The WSJ reports that anti-evolution forces have adopted a new stealth strategy to undermine the teaching of evolution in public school science classes: "academic freedom." The story reports on "academic freedom" legislation that would protect high school science teachers who challenge evolutionary theory in their classes.
The academic-freedom bills now in circulation vary in detail. Some require teachers to critique evolution. Others let educators choose their approach -- but guarantee they won't be disciplined should they decide to build a case against Darwin.
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. . . .
Those promoting the new bills emphasize that academic freedom doesn't mean biology teachers can read aloud from the Book of Genesis. "This doesn't bring religion into the classroom," said Florida state Rep. D. Alan Hays, a Republican.
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.
Unlike some critics of "Intelligent Design" and other creationist theories, I am not convinced that teaching alternatives to evolution necessarily violates the Establishment Clause. That said, these bills make for horrible public policy, as there is nothing scientific about these "alternatives" to evolution. Encouraging attacks on evolution in high school science classes promotes academic fraud not "academic freedom." If school boards or state legislatures want public school students to be exposed to competing theories about the origins of life -- a question evolutionary theory does not address -- they should do it in a world religion or social studies class and leave science alone.