Home » academic freedom, Intelligent Design » On Tennessee’s Academic Freedom Bill – The Endgame, Part 1

On Tennessee’s Academic Freedom Bill – The Endgame, Part 1

By now, news of Tennessee’s Academic Freedom Bill has made the rounds. There’s been all kinds of analysis about it, harsh criticisms as well as defense. But as near as I can tell, just about everyone has missed what this bill has truly accomplished. Call it a cheap tactic, call it a trojan horse. Me? I call it brilliant.

Instead of just plain telling you why this bill is brilliant, however, I’m going to let you guys at Uncommon Descent guess. What makes this bill such a remarkable thing? Why is it a masterstroke? I want all of you that care to, to guess.

By the way, to help with that, I’m going to do something most critics seem pretty loathe to do: give you a direct link to the bill itself so you can read it. Go ahead, it’s not even two pages long. Pretty easygoing as far as legislation is concerned. And whenever you’re discussing this bill, I encourage linking to it so the people in the conversation can read it firsthand.

I’ll even throw in a few hints to help you guess at the brilliance of this bill.

* I’m granting the assumption, purely for the purposes of discussion, that this bill was crafted by creationist, intelligent design proponents, and – just for the hell of it – the ghosts of Francis Crick and Fred Hoyle.
* I am likewise granting, again for the sake of argument, that the goal of this legislation was to further the creationist, evolution-denying, evil right-wing cause. Sure, ID doesn’t require a denial of evolution or even common descent. Sure, even YECs accept various types of evolution. But I’ll just go ahead and agree that the goal of this bill, and the effect that it will have, will be to make people a lot more skeptical of the hot button mainstream science topics – global warming and Darwinian evolution in particular.
* It doesn’t accomplish this by teaching creationism. Indeed, the bill prohibits that: “This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.” So, that would be a bad guess.
* It doesn’t accomplish this by teaching Intelligent Design either. Remember, Judge Jones made his ruling on that so – right or wrong, for better or for worse – that’s out too.
* It doesn’t accomplish this by teaching evolution skepticism or the denial of whatever aspect of global warming as fact either. Indeed, the bill stresses that insofar as science is taught, it should be done so fairly: “[...]school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.” So, if global warming or evolution are discussed, the strengths and weaknesses have to be understood, analyzed, critiqued and reviewed in an objective manner.

But still, this bill is crafted – beautifully, brilliantly crafted – to encourage skepticism of evolution, common descent and global warming, in my opinion. And just to make anyone’s guesses more interesting, I’ll throw out this last hint.

* The way it will achieve this will actually have little to do with what’s taught in any classes at all.

I’ll post the answer – at least, the answer as I see it – probably later today or tomorrow. Until then, I look forward to seeing if any guesses are made.

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21 Responses to On Tennessee’s Academic Freedom Bill – The Endgame, Part 1

  1. “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.”

    Respectfully is the key word!

  2. 2
  3. “to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens;”

    I agree that it’s brilliant; but what makes it so – even given that creationists or ID advocates had their hand in it; is that it does not allow any inroads for detractors to label it as a door for creationism in the schools. They may lie that it does, but there’s no language in the bill to suggest that it does. It in fact, encourages good scientific thinking and that’s all. If there are objections to such things, such objections cannot be towards the language of the bill itself, but towards those who crafted the bill; and that in itself would produce an effect opposite to the effect desired. In fact, there will be a number of honest Darwinists who will find no objections to the bill itself, based on the wording.

    The only part of the wording that Darwinists might find problematic (and probably do) is that it mentions evolution as a controversial topic in the same way that global warming and human cloning are controversial. Darwinists will for obvious reasons, interpret this as a creationist objection to evolution. But “evolution” is not defined here as Darwinism; simply evolution (which creationists as well as ID proponents accept). As such, it is accurate without singling anyone out, that “evolution” is controversial. There are a number of differing views on evolution even among Darwinists. Furthermore, the Darwinists will object because as they are now realizing, human generated global warming is not a theory set in stone – there are more supporters of global warming changing sides now than there ever was. It would be appalling to a Darwinist that Darwinian evolution be lumped together with global warming and human cloning to be singled out as controversial. But then again, Darwinian evolution is not singled out. There can thus be no reasonable objections to the wording of the bill.

  4. “The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy;”

    One more observation concerning the wording of the bill: The key words and phrases here are “but not limited to” and “can.”

    This is very carefully worded such that any scientific theory “can” cause controversy, and it’s not limited to just those named above. This is quite an accurate depiction of the nature of scientific theories. They aren’t immediately and overwhelmingly accepted. This wording allows for actual thinking, rather than simple indoctrination.

    Thus, the discussion of this bill among detractors is currently not about the bill itself, but about those assumed to be its crafters. That’s as far as the discussion can and will go. It’s all motive mongering with no real discussion about the bill itself. Given that reality, the crafters clearly knew what they were doing.

  5. Facts are not considered controversial and many topics, such as Darwinian evolution and anthropogenic global warming have been taught as fact for years. Simply framing “some scientific subjects” as controversial is a reminder that many of those things are simply theories (at best).

  6. Barry,

    If you guess the right answer, it will be 6 Guinness’s on me. :)

  7. 7
    material.infantacy

    The bill is entirely non-controversial. It states that which should already be the case in public education — that which is presumed to be the case by the general public. It was crafted in advance with language to refute the claims made against it, that it promotes religion; and within that language, seeks to protect both religious and non-religious viewpoints.

  8. 8

    CY, my guess is that nullasalus believes it is brilliant because it forces the other side’s hand and in doing so exposes their fascist tactics and hypocrisy for all the world to see.

  9. nullasalus finds the bill “brilliant” for the mere fact that it exists.

    IOW the mere exisitence of this bill is brilliant.

  10. Barry,

    I think you may be right. It forces them to appear anti-science, which is the opposite of what they desire to project.

  11. CY, my guess is that nullasalus believes it is brilliant because it forces the other side’s hand and in doing so exposes their fascist tactics and hypocrisy for all the world to see.

    Well, I’m impressed. Here I was thinking I was too vague with the hints. :)

    Guess I’ll write the update post.

  12. Barry,

    How do you want your 6 pack sent?

  13. The direct link to the Bill no longer works.

  14. Gregory,

    Working for me. But to help out I’ll paste the full text here:

    BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
    SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, is amended by adding the following as a new, appropriately designated section:
    (a) The general assembly finds that:
    (1) An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens;
    (2) The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy; and
    (3) Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.
    (b) The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.
    (c) The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.
    (d) Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.
    (e) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.
    SECTION 2. By no later than the start of the 2011-2012 school term, the department of education shall notify all directors of schools of the provisions of this act. Each director shall notify all employees within the director’s school system of the provisions of this act.
    SECTION 3. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

    There you go.

  15. “This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.”

    … the very principle that UDers stress as being of primordial importance to their goals. Never mind that a sane person would conclude that only an omniscient and omnipotent god could overwhelm us with the wonder of such a creation.

    I thought these words, listed under the word, ‘doctrinaire’, in Collins Thesaurus, all contributed a telling brush-stroke to a depiction of the evolutionist.

    adjective
    1. dogmatic, rigid, fanatical, inflexible forty-five years of doctrinaire Stalinism
    2. impractical, theoretical, speculative, ideological, unrealistic, hypothetical, unpragmatic It is a doctrinaire scheme.

  16. Thanks nullasalus.

    Seems fair for what it is. I wouldn’t call it ‘brilliant.’ But it serves to address questions of “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

    The only change I’d make would be to add, “to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses [normal science] and [also] scientific controversies.” The way it is phrased, with ‘controversy’ twice included and ‘normal’ or ‘mainstream’ (for the Kuhn-educated US PoS landscape) not included, suggests or could suggest that all sciences are mainly about controversy, strengths vs. weaknesses, etc.

    The goal is to challenge students in their scientific imaginations, not to turn them into activitists for controversies of a political kind.

  17. Gregory,

    I wouldn’t call it ‘brilliant.’ But it serves to address questions of “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

    Well, as I said, the bill itself is remarkably tame. It’s the reaction that’s golden.

    The goal is to challenge students in their scientific imaginations, not to turn them into activitists for controversies of a political kind.

    Ideally, yes. The ‘strengths and weaknesses’ and ‘objective evaluation’ should apply all over the place. Being knowledgeable about science shouldn’t cash out to, NCSE style, “saying you agree with such-and-such theory”.

  18. “It’s the reaction that’s golden.” – nullasalus

    Only if one values reactionism.

    Being on the cutting edge is worth more, imo, than reactionary backwardness. This includes reactionism to YEC, US ‘naturalism’ education court cases, and ‘cdesign proponentsists’. Everyone has their own personal history of perspectives to bear.

    Again, you will admit from reading the text, ‘mainstream,’ ‘normal’ and ‘consensus’ science are missing from the Bill (Kuhn would not be pleased), while ‘controversy’ is highlighted twice. Of course, you can be a consensus/mainstream-opponent to either biological evolution or (neo-)Darwinian evolution if you choose. This does not disqualify that ‘biological evolution’ is still accepted even by ‘most’ IDers (Behe, Denton, Dembski), except if the topic is ‘(neo-)Darwinian variety.’

    NOTICE: Charles Robert Darwin’s name is not mentioned in the Bill.

    The NCSE is simply no match for anti-evolutionism delivered in human-social sciences. In that realm, it is possible to speak straighter than the IDM has thus far with its predominant emphasis on the ‘natural’ realm, e.g. biology.

    Was it ‘natural’ that this Tennessee Bill would emerge?

  19. Gregory,

    Only if one values reactionism.

    Insofar as it’s a very reasonable reaction to a negative and popular attitude, yes, I value it.

    Being on the cutting edge is worth more, imo, than reactionary backwardness.

    It’s not a binary choice. Nor is this bill “backward” in any way.

    The NCSE is simply no match for anti-evolutionism delivered in human-social sciences.

    I challenge you to have a conversation in a single thread where you do not work in references to the human-social sciences. I understand it’s something you care about, but when every single topic you discuss turns into “We should be talking about the human-social sciences!”, it just gets predictable.

    Not this time, and not this thread.

  20. “a very reasonable reaction” – nullasalus

    Surely you understand the difference between ‘proactive’ and ‘reactive’?

    It’s not that the Bill is ‘backward,’ but that it speaks not of ‘normal,’ ‘consensus’ or ‘mainstream’ natural science. Could you please confirm or deny this? You are free to point out where I’ve misread the document by showing if any of these 3 terms is actually present. Are they present or absent, nullasalus?

    Personally, I don’t judge the fruits of my research and educated ideas by the “negative and popular attitude” that seems to define your USAmerican dialogue.

    Re: your cartoon reference, btw, I do love MMA (and did cheer for J. Jones in the recent battle)! ; )

    Yet who are you nullasalus, who do you represent, what sphere(s) of the academy; Catholic ‘natural science’ or ‘undefined’ lay person status? I make no excuse for being a social scientist; it’s not only what I ‘care’ about, it’s what I do, professionally. And humanities/social sciences are without a doubt the weakest sphere in IDT. Yet you seemingly want to mock and provoke me rather than encouraging. Why is that, Catholic friend?

    I like Tennessee; a pretty country/state.

  21. It’s not that the Bill is ‘backward,’ but that it speaks not of ‘normal,’ ‘consensus’ or ‘mainstream’ natural science. Could you please confirm or deny this?

    You’re the one who threw out “backward”, not me. As for “normal”, “consensus” or “mainstream”, no. It says “scientific questions” and “scientific theories”, period.

    As well it should.

    Personally, I don’t judge the fruits of my research and educated ideas by the “negative and popular attitude” that seems to define your USAmerican dialogue.

    I care about public perception and public attitudes vastly more than the fruits of your particular research and ideas.

    Yet who are you nullasalus, who do you represent, what sphere(s) of the academy; Catholic ‘natural science’ or ‘undefined’ lay person status?

    Undefined lay person, thank you. I have little care for “the academy”, or in “representing” anyone or anything other than myself and what I think I understand.

    Yet you seemingly want to mock and provoke me rather than encouraging. Why is that, Catholic friend?

    Because you’re a broken record, my Anglican/Orthodox friend? Because it is all you talk about, in any thread, constantly, ad nauseum? Because to each and every problem or topic that’s ever discussed, there you are saying “But what about the human-social sciences!”? Or you lashing out with a mix of passive aggression and active aggression in an obvious bid to draw attention to said topic, or annoy people for not paying said attention?

    Yes, you’re in the human-social sciences and you wish people would take them more seriously and you think they have an important contribution to me. We get it! For God’s sake, do we get it. Must we hear it in every thread? Must we hear about how the human-social sciences have something important to contribute here, which you rarely see fit to actually tell us about as opposed to just insisting that said contribution is there and we’re all bad people for ignoring it?

    I’m not interested in mocking and provoking you. I simply told you, bluntly, this isn’t the thread for Gregory’s Grandstanding about The Social Sciences. And you certainly don’t need my encouragement because – again – you do not shut up about this.

    But you know what? My point in this thread was made, clearly. The topic is as settled as it can be with regards to this bill.

    So finally, for once Gregory, will you please tell us what the human-social sciences can contribute here? Will you get it off your chest and tell us all the great and glorious secrets of your noble profession you have to share with us on this topic? Here I am, taking the human-social sciences seriously.

    Enlighten me.

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