April 20, 2012

Tennessee Evolution Law

Some say new guidelines will open to the door to teaching creationism in class.

Josh: The U.S. Constitution says the government can’t force religion on the people. That is why religion is not promoted in our public schools. It is called the separation of church and state. But some argue that a new law in Tennessee is opening the door for religion in the classroom. I headed to Nashville to learn more.

“I think you should be able to learn and teach whatever you want, religious or scientific.”

“Teachers might abuse this.”

Josh: Taking sides over a new law in Tennessee, changing how teachers can teach. The law says school officials can’t prevent teachers from talking about all sides of quote “scientific controversies,” which many say are those touchy topics like biological evolution and climate change.

“What are some things we are looking to compare when we’re looking at if evolution is true or not?”

Josh: Fans of the law say it will promote critical thinking and debate.

“The law simply says that we need to encourage teachers to engage students in discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories. It doesn’t mention any specific theory.”

Josh: Tennessee Senator Bo Watson co-sponsored the bill.

“I have no problem with the theory of evolution. I think it’s currently science’s best way of explaining how things are. In the same breath, I’ll say I don’t have a problem with someone who challenges that way of thinking, which is the point!

Josh: But not everyone is happy. One science professor here at Vanderbilt University has launched a petition against the law, which she says brings religion into science class.

“We do not argue whether climate change or whether evolution is happening.”

Josh: Who is “we”? Some people do argue.

“Okay, this is a politically charged piece of legislation and, sure, these issues are controversial in the public, and within a political setting. But they are not controversial within the scientific community. Discussing the theory of evolution is like discussing whether gravity is happening or not. We don’t waste time in science classrooms talking about these things.”

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution says over millions of years, humans gradually evolved from other animals. Creationism is the belief that the Bible’s story of how humans came to be is true, and that humans did not evolve.

Josh: It is not the first time Tennessee has gotten itself in a tangle over the teaching of science. In 1925, the state banned the teaching of evolution when a high school science teacher, John Scopes, defied that ban. His so-called Scopes Monkey Trial became one of the most important court battles in U.S. history. He lost and the law was on the books until it was repealed in 1967.

Since then, there has been an ongoing debate about teaching creationism in science class. And more recently, intelligent design, which is the idea that the universe is so complex there must be an intelligent force behind it. So far, the courts have ruled teaching intelligent design violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

At Nashville’s Hillwood High School, students are divided about the new law.

“A big drawback is the teacher could bring creationism into this if he wanted to even though it’s like saying the world is flat.”

“Free exchange of ideas is a good thing. You can teach it and introduce it, and they’ll be able to decide what they believe. And that’s how it should be.”

Josh: Tennessee is the second state to pass a law like this but similar laws have been proposed and shot down in several other states.



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