ACLU opposes free speech, scientific exchange over intelligent design in West Virginia schools

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took a stand against free speech, opposing a West Virginia bill that would make the teaching of intelligent design in public schools constitutional.

The 200-word bill, SB 619, would allow “teachers in public schools that include any one or more of grades kindergarten through 12 to teach intelligent design as a theory of how the universe and/or humanity came to exist.”

In opposition, the ACLU cites the two-decades-old decision of a federal court in a Delaware case that contends that the teaching of intelligent design, which it mislabels “creationism,” is a violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Teaching any form of creationism in public schools is unconstitutional,” the ACLU claims. “It undermines science education, and it is likely to embroil school districts in lengthy and costly litigation.” 

The new bill however, wouldn’t mandate the teaching of intelligent design, but simply allow it to be put forward as one theory that explains the existence of the universe.

Intelligent design science has advanced in the last several decades and is no longer limited to the age-old conflict between Darwin’s theory of evolution and creationism. Instead, intelligent design contends that physics, cosmology, the origins of life, and the development of biological complexity couldn’t have happened spontaneously, irrespective of how it came to be.

“The laws of the universe are complex because they are highly unlikely. Cosmologists have calculated the odds of a life-friendly universe appearing by chance are less than one part in 1010^123. That’s ten raised to a power of 10 with 123 zeros after it,” writes the Discovery Institute, a non-partisan think tank that researches the sciences, humanities and public policy. 

The ACLU ironically notes that only 28 percent of students in West Virginia are proficient in science – even as the teaching of intelligent design is already prohibited. The group also worries that by teaching intelligent design, the state will not be able to attract scientific and high-tech companies because they will think “its government does not value, and many of its residents do not possess, basic scientific knowledge.”

However, the censorship of intelligent design should be more concerning to scientists than the free exchange of ideas about how intelligent design contributes to the universe – especially since an increasing body of hard-scientific research by mathematicians such as William Dembski, suggests that there is more than just chance at work in the universe.  

“[H]ow does one advance the principle of free inquiry by banning particular approaches because one finds them philosophically disagreeable?” asked Jim Gibson of the Geoscience Research Institute, who holds a PhD in Biology, about the banning of intelligent design discourse.

SB 619, sponsored by Sens. Amy Nichole Grady, R-District 4, and Jay Taylor, R-District 14, is currently with the House Education Committee after passing the Senate 27-6 vote Feb. 25.