Via the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), we have good news and bad news on the creation/evolution front.
First the good news:
1. The House Education Committee of the state of New Hampshire has dismissed two ridiculous bills. They never stood a chance of passing, but show that the crazies are at work even in supposedly liberal New England. According to the Concord Monitor:
The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Gary Hopper of Weare, told teachers to present all scientific theories as works-in-progress that students should challenge. The second, introduced by Rep. Jerry Bergevin of Manchester, required teachers to present evolutionary scientists’ political and religious affiliations along with their scientific theories.
Thoughtcrime! You can read more about the bill at the NCSE’s website.
2. A bill passed by the Indiana Senate last year, which made it legal to teach creationism in science classes, was tabled by the other branch of the legislature, the Indiana House. According to the Indy Star:
A bill passed last month by the Indiana Senate that would have allowed schools to teach religious stories of creation along with the theory of evolution when discussing the origins of life in science class is dead.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, moved the bill to the rules committee, a procedural step that all but assures it will not make it to a vote this year.
Bosma said he made the move to avoid the possibility of a costly lawsuit for the state, given the likelihood of a court challenge from evolution advocates.
“I felt, given the fact that we have a U.S. Supreme Court case that appears to me to be directly on point, that this is a fight that really should not be fought at this point,” he said.
You can read the bill here. The relevant part is this:
Sec. 18. The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation.
That was a loser from the outset; teaching creationism was ruled illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987.
The bad news comes from Alabama, one of the most creationist states in the country (and, of course, one of the most religious), where a religious instruction bill, with apparent creationist intent, has been introduced in the House of Representatives. House Bill 133 (download at link) stipulates that public school students (in America, “public schools” are civic schools run by state governments) can receive credit for religious instruction, so long as that instruction doesn’t take part on school grounds, that the state doesn’t pay for transportation to class, that the school doesn’t sponsor it, and the school doesn’t require it. Such off-site religious instruction is legal in the U.S.
What is probably not legal is that the students would receive class credit for this religious instruction. That’s likely to be an illegal incursion of religion into the public schools—a violation of the First Amendment mandating separation of church and state. Further, part of the bill’s design—or at least how the faithful plan to use it—is to teach creationism as an alternative theory of evolution. (The NCSE notes that “The sponsor of the bill, Blaine Galliher [R-District 30], is on record as saying that the point of the bill is to balance the presentation of evolution in the public schools.”) And if that is shown in court to be part of the bill’s intent, it’s also illegal. Galliher messed up badly with that statement, which will come back to haunt him if a legal challenge is ever mounted.
The NCSE also reports that at least one legal expert on church-state matters, Douglas Laycock of the Univesity of Virginia (founded, of course, by church/state separationist Thomas Jefferson), pronounces the bill unconstitutional on its face:
Laycock argued, “the state should not be granting credit for instruction in religion, either from a believing perspective or from a non-believing perspective. The only state credit for religion courses should be objective study of what each of the great religions does or teaches.” It would be problematic for schools to offer credit for released time religious instruction, he explained: “We don’t want the government telling churches how to provide the religious instruction. … There’d be an entanglement problem with the school trying to regulate these courses, trying to tell the churches what kind of religion course they can offer.”
You may recall that Alabama, to its eternal shame, is the only state in the U.S. that requires an evolution disclaimer to be affixed to public-school biology textbooks in the form of a sticker. Here it is (I cringe to even reproduce this thing), courtesy of Al Stefanelli:
If you can’t read it, here’s Al’s transcript:
“The word “theory” has many meanings. Theories are defined as systematically organized knowledge, abstract reasoning, a speculative idea or plan, or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations.
Many scientific theories have been developed over time. The value of scientific work is not only the development of theories but also what is learned from the development process. The Alabama Course of Study: Science, includes many theories and studies of scientists work. The work of Copernicus, Newton and Einstein, to name a few, has provided a basis of our knowledge of the world today.
The theory of evolution by natural selection is a controversial theory that is included in this textbook. It is controversial because it states that natural selection provides the basis for the modern scientific explanation for the diversity of living things. Since natural selection has been observed to play a role in influencing small changes in a population, it is assumed that it produces large changes, even though this has not been directly observed. Because of it’s importance and implications, students should understand the nature of evolutionary theories. They should learn to make distinctions between the multiple meanings of evolution, to distinguish between observations and assumptions used to draw conclusions, and to wrestle with the unanswered questions and unresolved problems still faced by evolutionary theory.
There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life. With the explosion of new scientific knowledge in biochemical and molecular biology and exciting new fossil discoveries, Alabama students may be among those who use their understanding and skills to contribute to knowledge and to answer many unanswered questions. Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”
It’s a constant battle in Alabama to stem the tsunami of creationism that threatens to inundate public-school science education. But while I’m bemoaning that, let me give plaudits to my biology colleagues at the University of Alabama who have to do damage control afflicted on their students in their earlier education. Faculty from several departments have banded together to create an Evolution Working Group, which, among other things hosts a seminar series on evolution; I gave a lecture for it in 2009. And the same group has created an evolutionary studies minor that offers interdisciplinary courses in philosophy, geology, anthropology, and biology.
The one fly in the ointment is that the University of Alabama’s (Tuscaloosa) Department of Biology doesn’t require evolution for biology majors. We do at Chicago (as do most good universities) and, given the central position of evolution in all biology, that’s simply sensible policy. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that all biology departments, if they want to be considered enlightened, should require evolution for their majors. It should not be merely an option. Alabama—get on the stick here!