Academic Freedom

Just as creationists relabeled creation science following the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision, creationists are currently attempting to promote intelligent design creationism with new catchphrases. ID arguments (themselves merely dandified versions of arguments made by "creation scientists" and earlier generations of creationists) are now being presented under the guise of "critical analysis" or "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. ID promoters such as Ben Stein in his movie Expelled insist that teachers ought to have "academic freedom" to present such arguments. (For a full rebuttal of Expelled, see NCSE's Expelled Exposed.) Proponents of a creationist bill passed in Louisiana in 2008 used the same argument.

The claims of "academic freedom" are disingenuous for several reasons. The American Association of University Professors, the chief watchdog for academic freedom, defines academic freedom principally in terms of the right of college-level scholars to conduct, publish and discuss research. AAUP has stated its opposition to efforts to teach ID in classrooms, stating recently that "Such efforts run counter to the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding evolution and are inconsistent with a proper understanding of the meaning of academic freedom." And as the AAUP observes, academic freedom does not carry with it the freedom to misinform students, and that is exactly what happens when ID arguments are taught.

Teachers who present creationism (under any name) as science are misinforming their students. ID’s claims about the supernatural fall outside of science, and the arguments presented under the rubric of "critical analysis" or teaching "strengths and weaknesses" are not scientifically credible. For instance, ID promoters advocated that students should be taught about holes in the fossil record of whale evolution. When paleontologists uncovered numerous fossils demonstrating exactly the transitions which ID promoters insisted did not exist, whales disappeared from the ID list of "weaknesses." Nevertheless, opponents of evolution education still advocate teaching students that we do not have a perfect fossil record of, for instance, bat evolution. This is a strategy of teaching students what we don’t know, rather than what we do, and leaves students ill-prepared to learn new information as science progresses.

Teachers have no freedom to misinform and miseducate students. It is scientifically inappropriate and educationally irresponsible to present ID under its own name or in any other guise as scientifically credible. And it is unconstitutional to do so in the public schools.