New law raises creationism fears

Louisiana academics oppose Bill that could allow teaching of 'intelligent design'. John Gill reports

July 10, 2008

Academics have expressed anger over legislation passed in Louisiana that they fear will lead to creationism being taught alongside theories of evolution in public schools.

University lecturers joined school teachers in voicing their dismay after the Bill, which is backed by the Discovery Institute - an organisation that promotes the theory of "intelligent design" - was signed by the state's Republican Governor.

Bobby Jindal, a conservative Christian who is seen as a potential vice-presidential running mate for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, signed the legislation last week. It was passed by the Louisiana House of Representatives by a majority of 94 to three.

It states that authorities "shall allow open and objective discussion of scientific theories ... including evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning".

It also says that it "shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion", Reuters reported.

John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, said it was right that intelligent design - the theory that the complexity of life points to a grand creator - could now be offered in schools as an alternative to evolution. "This allows scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory to be taught," he said.

However, a group of academics opposed to the Bill, the Louisiana Coalition for Science, warned that the House of Representatives had "given the religious right a green light to use other people's children for their own agenda".

Founding member Barbara Forrest, professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, said: "Intelligent design was cooked up as a new name for the same old creationist arguments, and the strategy behind this Bill is no different."

She added that in a previous case, a judge in Pennsylvania had ruled that intelligent design was a form of creationism and that teaching it is an "unconstitutional entanglement of religion with the state".

Patsye Peebles, a high-school biology teacher from Baton Rouge, added: "This Bill doesn't solve any of the problems classroom teachers face and it will make it harder for us to keep the focus on accurate science in science classrooms.

"Evolution isn't scientifically controversial, and we don't need the legislature substituting its judgment for the scientists and science teachers who actually know the subject."

According to a national survey conducted last year, 45 per cent of adults in the US do not think evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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