Here in Michigan, as in some other states, legislation called the “Academic Freedom Law” has been introduced into both the state House of Representatives and the Senate. Please take a moment and read the bill Its short and mostly free from legal- speak. (its the same in both the Michigan House and Senate. You will need to scroll down to “Senate Introduced Bill” and click on either text or pdf.)
In brief, the bill says “… educational authorities also shall endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum in instances where that curriculum addresses scientific controversies.” The educational authorities “shall allow” and “shall not prohibit” teachers “from helping a pupil to understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.”
At first glance, who wouldn’t want “to help students develop (the) critical thinking skills they need in order to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens”? But it behoves us to use our critical thinking skills as we consider this legislation. Personally, I have a couple of questions about this bill.
Why do we need this legislation? If this Grand Rapids Press article is correct, the Michigan Education Association says there is no problem. I don’t know about your state, but here in Michigan our legislators have plenty of real issues to consider. Do we really need legislation that addresses non existent problems?
Why does this bill only address the science curriculum? If academic freedom is important in the teaching of science, isn’t it also important for other subjects? Don’t the teachers of other academic subjects warrant the same protection? Or does this proposed legislation have another purpose?
Well, dear readers, I’m afraid this legislation does have another agenda. Here are press releases from the Baptist Press and the Discovery Institute about the legislation. The Discovery Institute is getting more and more clever about how they phrase their public statements, but as their own web page says, the furtherance of Intelligent Design is one of their goals.
I’m not interested in wading into the ID/Evolution/Creationism debate today- maybe another time. Let’s set the discussion about the merits of ID as science aside, as well as discussion about whether any “controversy” concerning evolution actually exists . Today I want to raise some ethical concerns I have.
What logically is the outcome if students are told that there are “challenges” and “evidence against” evolution? Won’t students ask what the evidence is? Won’t they ask what the alternative theories are? Of course they will. What are the teachers supposed to say? What theory claims to challenge evolution? The fact that the bills don’t mention ID is disingenuous. Even if ID is not mandated by the bill, this bill effectively gets ID into the classroom. Why else would one want to challenge the Theory of Evolution if not to propose an alternative? The claim by the Discovery Institute and its supporters that they are only advocating for more extensive teaching about evolution and not for teaching about Intelligent Design just isn’t credible.
The Discovery Institute is very careful not to align itself with any particular religious group. But you and I both know the most ardent proponents of ID in your hometown and mine are Christians of a particular theological belief. And that’s fine, they are entitled to their belief.
However, I think ethically this approach is, well, unethical . It’s deceptive. It’s a classic example of the sin of omission. Really, it’s just sneaky. And as a Christian, I am saddened and offended. What we say matters. How we do things matters. How we conduct ourselves in public discussions is important. As Christians, I think we are called to do and be better than this.
I’d like to know, what do you think?