Tennessee Anti-Evolution Bill

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"Tennessee passes anti-evolution bill" claims American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Policy Alert, 13 April 2011 and Science, vol. 332 p295 15 April 2011. The House of Representatives in the US state of Tennessee has voted in a law enabling teachers to address scientific controversies, including but not limited to “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning”. The bill states: “Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help 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”. It also prohibits education authorities from prohibiting teachers from doing this.

Representative Bill Dunn, who introduced the bill, was surprised at the intensity of opposition to the bill from the scientific community, especially the way they have misconstrued the bill as an anti-evolution bill. In an interview with Science he explained: “The bill is set up to focus on scientific facts. It does not change the state board's curriculum or mandates in any way. Currently there's a chapter on Darwinian evolution and it doesn't delete or change that.” After receiving many angry communications, including one so bad his wife wanted to report it to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, he concluded that “if you dare even question or call something controversial, there seems to be this Pavlovian response [among scientists]. But instead of drooling at the mouth, they foam at the mouth.”

A copy of the bill (PDF two pages) can be downloaded from here.

Editorial Comment: Bill Dunn is correct – scientists are just like any other human beings who react when their world view is challenged. If evolution was just a scientific theory AAAS and other science organisations would be delighted that students are being encouraged to analyse, critique and review scientific evidence. That is how science is advanced. However, the theory of evolution makes claims that go way beyond the limitations of the scientific method, and it is important that students learn this. The scientific method can only be applied to events and processes happening in the present, when scientists are around to observe them.

Evolution is a story about a lot of unique events that occurred in the past, e.g. the formation of the first cell from chemicals, the formation of the first multi-cellular animals and plants, and so on, all of which are believed to have occurred before any human scientists were there to observe them. Events that happened in the past may have left evidence that can be examined in the present, but it is important that students learn to distinguish between the evidence and stories about the evidence. Sometimes the same evidence can be explained by different stories. In those cases you have to look for other sources of information, such as history or the testimony of reliable witnesses who were there. Evolution has no witnesses, Biblical Creation does. And like the Biblical God-based account of origins, evolution has profound moral and social implications, but these are all atheistic. (Ref. philosophy, politics, atheism)

Evidence News 20 April 2011

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