Intelligent Design pops up (briefly) in Bloomfield, Ky.

Bloomfield Middle School officials had to tell a seventh grade science teacher that she could not teach Intelligent Design (ID) after they received a warning from the Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU letter advised them that the teaching of ID was contrary to “the substantial legal authority establishing the illegality of teaching a religious doctrine within a science curriculum.” The Panda’s Thumb reprinted part of that letter yesterday.

The teacher in question, Adonna Florence, confirmed the gist of the report to me today. I am awaiting details from her, the BMS principal and the ACLU.

Technically, Florence’s introduction of ID into her science classes is not contrary to Kentucky state law.

At one point in history, Kentucky law expressly permitted, but did not require, the teaching of the Biblical creation of Earth and the organisms on it. As part of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, that statute, KRS 158.177, was effectively repealed in 1990 and re-enacted with substantially the same language as before:

SECTION 403. KRS 158.177 IS REPEALED AND REENACTED TO READ AS FOLLOWS:
(1) In any public school instruction concerning the theories of the creation of man and the earth, and which involves the theory thereon commonly known as evolution, any teacher so desiring may include as a portion of such instruction the theory of creation as presented in the Bible, and may accordingly read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation, thereby affording students a choice as to which such theory to accept.
(2) For those students receiving such instruction, and who accept the Bible theory of creation, credit shall be permitted on any examination in which adherence to such theory is propounded, provided the response is correct according to the instruction received.
(3) No teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational religious belief.
(4) This section is not to be construed as being adverse to any decision which has been rendered by any court of competent jurisdiction.

The kicker is paragraph 4, which means that if another court “of competent jurisdiction” decides creationism or similar explanations of Creation are not legal, then the Kentucky statute could be nullified. No such case has yet been presented in the Commonwealth, and it seems Bloomfield officials decided it would be best not to be a constitutional lightning rod.

A federal judge’s 2005 decision on Kitzmiller et al. v Dover (Pa.) Area School District found that Intelligent Design was in fact a religious doctrine. Therefore, it could not be taught in the Dover public schools without violating the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Florence was essentially within her rights to teach ID according to state law, but probably not according to federal law. The Kitzmiller decision does not directly affect Kentucky, but it sets a substantial legal precedent that ACLU lawyers could use in Kentucky courts.

The state’s official seventh grade science curriculum contains no language expressly permitting, or forbidding, creationism or Intelligent Design. Thus, an individual teacher could presumably have some leeway in presenting the material.

Big Idea: Biological Change (Biological Science)
The only thing certain is that everything changes. At the middle school level, students study relationships among populations and ecosystems that contribute to the success or demise of a specific population or species. Students construct basic explanations that can account for the great diversity among organisms.
Academic Expectations
2.1 Students understand scientific ways of thinking and working and use those methods to solve real life problems.
2.2 Students identify, analyze, and use patterns such as cycles and trends to understand past and present events and predict possible future events.
2.5 Students understand that under certain conditions nature tends to remain the same or move
toward a balance.
2.6 Students understand how living and nonliving things change over time and the factors that
influence the changes.
Grade 7 Enduring Knowledge – Understandings
Students will understand that
• over time, some species have become so adapted to each other that neither could survive without the other.
• most of the species that have lived on Earth no longer exist. A species will become extinct when changes in environmental conditions (either gradual or rapid) are greater than its ability to adapt.
• fossils provide evidence of how biological change over time accounts for the diversity of species developed through gradual processes over many generations.
• results of scientific investigations are seldom exactly the same, but if the differences are large it is important to try to figure out why. Keeping careful records is important to help investigate what might have caused the differences.
Grade 7 Skills and Concepts
Students will
• investigate parasitic and symbiotic relationships among organisms
• explore the environmental factors that have resulted in the extinction of species
• use information from the fossil record to investigate changes in organisms and their environments to make inferences about past life forms and environmental conditions
• compare the results from a variety of investigations (based on similar hypotheses) to identify
differences between their outcomes/conclusions and propose reasonable explanations for those
discrepancies

Recent efforts in Florida to revise its state curriculum to specify that evolution must be taught and creationism/ID excluded have been controversial, as might be expected. Despite protests from a very vocal minority (and actor/economist/anti-evolution spokesmouth Ben Stein), the Florida legislature stayed the course and enacted the changes. Given Kentucky’s conservatism, it’s unlikely the KRS will be revised in a similar way, until some challenge ends up in the courts.

According to the Panda’s Thumb, Florence had presented to her classes a chart showing the rationale for a young Earth, a timeline including the dates of the construction of Noah’s Ark and the Flood, and a five-page handout discussing ID’s arguments against the Big Bang Theory and for the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs. In addition, she discussed ID’s challenges to darwinian theory.

Here’s the big question, once again. Setting aside her motivations for the time being, since I have not had a chance to interview Florence, teaching “both sides” of the issue seems like sound pedagogy. At first glance, one could construe her actions as good teaching.

Except … modern science does not allow for or accept the role of supernatural forces in the creation and development of the universe, Earth and the organisms on it. Thus, a science teacher should avoid any detailed discussion of creationism or ID. They are not science, but religious explanations for the natural world.

Proponents of creationism and ID, of course, argue otherwise, that these “theories” are in fact science and that they can offer scientific evidence supporting their validity. That the majority of scientists reject such evidence is conveniently omitted from such discussions.

Florence may be disappointed, but her superiors did the right thing. Science is science. Religion is not.

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