Florida: Press Conference to Oppose False “Academic Freedom” and “Critical Analysis” Bills

My part of the day’s events here in Tallahassee is done; I had about three minutes to say my piece at a noon press conference on the capitol steps (just in front of the dolphin sculpture). Vic Walczak of the Pennsylvania ACLU was up first, then Mary Ann Fiala, then Sir Harry Kroto, Nobel laureate in chemistry, and then me.

For those of you in or near Tallahassee, there is a panel discussion tonight at 7 PM at the Challenger center featuring Walczak, Kroto, and David Campbell (a Florida science teacher).

The text of my bit is below the fold.

In 1986, I attended a young-earth creationist lecture on the University of Florida campus. I didn’t just nod and take his word on issues, I checked out his sources. I found those to be full of falsehoods. In the 22 years since, I’ve been actively studying the religious antievolution movement, its history and its evolving strategy to put its erroneous arguments into science classes. The bills in Florida are just the latest approach to accomplish that.

The “academic freedom” and “critical analysis” bills do not help Florida students prepare for science careers or to be informed citizens.

The bills do encourage the introduction of antiscience and antievolution arguments into classes as the unnamed “alternative”, and it remains unnamed because the alternative to evolution is an ensemble of old, tired, long-rebutted religious antievolution arguments.

The misused phrase “academic freedom” is code, and just another label for religious antievolution arguments. This abuse of the term dates back to “creation science” in the 1970s and 80s.

“Critical analysis” is another hijacked label for religious antievolution arguments, and its abuse dates back to the “Santorum amendment” in 2000. A “critical analysis” policy was deployed in Ohio in 2002 and repealed in 2006 – when they figured out that it really was just a label for the “intelligent design” arguments that its advocates said would not be taught. We’ve seen it abused in other places, too.

The idea that non-religious antievolution exists is a fiction. We know from numerous examples that teachers who introduce antievolution arguments use Institute for Creation Research, Answers In Genesis, and Discovery Institute materials. They aren’t hitting the library, they’re hitting ministry websites.

The recent history of antievolution is tied to Seattle’s Discovery Institute, whose promotional brochure from 1999, the “Wedge” document, told us explicitly that their goal was to place their own interpretation of creation by God in the classroom, to see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences, and to tally up ten states who would, in their wording, “rectify ideological imbalance in their science curricula & include design theory”. They haven’t given up on this, and they want Florida badly to be one of their ten.

Nor is the alternative espoused by the Discovery Institute one that fits all Christian believers. They are on record as saying that intelligent design theory is no friends of theistic evolution, immediately excluding all those Christians whose faith is not threatened by the discoveries of science.

When it gets right down to it, these bills don’t even attempt to improve science education. Serious legislation to improve science education would set up a program to support teachers in getting undergraduate or graduate degrees in the science field they teach
If legislators were serious about improving evolution education, they’d be sending teachers to college, not tossing them a rope to hang themselves with.

What Florida needs to do is to teach children accountable science that has survived rigorous scientific scrutiny and support teachers in learning the content of the fields they are charged with teaching.

It is time for Florida to break the cycle, and teach accountable science without commercial breaks for false arguments whose aim is to confuse students about the nature of science and to sow distrust of scientists and the scientific method.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

3 thoughts on “Florida: Press Conference to Oppose False “Academic Freedom” and “Critical Analysis” Bills

  • 2008/04/14 at 2:33 pm

    Oooh! Thank you, thank you, thank you for speaking in Tallahassee today! :-)

  • 2008/04/14 at 3:52 pm

    I did notice an inaccuracy in Dr. Kroto’s presentation when he attributed an argument that the Grand Canyon was itself merely 5,000 years old to the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute, of course, does not endorse young-earth creationist arguments about the age of the earth or even the Grand Canyon. That argument actually belongs to organizations like the Institute for Creation Research and Answers in Genesis. Instead, the Discovery Institute merely wishes that everyone would pretend along with them that science can’t decide between a young-earth chronology and 4.55 billion years (or a few thousand and several million years in the case of the Grand Canyon), and also pretend that the age of the earth doesn’t matter in science education.

  • 2008/04/14 at 4:09 pm

    also pretend that the age of the earth doesn’t matter in science education

    Which reminds me, why are the geology classes left off the “manufactroversy” list? Certainly Lyell’s geology text was a major influence on Darwin’s ideas about evolution. Without the “old earth” evidence, Darwin’s ideas would have probably fallen on deaf ears.

    Either they haven’t figured it out or it’s not as inflammatory as “your monkey’s uncle”.

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