Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Discovery Institute Weighs in on the Mississippi Academic Freedom Bill

On the website Evolution News and Views, Sarah Chaffee of the Discovery Institute attempts to distance the position of the DI from that of young earth creationists—a position I have not known them to take up to this point.  She writes:
In most states where academic freedom bills for science education are considered, it's the critics who are wrongly claiming that the bills would authorize the teaching of creationism.

But if media accounts from Mississippi are accurate, it appears that at least some legislators who support academic freedom legislation wrongly think it would permit creationism. The Mississippi legislature is currently considering HB 50, which was taken virtually verbatim from Discovery Institute's model academic freedom bill for science education. The language of the bill clearly does not authorize the teaching of creationism. It does not even authorize the teaching of intelligent design. Unfortunately, some of the bill's sponsors apparently think otherwise.

To clear up the confusion, Discovery Institute has sent a letter to the Mississippi House Education Committee explaining what the language of the bill would really do and asking the Committee either to drop the bill because of the inaccurate statements put out by some of its sponsors or to make clear that the legislature understands that the bill does not protect creationism.
This is a critical stance for the DI because, while they have always hidden behind the “academic freedom” legislation as being good for academics in general (when in fact, the central premise behind the vast majority of the academic freedom bills has been to bring creationism in through the back door) they have never explicitly endorsed young earth creationism, likely because they know that academically, it is a scientific non-starter and cannot be separated from a narrow, early 20th century misreading of the early chapters in Genesis.

The letter is produced in the post and has the stark admission that the current Mississippi bill was drafted used a model bill for academic freedom that came from the DI, itself.   There are problems with how evolution is presented in the letter, however.  The DI still seems focused on the role of mutation and natural selection, without considering all of the other ways in which evolution acts.  This is especially evident in their continued use of the partial Lynn Margulis quote in which she argues that mutations don't create new species.  Of course they don't.  But in combination with genetic drift, flow, selection and a host of other mechanisms, they provide one part of the puzzle to how new species form.

I will be curious to see how this bill fares, now that the mask is off regarding its proposal and also how this letter from the DI is received. 

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