There’s really not much more to report, except that House Bill 368 is still sitting on Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s desk, awaiting his signature or veto. Actually, there’s a third way, he can just ignore it, and it will become law after a set period of time.
The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial, Tennessee’s attack on the teaching of evolution, makes a few more points that were intended for the eyes of Gov. Haslam, if only we could be sure that he read the LA Times.
In deciding whether the bill advances a religious agenda, the governor needs to look at context and history as well as the text. A useful reference work would be a 2005 decision by a federal judge in Pennsylvania striking down a school board policy requiring that students be made aware of “gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design.” In that case, Judge John E. Jones concluded that intelligent design and teaching about “gaps” and “problems” in evolutionary theory are “creationist, religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism.”
This is a critical point. This legislation is not about teaching kids better science. It is not about a scientific controversy. It’s all about pushing religion in the public school system, and, sorry for beating the proverbial dead horse, it’s in violation of the constitutional prohibition against the government establishing a religion, as laid out in the Establishment Clause. There are probably 50 years of Supreme Court and lower court rulings that absolutely prohibit religious teaching in schools. And these same courts have stated that creationism is a religious belief. Why can’t these Republican legal geniuses figure this out?
Religious motives aside, the Tennessee bill reflects the view that there is a significant scientific controversy about the basic accuracy of Darwinian theory. There isn’t. But what of the “dissenting scientific views” the Discovery Institute cites? It is true that a tiny minority of scientists embrace some version of creationism or intelligent design (an even smaller cohort than the minority of scientists who question human contribution to global warming). There’s nothing wrong with a biology teacher acknowledging that fact as long as she makes it clear that evolutionary theory is the linchpin of the biological sciences, including medicine. It isn’t censoring a point of view to inform students that it is subscribed to by a tiny fringe.
Once again, and with all confidence, there is no scientific controversy regarding evolution. None. Intelligent design, or the more broad term, creationism, are supported by only a fringe group of scientists, most of them with little or no biological training. Occasionally, a fringe theory evolves into the mainstream theory; at one time, Darwinism might have been considered a fringe theory (only in the very strict sense that there was no competing theory other than a religious one at the time). Over the 150 years since Darwin presented his theory, there has been overwhelming evidence supporting evolution. There has really been no evidence uncovered that supports any other theory for the change of organisms over time.
Creationism has been and always will be a religion, based on faith and belief not on evidence. If some competing theory is to displace evolution, it requires testable, supportable and repeatable evidence, not strawman arguments or outright invention of data. The scientific method is not a mysterious, magical methodology to invent results; it is an unbiased philosophy for understanding the natural world.
The LA Times concludes with one of the best arguments for Governor Haslam to veto the bill:
Like such measures in other states, the Tennessee bill contains beguiling language about the importance of helping students to develop critical thinking skills. That is a vital part of education, especially in the more interactive atmosphere of a high school (though it is often opposed by religious conservatives who decry “relativism” in the classroom). But even in high school, and especially in science class, teachers have an obligation to the truth. The truth in this case, discomfiting as it may be to some Tennesseans, is that evolution is not “just a theory.”