Monday, February 21, 2011 - by David Fowler, President, Family Action Council of Tennessee
John Scopes, the Rhea County schoolteacher who in 1925 stood trial for violating a Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, would surely support new legislation pending before the General Assembly. After 86 years, Tennessee lawmakers have a chance to get the “scope” of science instruction right.
The crux of the infamous Scopes trial was the Tennessee General Assembly’s effort to reduce, by law, the scope of what could be taught in the science classroom, namely, to prevent the then relatively new theory of Darwinian evolution from being taught in the science classroom. The law was called the Butler Act, named after state Rep. John Butler, head of an organization known as the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association.
But now the shoe is on the other foot, and the scientific community, generally speaking, wants to use the law to limit the scope of what can be taught in science class, and they often seek to impugn any school of thought critical of Darwinian evolution.
For example, one high school science teacher in Tennessee last year did her best to make sure that students didn’t get a balanced understanding of intelligent design. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.
Now Tennessee does not require the teaching of intelligent design. In fact, the curriculum standard for Tennessee on the subject of evolution is one of the most one-sided, pro-evolution standards in the country. It provides that students shall be able to “summarize the supporting evidence for the theory of evolution.” No mention is given to the educational value of learning how to think critically about the state of the scientific evidence on evolution and to know both the strengths and weaknesses of that evidence.
But this teacher apparently wanted to make sure she didn’t do anything to undermine her students’ understanding of the evidence “supporting” evolution. She brought up intelligent design, a rival theory to evolution, and then made sure it was discredited. In fact, after having her class watch a rather one-sided PBS documentary decrying the theory of intelligent design, she then had her students write an essay about what they learned. To assist with the paper she provided students with writing prompts such as:
Why is evolution the only current acceptable scientific theory to explain the origin of the species?
How is bias a problem with [Intelligent Design] Theory?
What religion is spearheading the intelligent design movement?
And the coup de grace for the lesson on intelligent design was the prompt for the final paragraph:
Why is the separation of church and state so vital to the foundation and continuation of our way of life in America?
Certainly intelligent design theory is not without its critics, and if the subject is going to be taught, then discussion of those criticisms is appropriate. But it is also appropriate that students understand that intelligent design is a theory that many scientists are beginning to consider and hold because of the weaknesses in the scientific evidence supporting evolution. In fact, over 850 PhD.-level scientists from some of the finest universities around the world have subscribed to this statement:
We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.
The point is this: We need more science teaching, not less. In fact, today’s evolutionary scientists have become the modern-day equivalents of the legislators who passed the Butler Act. They want to limit even an objective discussion of the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.
To correct this problem, state Rep. Bill Dunn and state Sen. Bo Watson have filed legislation (Senate Bill 893/House Bill 368) that would permit science teachers “to help 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.” Note that the law does not require the teaching of intelligent design or creationism since they are not “scientific theories” that are being “covered in the course[s] being taught” in Tennessee. And the law is clear that the teacher is limited to discussing scientific evidence.
But the bill does one more important thing. The bill would make clear that no teacher can be disciplined for helping students evaluate all the evidence on the subject. Such a law in 1925 would have protected John Scopes.
Thus my bet is John Scopes might say that, with this bill, the Tennessee legislature has a chance to finally get it right when it comes to teaching science on the subject of evolution. They get their first chance this Wednesday when the bill comes up for its first hearing in the House Subcommittee on Education.
For more information about the bill and answers to frequently asked questions, click here. the bottom line
We need more science teaching, not less. In fact, today’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.
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I am troubled by Mr. Fowler’s support of this bill. It would appear that it is an effort to “get the camel’s nose under the tent.” There is a reason “Intelligent Design” is not taught in science classes. It’s not science, it’s religion. If you wish to expose our students to religious theories it would be totally appropriate to have a religions class where all religions and religious theories are discussed. That might give our children a more realistic view of the world and those they will have to deal with in the future.
Let’s answer the questions, the teacher asked, quoted in your letter…
Q:Why is evolution the only currently acceptable scientific theory to explain the origin of the species?
A:Natural selection is the accepted theory due to the enormous amount of empirical evidence collected, not only by Darwin, but by many scientists since, which point, with little uncertainty, to the evolving of the different species both plant and animal.
Q: How is bias a problem with [Intelligent Design] Theory?
A: When you start out trying to prove something you already believe, human nature tends to slant the evidence to prove you are correct. A theory or hypothesis is a question. You gather evidence to either prove or disprove that hypothesis. If you already know the answer you want you only look at the evidence that proves it, not that which disproves, hence the bias.
Q: What religion is spearheading the intelligent design movement?
A:Does it really matter? Many religions want to prove that their doctrine is the best or the only one.
Q: Why is the separation of church and state so vital to the foundation and continuation of our way of life in America?
A: Actually the “separation of church and state” is not in the constitution. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Our founding fathers were aware of the effect having the church involved in government had wrought in Europe from the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition, Martin Luther, even Galileo. They wanted to make sure that our government was secular in nature and not ruled by the church. It’s all about guaranteeing personal freedom and keeping the government out of individuals lives and minds.
“Intelligent Design” or “Creationism” is a religious precept, not a scientific one and teaching it as science is confusing to both students and teachers alike. Teach it in a world religion class but not in science.
Any teacher worth their salt will allow the students to discuss the topic or theory of evolution in their class. It doesn’t take a legislative action to allow that, unless you are trying to “get the religious camel’s nose under the science tent.”
I have no problem teaching religion in the schools, just don’t try to wrap it in science. Faith is a belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. For Intelligent Design to be science you must have both.
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David Fowler has made us aware of a bill in the state legislature beginning to make its way to law. The bill, while innocuous in it wording, certainly suggests “the camel’s nose” so nicely put by Mr. Price.
A crucial part of the bill is worded thus:
Toward this end [the teaching of scientific theories], teachers shall be permitted to help 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.
Now who could be against that? Surely any science teacher would want to do all those things for each theory under consideration in any class. The rub comes, of course, when we ask whether “intelligent design” is a “critique” of the theory of evolution based on its “scientific weaknesses.” Mr. Fowler has asserted that 850 scientists have subscribed to a statement (provided by the Discovery Institute) that asserts skepticism of random mutation and natural selection and the encouragement of a careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory. I would think any scientist would encourage skepticism of any theory; skepticism is science’s middle name. And encouraging careful examination of evidence is part of skepticism. However, only 850 signed that statement. That is less than one tenth of one percent of the scientists and engineers in the US. If we were to include scientists and engineers worldwide then the number shrinks to further insignificance. And that is over a rather neutral statement. There are very few creationist/intelligent design scientists in the US and their work has not achieved the level support among scientists that would justify its inclusion in any legitimate biology or earth science course. A further problem with intelligent design is that the hypothesis can’t be falsified which is crucial to modern scientific investigation.
Darwin’s theory certainly has scientific criticism; not in the generic sense but in the details. Whether or not a teacher should go into these criticisms would probably depend on the time given to the topic when so much else demands attention and the depth of the teacher’s knowledge of all the criticisms of the details. After all, some of the criticism is subtle and requires lots of background.
Furthermore, Mr. Fowler reports that the bill in question prohibits anyone in power from stopping a teacher from teaching the “scientific weaknesses.” The bill states:
Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state 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.
I’m pleased that the state legislature states that no one should keep a teacher from doing his or her job. The job, however, entails dealing with science. Creation science, despite its descriptor, is not science and the assertions of less than one percent of all the scientists worldwide do not make it science.
My reading of this bill would not prohibit a teacher, or anyone in authority from keeping non-scientific criticism of a scientific theory out of the science classroom. However, there are those who might think it so. The bill is vague and is intended, as Mr. Price notes, to let the nose of the camel in. I hope it will be defeated somewhere along the way.
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Mr. Price says, "When you start out trying to prove something you already believe, human nature tends to slant the evidence to prove you are correct."
Wouldn't the same be true for evolutionists?
For a completely unbiased review of the evidence to test an unbiased hypothesis, we will need six-year-olds to conduct the experiments. And even they will be slanted toward what their Daddy said.
It's not so much that creationists are dabbling in science as that evolutionists are dabbling in religion. Let's teach both subjects in the religion classes. No wonder the foreign students are killing us in the sciences.
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Sometimes I am amazed at what passes for public discourse. This whole conversation about "scientific design" smacks of the Dark Ages. I wonder if these folks belong to the Flat Earth Society.
Steve Daugherty Sr.