The growing undercover effort to get God into biology class

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Imagine an American public school where science textbooks were obligated to debunk Charles Darwin; where students could deny global warming and still get an A, and where college professors could tell Biology 101 students that the world was born on the back of a giant turtle. Sounds a little backwards for 2013, right?

Frighteningly, these are all real scenarios that could occur under new education bills proposed this year. But the language in most of these bills is so obtuse that you might not even know if you live in one of the six states considering them (Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri, and Indiana).  

America, meet the new creationism-in-sheep’s-clothing: The “academic freedom” bill.

Unlike bills that explicitly require intelligent design and religious curriculums to be taught in schools, academic freedom bills simply permit teachers, schools, and students to explore alternative theories without repercussions. Sounds harmless, right? But Eric Meikle, education project director at the National Center for Science Education, explains that what these bills really do is “open the door for creationist literature.” And in the last few years, the number of these bills has skyrocketed, with 51 proposed since 2004, and twice as many proposed this year than in all of 2012. (Remember, it’s only February).

Needless to say, science teachers aren’t thrilled. “Intelligent design and anti-global warming curriculums harm the general public’s perceptions of science, which can decrease students’ interest in pursuing science careers,” says Kathy Trundle, president of the Association for Science Teacher Education. “In turn, U.S. advancements in science [are] negatively impacted.” Rick Grosberg, an evolution and ecology professor at the University of California at Davis, points out that “the mere act of teaching intelligent design as if it were an alternative scientific explanation confuses students and the public about what science is.”

The secret weapon in these bills is the idea that pupils should understand the “strengths and weaknesses” of different scientific theories. Which theories? Well, as a bill proposed by four Republican state senators in Arizona makes clear, that would be “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” Coincidentally, these are the exact same theories that House Bill 1674 in Oklahoma, proposed by GOP state Rep. Gus Blackwell, considers controversial. His legislation even prevents teachers from flunking students who write papers debunking their textbook material. Seriously. 

Written By: Dana Liebelson – The Week
continue to source article at theweek.com

18 COMMENTS

  1. I am amazed at the absurdity. How can those people who clearly do not understand a word about science can spearhead such nonsense and be taken seriously. Where are the Nobel laureates, the professors, the scientists and why aren’t these people in charge of advising on science education instead. What is this?! Why do politicians feel they have anything to say about science education, something they are clearly lacking. How about teaching history and geography, should we rethink that too?

    You have no qualification on the matter, no credentials, therefore, you stay the f*** out. Simple.

  2. His legislation even prevents teachers from flunking students who write papers debunking their textbook material. Seriously.

    Study “crapology” and get passed as being as thick and full of whizzdumb as your senator!

  3. Qualification and credentials do not matter to these folks.

    What matters to them is the “security” of everyone sharing their deluded world view even if it means forcing everyone to agree with their psychosis.

    In reply to #2 by papa lazaru:

    I am amazed at the absurdity. How can those people who clearly do not understand a word about science can spearhead such nonsense and be taken seriously. Where are the Nobel laureates, the professors, the scientists and why aren’t these people in charge of advising on science education instead. What is this?! Why do politicians feel they have anything to say about science education, something they are clearly lacking. How about teaching history and geography, should we rethink that too?

    You have no qualification on the matter, no credentials, therefore, you stay the f*** out. Simple.

  4. I see nothing in these loony bills about ‘ . . where college professors could tell Biology 101 students that the world was born on the back of a giant turtle.’ This is just scare mongering, isn’t it?

    • In reply to #5 by Chris Squire:

      I see nothing in these loony bills about ‘ . . where college professors could tell Biology 101 students that the world was born on the back of a giant turtle.’ This is just scare mongering, isn’t it?

      No, it is a reference to the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett (at least, I think it is) – the world is a disk carried on the back of four elephants, standing on giant turtle swimming through space and time – I do not think that anyone could seriously believe that this is true; but it is just as unlikely as god creating everything from nothing.

  5. In reply to #5 by Chris Squire:

    I see nothing in these loony bills about ‘ . . where college professors could tell Biology 101 students that the world was born on the back of a giant turtle.’ This is just scare mongering, isn’t it?

    I agree that the phrasing there is a little hyperbolic and corny, but I don’t think that it can be classified as “scare mongering”. Many of these bills (past and present) have contained/do contain language that applies not only to primary and secondary schools, but also to institutions of higher education (colleges, universities, etc.).

    One example: according to the NCSE, Colorado House Bill 13-1089, which was introduced in January, would create

    “Academic Freedom Acts” for both K-12 public schools and institutes of higher education in the state of Colorado. If enacted, the bill would, in the words of the summary, “direct teachers to create an environment that encourages students to intelligently and respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning.”

    (bolding is mine)

    So, in other words, if enacted, the provisions of this bill (i.e. “[directing] teachers to encourage students to intelligently and respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning.”) could/would be enacted in classrooms full of five year olds, classrooms full of adult university students, and everywhere in-between.

    And this excerpt from the full text of Colorado House Bill 13-1089 (found on the NCSE page I linked to above) is even more disconcerting:

    The acts direct that the department of education and the Colorado commission on higher education notify all school districts and institutions of higher education of the provisions of their respective act by the
    beginning of the 2013-2014 school year and that the school districts and institutions of higher education shall disseminate that information to their employees.

    The full text of the Bill also contains a section (“ARTICLE 5.5″) titled “Higher Education Academic Freedom Act” (to differentiate it from the “K-12 Academic Freedom Act”, which immediately precedes it in the text). Article 5.5 is on pages 4-6 of the full text of the Bill and I strongly encourage everyone to read it. It’s quite chilling. It (understandably) doesn’t provoke the visceral response that many of us feel when we hear about creationists trying to weasel their way into classrooms full of impressionable young minds, but it’s chilling in its own way, and just as disturbing. (Plus, when it comes to higher education, there’s the added issue of academic freedom. It’s a nebulous concept, but, in most cases, it helps preserve an instructor’s right to teach in the manner they believe to be most effective (within reason, of course) and to design a curriculum of their choosing (there’s considerable leeway there, but one thing you cannot do is teach/promote outright falsehoods and untruths), and, if a bill like Colorado’s 13-1089 were to pass and survive various legal challenges, etc., it would force institutions of higher education to change in such drastic ways that, in some cases, they’d lose any credibility, respect, trust, and prestige they’ve accrued over the years.) (And, in the interest of full disclosure: I teach in higher education (in the U.S.))

    Even when considering these things in an evidence-based, rational, and level-headed manner (as I’ve done here), it’s difficult to not find the potential outcome at least somewhat scary. So, yes, the “giant turtle” thing was cheesy, but it’s not scaremongering by any means. The fears and concerns surrounding this issue are legitimate, reasonable, and grounded in solid evidence.

  6. The funny thing is, if we apply most of these laws literally they won’t get what they’re working for. They can’t write what they really want to say in to the law so they have to hope that whoever gets affected will interpret what the law says the way the supporters do. Look what happened in Texas, surprise!!! they got exactly what the standards call for in biology textbooks and there wasn’t a wholesale burning down of Darwin. In fact, it was mostly all Darwin. Such a good feeling to see asshats work painfully long hours and expending an untold wealth of good standing only to get beat by semantics because they can’t outright ask for what they want.

  7. The scientists I spoke to aren’t buying it. “I think it makes more sense,” Trundle says, “for scientists to drive the content of science curricula rather than politicians.”

    • radical ;o)
  8. What would stop this fairly quickly is to have the Universities in the U.S. come out with a firm statement that children educated in those states, should the bill take effect, will have to take & pass a remedial science course (at their own expense) before even being allowed to apply for admission. But I don’t know what chances there are they would have the intestinal fortitude to do it. One can easily imagine the donations from alumni might decline.

  9. In reply to #8 by DocWebster:

    The funny thing is, if we apply most of these laws literally they won’t get what they’re working for. They can’t write what they really want to say in to the law so they have to hope that whoever gets affected will interpret what the law says the way the supporters do. Look what happened in Texas, surprise!!! they got exactly what the standards call for in biology textbooks and there wasn’t a wholesale burning down of Darwin. In fact, it was mostly all Darwin. Such a good feeling to see asshats work painfully long hours and expending an untold wealth of good standing only to get beat by semantics because they can’t outright ask for what they want.

    Teachers of REAL science already introduce the students (at appropriate levels) to different aspects of scientific theories. They do not need legislation to enable them to do so.

    What these scientifically illiterate muppets are trying to do, is to create loop-holes whereby creationist clowns can seek employment as (pseudo-)science teachers to “debate the controversy”!

    You are of course correct, that once they try to write specifics, they will founder in their own ignorance!

  10. In reply to #10 by rod-the-farmer:

    What would stop this fairly quickly is to have the Universities in the U.S. come out with a firm statement that children educated in those states, should the bill take effect, will have to take & pass a remedial science course (at their own expense) before even being allowed to apply for admission. But I don’t know what chances there are they would have the intestinal fortitude to do it. One can easily imagine the donations from alumni might decline.

    Rod,

    As far as I know, only one state, California, actually does something like this. The University system passes on the acceptability of high school curricula and makes sure that the student graduating from a private school has been exposed to approved materials. They tossed a high school for teaching out of books written by Bob Jones “University.” I wish we could get all states to do the same. We really should be taking the offensive here, and trying to make church schools teach evolution.

  11. Civil society shouldn’t allow any interference of religion with science classes. I fail to understand why some politicians with the mentality of desert goat keepers can have so much power to carry out such an initiative. All the soft and military power of the US, together with the might of its industries, corporations, universities, hospitals, etc, have entirely depended, and still do, on science to create progress and wealth for all. Science teachers must not allow such interferences in their classes, as they don’t interfere with religion classes. I would have expected this initiative in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but not in the US. I think Republican politicians are becoming a serious peril to civilization. Just like the Muslim radicals.

  12. That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, to paraphrase Hitchens.

    This idea neatly summarises the defence against any agenda to introduce religion into science classes. The only way to acquire a seat on the the science curriculum express is to approach armed with evidence. The difference between a first class seat, a coach class seat, a seat on top of the carriage in the open air and ejection from the train or refusal of entry will depend on the strength of the evidence presented at the gate.

    In Australia, we are beginning to see attempts at the level of the individual schools to introduce creation into the science class. I have personally witnessed the phenomenon of year eleven high school students being encouraged to explore ‘alternative theories’ and canvassing the opinions of their families, friends and neighbours, about the truth of evolution to assist them to ‘make up their own minds’. Garbage in, garbage out… Just an anecdote, to be sure . However, witnessing this first hand, as opposed to reading about it on the web, was pretty upsetting.

    Everyone reading this will agree, but we must, at every opportunity, expose and bring down these attempts to pervert our children’s education in science. A question about this was asked on Q and A on Feb 18- a show featuring an excellent performance by Lawrence Krauss:

    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3687812.htm

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