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Friday, May 30, 2008

Texas Follow-Up

The Institute for Creation Research has filed a petition with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board accusing the agency of "viewpoint discrimination." Last month, the board denied the institute state certification, which the institute needs to offer its online master's degree in science education. Both sides seem to agree on why the petition was denied: The degree, like the ICR's entire program, would be based on "creation science" rather than evolution. Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes recommended rejecting the ICR's proposal because the institute's program wouldn't prepare graduates to meet the science standards now set for Texas public schools, which include the study of evolution, and because science and religious belief "are not the same thing."
The petition paves the way for the ICR to bring legal action against the agency and its board members in federal and state court. —Heather Wax

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Evolution of Anti-"Bodies"

Scientific exhibits using real human bodies as models have met with criticism before—in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, for example—but there's a different note in the reaction to the Body Worlds exhibit set to open June 13 in Edmonton, Alberta. Unlike the archbishop of Cincinnati, who nixed plans of Catholic schools in his diocese to see a similar exhibit, Edmonton's Archbishop Richard Smith has struck a somewhat more conciliatory note. While Smith stressed that these bodies "are not just an object to be gawked at as an object of curiosity, but to be honored," his archdiocese isn't telling parishioners not to visit the exhibit, and students in local Catholic schools may even see it on a field trip—provided they receive parental permission. —Dan Messier

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mirror Neurons, Explained

Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neurologist and neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, has written a piece for Natural History that explains what mirror neurons are and the role these brain cells play in empathy and social connections. In essence, explains Iacoboni, mirror neurons specialize in allowing us to understand the actions, feelings, and intentions of others by automatically simulating these actions and emotions in our own brains. "When we watch movie stars kiss onscreen, some of the cells firing in our brains are the same ones that fire when we kiss our lovers. And when we see someone else suffering or experiencing pain, mirror neurons help us to read her or his facial expression and make us viscerally feel the suffering or the pain of the other person," he writes. "Those moments, I will argue, are the foundation of empathy (and possibly of morality)."
Iacoboni, who heads the leading lab in human mirror neuron research, adapted the piece from his new book, Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect With Others. —Heather Wax

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pictures From Mars

The Phoenix Mars Lander, which thrilled NASA scientists when it landed safely over the weekend, has sent back amazing images of never-before-seen terrain taken during its first full day of exploration. During its three-month mission on Mars, the lander will search for signs that liquid water existed on the planet's northern plains and look for traces of organic compounds in the soil, trying to determine whether it could have supported primitive life. —Heather Wax

Friday, May 23, 2008

Prying Open the Evangelical Mind

In an attempt to show that evangelicalism is compatible with scientific progress, education, and popular culture, a new study out of Boston University's Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs will take a look at what's being called the "evangelical intelligentsia." The study will try to correct the perception that evangelicals are "barefoot people of Tobacco Road who, I don't know, sleep with their sisters or something," BU sociologist Peter Berger, who's leading the study with evangelical political scientist Timothy Shah of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, told the AP. It's "not good if a prejudiced view of this community prevails in the elite circles of society," he added.
The root of this prejudice, some believe, is the idea that all evangelicals are fundamentalists. In reality, fundamentalists are a subset of the evangelical community who tend to interpret the Bible literally—including an emphasis on six-day creation. That's not the case for the majority of evangelical scientists, who believe in God-guided evolution, says Shah.
But if they want to be culturally relevant, evangelicals are going to have to step outside the comforts of their community and mix with the "larger world of ideas," says Boston College sociologist Alan Wolfe, who believes evangelicals have been too insular to be truly effective. —Dan Messier

Lawrence Krauss Joins Paul Davies at ASU

After 15 years at Case Western Reserve University, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss is leaving the school for an innovative position at Arizona State University starting this August. He'll join the faculty as a professor in the school of earth and space exploration, and the university will be looking to Krauss to take a lead role in an emerging interdisciplinary initiative focused on the fundamental questions of our origins—in the widest sense. The initiative's research area will include the origin of such things as the universe, galaxies, consciousness, and culture, as well as humans. To help kick-start the project, Krauss is organizing a symposium for next April that will bring together Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, and Craig Venter, along with other leading scientists.
"Krauss has the rare ability to grasp the key foundational concepts across a range of sciences, and to explain them in an attractive and comprehensible way," physicist Paul Davies, who directs the research center Beyond at ASU, said in a press release. "His world-famous book The Physics of Star Trek well captures the fun-loving, daring and out-of-the box thinking of this renowned scientist." —Heather Wax

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Louisiana Follow-Up ("Academic Freedom Act")

After hours of testimony, the state House Education Committee approved an "academic freedom" bill that would allow science teachers to use supplemental material "that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” The committee's chairman, Republican Representative Don Trahan, did add an amendment that would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to review the supplemental material and block anything that wasn't scientific—but many critics worry about what will still find its way into the schools. Democratic Senator Ben Nevers, who sponsored the Senate version of the proposal, denies the bill has a "hidden agenda"—maintaining it is about "science education, period"—yet opponents believe the bill is really an attempt to sneak religious theories like creationism and "intelligent design" into the science classroom.
The bill will now go before the full House for a vote. —Heather Wax

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?

That's the question that thirteen thinkers, including both scientists and theologians, respond to in a new little booklet of short essays published by the Templeton Foundation.
Their answers? In short:
Steven Pinker: Yes, if ...
Christoph Cardinal Schönborn: No, and yes.
William Phillips: Absolutely not!
Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy: Not necessarily.
Mary Midgley: Of course not.
Robert Sapolsky: No.
Christopher Hitchens: No, but it should.
Keith Ward: No.
Victor Stenger: Yes.
Jerome Groopman: No, not at all.
Michael Shermer: It depends.
Ken Miller: Of course not.
Stuart Kauffman: No, but only if ...

Radiocarbon Dating the Shroud of Turin, Take 2

John Jackson, a physics professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a devout Catholic, has received permission to retest the age and authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. Twenty years ago, a group of scientists determined that the shroud, believed by some to be Christ's burial cloth, was a medieval forgery, but Jackson theorizes that carbon monoxide contamination could have skewed the dating by as many as 1,300 years (which would account for the difference between an origin date in the Middle Ages and one in the time of Jesus). Jackson will now test his theory with the help of a team of scientists from the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. Given the experiment's complexity and limited funding, it may be months or even years before final results emerge. Meanwhile, the public will have a chance to view the shroud, normally kept under lock and key in a special chamber of inert gases in an Italian cathedral, when it goes on public display at the Vatican in 2010. —Stephen Mapes

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Help Others, Live Longer

Listen to Ageless Lifestyles Radio host Michael Brickey interview Stephen Post, president of The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, on his program yesterday. The two of them discussed how altruism can affect happiness and longevity, as well as how it relates to positive psychology, religion, and spirituality. According to Post, a bioethics professor at Case Western Reserve University and co-author with Jill Neimark of Why Good Things Happen to Good People, while "becoming a more loving, altruistic person won't make you live forever, people who are loving and altruistic tend to live longer. It isn't just one research study but several longitudinal studies, numerous experiments, brain chemistry studies, and studies of the anger and hostility that all converge on this conclusion." —Heather Wax

Creationism Still Being Taught in Science Class

One in eight high school biology teachers are teaching creationism as a valid scientific alternative to evolution, according to a new survey in the journal PLoS Biology. Penn State political scientist Michael Berkman and his colleagues found that how—and how much— evolution is taught in public schools depends less on court rulings and state science standards than it does on the teachers' religious beliefs and education.
If the reaction to Florida's new science standards taught us anything, it's that state regulations often don't affect what happens in the science classroom; no matter what courts rule or school boards decide, it's up to teachers to decide how they'll implement the curriculum and integrate textbooks into their teaching.
And to a large degree, the researchers found, those decisions depend on personal beliefs. According to the survey, about one in six teachers still believe humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years. These teachers spend 35 percent fewer hours on evolution than other teachers do. Teachers with a stronger background in science, however—especially those who have taken a course in evolutionary biology—spend 60 percent more class time on evolution than those with the weakest science backgrounds.
The answer, then, the authors argue, might be to raise the certification standards for teachers and to require that they take an evolutionary biology course. —Heather Wax

Missouri Follow-Up

Missouri's "academic freedom" bill is dead.

Monday, May 19, 2008

South Carolina's "Academic Freedom Act"

Another "academic freedom" bill has popped up, this time in the South Carolina Senate. The bill, which has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education, states that the "teaching of biological and chemical evolution can cause controversy" and that "public school educators must be supported in finding effective ways to present controversial science curriculum and must be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review the scientific strengths and weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution in an objective manner." Like the similarly worded "academic freedom" bills in Michigan and Louisiana, the South Carolina bill claims it has nothing to do with any religious doctrine, but keep in mind that evolution is not a point of controversy or debate in the scientific community.
The National Center for Science Education also points out that Republican Senator Michael Fair, the lead sponsor of the bill, has a history of similar legislative efforts, aimed mainly at trying to get religious alternatives to evolution like "intelligent design" (which Fair sees as a "scientific alternative") into public school science classrooms. —Heather Wax

Friday, May 16, 2008

Who Spent 404,000 Dollars on Einstein's Letter?

It was expected to go for about 12,000 dollars, but in the end, a newly released letter in which Albert Einstein calls God the "product of human weakness" and religion "childish" went for way more. The sale price: 404,000 dollars.
It was too much for Richard Dawkins, who lost out to an unidentified overseas collector with "a passion for theoretical physics and all that that entails," Rupert Powell, managing director of Bloomsbury Auctions, told the Associated Press. Dawkins couldn't attend the auction but sent in a bid remotely, and while he wouldn't give its exact amount, he did tell the Guardian that "it was substantially higher than the estimate but substantially lower than the final price." —Heather Wax

Red (Planet) Rover

Behold the new prototype for ExoMars, a robotic vehicle scheduled to leave Earth in 2013 and land on Mars a year later. The prototype with help engineers better understand and predict how the rover will behave as it travels the planet's rocky landscape looking for evidence of past or present life.
On May 25, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander will touch down on Mars to search for water and other signs of life in the cold, arctic plains of the planet. The entry, descent, and landing with be extremely tricky, however—and, with two failed Mars missions on their minds (NASA's Mars Polar Lander in 1999 and the European Space Agency's Beagle 2 in 2003), NASA scientists will have to endure what Phoenix project manager Barry Goldstein calls "seven minutes of terror." —Heather Wax

Download the Universe

This week, Microsoft launched a free tool that lets you explore the universe from your computer. With WorldWide Telescope, you can zoom out to the whole sky or toward planets, soar through galaxies, and track the position of celestial objects from any location on Earth. The tool will compete with Google Sky, a virtual telescope unveiled last year, and we're already hearing that WorldWide Telescope takes the experience up a notch. —Heather Wax

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Did Our "Rational Brain" Create God?

We got a note this morning about a new book, Did Man Create God?, written by Dr. David Comings, a neuroscientist and behavioral and molecular geneticist at City of Hope Medical Center in California. The book's premise is that spirituality is hard-wired into a specific part of the brain and because it's pleasurable and critical to our evolution and survival, it will never go away. Comings hopes his book can help readers develop a "rational spirituality" that brings together their "fact-based rational brain" and "faith-based spiritual brain." After all, he says, it's possible that our "rational brain created God to satisfy the transcendent yearnings of our spiritual brain."
Michael Persinger, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Canada's Laurentian University who's famous for his "God helmet," calls the work "one of the most integrative, innovative, and revolutionary books I have read in decades." And Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine and author of How We Believe, says Comings' book "will be the definitive scientific reference on religion for some time to come." —Heather Wax

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vatican Astronomer Believes in Aliens and God

The Rev. Jose Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory and a Jesuit priest, says it's OK to believe in both God and aliens. In an interview published yesterday in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano under the headline "The extraterrestrial is my brother," Funes says there could be intelligent life outside Earth. "Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God," he said. "This is not in contrast with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom." —Heather Wax

Einstein Saw Religion as "Childish"

A newly released letter written by Albert Einstein is sure to change the debate surrounding the legendary physicist's relationship to religion. In the letter, which has been privately held since it was written to philosopher Erik Gutkind in 1954, Einstein writes that "the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."
Long known for a complex and changing relationship with religion and faith, Einstein, who was Jewish, also writes that "the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions." The letter is not included in the source material for Max Jammer's Einstein and Religion, considered by many to be the definitive work on the subject, and is sure to change modern interpretations of Einstein's religious views.
John Hedley Brooke, a professor of science and religion at the University of Oxford, says Einstein was not an atheist, but he was not a "conventional theist" either—a view he says is supported by the letter. "Like many great scientists of the past, he is rather quirky about religion, and not always consistent from one period to another," Brooke says.
The letter will be auctioned tomorrow in London and is expected to go for more than 12,000 dollars. —Stephen Mapes

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Robert Veatch Gives Gifford Lecture

Robert Veatch, a medical ethicist and former director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, spoke about "Hippocratic, Religious and Secular Medical Ethics: The Points of Conflict,” when he delivered the Gifford Lecture at the University of Edinburgh last week. Veatch's lecture centered around how codes of ethics relate to health care and science, and what happens when religious and professional ethics clash.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mormon Biologist Says ID Has "Nothing of Value"

Steven Peck, an evolutionary biologist at Brigham Young University and a Mormon, has written a piece for The Salt Lake Tribune that strongly criticizes "intelligent design" for having "nothing of value" scientifically or religiously. What's worse, says Peck, is that ID pits science and religion against each other, promoting the false idea that evolution and faith are incompatible. The result, he says, are "misinformed people of faith," who diss science and dismiss its findings.
"Faith and science need not be enemies. I embrace both fully and without reservation. My religious convictions are part of who I am. My science and faith reciprocate and inform one another. They are part of the way I understand my place in the universe," Peck writes. "Intelligent Design does nothing to promote the search for understanding and cooperation between these two vital ways of knowing. It is a darkening of the mind on every level, both religiously and scientifically. Please do not let it be taught to my children as a science. It is bad for both religion and science." —Heather Wax

Friday, May 9, 2008

Alabama Follow-Up

Alabama's "academic freedom" bill is dead.

Thrown Out of Court

Back in December, Nathaniel Abraham, a former postdoc researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and a Christian biologist, sued the institute in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, saying he was fired because he believes in creationism rather than evolution. The lawsuit has now been thrown out since Abraham didn't file his complaint within the time limit required by the law. According to the National Center for Science Education, Woods Hole 's lawyers moved for a dismissal on this basis, but were ready to defend the institution by arguing that accepting well-established principles of developmental biology, including evolution, is implicitly a requirement of employment at the research center. —Heather Wax

Endangered Rituals

The rapid disappearance of vultures in South Asia is having a dramatic effect on the burial rituals of the area's Parsis, who follow the Zoroastrian faith, especially those in India. Parsis have relied on the vultures to dispose of the remains of the dead for more than 2,500 years. Their religion forbids both burial and cremation, which are viewed as polluting the sacred elements of the natural world, but without the vultures to complete the cycle of life, the bodies are beginning to pile up, causing many Parsis to worry about the fates of their loves ones' souls.
Hindus, who are forbidden to touch deceased cattle, and Muslims, who can't handle deceased animals not used in sacrifice, are also feeling the effects of the dwindling vulture population as carcasses begin to line the country. More disturbing are the large numbers of wild dogs and rats, which are thriving in the absence of vultures and could act as carriers for epidemic diseases. Scientists have isolated the cause of the rapid decline—a pharmaceutical drug called diclofenac that has been heavily used to treat both livestock and humans throughout the region—and taken steps to return the vulture population to its previous numbers. —Stephen Mapes

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Frans de Waal Says S&R Conflict "Overblown"

Primatologist Frans de Waal answers questions from readers on The New York Times Freakonomics blog, including one about whether other people's rejection of evolution for religious reasons ever gets in the way of his work. De Waal reminds readers that there is no conflict or controversy over evolution in the scientific community, and explains that when he "came to this country [from Holland], over twenty-five years ago, I was amazed that creationism was still taken seriously, and assumed that it would blow over. It never did, of course. I can’t help but look at it as a left-over of a medieval mind-set unresponsive to overwhelming counter-evidence. At the same time, I must say that I don’t think the recent wave of God-questioning rants have helped much. They have polarized the issue, whereas in my mind it is eminently possible to look at religion as a collective value system and at science as telling us how the physical world operates. Even though I am not religious myself, I think the conflict between science and religion is unnecessary and overblown." —Heather Wax

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Choosing Not to Choose

The Ottawa Citizen has an editorial about science and religion in today's newspaper, taking the position that "people shouldn't be dismissed as unreasonable if they choose both." The editorial praises the approach of Francisco Ayala, an evolutionary biologist and geneticist, former Dominican priest, and author of the new book Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion, who promotes the idea that belief in evolution is compatible with belief in God. At the same time, it criticizes the "new atheists"—calling Richard Dawkins out by name—for a somewhat arrogant and "not terribly subtle or nuanced" approach. "By setting religion and science against each other, like two opposing teams, the atheists make it difficult for some religious people to accept scientific processes. It's as though believers are being asked to choose between, say, God or evolution. No wonder some believers then twist their minds in knots to find new ways of explaining how the physical world works," says the paper.
"In the end," the editorial concludes, "individuals make sense of the universe in their own way. We read about science and philosophy and religion. We discuss ideas. We believe in things that, for whatever reason, appeal to us. We dismiss things that don't. And sometimes, when given two choices, we find a way that allows us to choose both. That's doesn't make us delusional or dishonest, just human." —Heather Wax

David Sloan Wilson Speaks

David Sloan Wilson, an evolutionary biologist at Binghamton University in New York, spoke with Robert Lorei of Tampa, Florida, radio station WMNF yesterday about "Evolution in Everyday Life." Wilson, whose most recent book is Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives, spoke about science curriculum and how evolution impacts relationships, religion, and psychology. This weekend, Wilson will speak at the 2008 Humanists of Florida Conference in Sarasota.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Darrel Falk Speaks

Darrel Falk, a biology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University in California who's known for being an anti-creationist, spoke to an all-Christian audience about "Bridging the Worlds of Faith and Biology" last night at Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts. Beginning with Scripture and ending with prayer, the central part of Falk's talk focused on evolution—or what he calls "gradual creation"—as he explained the role of chromosomal mutation in the process. "God has guided creation to where it has gone, but has not micro-managed all the details," he said. And just like enjoying a beautiful sunset can be a way of meditating on God, Falk said, exploring evolution can be a "worship experience because it's God creation and God's truth."
Falk, who also addressed the evolution-creation controversy in his 2004 book Coming to Peace With Science, is currently working with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, and Rick Warren, founder and pastor of the Saddleback Church, to address the divide between science and evangelical Christianity. —Heather Ciras

Reinventing S&R

Will science ever be able to truly provide answers to humanity's deepest questions? Not according to Stuart Kauffman, a physicist, biologist, and philosopher from the University of Calgary who helped pioneer complexity theory. In his new book, Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion, which hits the bookshelves May 19, Kauffman argues that the traditional scientific method is unable to confront the universe's greatest mysteries. The problem, says Kaufmann, is reductionism—the idea that everything can be broken down into basic chemical and physical laws. Only by embracing the unpredictable process of emergence can we begin to understand the complexity and organization of the universe and discover what's most sacred; through this understanding, God becomes clear, not as a creator but as "the ceaseless and unforeseeable creativity of the universe that surrounds us." Kauffman's thesis can be found in more detail on the Templeton Foundation's Web site as part of a series of essays by a number of thinkers who respond to the question, "Does science make belief in God obsolete?" —Stephen Mapes

Monday, May 5, 2008

Florida Follow-Up ("Academic Freedom Act")

As expected, Florida's "academic freedom" bill died on Friday, when the legislative session ended. The Senate had passed a bill with language that would protect teachers who raised doubts and questions about evolution, but when the bill came before the House, it added stronger language that went so far as to require teachers to present a "critical analysis"of evolution. This language, which had already been firmly rejected by the Senate once, was again rejected by the Senate on Thursday.
This sent the bill back to the House, which failed to pass the Senate's version, and no compromise was reached before the spring session closed at the end of last week. "Academic freedom" bills are still alive in a number of other states, however, such as Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, and Michigan. —Heather Wax

Friday, May 2, 2008

Making the List

Time magazine recognizes the growing importance of science and religion by jointly naming Dr. Eric Chivian and the Rev. Richard Cizik to this year's list of the world's 100 most influential people. Chivian, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Cizik, a leading figure in the National Association of Evangelicals, have brought their respective scientific and religious interests together in the Scientists and Evangelicals Initiative, which aims to unite the two groups with the common goal of taking better care of the environment.
Toping the list is the Dalai Lama, who Deepak Chopra says once told him "to ignore all organized faiths and keep to the road of higher consciousness. 'Without relying on religion, we look to common sense, common experience and the findings of science for understanding,' he said."
The Jewish Chronicle also recognizes science and religion on its "Power 100" list. Coming in at number 57 is Robert Winston, an expert in fertility studies, who told the newspaper last year that "medical research which enabled scientists to create embryos that are part-human and part-animal would not contravene Orthodox values." A working scientist and practicing Jew, Winston also tackles science-and-religion issues in his book The Story of God. —Dan Messier

Authors Find Secret S&R Messages

ABC News has a sneak peek at The Sistine Secrets by Jewish scholar and Vatican tour guide Roy Doliner and Rabbi Benjamin Blech. In the new book, the authors claim that there are hidden encoded messages in the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, put there by Michelangelo, and these messages encourage a bridge between science and religion, as well as Jews and Christians. Learn more about the book and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on tonight's episode of 20/20.

Why Optimism Is Good For Your Health

The May issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch newsletter explores some of the reasons that so many studies have shown that optimists have better health than pessimists do. According to the newsletter, it's possible that optimists are healthier because they have healthier lifestyles, stronger support networks, and better medical care, and they may also experience biological benefits, such as lower stress hormones. Another possibility is that genes that predispose some people to be optimistic also affect health and longevity. Most likely, a number of these factors are at play. —Heather Wax

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Templeton Prize Winner Answers Big Questions

Michael Heller, a Catholic priest, mathematical physicist, cosmologist, philosopher, and the 2008 Templeton Prize winner, will take questions from the audience on the "the big question of time" at Imperial College London on May 8.

Alabama and Michigan's "Academic Freedom" Acts

An "academic freedom" bill has been introduced into the Alabama House of Representatives by Republican Representative David Grimes, and its been sent to the Education Policy Committee. The bill would give teachers the "affirmative right and freedom to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning," but specifically singles out "biological or chemical origins," which it calls a topic that might generate controversy. (While the bill claims it has nothing to do with any religious doctrine, keep in mind that evolution is not a point of controversy or debate in the scientific community.)
In Michigan, an "academic freedom" bill was introduced into the House by Republican Representative John Moolenaar and referred to its Committee on Education. The bill labels "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, human impact of climate change, and human cloning" as "scientific controversies" and claims that teachers could better address these issues if they were allowed "to help pupils understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught." This bill also claims it has nothing to do with promoting any religious doctrine, but the National Center for Science Education points out that Moolenaar has previously co-sponsored two bills that called for the teaching of "intelligent design." —Heather Wax