The Tennessee State Senate passed an amended version of a bill that opens classrooms to debate that questions established scientific theories.
The bill says that teachers would be allowed to find ways to deal with “debate and disputation” over subjects like evolution and global warming.
Opponents say the bill opens the way for religious and political statements to be inserted into science classrooms as though they were equal to scientific theories.
Senator Andy Berke, a Democrat from Chattanooga, says mixing religious ideas with science is a bad idea.
“I believe deeply in my faith, and if my children ask my teacher, ‘how does what I’m learning today mesh with my faith?’ …I don’t want my teacher answering that question.”
The bill’s sponsor, Bo Watson, a Republican from Chattanooga, says introducing religious theories is not the intent of the bill. He argues that only approved science curricula can be taught in science classrooms.
The bill passed 24 to 8.
Now the bill goes back to the House, so the lower chamber can concur with the changes made by the Senate. Both chambers must pass the exact same language before the bill can be sent to the governor.
Senator Tim Barnes, a Democrat from Adams, said the listed subjects – global warmilng, evolution, the chemical basis for life, human cloning – appear aimed at political controversy, not scientific inquiry.
“I think sometimes there’s a blurring of the lines as to whether or not it’s subject to debate because of the scientific theories, the scientific debate, or the political debate.”
Watson steered clear of any on religious beliefs. But an ally, Johnson City Republican Rusty Crowe, brought the religious aspect out into the open.
“The scenarios are such that they’re teaching evolution in the science, and in the classes that they’re teaching, but some of the students are saying, ‘Wait a minute, this doesn’t mesh with what I learned in Sunday School.'”
The Senate amendment to the bill (Senate Amendment #1) is new.
It states an intention to clarify how teachers should “present information when debate and disputation occur on such subjects.” The subjects, laid out in the preamble to the bill, including “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
Earlier eight Tennessee scientists – the state’s representatives in the National Academy of Sciences – expressed opposition to the bill.
From their statement:
“As scientists whose research involves and is based upon evolution, we affirm — along with the nation’s leading scientific organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences — that evolution is a central, unifying, and accepted area of science. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming; there is no scientific evidence for its supposed rivals (‘creation science’ and ‘intelligent design’) and there is no scientific evidence against it.”
The scientists are responding to a national effort by the Discovery Institute, a group that previously backed the teaching of creationism and “intelligent design” in schools and argued that their believers should “teach the controversy.”
The “teach the controversy” campaign has been going on since at least 2005 – it was covered that year by the New York Times.
Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee State University announced that the executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., will discuss “Creationism vs. Evolution” Monday, March 26, at 7 p.m. in the Business and Aerospace Building’s State Farm Lecture Hall, (BAS 102).
From the MTSU news release:
A former university professor, Scott has been both a researcher and an activist in the creationism/evolution controversy for more than 25 years…Scott has received national recognition for her National Center for Science Education activities, including awards from scientific and educational societies, skeptics groups and humanist groups…
Scott is the author of “Evolution vs. Creationism” and co-editor, with Glenn Branch, of “Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools.”