Friday, March 18, 2011

HB 2454

I rarely comment on current politics.  Still, I want to say something here.  A bill has been proposed in the Texas Legislature to ban discrimination on the basis of Intelligent Design (ID) research at colleges.  To lay my cards on the table, I think it is still an open question whether the amount of time available for evolutionary processes was sufficient for the sort of complexities we observe to be at all likely to observe, and I suspect we are still quite some distance from having mathematical models of the development of anything with sufficient complexity to close the question.  So research on ID should, I think, continue.  And no doubt unjustified discrimination connected with research on ID exists.  But the bill is really embarrassing:
Sec. 51.979.  PROHIBITION OF DISCRIMINATION BASED ON RESEARCH RELATED TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN. An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member's or student's conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.
Here are three reasons for embarrassment:

  1. Theories of "the origination and development of organisms" concern not evolutionary theory as such but reproductive and developmental biology.  As a commenter here noted, an alternate theory in this realm is "storkism" (presumably the theory that human children come from storks rather than from human mating).  ID concerns something else, something more like the origination and development of types of organisms.
  2. A French Department should be able to discriminate against a prospective faculty member whose primary research is on ID rather than French language, culture and/or literature.  Likewise, it is perfectly reasonable for a Biology Department that required students in a class to do laboratory research on the present functioning of red blood cells to discriminate against a student who, instead, did a research on ID.  Maybe an implicit exception for the bona fide requirements of a task can be assumed, but it would also take some of the teeth out of the bill.
  3. Everyone, whatever they think of ID, should agree that it is reasonable for a college to deny tenure/promotion, refrain from hiring or giving a low grade on the basis of intellectually shoddy ID research.  Now, the bill either does or does not allow discrimination on the basis of shoddy ID research.  If it does not, then it is clearly unacceptable--it provides a delightful formula for tenure and promotion: do research on ID, and they have to promote you no matter how bad the research is, or else you sue.  Suppose, charitably, discrimination on the basis of shoddy ID research would stil be permissible.  But now the bill is close to useless.  For those scientists who are likely to discriminate on the basis of ID research also say that it is their professional judgment all ID research (or at least all ID-supportive research) is intellectually shoddy.  So if they can still discriminate on the basis of shoddiness of research, the bill does nothing to protect ID researchers.


brian_g said...

This is unfortunate. If ID is to become a respectable alternative hypothesis to evolution, it needs to win the battle intellectually, not in the courts and in the legislature.

Compare this to what William Lane Craig calls a renascence in Christian philosophy. He's observed that there has been a shift in the philosophy community to one that is more sympathetic to Christian theism. But this shift didn't come about because of laws requiring equal time. It came about because of Christians doing good philosophy work that deserved to be taken seriously.

If a person is hoping for a similar renascence in science, then he should want it to come about because of good scientific work, not because of favorable laws.

Clifton said...

For that matter, it looks like you could even plagiarize all your ID research and still be in the clear, since the plagiarism would be a feature of the conduct of your ID research.