Tennessee passes law allowing creationism in the classroom

By Phil Plait | April 11, 2012 8:13 am

Well, that’s it then. Tennessee’s governor, William Haslam, allowed a clearly antiscience bill to pass into law. It is now legal to essentially teach creationism in Tennessee public school classrooms.

You can read about the background of all this in an earlier post. The TN House and Senate both passed this terrible, terrible bill, and Governor Haslam allowed it to beome law, saying,

I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools.

This is, to not to put too fine a point on it, a crock. The legislation is designed specifically to allow creationism to be taught in classes, something the courts have clearly stated is against the law, and which just as clearly is unacceptable in our schools.

Governor Haslam, I’ll note, didn’t actually sign the bill into law. In Tennessee, a bill passes by default if the governor takes too long to sign it. By not vetoing it directly, he allowed it to pass. That action, combined with his wishy-washy statement, makes it clear he is doing this for purely political motives. This way, it’s a law and the creationists are happy, and if people accuse him of weakening the Constitution and allowing a specific religion to be taught in public schools — which he’s doing — then he can say he didn’t actually sign the bill. Nice, huh?

So instead of doing the right thing, he has allowed students in classrooms across Tennessee to undergo religious indoctrination, despite a prior and clear Supreme Court ruling making it illegal.

And for this those of you who will want to split hairs and say this law only makes it legal to teach scientific weaknesses, and doesn’t make it legal to teach creationism, I call baloney. There is zero doubt — zero — that this will be used to teach creationism in the classroom under the guise of demonstrating (what they claim, wrongly, as) weaknesses in evolutionary science. [Update: Steve Novella at the NeuroLogica blog has more details on this.]

So, unless and until someone fights this law and takes it to court to preserve the scientific integrity of the Tenessee public school classroom…

MORE ABOUT: creationism, Tennessee

Comments (133)

  1. intothemoonbeam

    As a former Tennessee resident this makes me sad. I love the state and I attended public schools in Tennessee from Kindergarten to College but sadly until this gets changed I will never move back to my home state because I wouldn’t dare have my kids sit in a public classroom with this silly law intact. :(

  2. Evan

    This is gonna end up in the exact opposite of the Scopes Trial

  3. Mykl Carlton

    Oooh! the sky is falling! The slippery slope!

    “this law only makes it legal to teach scientific weaknesses, and doesn’t make it legal to teach creationism”
    Sounds reasonable to me.

    We’re doomed!!!!!!!

  4. I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again. All we need is for a teacher to leverage the wording in the bill– the same vague terminology regarding “– to begin demonstrating weaknesses in both evolutionary science *and* in religious doctrine, and teach the students how to think critically, deconstruct information and sift fact from fiction.

    There’s plenty of backwards scientific thinking out there that comes from passive learning; a lot of people assume science is absolute, when it’s not. Science said that the Sun and Stars revolved around the Earth, once, or that base metals could be transformed into gold; eventually, Science was changed to reflect the new, gained knowledge. It isn’t a religion, to be upheld and never challenged (as religions oft are); it’s a way of thinking, a drive to know truth in its’ purest form.

    A handful of students will be taught to think for themselves, and then creationists will throw a fit that the Godless Liberals are polluting their children’s minds with Satanist (whoops, sorry, meant to write “scientist”) mentality.

    Alternatively, they’ll be happy with their two and a half teachers that will “debunk” science with creationism, and Tennessee students will benefit on the whole by the teachers that use this terrible power for good, rather than God.

  5. MMM

    I wonder if teachers could use this law to defend themselves if they decided to teach evolution aggressively – eg, explain in great detail exactly why creationists are full of it…

  6. Let’s assume for a second that Governor Haslam is right and this won’t change anything. Then, why would this bill be needed? Do we need to pass a “Hey, everyone, murder is still illegal” bill just in case people have forgotten that killing people is bad? It doesn’t make sense to pass a bill that doesn’t change anything.

    So we can only conclude that this bill *WILL* change things. Once we conclude that, it’s a matter of deciding whether it will strengthen science education or weaken it. The proponents of the bill, I’m sure, will argue it strengthens science education by having kids learn about the “flaws”.

    The problem here is that these theories don’t have flaws so much as they have are minor points of contention that are out of the scope of a high school science class. Things like “How many millions of years ago exactly did X branch off from Y?” or “How long does interbreeding between diverging species continue and how did it affect the lines?” (NOTE: These are off the top of my head. I’m sure someone else could come up with better examples.)

    These are issues for scientists with years of study behind them and with access to as much evidence (fossils, DNA, etc) as they can get. This isn’t the realm of high school students who have 45 minutes of science class three days a week for sixteen weeks. Kids need to spend this time learning what the most current accepted theories are, not where the i’s need to be dotted and the t’s need to be crossed. They certainly don’t need to be wasting their limited time learning that some people think some mysterious Designer (*wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* *cough* God *cough*) really created everything when no real scientist believes this.

  7. @MMM:

    That’s basically what I’m talking about. My recall of the bill is fuzzy, but I believe the wording is vague enough that one could just as easily use it to teach students Daoism, Buddhism, Satanism, or about the Flying Spaghetti Monster instead of Christianity. Why not use it for science instead?

  8. Brian

    “I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools.”
    So basically you don’t believe this law accomplishes or does anything, but you still signed it. I thought you Republicans liked small government.

  9. @ Mykl Carlton:

    “this law only makes it legal to teach scientific weaknesses, and doesn’t make it legal to teach creationism”
    Sounds reasonable to me.

    What do you suppose a good teacher teaching real science does? Good science is all about testing theories for weaknesses, and then proposing new theories – backed by evidence – that take care of those weaknesses.

    I’d like to see (well, actually, I wouldn’t) the fuss that would be raised if religious myths about creation were taught the same way.

  10. What kills me most about this is Haslam’s act of cowardice. He didn’t like the bill, he thought it had serious shortcomings, he wouldn’t sign it, but he didn’t oppose it from becoming law. To borrow a metaphor he’ll understand, he was Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of a mess rather than doing what’s right and exercising his position to actually govern rather than simply pander.

  11. I don’t know enough to believe that nothing created everything, which a belief in the way science is currently taught requires.

    The Big Bang Theory, as stated, requires an amount of energy to cause it, and the theory itself doesn’t teach where that comes from.

  12. @Brian,

    No, he didn’t sign it. In TN, he can just let it pass into law by not veto-ing it. As @Greg Fish and others said, it’s an act of political cowardice. If there are political points to be gained from the bill, he can claim to be a supporter. If the bill winds up being a political liability, he can claim “Hey, I never signed that bill!” In other words, he’s retroactively for or against it depending on which position will advance him the most politically at the moment.

  13. Duderino

    Republicans love this…keep your voters stupid and they’ll vote you in.

  14. Theron

    I would point out that the TN capitol building where they voted on this is built out of Ordovician limestone. The Nashville basin is basically a thin layer of topsoil on top of a 450 million-year-old sea floor. Fossils from that ere are easy enough to find if you know where to look — and even if you don’t!

  15. In Tennessee it only takes a simple majority to override a veto and the bill passed with huge majorities in both houses, so he couldn’t block it if he wanted to. However, he (Haslam) is right that the bill is pretty meaningless. It is a version of a much scarier creationism bill that has been so watered down that it is pretty much just a symbolic action.

  16. John

    As a TN science teacher*, Phil, I wish you’d be above fearmongering – and yes, it happens even in intellectual circles. We’re going to do what we always do. The legistators were big enough idiots to not even get what they want in the bill, and Haslam’s right that it changes nothing. If you read a little more than whatever article was forwarded to you, maybe you’d have realized that.

    I get the concept of a slippery slope, and I’m not happy with this either; but making it sound worse than it is will make it harder for me and a lot of other teachers to do their jobs with any semblance of credibility. This was a political act, and there’s a lot of stuff in the bill that is simply unenforceable – teachers are “expected to respond with respect to differing opinions from all students” (not an exact quote)? I’d love to see them come and enforce that. This entire thing is posturing.

    In summation – I like what you do, and you are obviously passionate about science education (so am I). This isn’t a step forward, but it’s not a step back. Treating it as such, though, will lead to portraying all TN science teachers as, at best, imprisoned minds being forced to teach something against their will, or, at worst, willful advocates for nonscientific theories in their own classrooms. Neither is true.

    *Technically, a hiatused teacher – I’m back in school getting another degree, but I’ll be heading back into the classroom soon after.

  17. Dan_Veteran

    The Governor Haslam is simply following the first two rules of politics. 1) Get elected. 2) Get re-elected. He must have thought vetoing this bill would hurt his chance of re-election, therefore the people of Tennessee have spoken. Doomed or Not Doomed we shall see. Almost all politicians follow these two laws regardless of what makes sense or what is right and moral.

  18. John

    @TechyDad – Assume the people writing the bill knew what they were doing. Looking at the content and goal of the bill, this is clearly not true. Therefore, you can have a law that, like this one, will do nothing. QED

  19. Brett

    What a stupid decision by the Tennessee Congress. Now they’re going to have to spend money defending it in court against the inevitable challenge, which is essentially money that they’re throwing away because Edwards vs. Aguillard and Dover vs. Kitzmiller explicitly forbid this.

  20. It’s not only anti-science, it’s anti-knowledge. Reality offends some people.

  21. Daniel J. Andrews

    The bill isn’t just dealing with creationism. It is still going to be hard to teach in a classroom due to the state-religion thing. The more worrying aspect of the bill is that it will allow the undermining of any science that is inconvenient and doesn’t fall under state-religion separation.

    That includes things like global warming denialism, HIV-AIDS denialism, acid rain is natural and produced by trees, the ozone wasn’t being destroyed by CFCs, asbestos and second-hand smoke don’t cause cancer, the ocean isn’t acidifying, DDT wasn’t all that bad, Rachel Carson was responsible for banning of DDT and millions of deaths due to malaria, all* of which have been and are promoted by right-wing think tanks attempting to manufacture controversy and rewrite history to match their preconceived ideological opinions.

    Under this law a teacher could teach blatant nonsense that contradicts all known science and still be protected. E.g. geocentrism because there is quite a bit of material on the web defending this view and there are PhDs who promote it. Ooh, heliocentrism isn’t settled. Teach the controversy–and this time you don’t need to worry about violating the Constitution.

    To me, this malleable definition of what is controversial is the real danger of this law. All a teacher has to do is claim something is controversial is show a few websites, a signed petition, some books on the subject and they’re safe to continue to teach their brand of antiscience.

    *with the possible exception of HIV-AIDS denialism

  22. John

    @Brett – Edward v. Aguillard struck down a requirement to teach creationism, which this bill is not doing. Dover v. Kitzmiller struck down a requirement to teach intelligent design, and declared ID a form of creationism in the eyes of the American government.

    Neither of those are what this bill is advocating – it’s an empty suit of a bill. But thanks to Phil’s wonderful framing of the events via his title, many aren’t reading his articles, the linked articles, or much less the bill itself.

  23. Lancifer

    Much ado about nothing.

    The bill is just a fig leaf to appease Christian yocals and makes no inroad for Creationism or ID. It basically allows teachers and students to discuss the deficiencies of scientific hypotheses and theories.

    Would you prefer that these subjects be presented as sacrosanct dogma? So long as the alleged “deficiencies” are approached rationally and with empirical evidence it could reinforce the scientific method and emphasize the fact that the great strength of science is it’s ability to adapt to new evidence rather than adhere to demonstrably false dogma.

    Unfortunately, like all of human interaction, these topics have become emblematic of cultural differences in our society and are defended emotionally by people on both sides.

  24. Blargh

    @ John

    This was a political act, and there’s a lot of stuff in the bill that is simply unenforceable – teachers are “expected to respond with respect to differing opinions from all students” (not an exact quote)? I’d love to see them come and enforce that.

    Would you really? To me, that sounds like an open invitation to get a teacher fired for not acquiescing to some creationist student’s proselytizing in the classroom.

    “I’m sorry, but you quite clearly told him that a 6000-year-old Earth is a preposterous idea that is wholly incompatible with science. As you weren’t respecting his differing opinion in this controversial field, you are not living up to the science teaching standards of this state. Goodbye.”

  25. Daniel J. Andrews

    Quick addendum. Nature has a comment on this.

    nature.com/news/tennessee-monkey-bill-becomes-law-1.10423

    But in Tennessee, unlike in Louisiana, the law requires teachers to stay within the state science curriculum. So the ramifications of the law will depend on how local teachers and school boards interpret that requirement. “There are school districts in Tennessee that don’t pay any attention to the state curriculum,” says Timothy Gaudin, a biologist at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga. “So there are some people who are going to do what they want to do no matter what.”

    Gaudin and Cone agree that the law could cost Tennessee dearly if parents sue — which they might have grounds to do. The US Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that the mandated teaching of creationism alongside the theory of evolution in public classrooms was unconstitutional. So far, no one has challenged Louisiana’s law in court.

    For that reason, says Rosenau, “my guess is that the greatest practical effect will actually be on the climate-change and human-cloning fronts rather than evolution, because there’s no constitutional issue on those subjects”.

    So seems hard to interpret. Perhaps there won’t be any more antiscience material taught than is currently taught anyway???

  26. John

    @Blargh – with evidence to back it up? Absolutely. And I would be able to treat that student’s question/answer/proselytizing with the same respect I’d give any student. I’m not there to beat evolution or Big Bang cosmology or whatever into their head, I’m there to be a guide while they learn.

  27. Brian D

    @Mike Shields #12:

    I don’t know enough to believe that nothing created everything, which a belief in the way science is currently taught requires.

    No, that’s not really what it teaches. Much of the confusion comes in different meanings of the word “nothing”. For us, vacuum used to be considered “nothing” (and the church actually asserted that vacuum couldn’t exist, which made things somewhat interesting for Toricelli). Today, we know it isn’t. And to a physicist, your statement is about as oblique.

    A real understanding of nothing is somewhat counterintuitive; modern physics tells us that our intuition on “nothing” is about as unrealistic as Einstein told us our intuition was on “space” and “time”. For a very good introduction, I’d suggest Lawrence Krauss.

    .

    By the way, I second David Andrews – calling this a “creationism” bill belies the real danger. From the LA Times, emphasis mine:

    The law does not require the teaching of alternatives to scientific theories of evolution, climate change and “the chemical origins of life.” Instead, it aims to prevent school administrators from reining in teachers who expound on alternative hypotheses to those topics.

    So, in short, I could be a teacher in Tennessee and teach absolutely perfect introductions to evolution, genetics, and ecology… but claim that there’s no way that humans could be changing the climate because of any of a host of idiotic reasons. And this law would protect me from the school acting to stop me. This got past the courts because it isn’t imposing a requirement to teach antiscience (i.e. get good teachers to teach bad science) – it’s trying to remove the penalty for opting to teach antiscience (i.e. stopping good teachers from getting bad teachers from teaching bad science).

  28. Lars

    @Mike Shields:

    Nah, that’s a straw man argument. Better luck next time.

  29. @Mykl Carlton – one of the dangers is that we are likely to find a misinformed public insist on the teaching of “weaknesses” based not upon science, but ideology.

  30. @ Lars:

    Key quote from Mike Shields’ post:

    I don’t know enough…

  31. Mike

    @John, “…I’m there to be a guide while they learn.”

    I hope you mean that you’re there to guide them to our best understanding of how the universe works.

  32. charles

    is TN conservative? this is a GOP tuff! not surprising! it is called reverse advancement! or infant regression of a state!

  33. Chris

    Now whenever you don’t know the answer on a biology test, you can legally write “God did it.”

  34. Atheist Panda

    Anyone got Governor Haslams email address, so that those of us outside of the US can inform him how stupid his actions make the US ‘Political Elite’ appear……

  35. mocular

    Being from Tennessee, this does not surprise me at all. It does however, make me sad for the intellectual state of my state of birth.

  36. Peptron

    Why insist on undermining Darwinism when much more money could be saved by undermining Pasteurism?

    I mean, since the idea that germs cause disease is a theory the same way gravity and evolution are, after a while we could just completely abandon refrigetation of food and basic hygiene. Imagine how much we could save on electricity and the likes! The idea that eating rotten meat is bad for you is obviously a global conspiracy by BIG FOOD. The abnominal pain and vomiting blood that ensues are obviously caused by lack of vitamins… and toxins, whatever that means.

  37. Messier Tidy Upper

    So instead of doing the right thing, he has allowed students in classrooms across Tennessee to undergo religious indoctrination, despite a prior and clear Supreme Court ruling making it illegal.

    If that’s right won’t any legal challenge to the Supreme Court throw this law out immediately?

    Time for a Scopes trial mark II?

    Far as this Aussie gathers, Tennessee is the right place for famous creationism wrecking, evolution winning trials ain’t it? ;-)

    Still any win for Creationism – however slight and temporary – is by definition NOT a good thing. :-(

    I thought those CdesignProponentist ID~iot blighters were on the retreat and headed into well deserved oblivion no? Surprised in this century and in the nation that put the only people ever to walk on our Moon, well, on the Moon that this is even an issue. :-(

  38. Doug

    +Mike Shields, the theory of evolution says absolutely nothing about how the universe came into existence (cosmogony), nor does it say anything about how life began (abiogenesis). To claim otherwise is to make a straw man argument.

  39. Wzrd1

    There is ONE good thing about this.
    One more state has removed their children from possible competition in professional circles.
    For, by undermining science, they undermine the ability for those students to compete in college admissions and professional careers.
    Well done, Tennessee! A new generation of ditch diggers is born!
    Well, until someone with a set takes the state to court…

    Messier Tidy, it wouldn’t NEED to go to the supreme court, ANY federal district court is bound by the previous supreme court decision. It couldn’t even get appealed after the lower court rules.

  40. Fremdschämen – An observer’s reaction to somebody who should feel a horror of embarrassment but is clueless. US Attorney General Eric Holder comes to mind, as does Indian public sanitation. “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge,” Charles Darwin. “What does not support my imposition makes it stronger.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect
    Dunning-Kruger effect (pdf), 2000 Ig Nobel Prize.

  41. RobT

    @ John, you are a science teacher in TN and while you may be representative of other science teachers I doubt all TN teachers feel as you do. While science teachers may not wish to discuss creationism that doesn’t mean non-science teachers won’t attempt to teach it.

    While I agree with not pushing one religion in public schools that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed. It just shouldn’t be taught as fact, particularly in a science class. I had a class called Moral & Religion in grades 7 and 10; the name makes it sound more ominous than it was. What it really did was have students discuss different religions and creation myths, worded exactly as creation mythology, for many religions around the world including Christianity. It also was used to teach family studies including the whole egg as a baby thing schools seem to love to do.

  42. J

    As a Memphis resident with young children and member of a local church, I will be happy to pursue litigation if a teacher attempts to teach creationism to my kids. Tennessee Republicans, out of power so long in the state until a few years ago, are eager to throw as much red meat as possible to their base.

  43. Chris

    @17 John
    Most of us have no idea what life is like in TN. I’ve never been south of the Mason Dixon line. I went to a Catholic grade/high school in Chicago and we were taught evolution and there was no problem with that. We also examined the historical impact of Darwinism on religion and how the view changed over time. We viewed the genesis story as a story. While I think a good majority of science teachers in TN will stick with the science, now this is opening a can of worms for that vocal minority who have no idea what they are doing. I’m sure some of the science teachers don’t have bachelors in biology, chemistry or physics. Especially at the grade school level in some of the more rural areas. They might start spouting their ideology. Climate change isn’t real, we never landed on the moon, see these molecular machines, too complex to have evolved by themselves naturally… These are the ones we need to be concerned about.

  44. Jeff

    what is dangerous is that the creationists found out how to pass off creationism /creation science/ intelligent design as if it were science, that it followed scientific method.

    One aspect of scientific method these do not follow is a cause/effect law that god follows to do his creationism: they do not specify the means. So any condition of the universe could be consistent with the god hypothesis, this is most certainly not science.: more like waving a magic wand to create anything. Evolution specifies at least 8 mechanisms whereby species evolve: 4 for variability, like mutation, etc; 4 for selection, such as natural selection.

    This world is a strange mixture of regression/progression. Who knows which will win, kind of like for every step forward, there’s two back.

  45. Dave

    @Brian

    I think he didn’t sign it. He just didn’t veto it.

  46. Shaylen

    It’s ironic that the west bellows loudly when we hear about the religious schools in the Muslim world and yet we can’t see that we’re turning into the same thing but with a Christianity at the root. As Bill Maher likes to say, nothing penetrates the bubble these people are living in. Sigh…it will be even more fun when we start allowign the Flat Earthers to start setting curriculum…joy.

  47. As an educator in Tennessee, I am familiar with how the process works. Whether or not it will cost the state money depends on how the legal folks handle it. Since creationism is not in the curriculum, they may well tell a teacher who teaches it that they are on their own and not defend them, in which case it might cost the school district that allowed it (I am making the assumption that it would be a case that was actually sanctioned by the school/school district – most people, when they have a complaint of this nature, complain to the school/district administration and only take further action if the issue isn’t properly addressed or keeps repeating, which is as it should be).

  48. @John

    There are science teachers out there who, inexplicably, put religion before science. So it isn’t inconceivable that there would be some who would use this new law as a means to teach religion in science class. Likewise, local school boards are not necessarily made up of scientists (as demonstrated by the TX school board), so, again, it’s not beyond reasonable thought that there may be some creationists who will now use this law to change local curricula.

    Now, should religion begin to creep into science classes in TN, resulting in law suits, it would be oh so lovely it the damages awarded came out of the pockets of the legislators who voted in favor of this bill and from the governor who allowed it to pass uncontested, rather than from the tax coffers of the local schools. It’ll never happen, but one can dream.

  49. @Todd…I don’t know…if the local schools are actively condoning the teaching of Creationism, which is outside the curriculum, it seems they are indeed responsible.

  50. Matt Schuh

    A more perplexing aspect that our teacher friend John may not have considered is the peer pressure from various after school parental programs (Booster clubs, PTC, etc.)

    I ask you, are you concerned about any pressures parents might bring if you don’t raise these topics at length that satisfy them? I’ve seen parents go to great lengths to get a teacher fired (justly and injustly). Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    But as an educator, would you be willing to leave in an environment that is more demanding? It’s a thought to consider. On one hand, you can’t exactly teach where you’re not welcome (I’ve seen people try to raise false child molestation charges because of it); on the other, I recognize and respect the need to make sure all children are given the same tools to have a competitive edge to help the human race.

    For good or ill, teachers are not metaphorically permitted to close the door to the classroom anymore. Your thoughts on my points would be rewarding.

  51. @Chris As far as the actual teaching of science, based on what I have seen, there are far more problems with science teachers who simply don’t know the science and thus do a horrible job teaching it than those who are motivated by theology. This stems from a chronic shortage of qualified teachers – there are lots of qualified teachers in fields like English, History, and Music, so schools can take their pick, but they are often quite desperate in the STEM areas where pay vs. job demands vs other available employment makes the position unattractive (and harassment by creationists and such makes such positions even less attractive).

  52. Triumph the comic insult dog

    Dunno about others, but this reminds me of that song “all my exes live in texas, that’s why i hang my hat in Tennessee” :)

  53. I am a scientist and a catholic. There is nothing in the Bible that is in conflict with the little that humans have learnt from science. Miracles do happen everyday! The Bible is translated from simple words for children and even idiots to understand. My points on creation:
    1) The Big Bang = let there be light
    2) in creation one “day” means one galactic-day, one “cycle” or turn of our galaxy
    3) Adam was an ape, Eve was an alien
    4) using a “rib” to create Eve was taking part of Adam’s DNA to create Eve.
    5) using ape DNA was necessary for Aliens to breath Earths air and be compatible to food.
    6) The “tree of life, snake & apple” Eve ate was Adams erection and sperm
    7) We adapt to our surroundings, evolution is mearly natural-selection to increase survival and enhance reproduction.
    8)Jesus was conceived by artificial insemination, thus Mary was a virgin.

    So, there is no difference between creationism and evolution!!!

  54. Jfoote

    Science says something from nothing. I find that hard to believe. Why is it so wrong to teach different ideas?

  55. Jeff

    #51, I’ve taught college science 30 years, I have to agree with you , sadly. They say tenure means no money forever, I personally think that is true, and that is why sharp people avoid teaching. I saw a Rita Rudner performance once where she quipped, you mean I have to balance my checkbook? Someone asks me if education is to blame, I say society at large is to blame for this atrocious state of affairs. Fortunately I myself only teach one or two weeks per term of historical geology, and have to cover evolution indirectly, and even there I get a small degree of opposition; you might have heard of the wife of Bishop Wilberforce in 19th century who said she didn’t favor making evolution widely known to the public, trying to keep the dignity of the human species given our humble beginnings hasn’t been easy for the authorities.

    and #45, intelligent design is a classic case of begging the question: they assume the structures they claim are irreducible really are, without proving that. Prove it ID proponents. The only irreducible things in the universe are the fundamental particles and force carriers.

  56. jeremy

    I think that people should be able to believe as they see fit. I don’t think that this law is going to hurt anyone. Most people i know tend to believe in the things they are taught

  57. jeremy

    From their parents and family as kids regardless of what is taught as fact or proven by science. There are many questions left unanswered both by creationism and science so until all are answered i dont see anything wrong with both being taught. I also don’t think every law passed by the supreme court in this country has always been the best thing.

  58. Unbelievably disturbing. Between the attack on women’s reproductive rights, and the return of the ridiculous fight to replace science with religion, its like someone has invented a time machine and put us all in it.

  59. Seriadh

    Well, if you’re going to do that, then there shouldn’t be any argument with someone teaching hard-core Wicca, Shintoism, Greek (formerly known as mythology but rejected by the same standards Christians use to validate their beliefs) Religion, and a host of others. Bring on the religious wars!

  60. Wzrd1

    @43, J, your legal action would be VERY cheap, as the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States of America) found this law unconstitutional. BA even gives a link to the Wikipedia entry on Edward v Aguillard.
    EVERY court in this nation is bound by that decision, as no court in this nation outranks the SCOTUS.
    There is no prohibition to any legislature on passing unconstitutional laws, but there IS a prohibition on their attempting to enforce said laws.
    That said, it’s the populace who lose in the end, as their tax dollars go down the drain in court cases that are doomed at the onset and in damages awarded.

  61. Duane

    Lawsuits will be filed, and the State of Tennessee will be forced to spend badly needed education funds to defend this law. Either way, the poor students are screwed.

  62. Blake

    Have you guys read this Bill? There is too much misinformation going around. It explicitly says “This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.”

  63. The Truth

    34. Chris Says:
    April 11th, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Now whenever you don’t know the answer on a biology test, you can legally write “God did it.”

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    That’s not far from what’s done now for all unknowns, except it’s, “evolution did it.”

  64. Doug Little

    The Big Bang Theory, as stated, requires an amount of energy to cause it, and the theory itself doesn’t teach where that comes from.

    Wrong on the first count and on the second so What?

    The big bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the universe. There are other hypotheses that cover what the cause was and from whence it came.

    Let me guess you think biological evolution should explain how life began as well, right?

  65. Chris

    @53 Corey Feldman
    Sooo disappointed to see you aren’t The Corey Feldman :-D

  66. Keith Bowden

    @Messier Tidy Upper – Just remember, the good guys lost the Scopes trial – evolution was kept down until the 1960s in Tennessee.

    I think the greatest danger for Tennessee lies in having “fill in” teachers, allowing instruction in courses by educators with no real knowledge or expertise in a particular subject for up to a year, giving “additional” time for hiring a permanent teacher. What actually happens is the post lies unfilled for years as various history, shop, English, art, etc. teachers fill in. (This is true for all subjects. As a former high school student in Tennessee, I can tell you it’s a policy that sucks.) So, if Lisa Simpson hides the Teacher’s Editions… or a fill-in teacher is confronted with questions they aren’t qualified for (or worse are themselves actually anti-science), then the course suffers.

  67. E

    I have to say, I don’t like the bill either, but I think the practical impact will be closer to nil than THE END OF SCIENCE EDUCATION IN TENNESSEE. As the blog post points out, actually teaching Creationism is illegal, and remains illegal. And teachers still have to teach to the standards set by the department of education, to which thier students will be tested. The bill is obviously designed to be a Trojan horse, but it’s a horse with a very small carriage because as soon as ID or Creationism are mentioned the law has itself been breached, and if teachers introduce material that confuses students and causes them to do poorly on the standardized tests, they will impede their own careers.

  68. Harry

    The Big Bang stuff always comes up in these arguments, and I find that fascinating. I think most people believe that the standard cosmological model is like philosophy, somehow untestable, and that could not be further from the truth. We test it every day with spacecraft like WMAP and particle colliders like the LHC. So far, the observations match the model quite well actually.

    People also tend to forget that the Big Bang was first published by a Jesuit priest, Father Georges Lemaitre. He had this to say to the Pope, when the 1930s Holy Vicar tried to use the new hypothesis as proof of Creation:

    “As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being… For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God… It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.”

    If a person must have faith in a metaphysical being, the only way that is compatible with science is if that faith exists completely separate from any interaction with the natural world. If I were a teacher in Tennessee, I’d be tempted to use this law to teach Spaghetti Monsterism, just to make a point.

    How do you know that the Flying Spaghetti Monster did not create the Universe 5 seconds ago, with all your memories fully formed? Prove to me that this is not true.

  69. VinceRN

    Seems like, though I could be wrong, that since their schools still take federal money – as all public schools do – they are still bound by federal law and the Edwards v. Aguillard decision. State law can not supersede federal law in those thing the federal government controls. I think if they entirely refused federal tax money for their school they might be able to use this law to teach creationism, but that’s really unlikely.

    This is a craven political move to appeal to the lunatic fringe that is so over represented in that state, but with federal law as it is I don;t think they can actually teach creationism as science.

    Perhaps some teachers will try it, but if they do it’ll go to the courts pretty rapidly. There are likely groups already preparing their arguments against this, just waiting for a chance to get into court.

    Also, I’d say that any teachers that would teach this are already not teaching science in any meaningful way as they don’t understand it, so even if they talk about creationism and God and all they are unlikely to harm already non-existent science education.

    Again, nothing in this law can trump federal law, and the schools are still subject to federal law. At worst this will spawn s few court cases and make some lawyers some money.

    @TechyDad – It’s needed to appeal to the lunatic fringe, who are registered voters after all. That doesn’t mean it will change anything.

    Glad to see John, who’s boots are on there ground down there, speaking up on this.

  70. John

    I didn’t mean to come off as abrasive as I did – perhaps I’m protecting the South’s reputation more than anything, haha. But Tennessee is NOT allowing creationism in its science classes, and the headline here is really, really inaccurate. I have so much respect for this website, so it’s frustrating to see this kind of attention-grabbing false headline. When I was teaching an astronomy class I used a number of articles from this site, and I would hate a student of mine to see this title and leave with bad information.

    Let me just say that science teachers in TN are like science teachers in the other 49 states – both the ones who know science, and the ones who don’t. What people don’t realize, too, is that kids these days are not as isolated and reliant on educators for information. They are ALL well aware of the creationism vs. evolution debate (a phantom debate, by the way, but that’s just my opinion), stem cell research, global climate change, and every other controversy there is today. And they WANT to talk about it – it’s our jobs, as (GOOD) science teachers, to use that curiosity to propel them towards critical thinking and the scientific method. So, in response to someone’s comment earlier, it’s not my JOB to tell them what I think is the right answer – but if I give them the right tools and teach them how to use them, they’ll eventually get to about the same answers that I have.

    Also, these kids are SMART – if you have a teacher in the classroom with an agenda, they’ll recognize it immediately (see “not as isolated,” above). This is a losing battle for the anti-science populace, no matter how many toothless laws that they pass.

  71. Brian Too

    I think what’s getting lost here is the context.

    Let’s put aside my natural distrust of politicians. Pretend that Tennessee’s governor, William Haslam is correct and this law means nothing. Sidebar comment: Unless you formed this opinion on your own, without “help” from the politicians, you might want to carefully check your assumptions.

    First, the elected members felt the need to pass this. Why? Second, if the bill is toothless, there’s a good chance something stronger will follow. Third, never underestimate the power of frivolous lawsuits and petty prosecution. Lots of good people will duck a fight just to avoid the cost, the hassle, the conflict and the tension involved. Fourth, someone with an axe to grind can find the weirdest justifications. Sure it will probably get thrown out, but in the meantime there’s the lawyers, the courts, the time and all the rest.

    In point of fact, violations of black letter law can happen if enough people don’t want a prosecution to take place. Look up the term “jury nullification” if you believe otherwise. Conversely, following the law isn’t proof positive against criminal convictions. Usually the law determines but not always.

    Therefore my main concern is all those Tennessee voters who presumably wanted this law.

  72. Grand Lunar

    Appearently, creationists/IDers are still trying to use their wedge strategy to get their beliefs into science classrooms.
    Is there a reason they wouldn’t be content with philosophy classes?

    In my local paper (in AZ), there was a small word about it, in which it states that supporters of the bill say it teaches students critical thinking skills.

    I call cow feces on that one.

    I hope other states do not follow this path, or else we are ALL doomed.

  73. John

    One thing I’ve found is that legislators know nothing about teaching, teachers, or students. They live in an alternate reality. Perhaps this is why I’m so certain that this is a waste of time – grandstanding aside, this is a bill of ideas that just doesn’t translate to what happens every day in the classroom.

    I think you all are grounded and reasonable about being worried – I am too. But I just strongly disagree with the way that Phil’s framed this issue, and how it reflects on the people who live in this state. We’re far from “doomed,” contrary to popular belief. Just ask Oak Ridge or Huntsville. ;-)

  74. Chris

    Tennessee!? Where’s that!? Haha, just kidding! Seriously, if California did this, I’ll be the first damn registered voter to object it!

  75. Nyetwerke

    I sent Hassling an email, even mentioning the Dover School Board case and Judge Jones’ response that it was a “move of breathtaking inanity” and that science itself is self regulating with evidence rather than opinion. Why is it that these school boards seem to be not familiar with what the process even is? Sheer ignorance, from a SCHOOL BOARD! No wonder Tennessee primer grades are behind. It makes me wonder how house minority leader, Craig Fitzhugh can make the claim that “we have come a long way in Tennessee in higher education.” Despicable pandering.

  76. Nigel Depledge

    Mykl Carlton (4) said:

    Oooh! the sky is falling! The slippery slope!

    “this law only makes it legal to teach scientific weaknesses, and doesn’t make it legal to teach creationism”
    Sounds reasonable to me.

    We’re doomed!!!!!!!

    You are either being disingenuous, or hopelessly naive.

    No school or school board has ever tried to prohibit the discussion in classrooms of genuine scientific weaknesses in a scientific theory. If your take on it is correct, the legislation is completely pointless.

    Obviously, it has a different purpose, that being to permit teachers to discuss the wrong, fabricated and illogical creationist criticisms of evolution as if they were valid.

  77. Nigel Depledge

    Raiser (5) said:

    Science said that the Sun and Stars revolved around the Earth, once, or that base metals could be transformed into gold;

    Actually, these ideas were both pre-scientific. They were what was generally accepted before science came along.

  78. Nigel Depledge

    Mike Shields (12) said:

    I don’t know enough to believe that nothing created everything, which a belief in the way science is currently taught requires.

    Er . . . no.

    And if you don’t know enough to accept (not “believe” – science never demands belief) Big Bang Theory (BBT), how come you know enough to rule it out?

    The Big Bang Theory, as stated, requires an amount of energy to cause it,

    Does it?

    How do you know this?

    And, since BBT itself rules out knowledge of preceding conditions, how can you know that whatever existed when the big bang started was not bursting with energy?

    Added to that, are you not aware that the net energy content of the universe is 0?

    Yes, energy exists in both positive and negative formulations (potential energy, for example, is always negative).

    and the theory itself doesn’t teach where that comes from.

    So what?

    What BBT teaches is that we don’t know what may or may not have existed before. In fact, it teaches that we are not even sure “before” has any meaning at all.

    And having said all that, why on Earth have you introduced a whinge about your inadequate understanding of BBT (because that is what your complaints actually are – they are flaws in your understanding, not flaws in the theory) to a thread that is about biological evolution?

  79. Nigel Depledge

    John (17) said:

    Treating it as such, though, will lead to portraying all TN science teachers as, at best, imprisoned minds being forced to teach something against their will, or, at worst, willful advocates for nonscientific theories in their own classrooms. Neither is true.

    I don’t agree.

    I have never even visited Tennessee, and I assume that the science teachers there are pretty much the same as everywhere else – a handful of really good ones, a larger bunch of OK teachers, and a small handful of bad ones. I am sure that some of the bad science teachers in Tennessee are creationists (hey, there’s no reason that some of the OK ones can’t be), and this act will give these few free rein to confuse the hell out of their students by bringing up invalid criticisms of evolution as if these criticisms had some scientific validity.

    Before this bill passed, the Kitzmiller v DASD precedent from 2005 would have limited the use of puerile criticisms of evolution in the classroom. Now I’m not so sure.

  80. Satan Claws

    @Blake (#64):
    That’s reassuring. From that sentence, at least we now know it’ll only (?!) be used to promote political pandering in the classroom (“global warming is nothing more than libertarian hoax propaganda”) instead of religious views, isn’t it?

  81. Nigel Depledge

    Daniel J Andrews (22) said:

    To me, this malleable definition of what is controversial is the real danger of this law. All a teacher has to do is claim something is controversial is show a few websites, a signed petition, some books on the subject and they’re safe to continue to teach their brand of antiscience.

    Yes. This.

  82. Nigel Depledge

    Lancifer (24) said:

    The bill is just a fig leaf to appease Christian yocals and makes no inroad for Creationism or ID. It basically allows teachers and students to discuss the deficiencies of scientific hypotheses and theories.

    What, and you think they weren’t allowed to before???

    Seriously?

    Would you prefer that these subjects be presented as sacrosanct dogma? So long as the alleged “deficiencies” are approached rationally and with empirical evidence it could reinforce the scientific method and emphasize the fact that the great strength of science is it’s [sic] ability to adapt to new evidence rather than adhere to demonstrably false dogma.

    Obviously, but this was all true before this bill was even drafted.

    The bill could (and was intended to, by the look of it) serve as an umbrella to protect creationist teachers from using invalid and long-refuted criticisms of evolution (and other sciences) as if those criticisms had some genuine validity.

  83. Nigel Depledge

    @ Wzrd1 (40) –
    Not really.

    There’s nothing in this bill to prevent a good science teacher from doing a good job teaching good science.

  84. Nigel Depledge

    Rudolf Graspointner (53) said:

    I am a scientist and a catholic. There is nothing in the Bible that is in conflict with the little that humans have learnt from science.

    Well, there are a few things (such as locusts being included among “creatures that go on four feet”).

    Miracles do happen everyday[sic]!

    Um . . . not so much, really.

    The Bible is translated from simple words for children and even idiots to understand. My points on creation:
    1) The Big Bang = let there be light

    One of the reasons it was accepted so rapidly by the public at large.

    2) in creation one “day” means one galactic-day, one “cycle” or turn of our galaxy

    But that’s only 200 million years (more or less), which is less than a twentieth of the age of the Earth.

    3) Adam was an ape, Eve was an alien

    What the . . .?

    4) using a “rib” to create Eve was taking part of Adam’s DNA to create Eve.

    There is a bone in the human body called a “rib”. The biblical story is pretty unambiguous here. On what basis do you translate that rib with DNA?

    5) using ape DNA was necessary for Aliens to breath Earths air and be compatible to food.

    Er . . . really?

    What is the rational basis for your conclusion?

    6) The “tree of life, snake & apple” Eve ate was Adams erection and sperm

    It wasn’t the “tree of life”, it was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

    7) We adapt to our surroundings, evolution is mearly natural-selection to increase survival and enhance reproduction.

    Agreed, kinda.

    8)Jesus was conceived by artificial insemination, thus Mary was a virgin.

    How?

    So, there is no difference between creationism and evolution!!!

    Erm . . . you’re not really helping all that much.

    Besides, creationism, no matter what flavour, specifically requires that one accept the individual creation of each kind of animal and plant (although, curiously, the biblical stories make no mention of the most numerous organisms on Earth, bacteria and archaea). And this is directly shown to be wrong by evolutionary biology.

  85. TheBlackCat

    There is nothing in the Bible that is in conflict with the little that humans have learnt from science.

    I find it very ironic that you use a computer to say that we have learned little from science.

    Miracles do happen everyday!

    I would be interested to hear one miracle that is thoroughly documented and impossible for science to explain, but that is off-topic for this discussion.

    1) The Big Bang = let there be light

    There was no light during the big bang or for hundreds of thousands of years after.

    2) in creation one “day” means one galactic-day, one “cycle” or turn of our galaxy

    There is no correspondence in the timing of events in either of the two completely different creation stories to galactic cycles. That is also ignoring the fact that the order of events in both stories are completely different than the order of events we now know to be true.

    3) Adam was an ape, Eve was an alien

    1. I see no biblical basis for this
    2. It directly contradicts both creation stories in the bible, which say Adam was created independently of apes
    3. All humans are apes
    4. The genetic evidence directly contradicts this. Human DNA is almost exactly the same as ape DNA, there is no room for substantial contributions from another species, not to mention aliens that would have completely different genetic makeup.

    4) using a “rib” to create Eve was taking part of Adam’s DNA to create Eve.

    1. I see no biblical basis for this
    2. Then eve was a genetically-engineered part-clone, not an alien.

    5) using ape DNA was necessary for Aliens to breath Earths air and be compatible to food.

    1. I see no biblical basis for this
    2. This is impossible from a genetic standpoint. Aliens would have different genetic machinery, just copying DNA (assuming they even have DNA) would not be sufficient to give them parts of human (or ape) metabolism. There is also no reason they would need to use apes, bacteria would do and in fact would probably be better, since many bacteria can digest food apes can’t.

    6) The “tree of life, snake & apple” Eve ate was Adams erection and sperm

    1. I see no biblical basis for this
    2. It directly contradicts the biblical account, unless Adam’s erection could talk
    3. An alien would not be genetically compatible with humans
    4. Adam ate it too. How did he manage that?
    5. It was the tree of knowledge, God kicked them out because he was afraid they would eat from the tree of life.

    7) We adapt to our surroundings, evolution is mearly natural-selection to increase survival and enhance reproduction.

    There is no “merely” about it, given time (even a little) increasing survival and enhancing reproduction is an incredibly powerful force.

    8)Jesus was conceived by artificial insemination, thus Mary was a virgin.

    1. This has nothing to do with evolution
    2. This directly contradicts the biblical account

    So in order to make the biblical account match the scientific one, you needed to:
    1. Ignore much of science
    2. Ignore much of the bible
    3. Make up a whole bunch of additional stuff that the bible doesn’t even hint at
    4. Radically re-interpret the plain text to make it say something completely different than it says
    5. Pull a story about genetically-engineered human/alien hybrids out of thin air

    And even then it directly contradicts both the science and the Bible. That doesn’t sound like a very good agreement to me

  86. Gunnar

    I agree with those who say this law is a silly and unnecessary law that reveals the scientific ignorance of those who promoted it, and that Governor Haslam’s action was a clear example of cowardice and political pandering, but I would hope that Phil Plait, himself, realizes that claiming that “Tennessee is doomed” because of this law is at least somewhat hyperbolic.

    I suspect, though, that if the Governor had vetoed it (especially if his veto was overridden, as it very probably would have been if Tennessee only requires a majority vote of the legislature to override his veto), he would probably be voted out of office if he runs for re-election in a bible belt state like Tennessee, and replaced by someone even more reactionary and/or ignorant.

  87. Jim

    It was ALREADY legal to teach scientific weaknesses of ANYTHING. Use your logic people. This is the same group of people (conservatives at large, not specifically Tennesse) the are displaying Christmas trees in government buildings and forcing women to be emotionally and physically violated in hospitals. These nut-jobs want to cram their God as far down our throats as possible… and the scary thing is they are repeatedly VOTED into office! I find myself compelled more and more each day to surrender my citizenship to what has been proven time and time again to be a country that is seeking to destroy human rights.

    Our forefathers would be ashamed…

  88. Brian

    I’m disappointed in @Phil for this tabloid-style writing, and in Discover for I supporting it. I Prefer to give Phil credit for knowing his sensationalism is bogus, but that leaves me having to question his editorial integrity.

    Tell me, Phil, in which reputable journal do theories not have weaknesses probed? That process always strengthens the best theories, not weakens them. Is your faith in your preferred theories really so weak that you can’t stand the thought of anyone challenging them? You’re acting Ike the Catholic church, trying to silence Galileo just because you disagree with him.

  89. Nigel Depledge

    Jfoote (55) said:

    Science says something from nothing.

    Nope.

    Creationism says “something from nothing”. Science says “we don’t know what started it, but after 10^-35 seconds, the universe must have done this, this, and this.”

    I find that hard to believe.

    I think you used the wrong word there. You did not mean “believe”, you meant “understand”.

    Science does not demand any belief.

    Why is it so wrong to teach different ideas?

    It’s not. But what is wrong is to teach ideas that we know to be wrong.

    And creationism is wrong.

  90. Tony

    “The History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. It may put into perspective whats going on in Tennessee.

  91. Nigel Depledge

    Jeremy (59, continuing from 58) said:

    . . . [f]rom their parents and family as kids regardless of what is taught as fact or proven by science.

    This is largely true, but hardly the point.

    Students should be taught about humanity’s best endeavours to understand the universe, and why we reach the conclusions we have.

    I think the biggest impetus to creationism is that many of its less fanatical adherents simply were not taught why science has reached the conclusions that it has.

    There are many questions left unanswered both by creationism and science

    Not quite. Creationism (certainly in some of its many forms) does claim to have all the answers. Or at leat, all the answers that matter.

    so until all are answered i dont see anything wrong with both being taught.

    This is childishly naive.

    We don’t need to know everything to know that some things are outright wrong.

    For example, if I were to tell you that you can fly by flapping your arms, would you reject my claim, or would you withhold judgment until all questions have been answered?

    I also don’t think every law passed by the supreme court in this country has always been the best thing.

    So?

    Are you implying that reality itself is open to dispute? Or what, exactly?

  92. Nigel Depledge

    Blake (64) said:

    Have you guys read this Bill? There is too much misinformation going around. It explicitly says “This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.”

    Yeah, I think too many folks have taken the bill as protecting the teaching of creationism (yes, BA, you, too).

    However, what the bill does seem to be designed to protect is any teacher discussing inappropriate, wrong, and outright mendacious criticisms of established science, as if those criticisms were scientifically valid.

  93. Nigel Depledge

    The Truth (65) said:

    That’s not far from what’s done now for all unknowns, except it’s, “evolution did it.”

    Ah, but evolution has been proven to be a real phenomenon, whereas god has not.

    Besides, the correct answer won’t be “evolution did it”, but an explanation of how evolution did it.

  94. Nigel Depledge

    Harry (70) said:

    How do you know that the Flying Spaghetti Monster did not create the Universe 5 seconds ago, with all your memories fully formed? Prove to me that this is not true.

    How dare you challenge the Church of Last Thursdayism.

    It is unchallenegd truth that the universe was created intact last Thursday.

    j/k

  95. Nigel Depledge

    Vince RN (71) said:

    This is a craven political move to appeal to the lunatic fringe that is so over represented in that state, but with federal law as it is I don;t think they can actually teach creationism as science.

    Perhaps some teachers will try it, but if they do it’ll go to the courts pretty rapidly. There are likely groups already preparing their arguments against this, just waiting for a chance to get into court.

    The danger is not so much that teachers will try to teach creationism, as that they will sow unwarranted and inappropriate doubts in the minds of their students over what is (and should be taught as) firmly-established science.

  96. Darth Robo

    72 – John

    —“Also, these kids are SMART – if you have a teacher in the classroom with an agenda, they’ll recognize it immediately (see “not as isolated,” above). This is a losing battle for the anti-science populace, no matter how many toothless laws that they pass.”

    I disagree. After all, we have ADULTS passing these laws, and kids are supposed to recognize agendas? And those kids already brought up in highly religious areas will have already been “taught” that presenting evolution is part of the Satanic atheist agenda.

    In the case of John Freshwater, creationist who was sacked for teaching anti-science in class (among other things) apparently kids who went onto science classes elsewhere had been told that science was basically all false, corrupt and useless. They effectively had to be taught the basics from scratch.

    I agree with Phil, Haslam turned out to be an utter waste of space.

  97. Steve Metzler

    Nigel Depledge (#95):

    The danger is not so much that teachers will try to teach creationism, as that they will sow unwarranted and inappropriate doubts in the minds of their students over what is (and should be taught as) firmly-established science.

    Yeah, that’s the way I see it too. It gives free rein to ‘teach the controversy’, where all of the controversy is the kind manufactured by the likes of creationists (and global warming deniers) with an ideological agenda.

  98. Jupiter Lou

    Not to worry. This is Tennessee…the buckle of the Bible belt. What do you expect? Unfortunately, students graduating from Tennessee high schools and wishing to move into the sciences, will be scoffed at by universities and colleges outside Tennessee.

    Tennessee the “Edukasion State” now has even more meaning.

  99. Childermass

    Oklahoma is on the road to passing a very similar law. Action is needed now. If you are from Oklahoma, the time to write your state senator (and indeed all of the state senators) is now. Bill info and senators’ email addresses can be found at:

    http://www.oklascience.org/ (Scroll down just a tad)

    As always: Use your real name and be polite. Include your mailing address if only to emphasize that really are an Oklahoma citizen.

  100. John

    These kids (at least my high school level kids) are pretty smart… I’ve never had an issue with talking a class through evolution, the big bang, or any other controversy. I never expected it but have always been pleasantly surprised by the level of discourse in the classroom. They are eager to learn.

    And as for misleading them – as someone pointed out earlier, if a teacher strays from their class’s “Scope and Sequence” by even a little bit, chances are it will show on their exams. Ironically, the thing teachers hate the most (standardized testing) will probably insulate their students from any huge variance in a relatively tiny section of the curriculum.

  101. Nigel Depledge

    John (98) said:

    I’ve never had an issue with talking a class through evolution, the big bang, or any other controversy.

    It saddens me to see such well-established science described as “controversy”, but that shows the extent to which the creationists and other anti-science campaigners in the US have succeeded.

    I never expected it but have always been pleasantly surprised by the level of discourse in the classroom. They are eager to learn.

    This is good to hear.

    Read. Whichever.

    And as for misleading them – as someone pointed out earlier, if a teacher strays from their class’s “Scope and Sequence” by even a little bit, chances are it will show on their exams. Ironically, the thing teachers hate the most (standardized testing) will probably insulate their students from any huge variance in a relatively tiny section of the curriculum.

    Indeed, I’m sure we all hope that this will be the case.

    It’s just a shame that evolution is such a tiny section of the science curriculum in so many parts of the USA. Although, to be fair to science teachers in the USA, most of what I know about evolution I learned at university. I don’t recall having been in more than about half a dozen classes on it at school. (As some of you already know, I am British.)

  102. John

    Nigel (99) – I agree that these things being called “controversies” is a travesty. Unfortunately, you meet the students where they are, not where you want them to be; and since these things are treated as controversies, students are both intrigued and confused by them.

    I actually count it as a small blessing that evolution/B.B.Cosm. are not larger parts of the classroom – frankly, that’d be a really boring class! There’s plenty of exciting stuff to learn besides that, and, with the occasional sidebar into those territories, most of that serious study is when they’re older anyway. Big Bang is hard to explain when you can’t even talk about redshifting. :) But I think it’s wonderful to have discussions, and to give them the facts and leading questions (while science can never be 100% accurate [side question: why is this?], this is where we are in our understanding today… and here’s where we were 100 years ago. Can we compare and contrast, and see the progression?) that they can use to find out more.

  103. Doug Little

    I’ve never had an issue with talking a class through evolution, the big bang, or any other controversy

    Scientifically, there is no #$%^ing controversy with either evolution or TBB. You need to explain that to your students before anything else, and while your at it make sure they understand the scientific method and what the difference between theory and scientific theory is.

  104. Jeff

    71 : “Also, I’d say that any teachers that would teach this are already not teaching science in any meaningful way as they don’t understand it, so even if they talk about creationism and God and all they are unlikely to harm already non-existent science education”

    correct, I myself teach historical geology and I would never teach creationism/ creation science, or ID even if I was forced to; I couldn’t do it in good conscience, even to tell students “here are some equal opportunity ideas you should consider”, I wouldn’t do that. These are no better than saying waving a magic wand explains the universe. They are so very obviously ad hoc ploys to bring religion into science and they just don’t mix , at least religion shouldn’t be disguised as scientific method.

  105. Ah the perils of letting everyone think they have an equal right to an opinion, and a vote. Everyone should get a partial say based on what they actually know about the issues in play, and whether they have an agenda.

  106. Scenario_dave

    If I teach a unit on the archaeological evidence for Jesus, would they mind if I teach my students about the scientific controversy about whether or not Jesus actually existed. This is a real controversy in the science of archaeology, would it be covered under this law?

  107. Brian Too

    @108. Scenario_dave,

    IANAL, etc.

    I would suggest that, yes, this would be covered under this law.

    The question you did not ask, however, is more important. Would the law shield you? I would suggest that it would not. The problem is not the law per se, but the motivations of the people sponsoring it, and the entire community of people who elected those lawmakers. The law is only made real, brought to life by people who act based upon it.

    In this case, those people want to erode science and promote religion and religious ideas instead. Not just any religion of course, but Christianity specifically. If you try to “teach the controversy about the existence of Jesus”, not only are you subverting the religously motivated, you are likely attacking them in their eyes.

    If I’m right, you can expect payback no matter what the law says. They will use the law, or abuse it, or ignore it, whatever it takes to get you. The law will be their preferred option I imagine (it gives payback some respectability, a social fig leaf), but it won’t be the only option.

  108. Svlad Cjelli

    Bills pass by default?

    Lolgovernment.

  109. Nigel Depledge

    John (104) said:

    . . . while science can never be 100% accurate [side question: why is this?] . . .

    In my view, it is not that science cannot be accurate as that science cannot be certain.

    Some of the predictions made by quantum mechanics, for example, have been confirmed experimentally to about 10 decimal places, which is a very high level of both accuracy and precision.

    However, we can never be 100% certain that our explanation for a phenomenon is true. What we can know is that every other explanation we can think of is false, but this is not the same thing as knowing that the explanation at which you have arrived is true.

    To pursue the example of quantum mechanics, we treat light and particles as both waves and discrete entities (particles), and which behaviour they exhibit most strongly depends on the circumstances in which we observe them. This wave-particle duality feels clumsy, but every other explanation anyone has ever proposed for the behaviour of light falls down somewhere, either by contrdicting the observations (as a particle-only explanation of light will fail to explain diffraction and a wave-only explanation of light fails to explain the photoelectric effect and black-body radiation) or by faulty logic (the “light pixies” explanation for light that I just now invented violates the principle of parsimony and requires the existence of something for which there is no evidence).

  110. Gary Ansorge

    Children form their basic personalities by age five. Wasn’t it Hitler who said “Give me the children until age five and I will have them forever”?

    Belief and knowledge are only relatable in that one may have faith that knowledge is superior to belief. Does that seem recursive???

    Gravity may be a theory but if I fall off a mile high cliff, I’ll probably die. Quantum mechanics may be just a theory, but it is what allowed the construction of the computer on which I write.

    I’m just an engineer and the essence of engineering is “If it works, use it…”.

    Science works.

    Gary 7

  111. @Chris I am pretty sure, of the two of us, I am in fact the real Corey Feldman. But not I was never an 80’s actor.

  112. Peter B

    Jfoote @ #55 says: “Science says something from nothing. I find that hard to believe.”

    Well, the universe is full of things which are hard to believe. Yet some of them (quantum mechanics) are responsible for allowing things like computers to work.

    “Why is it so wrong to teach different ideas?”

    Because that’s not what school is for. At least not in the science lab. Science is about teaching children about the world and the universe around them, and how we found it all out. It’s a way of teaching children how to tell good ideas from bad.

    At best, ideas which are known to be wrong can be presented to children with an explanation for why we now know they’re wrong.

    But to simply “teach different ideas” and nothing else? How are children supposed to work out how to tell good ideas from bad ideas? That’s just setting them up to be dupes when they’re adults.

  113. Peter B

    Jeremy @ #58 and #59: “Most people i know tend to believe in the things they are taught from their parents and family as kids regardless of what is taught as fact or proven by science. There are many questions left unanswered both by creationism and science so until all are answered i dont see anything wrong with both being taught.”

    The difference is that science has been used to make predictions which have been shown to be correct.

    So the guy who developed antibiotics back in the 1940s used his knowledge of evolution to warn, back in the 1940s, that bacteria would evolve resistance to antibiotics. This is now a serious problem in medicine. Knowledge of evolution drove the Green Revolution in the 1960s and the development of vaccines through the 20th century, both of which have saved hundreds of millions of lives. Knowledge of the deep history of the Earth has informed the search for coal, oil and other valuable minerals.

    No one, to my knowledge, has used Christian creationism to develop an antibiotic, develop a vaccine or successfully find valuable minerals.

    And lastly, which version of creationism do you want children to be taught? The Muslim one? The Hindu one? The various Australian Aboriginal ones?

  114. Peter B

    Gary Ansorge @ #112 said: “Wasn’t it Hitler who said “Give me the children until age five and I will have them forever”?”

    Not quite: “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards.” St. Francis Xavier

  115. alfaniner

    I have the feeling that someone in some blog somewhere is high-fiving this decision.

  116. PayasYouStargaze

    @111 Nigel

    You didn’t invent the light pixies. Dara O’Briain did ;)

    http://youtu.be/3cwYh3Qb4rc?t=8m35s

  117. Old Gringo Stan

    The infantcy of theocratic fascism……..think it can’t happen here?….the fantacy world is the narcotic of the masses

  118. Nigel Depledge

    @ PayasYouStargaze (118) –
    No, my light pixies are completely different light pixies. They sing. Inaudibly.

  119. joshua.menser

    I am not sure I understand why people are afraid of Creation being on option taught in the classroom. I am not afraid for history to be compared to what is written in the Bible because it has stood the scrutiny and test of time, so I don’t understand why science is “doomed.” Some of your reactions make it sound like science is weak and therefore cannot stand up against any type of theological belief. Shouldn’t the truth always win out? If a student is presented with both options (evolution/creation) and are educated about both then why should you be afraid about anything? Schools are not supposed to be in the business of indoctrination so how does multiple options and opposing viewpoints hurt a student’s education? Some of you say science cannot include any opinions and must all be based on facts, but if that is the case then there are many areas of science that will also be excluded based on this standard. Many have seemed to forget that most science classrooms and testbooks includes the study of theories. If that is the standard, which I have no problem with, then opposing theories have to be presented as well or it can become indoctrination.

  120. Peter B

    Joshua.menser @ #122 said: “I am not sure I understand why people are afraid of Creation being on option taught in the classroom.”

    As it is not scientific it doesn’t belong in the science classroom. I think most people critical of “creation science” have no problem with it being taught in the comparative religion classroom.

    “I am not afraid for history to be compared to what is written in the Bible because it has stood the scrutiny and test of time…”

    Actually, a lot of what’s written in the Bible *hasn’t* stood the scrutiny and test of time. For example, despite a lot of searching, Israeli archaeologists have never found the slightest trace of a migration the size of the Exodus across the Sinai; there’s no evidence of a global flood, only of devastating local floods; Abraham can’t have come from Ur of the Chaldaeans because the Chaldaeans only entered history centuries after Ur was a forgotten ruin; and the Earth’s geology shows evidence of extreme age, not of recent creation.

    “…so I don’t understand why science is “doomed.””

    Any topic of study is in trouble if teachers don’t get in trouble for teaching it incorrectly: if, for example, history was taught saying that there were no abuses of human rights in the USSR.

    “Some of your reactions make it sound like science is weak and therefore cannot stand up against any type of theological belief. Shouldn’t the truth always win out? If a student is presented with both options (evolution/creation) and are educated about both then why should you be afraid about anything?”

    The truth will win out if teachers accurately portray each side of the “argument”. However the fact remains that as Creation “Science” isn’t real science, it’s a waste of a teacher’s time to have to explain it and then turn around and debunk it. In any case, if Creation “Science” is supposed to be taught in schools, what about every other “science” with equivalent levels of supporting evidence.

    “Schools are not supposed to be in the business of indoctrination so how does multiple options and opposing viewpoints hurt a student’s education?”

    It hurts a child’s education if time is wasted discussing topics with no evidentiary or educational value. Creation “science” is one such topic.

    “Some of you say science cannot include any opinions and must all be based on facts, but if that is the case then there are many areas of science that will also be excluded based on this standard.”

    Examples, please?

    “Many have seemed to forget that most science classrooms and testbooks includes the study of theories. If that is the standard, which I have no problem with, then opposing theories have to be presented as well or it can become indoctrination.”

    In science, a Theory is an explanation for a phenomenon which has strong supporting evidence. It’s not just a hunch or hypothesis, as your statement seems to suggest. There is, for example, no “opposing theory” to the Theory of Gravitation.

  121. ed thomas

    So glad TN is doing this! FL being the only laughing stock in the south was getting old. TN and LA are now joining the fray. If you guys could get your gov to make a comical run for the Republican nomination for president (ala TX), that would help, too. The proscience posters here seem to have the game in hand.

    Seriously, can we just keep science instruction in science class, and religious instruction at home, or church?! One discouraging word here though, about 1/8th of science teachers nationally, have recently been found to not only accept creationism as correct, but teach it that way in science class!!

    Whether teaching nonsense in science class is an omen of doom, may depend on how valuable you think science instruction is in this day, and age. Anyway, the worse TN looks, the better FL looks standing nearby.

  122. Nigel Depledge

    Well, Peter B (123) does a pretty good job on this one, but I’d like to add a kick or two of my own . . .

    Joshua.Menser (122) said:

    I am not sure I understand why people are afraid of Creation being on option taught in the classroom.

    What makes you think anyone is afradi of “creation” being taught in science class?

    The objections are not based on fear, but on other emotions, such as outrage that anyone would suggest that science teachers waste their breath on such obvious garbage as “creation science”.

    Short version – creationism is not science, and has no place in a science class.

    To give you some idea of how anti-reality creationists are, the ICR has (I am given to understand) a statement on their website to the effect that scripture always trumps evidence. Science, by way of contrast, has shown us that the best way to learn about the world is to reject our preconceptions and accept only that which evidence and reason show us to be so.

    I am not afraid for history to be compared to what is written in the Bible because it has stood the scrutiny and test of time, so I don’t understand why science is “doomed.”

    As Peter B opints out, the bible doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Why else have all leading theologians concluded that the bible is not to be taken literally, but should be interpreted as parable and metaphor?

    Science is doomed if children are taught that magical thinking is a valid way of understanding the world.

    Some of your reactions make it sound like science is weak and therefore cannot stand up against any type of theological belief.

    Such as what?

    What reaction makes it seem that science is “weak”?

    Don’t be vague, back up that claim with specific examples.

    As it happens, every time a scientific conclusion is compared against religious doctrine, it is the religious doctrine that is shown to be weak, unless you adopt the approach of the ICR.

    Shouldn’t the truth always win out?

    It has already done this.

    The “debate” only continues because creationists refuse to acknowledge that they are soundly beaten. Creationism has no basis in fact.

    If a student is presented with both options (evolution/creation) and are educated about both then why should you be afraid about anything?

    As has already been pointed out several times in this thread, creationism has no scientific merit whatever. Mentioning it (even in passing) in a science class is a waste of a teacher’s time. Given the timetabling constraints on most science classes these days, discussing creationism would be an extra drain on a teacher’s time that would push out something of actual value.

    Schools are not supposed to be in the business of indoctrination so how does multiple options and opposing viewpoints hurt a student’s education?

    Creationism is not an opposing viewpoint. It is the simple rejection of fact-based reasoning and the dogmatic gainsaying of any argument.

    Some of you say science cannot include any opinions and must all be based on facts, but if that is the case then there are many areas of science that will also be excluded based on this standard.

    Science does not reject opinion per se, but for an opinion to have any merit in science, it must be based on fact and reason. Creatinism is based on neither fact nor reason.

    Many have seemed to forget that most science classrooms and testbooks includes the study of theories. If that is the standard, which I have no problem with, then opposing theories have to be presented as well or it can become indoctrination.

    What you so blithely ignore is that there comes a point where the evidentiary basis for a scientific theory is so broad and so substantial that it would be ludicrous to treat the theory as anything other than fact. Atomic theory, the germ theory of disease, evolution, quantum mechanics, and many others fall into this category.

    It is genuinely irrational to contend, for example, that evolution does not happen, although the fine details of how, where and when it happens are still being resolved.

  123. Mark Hansen

    Before any creationists accuse Nigel of spreading lies about the ICR, there is a statement on their website that backs up his claim. The second bullet point under Principles of Biblical Creationism at http://www.icr.org/tenets/ specifically claims the bible to be infallible and authoritative. Guess that means that the ICR also has difficulty with this heliocentric solar system nonsense because Ecc. 1:5 specifically says that the sun goes around the earth.

  124. Jiminy

    Um… I can’t help but state, just because the state passed the law, doesn’t make it legal.

    The law can be struck down if it is found to be unconstitutional.

    It probably is unconstitutional, so probably will be struck down if anyone tries to adhere to it.

    The reason for the law, as stated, is political. They do it so they can get voted in by dumbass voters, even though it doesn’t change anything.

    Jiminy

  125. Peter B

    Jiminy @ #128 said: “I can’t help but state, just because the state passed the law, doesn’t make it legal.”

    It doesn’t? I thought that while a law was on the statute books, it was legal.

    “The law can be struck down if it is found to be unconstitutional.”

    Yes, and at *that* point it would no longer be a law. But until then it’s still the law.

    “It probably is unconstitutional, so probably will be struck down if anyone tries to adhere to it.”

    Again, are you sure? I thought it would need to be challenged in court for it to be struck down. While people simply adhere to it, it remains the law. Or do they do things differently in Tennessee?

  126. yosimite

    1. intothemoonbeam Says:
    April 11th, 2012 at 8:26 am
    As a former Tennessee resident this makes me sad. I love the state and I attended public schools in Tennessee from Kindergarten to College but sadly until this gets changed I will never move back to my home state because I wouldn’t dare have my kids sit in a public classroom with this silly law intact.

    –good god woman. that has to be the single most ridiculous comment i have read. The classroom isn’t some kind of religious deathtrap. Most elementary teachers won’t even mention god or the big bang theory. In all 14 years of my life in public tennessee education, i maybe heard the word ‘god’ once or twice. It doesn’t change the science classroom

  127. Peter B

    Yosimite @ #130 said: “Most elementary teachers won’t even mention god or the big bang theory.”

    Why wouldn’t teachers mention the Big Bang Theory? It’s not as though it’s religion – it’s solid, evidence-based science. You know, the thing that religion isn’t.

    “In all 14 years of my life in public tennessee education, i maybe heard the word ‘god’ once or twice. It doesn’t change the science classroom.”

    Yet there are apparently science teachers in Tennessee who openly teach creationism in the science classroom. According to the latest (20 April 2012) weekly e-newsletter of the National Center for Science Education: “Mike Kohut, a researcher at Vanderbilt University studying evolution education in Tennessee, found in his interviews of students and teachers that “one director of schools admitted he knew teachers taught creationism in the classroom. A teacher said he was offended he is forced to teach evolution. A science coordinator said teaching evolution was a good way to get fired in her district.” Kohut regarded it as likely that teachers who wish to introduce intelligent design would understand the law allowing them to do so.””

  128. Don Johnstone

    Please let’s hope that this continues. As long as the rest of the planet moves into the next century, Tennessee will be a constant source for comics to mine. I can see the headline now….Tennessee, the land of the stereotype. As for all you non-religiots in the state, Let me say how sorry I am.

  129. Cragg

    Next thing we know Michele Bachmann will be telling us what God’s voice sounds like.
    Keep the people stupid and they will believe anything the Republicans tell them even if it is against the people’s own well being.
    Its a sad day when this can happen in the 21st century.

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