Louisiana: An Open Letter to Gov. Jindal

The Louisiana legislature has passed a bill allowing teachers to insert essentially whatever they want into curricula about evolutionary science. The only thing that remains is for Governor Jindal to either sign it into law or allow it to take effect without his signature, and thus the only thing to stop it is a veto by Jindal. Contact information for Jindal:

Contact Information:

E-mail: http://www.gov.la.gov/index.cfm?md=form&tmp=email_governor

Phone: 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121 (Toll Free)

Fax: 225-342-7099

And the message I sent:

Please veto SB 733.

This bill does not improve science education. It is backed by groups like the Discovery Institute, whose preferred arguments require revising the definition of science in order to privilege their own account of biological origins. Those arguments also are clearly taken from the religious antievolution movement’s past ensemble of arguments.

That has three implications that you should consider.

1. Parents who do not share exactly the religious views promoted by the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis, and the Institute for Creation Research are ill-served by having the State of Louisiana abandon its responsibility in determining what teachers will — and will not — instruct their students about. A substantial proportion of Christians have no problems accepting the results of science; see the Clergy Letter Project at evolutionweekend.org, where over 11,000 US Christian clergy have signed a statement supporting the teaching of evolution and the exclusion of “intelligent design” arguments from science classrooms.

2. Antievolution arguments encourage students to distrust both the scientific process and scientists. A common theme is that mainstream science is covering up information that would point to creationism. This distrust is unlikely to help students fit into a society that is increasingly dependent on constant advancement of technology to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

3. The antievolution arguments are long-rebutted, and represent a misrepresentation of the state of science today. There is no secular purpose to teaching misinformation to students. The antievolution arguments are not in any sense a “state of the art” addition to a curriculum, and are easily linked to their earlier, explicitly creationist, forms. This means that there is no hope that a teacher choosing to use SB 733 as a means of teaching antievolution arguments could defend a challenge in court. This needlessly exposes Louisiana teachers and school districts to significant legal liability.

The religious, sociological, economic, and legal ramifications of SB 733 all require that you veto the bill. I hope that you will do so. The stated cover of improving academic freedom or education generally is a sham.

Wesley R. Elsberry, Ph.D.
Visiting Research Associate
Michigan State University

If you write something to Governor Jindal, please copy it to the comments here.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

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

5 thoughts on “Louisiana: An Open Letter to Gov. Jindal

  • 2008/06/21 at 9:35 pm
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    Dear Governor Jindal:

    SB 733, recently passed by both houses of the legislature, purports to enable teachers to help students “develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” This is a seemingly noble-sounding but deceptive goal.

    I am assuming that this law will not allow to teach ALL “science” theories, such as alchemy, astrology, palm-reading, geocentric universe, Helenistic, Norse, Egyptian and/or Hindu creationism, extra-sensory perception, etc.

    If I am wrong in that assumption, and the language of the bill is such that allows for the introduction of those subjects in SCIENCE class, you can see how Louisiana would soon gain a reputation for being a backwater and illiterate state to which people won’t be willing to relocate or in which invest technology money.

    On the other hand, if I am right and this bill is worded to allow Christian Creationism or Intelligent Design along with Evolution in the science classroom, this is nothing short of unconstitutional and immoral. Unconstitutional, because it violates the separation of church and state by endorsing religion over non-religion, and by endorsing a particular dogma over the other religious dogmas. Immoral, because the bill would allow unscientific tales and myths to go alongside with proven scientific theories and laws. I would not want my kids to be taught mythology masquerading as science.

    The place for critique of science theories is not for lower grade teachers or students who do not know enough on the matter, but on the scientific community, where bad theories or incorrect laws get shredded to pieces by the scientific peers, or by conducting independent experiments that yield data independent of the person(s) who first formulated the theory/law.

    For this reasons, we call upon you to veto SB 733 in the best interests of our children and to protect the reputation of your state.

    Respectfully,

  • 2008/06/22 at 11:55 am
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    Dear Mr. Jindal,

    I am writing to you as a non-US resident. You might be wondering what my business is in writing to you, but I believe the issue of science transcends political boundaries – or at least it ought to.

    The Bill SB733, which would be passed in Louisana should your signature endorse it, will only serve to politicize science education. It would have ramifications for science education not only in your state, but in other states as well by setting a precedent. The impact that it could have on future generations of scientists and citizens who will vote on issues based on an basic literacy of science can undoubtedly have a global effect. The United States is currently a hotbed of scientific research, but it needs to maintain its science education standards in order to ensure that taxpayer money continues to translate itself into valuable research that will benefit human beings around the world. The Bill SB733, despite its pretensions, does not serve to better science education standards.

    The underlying motives to “bring God back into the science classroom” politicize issues that should be free of such dogma. Good science is not based on any political ideology, particularly those of the Discovery Institute which is vehemently pushing this Bill. Let it also be noted that the Discovery Institute stands to gain financially should the Bill be passed, for example through its anti-evolution textbooks. Given your prestigious educational background, I am sure you are aware that science is not done by a show of hands. Therefore, “democratizing” science education would install an unwieldy paradox between the way science is done and how it is taught. I think it is in the best interests of good science education that such a schism be avoided.

    SB733 delegates the maintenance of science education standards to school boards, many of which are comprised of members who are not experts and not qualified to decide on what the science standards would be. The wording of the bill may seem innocuous at first glance, but the “strengths and weaknesses” of a theory are not decided upon by school boards. A teacher who believes in creationism would have the authority to vastly exaggerate and/or manufacture weaknesses. To give an example, Caroline Crocker – one of the educators who testified in the State House assembly – allegedly taught students that no one has seen a dog turn into a cat in a laboratory. While this is of course true, I would assume that with your background in biology you would be able to see that this is clearly not a weakness for evolution since it is a strawman. Yet, SB733 would make such miseducation lawful in the state of Louisiana.

    Therefore, in the interest of science and the right of every child in Louisiana to have the best science education possible, I implore you to veto this anti-science bill.

    Yours sincerely,
    _________

  • 2008/06/22 at 11:57 am
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    Oops, should have proof-read. Poor spelling does seem to underscore an appeal to “an (sic) basic science literacy”.

  • 2008/06/23 at 5:42 am
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    Good message. You might also mention that scientists warned us about what would happen if a major hurricane hit New Orleans. Can Louisiana afford to ignore good science?

  • 2008/06/24 at 3:05 pm
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    For what it’s worth, sent last week:

    Dear Governor Jindal:

    I am writing as a scientist and concerned citizen to urge you to veto Senate Bill 733, the so-called “Louisiana Science Education Act.”

    By promoting the use of “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” for an “open and objective discussion of scientific theories” including evolution, this bill opens the door for the use of non-scientific materials in science classrooms. For evidence of this, you need look no further than the celebratory reaction of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, home of the chief proponents of the intelligent design (ID) movement. As a Brown honors graduate with degrees in biology and public policy, you can certainly appreciate the fact that ID has failed to present a single piece of data in peer-reviewed scientific journals, let alone a body of research that would qualify as scientific theory, and that in the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in 2005, ID was shown to be a religious rather than a scientific view, the teaching of which in public school science classrooms would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

    Top scientific organizations in the United States, such as the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have repudiated ID as a form of creationism. Prominent conservatives such as George F. Will, Charles Krauthammer, and John Derbyshire have been vocal opponents of ID. The Roman Catholic Church and mainline Protestant denominations have long since reconciled evolutionary biology and religion.

    Dinesh D’Souza summed it up nicely:

    “ID advocates have sought to convince courts to require that their work be taught alongside Darwinian evolution, yet such efforts have been resoundingly defeated. Why has the ID legal strategy proven to be such a failure, even at the hands of conservative judges? Imagine that a group of advocates challenged Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity. Let’s say that this group, made up of a law professor, a couple of physicists, several journalists, as well as some divinity school graduates, flatly denies Einstein’s proposition that e=mc^2.

    How would a judge, who is not a physicist, resolve the group’s demand for inclusion in the physics classroom? He would summon a wide cross-section of leading physicists. They would inform him that despite unresolved debates about relativity–for example, its unexplained relationship to quantum theory–Einstein’s theories are supported by a wide body of data. They enjoy near-unanimous support in the physics community worldwide. There is no alternative scientific theory that comes close to explaining the facts at hand. In such a situation any judge would promptly show the dissenters the door and deny their demand for equal time in the classroom. This is precisely the predicament of the ID movement.”
    http://www.townhall.com/Columnists/DineshDSouza/2008/04/07/the_failure_of_intelligent_design

    I cannot implore you strongly enough to consider the quality of education of the schoolchildren of your state. Their curriculum should reflect a standard of excellence, not to be watered down by pseudoscience through government fiat. The academic future of Louisiana’s children is at stake, and the nation –- indeed, the world — watches in anticipation.

    Very sincerely yours,

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