Last month, while testifying against the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, Joshua Youngkin, the program officer on law and policy at the creationist con-profit The Discovery Institute, told the Louisiana Senate Education Committee, somewhat stunningly, that the LSEA was actually about teaching “more evolution.” Since its founding in 1990, the Discovery Institute has spent tens of millions in tax-deductible donations paying people to promote and lobby for science denial legislation, and when it was enacted in 2008 by Governor Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Science Education Act became the organization’s signature legislative accomplishment.

Quoting (bold mine):

Way before anti-bullying law and policy emerged on the national scene, five years ago, this state passed an anti-bullying law for its schools. The LSEA is that law. 

This forward-thinking law says to academic bullies that teachers and students have nothing to fear from more evolution in science class. And that’s what this is about: More evolution in science class, not less.

Youngkin’s claim that the LSEA is a pro-evolution law isn’t just Orwellian hyperbole; it’s a willfully dishonest and deceptive distortion of the well-established legislative and executive intent of the law, and it belies the true mission and purpose of the Discovery Institute.

Zack Kopplin and Joshua Youngkin (Source: The Advocate)
Zack Kopplin and Joshua Youngkin (Source: The Advocate)

For many in Louisiana, however, Youngkin’s suggestion that the LSEA is actually a model “anti-bullying” law, adopted well before anti-bullying laws and policies “emerged on the national scene,” may seem even more insensitive and offensive. If you’re from Louisiana, then you likely know that, for years, Governor Bobby Jindal and his fellow Republicans in the legislature have repeatedly rejected actual anti-bullying legislation.

Year after year, proposals that would protect children from being bullied have been opposed and defeated by those on the religious right. Why? Because people like Gene Mills and organizations like the Louisiana Family Forum believe that children should have the right to bully other children for being gay. Apparently, it’s about “religious expression.” Quoting from the Times-Picayune:

Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills, who said he’s an ordained minister, told lawmakers, that the bill “introduces sexual politics” into the classroom and would discriminate against religious expression. “You could make a criminal bully out of a child who holds an orthodox view of Christianity.”

It’s worth noting that Gene Mills and the Louisiana Family Forum were instrumental in the passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act and have coordinated closely with the Discovery Institute.

Taken together, one can only assume the Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum believe that so-called “orthodox Christian” students should be allowed to bully children they perceive as being gay (because that’s just “religious expression”), but when science teachers and science advocates rightfully point out that there is absolutely no scientific basis supporting new earth creationism or intelligent design, they should be called out as “academic bullies.” And while gay and lesbian children continue to be driven to suicide as a result of unrelenting school bullying, at least proponents of creationism and intelligent design no longer have to feel bullied by science.

Before anyone accuses me of being hyperbolic, I think it’s important to point out: Throughout the last several years, the Discovery Institute has continually attempted to “have their cake and eat it too,” arguing alternately if creationism and intelligent design are, in fact, religious beliefs, then any criticism against those beliefs in a public school classroom would violate the Establishment Clause’s prohibition against “inhibiting religion.” In a 2009 article titled “Zeal for Darwin’s House Consumes Them: How Supporters of Evolution Encourage Violations of the Establishment Clause,” Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute argues:

Assuming ad arguendo that ID’s critics are correct in holding that ID is a religious viewpoint, then it should not only be unconstitutional for the government to “advance” ID, but also to “inhibit” ID. If ID is a religious viewpoint, the government may not violate the “absolute” prohibition against opposing it or showing hostility or disapproval towards it.

In other words, although the Discovery Institute and proponents of intelligent design trot around the country and promote intelligent design as legitimate science, if the courts hold that intelligent design is “religious” (which it did in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District), then any science teacher who employs the scientific method to discredit intelligent design is violating the US Constitution. When you cut to the chase, that is what Luskin is arguing, and perhaps more than anything else, it may explain why the Discovery Institute, at least as an official policy, refuses to explicitly support intelligent design in public schools. Make no mistake: It is their end goal, but considering that the court in Dover issued a comprehensive ruling that held ID was just another term for creationism, they’ve been forced to adjust their legal strategy.

Which brings me back to Joshua Youngkin’s testimony to the Louisiana Senate Education Committee.

In response to the accusation that the Discovery Institute does not conduct “any science,” Youngkin claimed that “there are over fifty peer-reviewed articles in a journal called ‘Biologic,’ and there is an experimental outfit in Seattle that produces research original research, that is peer-reviewed, on the power of natural selection to generate biological novelty.”

First, the “journal” is not called “Biologic;” that’s the name of the “experimental outfit.” The journal is actually called “Bio-Complexity,” and it’s completely underwritten by the Discovery Institute. According to RationalWiki:

Despite the intention to have one article per month, it took from May 2010 until December 2010 for another article to be published (by William Dembski, a member of the editorial team). Only one article was published in 2011, and three total are by Douglas Axe.

It is worth noting: Douglas Axe is a paid employee of the Discovery Institute (via Biologic) and earns a salary of over $95,000 a year. Recently, Jeffrey Shalit of The Panda’s Thumb pointed out:

Bio-Complexity (is the) the flagship journal of the intelligent design movement. As 2012 draws to a close, the 2012 volume contains exactly two research articles, one “critical review” and one “critical focus”, for a grand total of four items. The editorial board has 30 members; they must be kept very busy handling all those papers.

(Another intelligent design journal, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, hasn’t had a new issue since 2005.)

By contrast, the journal Evolution has ten times more research articles in a single issue (one of 12 so far in 2012). And this is just a single journal where evolutionary biology research is published; there are many others.

But that’s not the most hopeless part. Of the four contributions to Bio-Complexity in 2012, three have authors that are either the Editor in Chief (sic), the Managing Editor, or members of the editorial board of the journal. Only one article, the one by Fernando Castro-Chavez, has no author in the subset of people running the journal. And that one is utter bilge, written by someone who believes that “the 64 codons [of DNA are] represented since at least 4,000 years ago and preserved by China in the I Ching or Book of Changes or Mutations.”

Notwithstanding the fact that Youngkin didn’t even know the name of the “academic journal” to which he was referring, his suggestion to the Louisiana Senate Education Committee that this was “peer-reviewed research” failed to mention that, by “peer-reviewed,” he meant “read by people at the Discovery Institute.”

Youngkin also claimed that “there are over 800 ph.D scientists who have signed a statement called ‘The Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.'” And that may have sounded compelling to some of the members of the committee. The problem is: It’s utterly ridiculous. The vast majority of the signatories (over 75%) have no background in biology; the statement itself has been roundly criticized for being misleading and deceptive; the signatories represent less than 0.03% of the world’s research scientists; and as the National Center for Science Education’s “Project Steve” proved, there are more scientists with the name “Steve” who believe in evolution than scientists who support the Discovery Institute. There are 1,187 eminent scientists named “Steve” who have signed onto the NSCE’s statement, more than the entire number of so-called “scientists” who signed the Discovery Institute’s statement.

Govenor Bobby Jindal being blessed by Religious Radical Preacher, Dr. Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum
Govenor Bobby Jindal being blessed by Dr. Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum

Next year, when the Louisiana Senate Education Committee once again considers the repeal of the LSEA, one can only hope that legislators will be more prepared for this type of deception and better informed about the tactics used by the law’s proponents. Next year, hopefully, the Louisiana legislature will finally realize that the Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum have been mocking their intelligence, and maybe, just maybe, Louisiana’s elected officials will stand up to the real bullies.

Recently, Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, sparked controversy after suggesting that teaching creationism as science was a mild form of child abuse. And while his provocative comments may seem, to some, as completely over-the-top, the truth is that creationist laws like the LSEA– laws intended to confuse children about science, laws written and promoted by right-wing religious fundamentalists– diminish the quality and caliber of American education. In so doing, these laws and policies directly harm children.

Let’s get real: This has nothing to do with academic freedom or teaching “more evolution.” The Discovery Institute was created after the Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s anti-evolution law in Edwards v. Aguillard, and for the last twenty five years, they’ve been attempting to figure out a clever way to legally impose their own religious beliefs in the public school science classroom. They’ve tried out new terms; instead of “creation science,” they now call it “intelligent design.” The courts have seen right through this, ruling that intelligent design is just code language. They’ve attempted to force schools to read “disclaimers” to students, and again, the courts have seen right through this, holding that these disclaimers were a form of religious coercion. Now, they’re acting as if these laws are actually about bullying and critical thinking, as if they’ve ever understood either. If the scientific method fails them, then they suggest that they’re being victimized by anti-religious bigots. And for good measure and as an insurance policy, they’re funding the salaries of a small group of essayists, attorneys, and rhetoricians they purport to be “scientists,” despite the fact that they haven’t spent a single penny on legitimate scientific research.

Over the last few years, they’ve successfully convinced a small handful of Louisiana legislators to buy into this charade, but in so doing, they’ve also exposed these legislators as comically ignorant and uninformed.

Three years ago, one of them, State Senator Julie Quinn, lambasted Nobel laureate scientists as nothing more than people with “little letters” behind their names: What do they know about science? Two years ago, another legislator, State Senator Mike Walsworth, asked a science teacher, in all seriousness, how E.Coli could “evolve” into a human being; earlier in the meeting, he also proved that he had no idea how to pronounce the word “molecular.” And this year, State Senator Elbert Guillory described his experience with a witch doctor in order to justify the teaching of pseudoscience, because apparently after a half-naked man danced around in the dust and threw bones on the ground, he was able to convince Guillory to visit a real doctor. Shortly after making these remarks, Guillory had another “conversion experience,” re-enlisting as a member of the Louisiana Republican Party, which some in the media spun as “historic,” despite the fact that Guillory was a Republican only five years ago and became a Democrat because he thought he’d have a better chance winning election.

We have a long and proud history of religious freedom in this country, and the willful distortion of science– the desire to legislatively impose religious mythology as science– is nothing more than pernicious totalitarianism. It is completely antithetical to the values and principles we all cherish as Americans, and it’s time for these folks to be called out.

Plain and simple.

4 thoughts

  1. Robert Heinlien mentioned something along these lines in his book Methuselahs Children,,,but in HIS universe, they had to have a violent revolution to get rid of the religious bigots…

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