The last day of the legislative session is here. Will the deceptively named “academic freedom” bills experience a miracle and gain passage? Or will they fizzle and die? Keep an eye on the Senate bill page throughout the day.
While you’re waiting for the end result, read this article in the Wall Street Journal about this latest evolution in the anti-evolution movement that we are experiencing up close and personal here in Florida.
A handful of states have considered such bills in recent years, but backers are now organizing a national movement, with high-profile help from actor Ben Stein. His new documentary, “Expelled,” argues that educators suffer reprisals if they dare question evolution; in an attempt to spur action, he has held private screenings for legislators, including a recent showing in the Missouri statehouse.
The common goal: To expose more students to articles and videos that undercut evolution. Most of this material is produced by advocates of intelligent design or Biblical creationism, the belief that God created man in his present form.
Both houses of the Florida legislature passed academic freedom bills this month, but it is unclear whether backers can reconcile the two versions before the spring session closes Friday. If not, they will have to try again next year. Prospects may be better in Louisiana, where the state Senate this week unanimously approved a bill ensuring that teachers can go beyond the biology textbook to raise criticisms of evolution. Similar bills have just been introduced in Alabama and Michigan and this week passed through a house committee in Missouri.
The bills typically restrict lessons to “scientific” criticism of evolution, or require that critiques be presented “in an objective manner,” or approved by a local school board.
Evolution’s defenders respond that there are no credible scientific critiques of evolution, any more than there are credible alternatives to the theory of gravity. The fossil record, DNA analysis and observations of natural selection confirm Darwin’s hypothesis that all life on Earth evolved from a common ancestor over four billion years.
In the scientific community, while there may be debate about the details, the grand sweep of evolution is unassailable. “There’s no controversy,” said Jay Labov, a senior adviser for education and communication with the National Academy of Sciences.
Doug Cowan, a public-school biology teacher, said his colleagues are often afraid to speak out.
Mr. Cowan said he tells students: “I’m going to give you the evidence for evolution and the evidence against, and let you decide.” For instance, he’ll mention Darwin’s observation that finches evolve different-shaped beaks to suit different ecosystems. Then he’ll add that you don’t see a finch changing into another species.
Asked what evidence he presents to bolster evolution, Mr. Cowan paused. “I don’t have any,” he said.
Mr. Cowan’s principal said that teachers are not supposed to veer from the approved textbooks. That’s why Mr. Cowan would like a legal guarantee he can teach as he sees fit.
“This is America,” Mr. Cowan said. “My gosh. Why walk on eggshells?”