Postponed: Tennessee ‘Anti-Science’ Bill Put On Hold By The Senate

The bill dreaded by scientists, teachers and educationists across the US the Tennessee anti-science’ or ‘monkey’ bill – has been put on hold by the Tennessee Senate, after being passed by the House by a majority of 70-23. (Read about this here.) Without the Senate’s ratification, the bill cannot be passed into a law. The bill basically says that topics like Evolution and Global Warming should not be forced upon students and be taught with an open mind. This would allow pro-creationist teachers from teaching Creationism and Intelligent Design, both unscientific hypotheses in classes without any risk.

Many have pointed out that the bill allows the teacher to bring the religion in the classrooms, and use it to usurp scientific principles. This is, in fact, against the US Constitution.

The heated debate preceding the voting of the bill in the House included words like Intellectual bullies’, hair spray’ and the contextual documentary Inherit the Wind’. Thrown in this cauldron was a gross misquotation attributed to Einstein A little knowledge would turn your head to atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head to Christianity.This clearly set out the agenda for the supporters of the bill, which they strongly deny.

Poster for the documentary

People have quickly found parallels in previous trials and court cases, and they didn’t have to look very far. The most discussed were the Scopes Trial and the Kitzmiller-Dover Trial.

Driving at a controversy that is not there

Many are heaving a sigh of relief, but all are justifiably cautious. Hedy Weinberg, a leader in the opposition to the bill told NCSE:

It’s taken eighty-six years, but perhaps at last the Tennessee legislature is learning the lesson of the Scopes trial.

However, she adds,

Science education in Tennessee won’t be truly safe until the legislature adjourns next year.

Eugenie Scott, the director of NCSE, and a major backstage player at the Kitzmiller-Dover trial congratulated the teachers:

This couldn’t have happened without the hard work of the ACLU of Tennessee, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and all the teachers, scientists, parents, students, and just plain folks who volunteered their time and effort to defend the teaching of evolution in the Volunteer State.

The road ahead is not smooth. The bill has been put on hold, not dismissed. Given the political and financial clout of the Discovery Institute and many prominent Creationists in the American Senate, the bill might resurface in the next session.

For now, Tennessee has been saved.

Tennessee Passes ‘Anti-Science’ Bill: Makes It Legal To Doubt Evolution

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.

First Edition of the Origin of Species
First Edition of the Origin of Species
Tree of Life
The Tree of Life: The First sketch of the idea, made by Charles Darwin

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.

Intelligent Design poster
A poster mocking Intelligent Design: posted on Pharyngula in Aug, 2006

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.

The Discovery Institute
The Discovery Institute

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.