition was published, Casey Luskin, a lawyer working for the Discovery Institute, was sent scrambling for airtime on Iowa radio in order to help salvage the bill. But Luskin’s arguments on Iowa’s airwaves did not convince anyone that counted and Luskin’s performance only exposed the truth that this bill was mostly the product of the DI and its Iowa sympathizers.

The fact that the bill was meant to protect Intelligent Design was clearly evident to those who have followed the ID controversy. First, much of its language was cut-and-pasted from the model bill from the Discovery Institute. Compare the DI version here with the Iowa bill here.

Second, Rod Roberts said he was motivated by the Guillermo Gonzalez case at Iowa State University, which he regarded as infringing on Gonzalez’s academic freedom because of his advocacy of Intelligent Design.

The bill would have allowed the “full range of scientific views” concerning evolution in science classrooms. What Roberts did not divulge is that the DI regards Intelligent Design as a scientific viewpoint, and so it now could be included in the full range of scientific viewpoints, especially when discussing supposed alternatives to evolution.

Although the bill stated that it was not intended to promote religion, the bill did not divulge that the Discovery Institute does not see Intelligent Design as “religion.”

The fact that the proposed bill is working with different definitions of “scientific” and “religion” is the tricky part of the bill. Most laypersons or legislators not familiar with the intelligent design controversy may assume that the bill was using definitions common within the scientific community.

One only finds the truth by asking the bill’s sponsors whether they specifically regard Intelligent Design as a scientific theory or as religion.

This is precisely the type of question that Luskin refused to answer directly when he debated the bill with me on the Jan Mickelson show (WHO Radio 1040 AM) in Des Moines on Wednesday, March 4, 2009. The debate is available as a podcast here.

The lessons for those fighting these bills in other states are these:

-Large collective faculty petitions can help to bring attention to the depth of rejection of intelligent Design within the local scientific community.

-Yes, there can be the danger that a bill may receive more attention from such petitions, but, without them, the only voices heard by legislators may be those who support these bills.

-Yes, there may be backlash from university administrators who fear that legislators may retaliate. But we also find new legislators and administrators who support faculty efforts.

-Ask supporters of such bills directly whether they define Intelligent Design as “science” or as “religion.” Often they get away with such bills because they rely on the readers not knowing the definitions of these terms.

-Ask legislators if they would be willing to insert a statement that clarifies that “Intelligent Design shall not be regarded as a scientific viewpoint for the purpose of this bill.” If they resist, then you have more evidence of the true intent of the bills.

Overall, the Discovery Institute keeps losing in Iowa because it continues to underestimate the vigilance and willingness of Iowa faculty to fight these bills.

On the other hand, we cannot not become complacent despite the DI’s repeated losses in Iowa. The DI is always trying to find new ways and new uninformed legislators who will do their bidding.