Intelligent Design Debated in Louisiana

Most people would probably be baffled by the policy adopted by the Ouachita Parish School Board in north-eastern Louisiana on November 29, which states that science teachers have the “academic freedom to teach scientific evidence” (sic.) in science classes.

On close examination, the policy does not explain why science teachers need to be assured of their freedom to teach science and present scientific evidence in science class. Isn’t that what science teachers do? In fact, isn’t that the only thing they should be doing in science class? Why would any parish need this policy? The real agenda is only revealed in the policy’s sub-text, which allows the religious theory of ‘intelligent design’ to be taught as scientific theory in science classes.

Intelligent design proposes that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.” It is promoted as a scientific theory that legitimately challenges existing scientific theories on evolution and the origins of life. However, the scientific community roundly rejects intelligent design as unscientific, as pseudoscience or as junk science. The US National Academy of Sciences has stated that intelligent design is not science because it cannot be tested by experiment, does not generate any predictions, and proposes no new hypotheses of its own. Meanwhile, no scientific studies on intelligent design theory have ever been published in any peer-reviewed academic scientific journal.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a leading proponent of intelligent design, praised the Ouachita Parish School Board for “adopting a policy protecting teachers who teach evolution objectively”. The Institute’s ‘wedge strategy’ includes a social, political, and academic agenda that works to “defeat the materialist world view” represented by the theory of evolution, and replace this science with “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” that “affirms the reality of God”.

The web site of the Discovery Institute introduces the organization as a non-partisan public policy think tank that concerns itself with technology, science, culture, economics and foreign affairs. Yet it clearly has a strong affiliation with the Religious Right, constantly promoting the ‘authority’ of an amendment proposed by Senator Rick Santorum (R-Penn, defeated Nov 7) which was excluded from the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, but was noted as explanatory text (after much campaigning and modification) in a Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference.

Despite the amendment’s lacking any weight of law, the obscure and unofficial Santorum Amendment is cited by the Discovery Institute and other proponents of intelligent design as providing federal sanction for teaching intelligent design in US public schools and portraying evolution is a “theory in crisis”. In lockstep with this strategy, the Ouachita School Board’s resolution deceptively claims that the Santorum Amendment was “declared” by the US Congress in 2001. Notably, it also quotes the amendment while entirely omitting the first sentence which clearly opposes the teaching of “religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science”:

“The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”

Last year, in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, a US federal court found that a public school district requirement for science classes to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. US District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is not science and is essentially religious in nature.When asked about the legality of the Ouachita School Board’s new policy, Meg Casper of the Louisiana Department of Education told Monroe’s News Star that “local policies do not need state approval.”

It is perhaps not surprising that the proponents of intelligent design and the policies they influence are presented in ways that distance them from their Christian fundamentalist agenda. Contrary to the founding principles of US democracy, the Religious Right seems determined to erode the separation of Church and State, replace science with religion, and forge a culture in the US that accepts public policies dominated by a religious agenda.

References:

Ouachita School Board’s “Resolution on Teacher Academic Freedom to Teach Scientific Evidence (sic.) Regarding Controversial Scientific Subjects”: http://www.thenewsstar.com/assets/pdf/DI514301129.PDF

Discovery Institute’s ‘wedge strategy’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_strategy

Wikipedia’s entry on ‘intelligent design’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Ric
    Jul 18, 2009 @ 00:41:33

    Of course they could be right down there in Louisiana. There’s no evidence of evolution among the primates there. Rule of thumb: the more Bible, the less intelligence.

    Reply

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