Tennessee Passes Anti-Science Education Law

For the past few weeks there has been news about another anti-science education bill making the rounds in Tennessee. This bill, like the many others being proposed all over the country, pretends to be for the expansion of science education by pretending that there is conflict and controversy in the sciences. In reality, it is another thinly veiled attempt to allow the teaching of creationism in public schools. The bill passed into law yesterday, 4-10-2012.

There was some hope, among rational people anyway, that Governor Bill Haslam would veto the bill. After it passed the house and senate it appeared that Haslam had taken issue with the bill and was preparing a politically correct way of vetoing it when he said:

It is a fair question what the General Assembly’s role is… That’s why we have a state board of education.


Sensible people were hoping that Haslam was working on a legal justification throwing out this terrible law without upsetting the droves of willfully ignorant people that support it. Either way, Haslam took the easy way out and let the bill pass into law without his signature. He said:

I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools.


This is nonsense, of course. The bill allows science teachers to teach creationism as if it were fact. That changes the scientific standards alright, it makes them non-scientific.  The language of the bill is very sneaky, of course. The religious community has been at this for a while now and they are getting very good at concealing intention in carefully worded statements. The newest form of attack is to steer clear of any religious talk at all, and instead focus on imagined controversy. They, of course, don’t delve into what “controversy” they are talking about, any digging in that direction would immediately indicate that such controversy simply doesn’t exist within the scientific community.

The state goals of the bill are this:

(1) An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens;
(2) The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy; and
(3) Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects

Bill 893

In the words of Emilio from Mr. Deeds, “I think you underestimate the level of sneakyness Mr. Deeds…” Yes, vastly underestimated. Just look at how carefully worded that language is. Go ahead, read it again. On a pass or two most people wouldn’t think twice about what was written there. The rest of the document is written the same way. Let’s break down this little bit, and look at what it’s really saying.

We can all agree with number one, it’s just a simple, true statement, that is why we educate children in science. But why say it? Because the rest of the document is going to imply that teachers are restricted, somehow, from meeting this noble goal.

Number two is where things get slimy. It says, “some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy”. Oh, it can cause controversy? Neat wording, interesting that it doesn’t say that there is a controversy among scientists about these basic science concepts. They state another simple truth, but not the whole truth. These scientific concepts “can cause controversy” because willfully ignorant people have motives for staying that way, and want their children, and your children, to be just as willfully ignorant.

Number three states that teachers are confused about how they should teach these subjects. Only, not really. Good science teachers know exactly how to teach these subjects, the way good science is always taught. If there is a teacher really wondering if they should be focusing on creationism in the classroom then they have no business being a teacher anyplace other than at bible study at the local church.

This brings me to the most important point applying to this bill, and all the others like it, that these lawmakers just don’t seem to understand. Real controversy in the sciences is perfectly normal and accounted for. At the very base of everything being taught by good science teachers is that everything should be questioned. Good science is done by challenging currently held ideas and holding them to the evidence. Nothing is sacred and nothing is safe from critical examination, that is what makes science work and grow and continue to serve us so well. We don’t need to “teach the controversy” because controversy is already at the heart of what science does.

The issue here is that certain groups of people are angry that what they believe has been proven untrue and has been discarded in the same way we did with the ideas that the earth is flat or at the center of the universe. When religious people say “teach the controversy” they are making the mistake of assuming that science works in the same way as their faith does. They don’t understand that scientists don’t dogmatically cling to ideas and believe things without reason. They don’t understand the first thing about science and it’s a damn shame we allow them to make laws governing how children are going to be taught it.

Phil Plait and Steven Novella have more on the issue, I encourage you to read their thoughts as well.


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  1. David



    Cowardly don't you think? For the Governor to let it become law without signing it.

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