Last year, the Louisiana State Government passed a law (see here and here) that would “encourage critical thinking” in the science classroom. Promoted by the Louisiana Family Forum (known for advancing religious causes in state government) and the Discovery Institute (known for their sham theory, Intelligent Design, which has been called “creationism warmed over”), this so-called Academic Freedom law is seen as an attempt to allow the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to the theory of evolution, thereby allowing creationism back into the public schools, separation of church and state be damned.
Despite much dissent, the Louisiana Science Education Act was passed into law. The law calls for the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to “create and foster an environment…that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied…”. Sounds like something everyone can agree on, right? But what was the problem that sparked this requirement in the first place? What great conflict existed in the Louisiana schools that demanded nothing less than a state law be passed to soothe the aggrieved? Within the schools, there was none. However, the theory of evolution is in direct conflict with fundamentalist teachings of the bible and the tentacles of religion, extending from the church, sought to reach back into the classroom to regain some stronghold over young minds. In Louisiana, they found weakened minds and impassioned hearts that made for a relatively easy victory.
So where do we stand today? The law further goes on to say
A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board unless otherwise prohibited by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.A BESE committee is meeting today to consider a new proposal which effectively preempts the teaching of intelligent design in schools (this would be the “unless otherwise prohibited” provision of the law). Here’s a Times-Picayune take on the proposal:
The law includes a clause stating that the intent is neither to promote nor discriminate against any religious doctrine.Essentially, the proposal is a deflector shield against religion and intelligent design, and the Discovery Institute is none to happy. From the same article,
The proposed BESE rules essentially repeat that language, including the statement that "materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes."
That goes further than the Legislature intended, according to John West of the Discovery Institute, which publishes materials that discuss "strengths and weaknesses" of Darwinian theory. "The bill was silent on intelligent design," West said.Similarly, the Louisiana Science Coalition, the defenders of science education in Louisiana, are displeased at what’s been stricken from the proposal:
Barbara Forrest of the Louisiana Science Coalition, meanwhile, is displeased that the latest draft does not include a line it featured in an earlier version: "Religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking."It will be interesting to see what comes out of the meeting. John West is wrong in objecting that the proposal “goes further than the Legislature intended”, unless he thinks that it discriminates against religion. But then he’d be admitting that intelligent design is religion.