Technical Explanation of House Bill 481
SUMMARY OF HB 481
HB 481 consists of a statement of legislative intention about teaching origins science in Ohio schools and three substantive implementing provisions.
Statement of Intent.
HB 481 seeks to enhance the teaching of “origins science” in Ohio schools. Origins science is the science that seeks to explain to our children the origin of life and the origin of the diversity of life. It is the science that seeks to answer a religiously charged question: “Where do we come from.” The stated intent of HB 481 is to set reasonable and prudent guidelines that will encourage schools and school teachers to teach this subject matter objectively, comprehensively and in a way that will promote
- effective science education,
- academic freedom that allows critical thinking, and
- state neutrality in an area of study that touches religious and nonreligious beliefs.
The bill seeks to further its stated intent through three operative provisions. These provisions require schools to:
Encourage the teaching of origins science objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption;
Require appropriate disclosure and explanation of any material assumption that is used in explaining our origins: and
Encourage the development of curriculum that will help students think critically about origins science and understand the full range of scientific views that exist regarding the origins of life and why origins science may generate controversy.
DISCUSSION OF STATEMENT OF INTENT.
HB 481 seeks to promote effective science education.
Presently national science organizations and others use an irrebuttable assumption that phenomena in nature result only from a combination of chance and natural law – the laws of chemistry and physics – and that design conceptions of nature are invalid in scientific inquiry. This is essentially a philosophical assumption and not a scientific conclusion based on a scientific investigation and analysis per the scientific method. The assumption is technically called methodological naturalism. It is also known as “scientific materialism”(1)
Although the assumption may have some conceivable value in experimental sciences like physics and chemistry, its use in historical sciences, (and particularly origins science) is the subject of significant debate within the science community. The explanations in historical sciences about singular events that happen in the distant past can not be validated or tested by experiment. The only remaining way to validate an explanation is to postulate competing hypotheses and, based on observation and analysis of the available evidence, seek to rule out all but one hypothesis that is most consistent with the evidence. The difficulty with methodological naturalism in origins science is that it protects the naturalistic explanation of origins from the competing design hypothesis. This limits or essentially precludes true scientific inquiry regarding origins. The reason Darwinian evolution is constantly criticized as being taught as “fact” and not as a theory, is because methodological naturalism effectively protects the Darwinian hypothesis from criticism. The naturalistic assumption provides it with an intellectual monopoly regarding our origins.
Good science and effective science education requires that origins science be conducted objectively and without an irrebuttable naturalistic assumption, or, for that matter, any other religious or philosophic assumption.
For this scientific reason, we believe schools should encourage their teachers to teach origins science in a way that is most consistent with the scientific method. The use of an irrebuttable assumption is essentially antagonistic to that method.
In other aspects of science curriculum we urge children to use critical thinking skills by considering a wide range of evidence and viewpoints regarding matters of opinion. We encourage them to open their minds rather than to close them. We seek to discourage intellectual and cultural discrimination by promoting the full range of theories about a subject. There is no good scientific reason for abandoning critical thinking in origins science – an area where it is probably most needed. Using methodological naturalism in origins science promotes indoctrination in a naturalistic world view. Rather than encouraging open discussion, it censors it.
Design theory is already well established in scientific inquiry. For example, in a fire investigation one examines the evidence at the scene to determine whether the fire was a result of natural causes or whether arson (a designed event) was involved. In archaeology one examines an object made of rock (an artifact) to determine whether it was shaped by natural forces or whether it was shaped by man to be a tool. In forensic science one investigates the crime scene to determine if the death was by natural causes or whether it was murder (a designed act). In the government funded SETI program we analyze patterns of radio and light waves in an effort to detect alien intelligence.
We believe origins science should be conducted in a similar manner. One examines the scientific evidence to determine if a design inference is warranted. The phenomenon must be studied without bias or assumption in a search for an explanation that is dictated by the evidence rather than a preconceived notion of the outcome. This is the method that will lead us closer to the best scientific explanation for our origins. Origins science demands objectivity.
Finally, it is important to note that although HB 481 would permit appropriate discussions about design theory, it does not require that schools teach design theory.
HB 481 seeks to promote academic freedom.
HB 481 also seeks to promote academic freedom by encouraging critical thinking and teaching that seeks to open discussion rather than to censor it through the use of assumptions and biases. Although school boards should have wide latitude in developing curriculum, the Supreme Court has held that the “state may not exclude speech where its distinction is not ‘reasonable’ in light of the purpose served by the forum” [Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of University of Virginia, 115 S.Ct. 2510, 2516-18 (1995)]. We believe that once Ohio chooses to inform children about where we come from, it is not reasonable to confine the scientific discussion to only a naturalistic viewpoint. This will merely effect indoctrination in a materialistic and naturalistic world view.
We believe that parents and students have the right to have compulsory education accomplished by teachers who are free to teach rather than teachers who are required to indoctrinate students in a particular naturalistic world view.
HB 481 seeks to ensure state neutrality in an area of study that touches religious and nonreligious beliefs.
The third purpose of HB 481 is to promote state neutrality in an area of public school study that “touches” religious and nonreligious beliefs. The word “nonreligion” is intended in the sense used by the Supreme Court in the case of Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968) where the Court said:
“Government in our democracy, state and nation, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of no-religion; and it may not aid, or foster or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” (emphasis added)
HB 481 recognizes that origins science – the science that seeks to explain “where we come from” – unavoidably impacts religious belief in fundamental ways. The hypothesis that life and its diversity may be designed supports, but does not mandate, theistic beliefs. The naturalistic hypothesis that phenomena just “occur” by chance via random and undirected natural processes withdraws that support and provides intellectual satisfaction to those who choose agnostic or atheistic beliefs. The atheistic and agnostic “outlook” of methodological naturalism was recently acknowledged by a member of the Ohio Science Advisory Committee, Dr. Mano Singham, who said:
“The scientific community has a better chance of keeping religious beliefs out of its structure if it concedes that science is fundamentally materialistic and atheistic in its outlook.” [Mano Singham, Are Scientists Materialists? (submitted to Physics Today, Nov 4, 2001)]
Although a materialistic philosophy might conceivably have some utility in experimental sciences such as physics and chemistry, the teaching of origins science in public schools with an irrebuttable naturalistic assumption appears inherently inconsistent with the religious neutrality required by Epperson, and more recently in Good News Club, et.al. v. Milford Central School, ___ U.S.___, No. 992036 (June 11, 2001).
A particular difficulty with the use of methodological naturalism in science textbooks is that the naturalistic assumption is undisclosed or not appropriately disclosed. Instead, these texts lead students to believe that explanations regarding origins have been tested and validated by an examination of all the relevant evidence, where that is simply not the case. The evidence which supports a design inference is ignored and not discussed. The combined use of the naturalistic assumption together with the nondisclosure of the assumption has the effect of indoctrinating students in a naturalistic belief that is antagonistic to the texts and teachings of all major theistic religions.
Just as religious assumptions are inappropriate in guiding the scientific conduct and teaching of origins, we should also encourage the abandonment of “nonreligious” or naturalistic assumptions. This will allow origins science to be taught objectively so that students will be given all of the relevant information necessary for them to make informed decisions about a matter so critical to the formation of religious and nonreligious beliefs.
Although the State should avoid involvement in religious issues, when it decides to provide information to children about where they come from, the State has chosen to encounter a religiously charged question. Once in this arena, it must remain constitutionally neutral. The best way to maintain this neutrality is to see that the subject is taught objectively.
DISCUSSION OF OPERATIVE PROVISIONS
Encouraging objective origins science.
The first operative provision of HB 481 requires schools to:
“(A) Encourage the presentation of scientific evidence regarding the origins of life and its diversity objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption;”
The operative word in this clause is “encourage.” Thus, the goal is to “permit” rather than to “require.” As a consequence, schools and teachers will have considerable latitude and discretion as to how best to accomplish this goal.
Permission to teach objectively and without assumption or bias should have the effect of enabling schools and teachers to open the discussion without having to fear litigation or disciplinary action.
The second operative provision of HB 481 requires schools to:
“(B) Require appropriate explanation and disclosure regarding:
(1) the historical nature of origins science, and
(2) the use of any material assumption which may have provided a basis for the explanation being presented;
Clause (B) (1) focuses on the need to appropriately explain the “historical nature” of origins science. Although experiments are used to validate certain conclusions and explanations, many of the fundamental explanations of evolutionary biology can not be tested by experiment because it is a historical science that seeks to explain singular past events that may have occurred in the distant past, where “laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes.”(2) Since experiments are not available to test explanations, evolutionary biologists do their work by “construct[ing] a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.”(3)
Children should be aware that this process of reconstruction brings a subjective element into the explanation that affects the credibility of the explanation. Unless the investigation is done objectively and thoroughly, the given “reconstruction” of past events may not warrant the same degree of confidence that one might have in a scientific explanation that may be checked by experiment in a laboratory.
Students should be appropriately informed about this inherent limitation on the ability of science to validate historical explanations about origins and understand that many of the explanations are based on very subjective opinions and speculations. This will enable students to better evaluate the credibility of the explanation given.
The need for an understanding of the historical nature of origins science is heightened by the recognition that current biology texts and curriculum are based on the irrebuttable assumption of methodological naturalism. When this assumption is used in an historical science where the explanation given can not be validated by experiment, there is essentially no factual basis to challenge the validity of the assumption itself. The result is that many evolutionary accounts are criticized as nothing more than story telling.
Accordingly, it is critical that students understand the historical nature of origins science and the need in this area of science for objective and thorough investigation and analysis to validate explanations.
Clause (B)(2) focuses on the need to appropriately explain the use of any material assumption which may have provided a basis for the explanation being presented. A complaint that has been made about current origins science is that not only does it use an inappropriate assumption – methodological naturalism – it fails to explain to students that the assumption is being used. Students are told that origins science explanations are based on experimental evidence derived per the scientific method without mentioning that the explanation is based on an assumption rather than a thorough investigation, testing and analysis of all the relevant evidence.
Thus, if an origins account is based on an assumption that phenomena in nature are not designed, then teachers should appropriately disclose that assumption and the effect that the assumption may have on the credibility of the explanations given. If appropriate disclosure of the assumption is not given, then the effect of the teaching will be to indoctrinate students in a belief in the hidden underlying naturalistic assumption.
This provision of the bill will require an examination of biology textbooks and other biology curriculum to ascertain whether they appropriately explain the historical character of origins science and the use of methodological naturalism to guide explanations of our origins. Supplements will need to be prepared to the extent that existing texts do not already provide appropriate explanations.
Encouraging Critical Thinking
The last provision of HB 481 seeks to encourage critical thinking skills in an area where parents complain that critical thinking has been discouraged. The operative provision requires schools to:
“(C) Encourage the development of curriculum that will help students think critically, understand the full range of scientific views that exist regarding the origins of life, and understand why origins science may generate controversy.”
Again, this provision is one which seeks to “permit” rather than mandate consideration by students of “the full range of scientific views that exist regarding the origins of life and understand why origins science may generate controversy.” Although, many in the science community would argue that there is only one accepted scientific view of origins (consistent with the use of methodological naturalism), a growing number of credentialed scientists disagree.
Recently the Discovery Institute published a list of 100 highly credentialed scientists who signed the following statement:
“I am skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.“(4)
This report was accompanied by the results of another poll about media treatment of Darwinian evolution. The Zogby Poll shows that over 80% of the public favor objective origins science such that “When public broadcasting networks discuss Darwin’s theory of evolution, they should present the scientific evidence for it, but also the scientific evidence against it.”(5)
Last year 91 U.S. Senators voted for a provision (the Santorum Amendment) in the federal education bill (H.B. 1) that is embraced by HB 481. Like HB 481, the Santorum Amendment encourages the development of curriculum that will help students think critically, “understand the full range of scientific views that exist regarding the origins of life, and understand why origins science may generate controversy.” The provision received favorable comment in the report of the House and Senate Conferees in recommending passage of the education act.
More recently, the Ohio State Board of Education received a report on comments from 309 respondents about proposed modifications to Ohio Science Standards that would promote objective origins science consistent with HB 481. The poll shows 88 % favoring objective origins science rather than blind adherence to methodological naturalism. The respondents included 83 persons holding doctoral degrees, 44 of which are in the life sciences.(6)
The existence of controversy is clear. All one need do is review the firestorm of debate in Ohio newspapers about proposed origins science standards being considered by the Ohio State Board of Education. Rather than get inaccurate and incomplete accounts of the debate, schools should encourage discussions that focus on an objective view of both sides of the arguments and controversy. This information should equip students to make informed decisions about matters affecting their lives.
DISCUSSION OF LEGAL ISSUES
HB 481 is designed to satisfy rather than to conflict with Ohio’s obligations under the Establishment and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
HB 481 essentially seeks to have origins science conducted objectively. It’s key provisions discourage mechanisms such as methodological naturalism to censor scientific evidence that life and its diversity may be designed. Many scientists claim that significant scientific evidence developed per the scientific method and empirical design detection methodologies lead to a design inference. Ohio school children should be permitted the opportunity to hear the evidence.
Although evidence of design is consistent with theistic belief, it may also be said that evolutionary theory is consistent with non-belief (or atheism or agnosticism). The evidence in both cases is not religious although it impacts religion. The goal of objective origins science is to see that the relevant evidence is shown without religious, philosophic or naturalistic bias or assumption. It is then up to the students, parents and others to decide what to ultimately believe about where the evidence leads.
The above discussion should make it perfectly clear that HB 481 seeks to promote no particular religious or nonreligious viewpoint. It seeks merely to insure that Ohio schools who choose to inform children about where they come from do so objectively and neutrally and without religious bias or assumption.
The cases that have proscribed state sponsored activity in origins science have been ones that sought to curb the promotion of a particular religious belief. – the Genesis account contained in the Bible [See McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F.Supp 1255 (E.D. Ark 1982) and Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 107 S.Ct. 2573 (1987) and “Teaching Origins Science in Public Schools, Section, Section 4.2]. Although no case has directly considered the use by a state of methodological naturalism to promote “nonreligion,” the holding in Epperson v. Arkansas would appear to be very consistent with HB 481 which seeks to eliminate indoctrination in Naturalism (“nonreligion”) in origins science. Like methodological naturalism, the illegal statute considered by the Epperson court, censored one of multiple views about origins.
This is also consistent with a recent Supreme Court case regarding the need for government to take a neutral posture in its practices that touch religion. In Good News Club, et.al. v. Milford Central School, No ___ U.S.___, No. 992036 (June 11, 2001), a school excluded a religious club from using school facilities that were made available to the public after hours. The school argued that it was required to exclude the club to satisfy its establishment clause obligations. In reversing the school, the Court held that refusing access to the club would threaten satisfaction of the school’s establishment clause obligations to remain neutral. According to Justice Thomas, “allowing the Club to speak on school grounds would ensure, not threaten, neutrality toward religion.” By same token, encouraging the elimination of methodological naturalism from the teaching of origins science would “ensure, not threaten, neutrality toward religion.”
For the foregoing reasons, we believe HB 481 will further rather than conflict with applicable law regarding origins science.
For a detailed discussion of the legal issues see: John Calvert. and William Harris, Teaching Origins Science in Public Schools, (Intelligent Design network, inc., March 2001, at http://www.IntelligentDesignNetwork.org/legalopinion.htm) and the cases and authorities cited therein.
- Mano Singham, The Science and Religion Wars (Phi Delta Kappan, 2000); John H. Calvert, J.D., and William S. Harris, Ph.D., Ending the War Between Science and Religion, (Intelligent Design network, inc., November 8, 2001 at http://www.IntelligentDesignnetwork.org/endingwar.htm; and John Calvert. and William Harris, Teaching Origins Science in Public Schools, Section 4.32, (Intelligent Design network, inc., March 2001, at http://www.IntelligentDesignNetwork.org/legalopinion.htm).
- Ernst Mayr, “Darwin’s Influence on Modern Thought,” p. 80, (July 2000, Scientific American). Dr. Mayr is described in the biographical sketch that accompanies the article at page 83 as “one of the towering figures in the history of evolutionary biology.”
- The list is published at: http://www.reviewevolution.com/press/pressRelease_100Scientists.php
- The final poll is published at: http://www.reviewevolution.com/press/ZogbyFinalReport.pdf.
- See Report on Comments on Proposed Modifications to Draft of Ohio Science Academic Content Standards, Tenth Grade, Life Sciences Section (indicators only), As of January 31, 2002, dated February 4, 2002. The Report may be obtained at http://www.IntelligentDesignNetwork.org/OhioPoll.htm
124th General Assembly
HB No. 481
REPRESENTATIVES Reidelbach, Collier, Hughes, Seitz, Flowers, Brinkman, Young, Roman, White, Willamowski, Schaffer, Gilb, Fessler, Hagan, Schmidt, Seaver
To enact section 3313.6013 of the Revised Code to require that whenever an explanation for the origins of life and its diversity is included in the instructional program of a school district or educational service center the instructional program shall encourage the presentation of scientific evidence objectively and disclose the historical nature of origins of life science and any material assumptions on which the explanation is based.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF OHIO:
Section 1. That section 3313.6013 of the Revised Code be enacted to read as follows:
Sec. 3313.6013. It is the intent of the general assembly that to enhance the effectiveness of science education and to promote academic freedom and the neutrality of state government with respect to teachings that touch religious and nonreligious beliefs, it is necessary and desirable that “origins science,” which seeks to explain the origins of life and its diversity, be conducted and taught objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption. To further this intent, the instructional program provided by any school district or educational service center shall do all of the following:
(A) Encourage the presentation of scientific evidence regarding the origins of life and its diversity objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption;
(B) Require that whenever explanations regarding the origins of life are presented, appropriate explanation and disclosure shall be provided regarding the historical nature of origins science and the use of any material assumption which may have provided a basis for the explanation being presented;
(C) Encourage the development of curriculum that will help students think critically, understand the full range of scientific views that exist regarding the origins of life, and understand why origins science may generate controversy.