Discovery Institute Opposes Proposed PA Bill on Intelligent Design
June 22, 2005
SEATTLE--Discovery Institute has sent a letter to the Pennsylvania State Legislature opposing a proposed bill that would authorize school districts to require the teaching of intelligent design.
In a letter to Rep. Jess M. Stairs, Chair of Pennsylvania's House Education Committee, Discovery Institute officials stated that they "strongly oppose any effort by the government to mandate the teaching of intelligent design."
Instead, they urged the legislature to follow the example of states such as Ohio and Minnesota and encourage schools to teach students about scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory as well as the evidence favoring the theory. They also said legislators should protect the academic freedom of teachers and students to study all of the scientific evidence relating to Darwin's theory.
The letter was written by Dr. John West, Associate Director of the Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and attorney Seth Cooper, a Senior Program Analyst with the Institute.
Discovery Institute is the nation’s leading research organization that supports scientists and scholars who conduct research and writing on intelligent design. It has more than forty affiliated scientists, philosophers of science, and other scholars, including most of the principal academic proponents of the theory of intelligent design.
The full text of the letter is reprinted below:
June 22, 2005
The Honorable Jess M. Stairs
Chair, House Education Committee
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
East Wing Room 43A
Harrisburg, PA 17120-2020
We are writing to express the opposition of Discovery Institute to proposed House Bill No. 1007, which would authorize school districts in Pennsylvania to require teaching about the theory of intelligent design.
Discovery Institute is the nation's leading research organization that supports scientists and scholars who conduct research and writing on intelligent design. We have more than forty affiliated scientists, philosophers of science, and other scholars, including most of the principal academic proponents of the theory of intelligent design. We vigorously favor the right of scientists to do research and writing about intelligent design. We also favor the right of teachers and students to discuss voluntarily the scientific debate over design theory in a pedagogically appropriate manner. Finally, we favor a robust discussion in the scientific community, in academia, and in the public square about design theory.
Nevertheless, we strongly oppose any effort by the government to mandate the teaching of intelligent design.
Our opposition to mandating design theory is not because the theory is religious. It is not. Design theory is a scientific inference based on scientific evidence, not religious texts. The theory merely proposes that some features of the natural world are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause as opposed to an undirected process such as natural selection. In other words, design theory proposes that intelligent causes in nature are empirically detectable. Design theory is supported by reputable scholars in mainstream academic and scientific journals, scientific conference presentations, and academic and scientific books. (See enclosed bibliography of scientific and academic publications relating to intelligent design.) At the same time, intelligent design is a relatively new theory, and it is important to allow scientific discussion of the theory to proceed unhampered by political or legal disputes. In our judgment, attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively. We therefore do not think it is appropriate to mandate the theory of intelligent design in public schools.
Instead of authorizing school districts to mandate the teaching of design, we encourage you to make clear to teachers and school districts that they have the right to inform students about scientific criticisms of Darwinian theory as well as the evidence supporting Darwinian theory. This is the approach adopted recently in the science standards of Ohio, Minnesota, and New Mexico. Good science education should foster critical thinking abilities. Yet in many school districts students receive a highly selective and dogmatic presentation of the scientific evidence supporting evolutionary theory. Students typically learn nothing about scientific criticisms of and disputes over key aspects of modern Darwinian theory, even though these criticisms and disputes are well-attested in the mainstream scientific literature. (See enclosed summary of these scientific debates with citations to the relevant scientific literature.) Presenting students with all of the scientific evidence relating to Darwinian theory is good science education and is a common-ground approach that all reasonable people ought to be able to support.
You may also wish to defend the academic freedom of teachers and students to study all of the relevant scientific information relating to evolution. In many states teachers, students, and even college professors have faced intimidation and retaliation when they attempt to discuss scientific criticisms pertaining to evolution. This assault on academic freedom is antithetical to our traditions as a free society and to the progress of science itself, which depends on robust debate and critical inquiry. It is entirely appropriate for the government to ensure that teachers and students have the right to freely discuss the scientific debates over evolution in an appropriate manner. (See attached draft of model legislation protecting the academic freedom rights of teachers and students on this issue.)
We would be happy to assist to you with advice on how to craft a more narrowly-focused bill along the lines just discussed.
John G. West, Ph.D.
Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Seth Cooper, J.D.
Senior Program Analyst, Public Policy and Legal Affairs
Center for Science and Culture
NOTE: Referenced enclosures are included in the hard copy of this letter that has been sent to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
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