Tennessee House Passes Bill That Lets Teachers Question Evolution In Science Class

The Tennessee House of Representatives voted Thursday to pass a bill that would shield teachers from disciplinary action if they question the theory of evolution during class.

State Rep. Bill Dunn (R), who introduced the bill, said it was meant to promote “critical thinking” in science classrooms. But the bill’s language is more open-ended. It lists “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as issues that “can cause controversy,” and says that therefore, no school administrators or officials can prevent teachers 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.”To be fair, the bill does stipulate that “this section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine.”

But Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of American Association for the Advancement of Science, argued before the bill was passed out of committee: “There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution. Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them.”

And Becky Ashe, the president of the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, also toldthe subcommittee that the bill “is an anti-evolutionary attempt to allow non-scientific alternatives to evolution (such as creationism and intelligent design) to be introduced into our public schools.”

Andy Sher of the Times Free Press reports that the debate over the bill got bizarrely spirited on the House floor:

The debate ranged over the scientific method, “intellectual bullies,” hair spray and “Inherit the Wind,” a 1960 movie about the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tenn.

State Rep. Richard Floyd (R) said that “since the late ’50s, early ’60s when we let the intellectual bullies hijack our education system, we’ve been on a slippery slope.”

Sher also reports that state Rep. Sheila Butt (R) argued that she was told in high school that Aqua Net hair spray hurts the environment: “Since then scientists have said that maybe we shouldn’t have given up that aerosol can because that aerosol can was actually absorbing the Earth’s rays and keeping us from global warming.”

The bill was passed by a vote of 70-23, and will now be taken up in the state Senate.