Bills would give teachers freedom teaching evolution

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ben Stein's movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" has been out for a few weeks but is already apparently having a significant impact in the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Legislatures in three states—Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri—are considering academic freedom bills that would give teachers greater protection and freedom in teaching the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution. Passage of any of the bills would be a first for any state, according to officials at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that supports the bills. Similar bills in Alabama and Florida died this month, although the ones in the other states, particularly Louisiana, seem to stand a better chance.

"There has definitely been a raising of consciousness among people that there is a problem of censoring scientific information that challenges evolution," the Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin told Baptist Press. "I think Expelled definitely has played a role. However, this isn't something that is brand-new.... I just think that the message is really getting out right now and the consciousness of our nation is really being raised to the fact that this is a very big problem."

The bills do not mention Intelligent Design, a theory promoted by the Discovery Institute and one that is at the heart of "Expelled." Intelligent Design teaches that certain features of the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause, and not by an undirected process such as natural selection. In the documentary, Stein interviews supporters of Intelligent Design who say they have been shunned or fired—that is, "expelled"—for their beliefs.

In fact, Luskin said, the language of the bills in Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri does not even allow for ID to be taught. Nevertheless, he said, the bills would be a significant step forward.

"I work with teachers all around the country, and I get contacted by teachers who are being shut down by an administration because they want to simply mention scientific critiques of evolution, and in many cases these teachers have to go and retain legal counsel just to get the right to do this," he said. "These legislative measures will give teachers the kind of protection they need so they can talk about both the scientific evidence for and against evolution without having to fear for losing their jobs."

The National Center for Science Education, an organization that, according to its Web site, "defends the teaching of evolution in public schools," opposes all three bills.


Pros and cons
The Louisiana bill, SB 733—which passed the state Senate 35-0 April 28 and now is in a House committee—says the state board of education "shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators" to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review scientific theories being studied," including "evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." A teacher would be allowed to "use supplemental textbooks" in addition to the textbooks in use. In addition, the bill says it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine."

The Michigan bill, HB 6027, was introduced in the state House April 30 and currently is before the education committee. It would allow teachers to help students "understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories."

The Missouri bill, HB 2554, passed a House committee April 30. It would permit teachers to teach about the "strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution."

"The language in those bills pertains to only teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution," Luskin said. "That language does not even cover the teaching of alternatives like Intelligent Design."


Pushing science
Contrary to what some might assume, the Discovery Institute does not support the mandated teaching of Intelligent Design in classrooms, Luskin said.

"Our position is that when Intelligent Design gets pushed into the classroom, it tends to politicize the debate over Intelligent Design, and we want Intelligent Design to be able to progress as a science, and not become a political hot potato," he said. "So our position is simply that teachers should be required to teach the evidence for and against evolution."

"Expelled" is No. 12 on the list of top-grossing documentaries of all-time, according to a list at BoxOfficeMojo.com. It has made $7.2 million and needs to make roughly $600,000 more to crack the Top 10.