A lawmaker in Texas has introduced a controversial anti-discrimination bill, but it has nothing to do with race or sexual orientation. Republican state Rep. Bill Zedler wants to block higher education institutions from penalizing teachers or students who doubt the theory of evolution, and force the colleges instead to conduct research on intelligent design, the idea, much maligned in the scientific community, that life on Earth is so complex that it must have been guided by God or some other higher power. Here, a brief guide to the issue:
Why would such a law be necessary?
Most scientists tend to dismiss intelligent design as thinly veiled creationism. That makes it a career killer in academia, so professors who support the theory are afraid to say so, Zedler says. "We can have the academic freedom to have all kinds of ideas and philosophies," he says, as quoted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "but, lo and behold, even mention intelligent design and there are people that want to run you out of town on a rail."
What do critics say?
That this bill is about protecting people who want to inject religious beliefs — in this case, the biblical story of creation — into public education. "It's kind of a broad and cynical strategy to undermine sound science at a time when our state and nation's economy depends on science to thrive," says Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group.
Is this strictly a Texas thing?
Not by a long shot. The alleged persecution of academics who support intelligent design research was publicized in a 2008 documentary narrated by Ben Stein, called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Bills have also been introduced in Florida and Tennessee this year, calling for a "critical" analysis of evolution, pointing out that not everything in the fossil record can be explained by the theory. A recent study by Penn State researchers found that only 28 percent of public school biology teachers teach evolution "unabashedly," while 18 percent openly advocated creationism or intelligent design. The "cautious 60 percent" avoid taking a stand.
Liberals must really be having a field day with this, yes?
Indeed. Texas has no protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sex or gender — that might hurt business — but it has leaders who want to protect creationists, says P.Z. Myers at Science Blogs. Indeed, says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway, forcing colleges to hire biology or geology professors who reject "the very fundamental principles of the science they would be teaching is a silly idea."
Sources: Mother Jones, Star-Telegram, Science Blogs, Outside the Beltway, Religion Dispatches
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