Editorial: Intelligent Design Bill in Missouri

Last year, a Missouri State Representative, Rick Brattin (R-District 55), sponsored a bill that would have damaged science education in Missouri by attacking Evolution. Brattin received a firestorm of negative attention (he even took down his Facebook page in reaction), and the bill died in committee.

Unfortunately, he is trying again.

House Bill 291 would demand that Missouri science teachers give equal treatment to both Evolution and Intelligent Design. This is akin to a mandate that teachers give alchemy as much time as chemistry or geocentrism as much time as astronomy. It’s madness.

Below is a message I posted on Rep. Brattin’s Facebook wall last year before he deleted it. I’m reprinting it here, and I will be emailing it to Rep. Brattin, his co-sponsors, and my State Reprentative:

Intelligent Design was proposed a few years ago as an alternative to Evolution after the Supreme Court ruled that Creationism couldn’t be taught. It’s essentially a way to insert Creationism under another label into public school curricula. This was demonstrated conclusively in a big court case in Pennsylvania a few years ago: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/cdesign-proponentsists

That ID is rebranded Creationism wouldn’t inherently be a problem for public school science education if ID presented any ideas that held up to scientific scrutiny. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. ID proponents have had more than a dozen years to demonstrate that their ideas have more predictive and explanatory power than Evolutionary Theory does, but they’ve never been successful. The closest they’ve come are with notions of “Irreducible Complexity” and “Specific Complexity”. Unfortunately for them, every example they’ve ever presented as an example of IC or SC has then been shown to be explainable through existing Evolutionary processes.

Further, IC and SC boil down to the idea that hard problems are hard, so we should stop trying to find answers to them. Instead of being an advancement of science, ID represents an end to scientific inquiry.

I care about science education, so this sort of interference rankles me. As an analogy, it would be the same as proposing giving 9th graders equal access to astrology and astronomy and expecting them to be able to figure out which is more likely to be true. Or asking 7th graders to be able to tell the difference between chemistry and alchemy when their teachers aren’t allowed to tell them which has evidence behind it. Or teaching 10th graders that the Holocaust might or might not have happened (and it’s just not fair to give evidence one way or the other).

Even with the failures of ID proponents to this point, that’s not to say they shouldn’t be able to continue trying. They should definitely keep trying. However, what they shouldn’t do is subvert the educational process by attempting to inject a failed hypothesis into science education.

The academic process is to test the frontiers of knowledge and develop and test new ideas in the post-graduate and professional ranks. When ideas have been demonstrated to be reliable, then they are taught to the lower levels of college and eventually to public schools.

This bill (and others like it) is an attempt to skip the line – to give a failed notion equal billing with a theory that has been tested and validated for 150 years and not give unsuspecting students the tools to tell the difference.

It’s not fair to science, and it’s not fair to the students.

Sadly, though, this isn’t even the only anti-evolution bill in the Missouri legislature this year. One of the co-sponsors for HB 291 sponsored House Bill 179, which isn’t as assertive as HB 291, but still is bad. HB 179 would allow any teacher to lie about Evolution, introducing any weakness that is imagined by the Creationist community, with immunity from correction. There’s no other area where we have a law that says “No administrator shall prohibit a teacher from helping students understand the weaknesses of gravity”. Or of germ theory. Or…

If you live in Missouri and care about science, education, and our children’s future, please send something like what I wrote this to your Representative to combat these two bad bills.

Statements in this review do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.