If you thought that questioning the teaching of evolution in Tennessee belonged to 1925 and the Scopes “monkey” trial, think again.
A bill that allows Tennessee public school teachers to teach alternatives to mainstream scientific theories such as evolution and climate change went into effect on April 10, after Governor Bill Haslam refused to sign or veto the measure. Under the Tennessee State Constitution, a bill automatically becomes law if the governor fails to sign it within 10 days.
Care2′s Jessica Pieklo updated us last month on the progress of this legislation; it has now passed the Tennessee House and Senate.
In the 1925 case, John Scopes, a high school science teacher from Dayton, Tennessee, was prosecuted by the state for violating a state law against teaching evolution. He was found guilty, but the verdict was overturned on a technicality.
Almost 90 years later, today’s Tennessee law does not ban the teaching of evolution, but sneakily encourages teachers to “present the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”
But, as noted by the nonprofit National Center for Science Education, the only examples given in the bill of possible controversial theories are “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
As The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss explains:
The problem is that there is no important “scientific weakness” in the theory of evolution that could scientifically undermine its essential truth. Scientists agree that it is the animating principle of modern biology. Scientists also agree on the reality of climate change.
“Telling students that evolution and climate change are scientifically controversial is miseducating them,” said the National Center for Science Education’s executive director, Eugenie C. Scott. “Good science teachers know that. But the Tennessee legislature has now made it significantly harder to ensure that science is taught responsibly in the state’s public schools.”
To allow creationism and evolution to be debated side by side in a science classroom is just plain wrong, even if the Tennessee legislature thinks otherwise. Students in Tennessee deserve better than this.
Because let’s get one thing clear: intelligent design, or creationist theory, is in fact not a scientific alternative view to evolution. It is a religious belief that God intervenes, or did intervene, in the physical world. And religious beliefs do not belong in a science classroom.
Attempts by states to teach creationism and other alternatives to mainstream scientific theories have mostly been stymied in the past by the federal prohibition against promoting religion in public schools, but the Tennessee legislature has found a way around this.
Indeed, anti-evolution bills have been introduced this year in at least six states, and in 2008 Louisiana passed a bill that gives teachers license to equate creationism with evolution.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Association of Biology Teachers have both condemned the bill, along with more than 4,000 Tennessee residents who submitted a petition to ask the Republican governor, William Haslam, to veto the bill.
He refused to listen, and the children of Tennessee will suffer as a result. As a high school teacher, this makes me angry. Teachers have a responsibility to present the truth to students, to open up their minds, and to challenge them. In Tennessee, by contrast, teachers are being asked to warp the truth. Back to the future?
What do you think?
Photo Credit: beautifulcataya