Florida: One Step Closer to an Antievolution Conduit into the Classrooms

The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee approved the “academic freedomirresponsibility” bill by Rhonda Storms on Tuesday. The next step for the bill would be consideration by the full senate.

The Discovery Institute has been pushing hard on this in Florida. Stymied in their efforts to do more than get a minor last-minute change on the new Florida science standards, they have been working hard on getting support for the two “academic freedomirresponsibility” filed in the Florida legislature. And they are doing well, it seems. Storms’ bill has passed two committees so far without a hitch, other than a little tune-up of language in response to a legislative analysis that pointed out many, many problems with it. Those changes, though, do absolutely nothing to close out the misinformation that the DI wants teachers — and students, let’s not forget the students — to take up precious science class time on.

This is no surprise, of course. Unable to make any headway in presenting a positive scientific case for “intelligent design” creationism, the DI has done what creationists have always done — attempt to game the political system to get their way anyway. “Creation science” advocates were talking about “academic freedom” with respect to their arguments back in the early 1980s with the McLean v. Arkansas and the Edwards v. Aguillard cases. Given the simple fact that everything the DI is about is selling old arguments under new, or at least marginally different, labels, one might have guessed it was only a matter of time before they got around to recycling not just the arguments, but the labels, too.

And we have seen these campaigns from the DI over and over, and seen that no matter what they call it, what they are aiming to have teachers — and students, don’t forget the students — bring up in classes are exactly the same arguments they once peddled directly as “intelligent design”. This was the case when they got Sen. Rick Santorum to suggest an amendment to the “No Child Left behind” act in 2000. For years afterward, the DI was erroneously telling school boards and state political bodies that it was the intent of the law to include their “intelligent design” creationism arguments in science classes because a vestige of the Santorum language was left in the joint conference report of the NCLB law. This was the case in Kansas in 2000 and again in 2005, when they pushed hard to take advantage of religious right majorities on the Kansas State Board of Education to get a foot in the door of the science classroom, not by convincing the scientific community that they had good ideas and evidence to back them, but by direct political action. This was the case in Ohio, where their operative tried to get IDC directly included in 2000, then succeeded in pushing for the DI “compromise” of installing “critical analysis” language in the state science standards in 2002. It turned out that she had threatened the governor with political fallout if she didn’t get her way on that. Over the next several years, it came out that by “critical analysis”, the DI had meant not just IDC arguments, but good old-fashioned creationism, too. Finally, the evidence of the swindle the DI was working became too much to ignore for the Ohio State Board of Education, and they removed the “critical analysis” language from the standards and the “critical analysis” lesson plan from their website. The DI has been infamous for years for claiming various numbers of states (usually four or five) as having implemented the “critical analysis” changes that the DI favored, though the record shows that they are wrong on that, too. But they certainly aimed to make trouble in those places and many more.

There is no doubt that the DI “cdesign proponentsists” intend for Florida to become a testing ground for its newest creationist argument/label recycling project. There is certainly no doubt that they have not done anything in the way of coming up with a positive, evidence-based case for “intelligent design”, but they’d like teachers — and students, let’s not forget the students — to undermine any effective instruction in evolutionary science with the same tired, bogus religious antievolution retread arguments they picked up from “creation scientists” before them.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.