There’s been lots of news this week regarding anti-evolution legislation. Republicans in various state legislatures are starting to push their religious agenda in violation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution. Remember, according to the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution, teaching religion in public schools is prohibited, and numerous court rulings have clearly stated that creationism is a religious doctrine, not a scientific controversy. These Republican legislatures are trying to push a full anti-science agenda, forcing school children to think that abiogenesis (the origin of life on Earth), global warming and evolution are somehow scientifically unsound principles. In the real world, these is no controversy, except with regards to fine-tuning mechanisms, rather than on the broad theory.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is reporting that the Oklahoma anti science bill, HB 1551, passes the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a 56-12 vote this week. If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the Governor, the bill would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” There are few, if any, scientific weaknesses in biological evolution, the origins of life and global warming. There is some discussion about mechanisms, but that’s just refinement of the theory. For example, evolution, that is the change of the genetic makeup of species over time and geologic location, is simply not under question. The evolutionary mechanisms of genetic drift and natural selection are not under any question too, although they are being refined as more research as being done. There just is no controversy in science.
The same can be said for global warming, where the only controversy is political and sociological. Furthermore, many believe that there is also a strong religious bias within global warming denialists. Abiogenesis, the theory of the origin of life, is not controversial, although admittedly, the mechanisms of abiogenesis are being studied, and for many, the chemical nature of the origin of life is fairly well understood.
Douglas W. Mock, a distinguished professor in University of Oklahoma’s Department of Zoology, wrote:
Wrapped in the deceptive language of promoting critical thinking, they aim to get the nose of a malodorous camel (pseudoscience) inside the tent of science. This camel has tried before, many times, and been rebuffed — for good reason. The low scientific literacy of our citizens is a serious concern that’s not helped by adding fake controversies.
According to the NCSE, the evolution-as-theory bill was defeated in New Hampshire was defeated in the House. The vote was a resounding 280-7, which makes me wonder why it was even brought up for a vote. The bill would have required “evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.” The bill also required teachers to determine the religious and political viewpoint of every scientist mentioned in biology textbooks. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the NCSE called the legislation “dopey.” I might have used some more colorful language, but dopey works for me.
Clearly, the legislation didn’t even pretend to try to meet the constitutional and judicial standards set by the Establishment Clause. And given that the New Hampshire house has a 295-105 Republican majority (that’s not good for a Democratic state), nearly every Republican and Democrat was opposed to the bill, an amazing level of moderation on the part of politicians.
So good news in New Hampshire.
As we discussed recently, Tennessee has decided to relive a part of its history, the Scopes Monkey Trial, since its legislature is considering a creationist bill. The NCSE is reporting that Tennessee’s top scientists oppose the “monkey bills”. A statement, cosigned by Stanley Cohen, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1986, Roger D. Cone, George M. Hornberger, Daniel Masys, John A. Oates, Liane Russell, Charles J. Sherr, and Robert Webster, all of whom are Tennesseans and are members of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world’s most prestigious and independent science organizations, stated the following:
These bills misdescribe evolution as scientifically controversial. 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.
These bills encourage teachers to emphasize what are misdescribed as the “scientific weaknesses” of evolution, which in practice are likely to include scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution. As educators whose teaching involves and is based on evolution, we affirm–along with the nation’s leading science education organizations, including the National Association of Biology Teachers and the National Science Teachers Association–that evolution is a central and crucial part of science education. Neglecting evolution is pedagogically irresponsible.
By undermining the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s public schools, HB 368 and SB 893 would miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation, and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.
Nothing more needs to be said by Tennessee’s anti-evolution effort.