Tennessee Anti-Evolution Update

Tennessee’s latest legislative attack on the teaching of evolution, HB368, was voted out of the House Education Committee this week. It will now go to the House Calendar and Rules Committee for a vote before being introduced to the House floor. A companion bill, SB 893, remains in the Senate Education Committee.

I wrote about the bill earlier this month here and here.

As with most of the other anti-evolution bills that have been introduced this year in states across the country, the Tennessee legislation does not specifically mention creationist or intelligent design. Rather, it says that the teachers must be helped “to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” It also says that teachers may not be prohibited from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”

Those “controversial” theories? “Biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

The bill’s language is based on sample legislation proposed by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, an organization that promotes intelligent design.

David Fowler, head of the conservative Christian Family Action Council of Tennessee, which is affiliated with Focus on the Family, and is one of the bill’s primary lobbyists. In defending the bill’s language, he has tried to draw on comparisons to the famous Scopes monkey trial that took place 86 years ago in his state.

“…[T]oday’s evolutionary scientists have become the modern-day equivalents of those who tried to silence Rhea County schoolteacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in 1925, by limiting even an objective discussion of the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory,” Fowler wrote last month in an op–ed in the Chattanoogan.

But “strengths and weaknesses” are merely code words to try to water down the teaching of evolution. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, has issued a statement against the bill: “Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts [i.e., global warming and evolution] when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them.”

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Lauri Lebo is the author of The Devil in Dover: Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America, a book about the 2005 First Amendment trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover in which intelligent design was ruled creationism.