A bill that could be used to shield teachers and education policy makers, who refrain from teaching evolution and global warming in classes, was passed by the state of Tennessee on Thursday. This has got to be good news for the people on the extreme right, predominantly Creationists, who have earlier wanted legal protection for their ideas. The bill was passed by the house by a vote of 70-23.
Creationism and Intelligent Design: An introduction
Creationists hold a view of the world that is inspired by the literalism of the Bible, which claims that the world and all living things are created by God. No natural explanation can explain the creation of the utter complexity and diversity of the living world. The most famous argument in support of this line of thinking was put forward by William Paley in his book Natural Theology’ in 1809. Paley puts forward the, now famous, watchmaker argument. He argues that if one sees a stone in a forest, he/she wouldn’t be interested; if one, however, saw a watch lying on the ground, he/she might ask about the watchmaker. Since living creatures are much more complex than a watch, and if the watch needs a maker, shouldn’t living creatures need a maker too? Fifty years later, in 1859, Darwin published On The Origin of Species‘, which answered this question. The answer was Evolution by means of Natural Selection.
Recently, a different and more subtle form of Creationism, by the name of Intelligent Design(ID), has been gathering steam. It claims that evolution cannot explain all the diverse forms seen in the living world without running into problems of ‘irreducible complexity‘ and there needs to be an intelligent driving force.
History: Kitzmiller vs Dover
One of the most potent challenges to evolution came from a group of people, led by the Discovery Institute, in 2005 which led to the famous Kitzmiller trial. The world media, which descended on the sleepy town of Dover, covered the brilliant testimonies of a number of people from the pro-evolution side, especially those of Ken Miller, a professor at Brown University. The case ended on 20th Dec, 2005, with the judge ruling heavily in favor of the evolutionists. The Discovery Institute remains undaunted and there will be future challenges.
What the bill says (and what it really means)
The summary of the bill says the following:
This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, … from prohibiting 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, such as evolution and global warming.
Looks good on the face of it, right? It does, till you read the last clause. That makes it clear that evolution and global warming can be targeted, and that too, legally. So, if any teacher wants to argue to his/her students that the Earth is 6000 years old, there will be a law to protect the teacher.
The bill has still to be ratified by the Tennessee Senate and it will be put up for voting on the 20th of April. So some hope remains.