Nathan Stubbs

Bill sparks debate over intelligent design

by Nathan Stubbs

The chairman of the state Senate Education committee has filed a bill in the state legislature to encourage public schools to teach "the strengths and weaknesses" to scientific theories including evolution and global warming. The bill is sure to re-kindle debate about bringing God and the teaching of creationism or intelligent design into the science class. Titled the Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, SB 561 by Sen. Ben Nevers of Bogalusa is painstakingly worded, without any direct reference to intelligent design or creationism, to frame itself as a defense of scientific principles. The bill wants students “to explore scientific questions, learns about scientific evidence, to help students develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” It also states no one should “prohibit any teacher in a public school system from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review, in an objective manner, the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course or courses being taught. Such topics may include biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” In a story in today's Advocate , Nevers says, "I believe that students should be exposed to both sides of scientific data and allow them to make their own decisions.”

Nevers’ bill is similar to controversial “Academic Freedom” legislation currently being taken up in the Florida legislature. Those bills are being backed by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank known for its advocacy of teaching intelligent design in public schools. Much of the success of Nevers’ bill could depend on support from Gov. Bobby Jindal, who expressed similar views on scientific teaching during a gubernatorial debate last year. In an interview with The Independent earlier this month, state superintendent Paul Pastorek responded to a question about his views on intelligent design. Pastorek noted that he had previously spoken out against the teaching of creationism in the classrooms. “I have talked about the creationism issue in the past,” he said. “But I haven’t really spoken about or really formed an opinion about intelligent design. I’m frankly not sure exactly what it really means at the end of the day. So I really don’t know much about it to be able to speak to it. I’m spending a whole lot more time trying to fix literacy in schools.”