Intelligent Design could slip into science class

Intelligent Design could slip into science class
Backers of Intelligent Design said the evolution-challenging theory could be taught
in science class under a new 'academic freedom' bill.

BY MARC CAPUTO - 2/13/2008 - Miami Herald - original
TALLAHASSEE -- The religiously tinged evolution-questioning theory of Intelligent Design could more easily be brought up in public-school science classrooms under a proposed "academic freedom" legislation being pushed by conservative lawmakers.

And it's not just the ACLU saying it anymore.

A leading voice for the Intelligent Design movement acknowledged as much Wednesday by saying that the theory constitutes "scientific information," which the bill expressly and repeatedly says teachers should present in questioning and criticizing evolution without fear of persecution.

The remarks by Casey Luskin, an attorney with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, were made during a press conference with actor-columnist-speechwriter-gameshow host Ben Stein, who's exhibiting a documentary in support of the legislation.

The bill was drafted after the state Board of Education voted last month to include repeated mention of evolution and natural selection in state science standards for the first time in state history. The bill expressly bans the teaching of religious theories -- which a federal court has ruled Intelligent Design is.

But the legislation also repeatedly tells instructors to teach the "full range" of "scientific information" about biological and chemical evolution.

So does Intelligent Design constitute scientific information?

"In my personal opinion, I think it does. But the intent of this bill is not to settle that question," said Luskin. 'The intent of this bill is... it protects the `teaching of scientific information.' It's not trying to inject itself into the debate over Intelligent Design."

Luskin said the institute, which advocates Intelligent Design, doesn't want it "mandated" in schools.

Church-state separatists say religious groups are trying to use the bill as a Trojan horse to introduce religion in science classrooms.

"The Intelligent Design movement has embraced this political strategy to sneak its religious views into the science classroom, and that's what you're seeing now in Florida," said Howard Simon, a Florida director for the ACLU, which filed the Dover case.

"The strategy is this: Let's call Intelligent Design scientific information, and let's make sure that teachers can teach that scientific information," Simon said, adding that his organization would sue if the bill became law and teachers began proselytizing in class.

The Discovery Institute vigorously denies that Intelligent Design is a religious theory and says the definition of the theory holds that life shows such patterns of design that it's the result of an intelligent cause, rather than natural selection.

What's that "intelligent cause?" The institute's top scientists say God, but they say that's not part of the theory.

Based on that belief, days of grueling testimony and something called the Discovery Institute "Wedge" document outlining a strategy to make science more "consonant with Christian and theistic convictions," a federal judge in a Dover, Penn., case ruled in 2005 that Intelligent Design was too close to creationism for the science classroom.

Teachers can mention Intelligent Design or biblical creationism now, as long as it's not in the science classroom. In the science classroom, it's an open question as to whether teachers can mention these evolution alternatives.

Stein said his documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed shows that the academic freedom bill is needed.

"If there were complete freedom of speech, I don't think this bill would be necessary," he said. "There are plenty of people who ask what seem to be innocent, sensible questions about the flaws and gaps and lacunae in Darwinism and they get severely punished for it."

Stein said he didn't think the bill was aimed at "protecting" Intelligent Design. One of the drafters of the legislation, John Stemberger, president of the evangelical Florida Family Policy Council, said Intelligent Design can't be taught, though "criticisms" of evolution could.

When asked who would decide what "scientific information" is, Stemberger said the teacher would have to follow the curriculum and only bring up "relevant" information about chemical and biological evolution. Stein said it was the teacher who would decide.

Republican state Sen. Ronda Storms of Brandon and Rep. Alan Hays of Umatilla say their bill's intent is not to teach alternate theories, but to ensure that teachers and students will have the ability to freely question and criticize evolution.

Indeed, natural selection is under active challenge from evolutionary-developmental biologists, who say multicellular organisms can dynamically change form under certain environmental conditions, producing major evolutionary jumps.

Simon and mainstream scientists with the National Academy of Sciences say that's science, and that Intelligent Design is not because it ultimately rests on untestable supernatural entities.

Luskin, the Discovery Institute lawyer, said that's an irony: "One of the funniest things in my opinion is that many of the people who are claiming Intelligent Design would be taught under this bill adamantly believe Intelligent Design is not science. So in their own view, the text of this bill would not protect the teaching of Intelligent Design."

Said Simon: "There is no constitutional right to mis-educate Florida students. If a science teacher is teaching serious science and is censored, that's an academic-freedom issue we would defend. But if they're having Sunday school in science class, that's a problem."