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Saturday Stub: Monkeys in Tennessee

Posted by Ethan Clow on April 9, 2011

A couple weeks ago I blogged about a new bill in Texas called HB 2454, the bill was being presented to the Texas House of Representatives by Republican State representative Bill Zedler. The bill would make it easier to teach creationism in Texas Universities by preventing “discrimination” by said universities against professors who decide to teach creationism.

Now the state of Tennessee has passed a pro-creationist bill of its own. House Bill 368 the bill requires educational authorities to

“Create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues;”

Doesn’t sound so bad, but it also states that educational authorities are forbidden to

“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”

Sounds pretty anti-science, but also pretty wasteful. Does not the teaching of science on its own encourage the development of critical thinking skills? Must a seperate bill be passed to encourage such teaching?

The sponsor of HB 368, Republican Bill Dunn, claimed that teaching “intelligent design” would not be protected under this bill. However, its chief lobbyist, David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, claimed otherwise in an article he wrote for the website Chattanoogan.

In 1925, John Washington Butler introduced the Butler Act in Tennessee that prevented the teaching of evolution. John Scopes, a biology teacher was charged under this act in what became the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, it was a profound moment in American history with long lasting repercussion in the arena of science, education and religion. HB 368 is another chapter in this long conflict between science and religion. But the language has changed. Now, fundamentalists are cloaking their attempts to stifle science with words of science. They encourage students to ” explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues” (empathasis mine)

How should we respond to scientific questions? How should we respond to scientific evidence? Good questions, should we get angry? Should we get informed? What is the appropriate response? Who defines appropriate in this case?

Of course, they’re only differences of opinion, you say tomato, I say tomahto, right? Science is just one way of looking at the world, equally valid as, say, reading the bible? Right?

And of course, evolution is a controversial issue, right? It’s not like the vast majority of biological science is based on the theory of evolution and that every respectable and established scientific intuition in the world, relying on empirical evidence and repeated testing, hasn’t confirmed it to be one of the most consistently proven scientific tenets?

That’s what I thought.

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