Tennessee governor set to sign anti-evolution bill; new monkey trial in the offing!

Two weeks ago I posted on Tennessee’s “teach-the-controversy” bill, which had passed the state House and Senate.  Here’s a summary again (my emphasis):

This bill prohibits the state board of education and any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or principal or administrator from 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. This bill also requires such persons and entities to endeavor to:
(1) 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; and
(2) Assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.

The bill has been opposed by every member of the National Academies of Science who lives in Tennessee, by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, by the Tennessee Education Association, and by the Tennessee branch of the American Civil Liberties Union—i.e., every organ of rationality in the state.

Despite this, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam is about to sign the bill into law. According to the Vanderbilt University student newspaper:

Haslam said the State Board of Education has told him the measure won’t affect the state’s current scientific curriculum for primary, middle or high school students. Louisiana enacted a similar law in 2008.

“I think the one thing about that bill is this: Nothing about the curriculum of the state of Tennessee will change, and the scientific standards won’t change,” he said. “So I think some of the discussion about its impact has probably been overblown.”

Note the emphasis on “evolution and global warming.” If that’s not religious motivation—and a legitimate reason for contesting the constitutionality of the bill—I don’t know what is.

And here’s some lovely doublespeak:

House sponsor Bill Dunn, a Knoxville Republican, said the proposal states that it is “not … construed to promote religion.”

“What the bill says is that as long as you stick to objective scientific facts, then you can bring that into play,” the Knoxville Republican said. “So if students start asking questions or if there’s debate on it, it’s not a one-sided debate. But it is a fair debate, in that it’s objective scientific facts that are brought forward.”

If that’s the case, why do they single out evolution and global warming? Why not quantum mechanics and the Krebs cycle? After all, there’s just as much valid scientific opposition to quantum mechanics and the Krebs cycle as there is to evolution.

People of Tennessee, your state is about to look really stupid.

h/t: Chris


  1. Tulse
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    If that’s the case, why do they single out evolution and global warming? Why not quantum mechanics and the Krebs cycle?

    Give them time…give them time…

    Seriously, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see issues in astronomy (such as the age of the universe) and neurobiology (such as how the brain works) added in, if those were actually taught in high school.

    • Martin
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      True, I’m sure they wouldn’t stop at the two traditional bad guys, evolution & climate change. But isn’t the age of the universe taught in high schools? I know astronomy courses are probably rare, but it’s kind of a fundamental scientific question that must come up in physics or earth sciences (which must deal with the age of the earth, at least!) courses.

      I’m always surprised why astronomy isn’t a more high profile target of the Ned Flanders of the world. You’d think that knowledge of a 13.7 billion year old universe, and all that is known about the formation of stars, galaxies, planets and everything in between, is just as damaging for the creationist worldview.

      • Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        I think your average Republican Creationist conflates all scientific studies that contradict Genesis as “evolution”. Much like they conflate abiogenesis with evolution as well.

    • chriskg
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      Don’t give them any ideas. Next they will challenge Geology with Flood Geology, which I suspect is already in the offing. My real concern is why more universities don’t pool together with a simple statement that says, “If you teach this crap you can’t get in our science programs because we can’t waste our time fixing your stupid notions of biology/geology/cosmology/(insert other sciences here).” Or, something similar. Colleges should be on the front lines of this since they reap what is sown in the public schools that teach this tripe. Wy should they waste valuable class time correcting basic science?

      • Tulse
        Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        My guess is that public universities don’t say things like that because their funding is dependent on the same people who are passing these laws.

      • Kirth Gersen
        Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        And fuel their fantasies of martyrdom at the hands of the “scientific establishment,” a la Expelled?

    • RFW
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink


      It’s a point by point refudiation of creationist nonsense — which indeed includes attacks on geology and cosmology.

  2. Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    This bill obviously has no secular purpose so there is no way it will stand up in court. The section about ““not … construed to promote religion” is a very thin smokescreen that any backwoods judge could see right through.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      The problem is that some of these backwoods judges (including some on the Supreme Court of the US) believe this religious garbage, too.

    • Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      “not construed to promote religion” = nothing to see here folks move along, these are not the droids you are looking for. “Well this line here says it’s not violating the establishment clause so I’ll just ignore the rest of it and take their word for it, is how I was raised with the Bible.”

  3. Keith
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Tennessee, for drawing attention away from Indiana’s recent legislative stupidity on this issue. Fortunately, our version of creationism died in the House (but may come back next session).

    • gbjames
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

      No doubt it will. Those guys don’t give up easily.

  4. stevehayes13
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    I cannot help but be reminded of Kitzmiller vs Dover 2005 and Judge Jones’ characterisation of the pretence that Intelligent Design was not religious as ‘a breath-taking inanity’. These religious fruitcakes really do take one’s breath away.

    • Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      The “breathtaking inanity” that Judge Jones described was simply the Dover School Board’s decision to adopt the unconstitutional policy. The attempt to claim that putting forward ID was not religiously motivated could better be described as “breathtaking chutzpah”.

      • stevehayes13
        Posted April 7, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

        I do not know if you have read the transcript, but Judge Jones did describe the attempt to claim that intelligent design was not religious as a breath-taking inanity.

  5. Lord Labakudoss
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    We should be viewing this as a blessing in disguise.
    Smart science teachers should have no problems bringing up Intelligent Design (while teaching evolution) and ripping it to shreds! No administrator should be able to prohibit that 🙂

    • Occam
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      The battleground laid open by the wording of the bill: who gets to decide what, in law, constitutes a scientific theory.
      What does it relly mean to

      review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.

      All scientists who care the least about the matter should now throw their weight into balance.

      • Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        This will be an interesting discussion, particularly if provisional methodological naturalism gets a hearing. The conclusion about ID would then be that it’s bad science and the reasons for shooting it down would be slightly different from the ruling in the Kitzmiller case.

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          rather than “bad science”, IMHO, intelligent design -lacks- a scientific basis, but uses words to make it sound like science….maybe that’s the more correct definition of “scientism”??

  6. eric
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I believe from news articles that if he doesn’t sign it, it becomes law anyway. He has to veto it to stop it going into effect. Signing it would indicate he positively supports it, but it isn’t necessary. He could do nothing with it, and since the legislature has passed it, it’ll become law.

    However, someone please correct me on that if I’m wrong.

    Assuming it passes, I guess the good folk of TN will have to fight against unconstitutional applications of it at the local level. Sort of like Forrest and others in Louisiana have been doing against the LSEA; making district authorities aware that its still a legally and financially bad idea for them to teach creationism, even if their state officials have passed a law implying its okay.

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      From the TN capitol website:

      After being passed by both houses, the bill is enrolled, that is retyped, without errors or erasures, on a heavy-weight paper, by the Chief Engrossing Clerk in the house of origin. This step involves preparing the bill in the exact form passed by both houses and in a format suitable for approval by the two Speakers and by the Governor.
      After the Speakers sign the enrolled copy, it is automatically transmitted to the Governor for his action.
      The Governor may sign the bill; veto it; or allow it to become law without his signature. The Governor is allowed ten days (Sundays excepted) after a bill is presented to him to approve or veto the bill; if he takes no action within that period, the bill becomes a law without his signature. The Governor also has constitutional authority to reduce or disapprove any sum of money appropriated in any bill while approving other portions of such bill.
      If the Legislature is still in session, the Governor returns all bills and joint resolutions to the house of origin after he has taken action. After adjournment of the General Assembly, bills are returned by the Governor to the Office of the Secretary of State.
      If the Governor has vetoed a bill or reduced or disapproved an appropriation within a bill, the veto can be overridden, or reduced or disapproved sums of money restored, by a majority vote of the membership to which each body is entitled under the Constitution.

  7. chriskg
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    This is being picked up by a few larger media outlets. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/01/opinion/la-ed-evolution-discovery-tennessee-20120401 which has a nice quote, “The truth in this case, discomfiting as it may be to some Tennesseans, is that evolution is not “just a theory.”

  8. Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    “Why do they single out evolution and global warming?”

    I think it’s because they don’t know how to spell “renormalizable vector boson gauge theory”.

    • Tulse
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      “I will not have my children taught they are made up of nothing more than renormalizable vector bosons!”

  9. Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    “People of Tennessee, your state is about to look really stupid.”

    I’m sorry…I really WISH I could agree with this but can’t.

    Yes, the state will look stupid to people like you and perhaps to, say, the educated population of Europe.

    Unfortunately, Tennessee won’t look stupid to the majority of Americans, including to many who have college degrees.

    I sure wish people would see this as stupidity….

    but….well, I’ll just remind you of this:

    • Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      The Babelfish translation:

      “I’m embarrassed to admit that I have been known to have rational thoughts, but don’t worry, I’m just as capable as the other duffers on this panel who don’t believe in evolution of talking complete bollocks.”

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        I though it was just – “Give me your vote”.

  10. Stan Pak
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I think that Governor is aware of no chances of that bill to survive when contested in the court. Signing it will be only a form of message to his voting sector of population: “I tried but those ugly evilutionists overturned the bill.”

  11. bonetired
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Most of the politicians probably think that a Krebs Cycle is something you ride ….

    As an aside, one of my lecturers did his PhD under Krebs when he was at Sheffield. He knew that when Krebs said “Now, that is an interesting idea” it was back to the drawing board!

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 6, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      That bill is “an interesting idea”, all right.

  12. Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    “People of Tennessee, your state is about to look really stupid.”

    • Zugswang
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      “Again”? Try, “perpetually”.

      Having lived in both TN and KY, I’ll rank KY as marginally less stupid, but damn if those two don’t try to one up each other.

      Want to know how dumb KY is? I work in a developmental biology lab, and one of the techs is a creationist. For serious.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 6, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        Unfortunately I can one up that. I worked in the Swedish Institute of Space Physics here in Sweden, and one of techs working with the planetary scientists was a global warming denialist. Ouch!

  13. Ken Pidcock
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    You know, the existing scientific theories language is critical to this kind of initiative. It means that a teacher can be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of intelligent design or other forms of creationism, because these don’t have any scientific theory associated with them.

    • Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. I think it could also be argued that teaching ID does nothing to help students understand evolution, except to reinforce the distinction that evolution is good science and ID is not. Perhaps it could be prohibited from that angle as well.

  14. levimust
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Since the world is flat, does all the fussing over conflicting viewpoints really matter? All you have to do is be careful not to fall over the edge. You might have to think about things!

  15. Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    History must be next. Check out this from the Washington Post, no less.

    “My wife, Grace, and I choose to tell our five kids that the Easter Bunny, while fun, isn’t a real, magical bunny that hops from house to house laying colored eggs, candies, and toys on Easter morning. That’s a make-believe story, and we have no objections to fun and imagination so long as the kids also know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and not a fanciful myth.”


    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      If someone has a conscience issue with celebrating the holiday, they should abstain, but to rail against kids eating candy and having fun sounds more like the religious types who murdered Jesus than the kids who hung out with him.

      …And, um, those religious types would be whom exactly? And wasn’t it more of a suicide thing?

      • Tulse
        Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        “How dare they assist God with His plan for redeeming all of humanity!”

    • Tulse
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      History must be next.

      It’s already been attacked in Texas.

  16. Hempenstein
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    At least attempts to mandate lunacy come not only from the US. We all know the argument, “Well, do you want to start teaching astrology as well?”

    Well… in the 23Mar 2012 issue of Science, Letters, p1440, PM Bhargava in Hyderabad writes that in 2001 an education minister there proposed that astrology be included in first degree courses at Indian universities. PMB argues that this is an example of how India’s scientific leadership, which did not oppose that proposal, is one of the boat anchors holding India back, and not their bureaucracy, as was advanced by the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

  17. Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    My passport expires in 2015.

  18. Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Tennessee is *going* to look stupid? Surely you jest — Or, in the wisdom of the late Leslie Nielson — “No jesting. And don’t call me Shirley”

  19. klem
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a problem with this bill.

    Protecting teachers from their employers who want to dictate what they should teach, what is the debate here?

    I am an evolutionist, Darwin’s theory will hold up against any criticism. Darwin is safe I asure you. I hope they teach other theories.

    Its bizarre that teachers need legislation to protect them in case they teach something wrong.

    I hope this bill passes.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      With respect due, I suggest that you study the intent of the legislation. It is specifically intended to protect teachers who wish to promote the idea that biological evolution cannot be understood as an unguided natural process, and to prevent school districts from holding teachers to account for teaching lies. It is specifically meant to protect bad teaching.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 6, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      The debate is on the debate: why should a public debate, in as much as it exist, affect the teaching of what is not under scientific debate?

      If we inject all sorts of spurious ideas into science class, a) students will be confused, and b) there will be little actual education. For every Gish gallop of a student, may lecture hours can be wasted on irrelevant detail.

      That is all these bill-promoters want, after all. They couldn’t care less about teaching, criticism, safe science or protection. All they want is to sow bad education.

  20. Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I think I’ll hide for a while. Not excited to say I live in Tennessee today to be sure!

  21. Mary
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    So.. what happens when the ‘educated’ children of TN go to college? In TN-Vanderbilt or UT- I suppose that would be ok as they probably already are creating remedial classes for the TN students that will be entering those institutions.

  22. Dean Endress
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    wow!!! Tennessee has built a Time machine and plans on taking the entire State back to the 8th. century.. the Dark Ages… oh boy!

  23. Duane
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    We actually have a few examples of species that have been, on some level, intelligently designed: our food animals, Canis Lupus Familiaris, and even the house cat (though I defy you to find one that would admit it). But put ANY of them against that caterpillar earlier that decorates itself with flowers.

    Of course, the examples I cited above were designed… by us…

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 6, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      As someone noted on a recent thread, we are probably designed by ourselves. Modern man shrinkage of brain volume correlates with what happens in similarly domesticated species such as dogs.

      However, artificial selection is not ‘intelligent’ design, it is picking and choosing among happenstance traits. It is no more design than sexual selection et cetera is, it is apparent design.

      Intelligent design of genes is still awaiting realization AFAIK.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 6, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      Oops, you wrote “on some level”. Never mind.

  24. Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    But who will be this generation’s H. L. Mencken?

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

      PZ Myers?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 6, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        Why do we nead Moar M(ad) Men?

        I vote Greta Christina, out of a god-aweless bunch of female writers. (If Kirby, Benson et cetera, you were 2nd pick just because you are generally nicer.)

  25. Posted April 5, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Why not other science? Because no other science facts challenge the power structure do directly. This is all about power over resources — as is all animal behavior.

  26. the Siliconopolitan
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Pity that most teachers are too overworked and insecure in their employment to take on this law by teaching New Testament criticism à la Ehrman.

  27. shelldigger
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I did at least send a letter to the governor, not that I thought it might help in any way, but I felt I had to.

    Have 2 boys still in school. They have been informed to notify me of any creationist hanky panky. I intend to raise hell, if and when. They have been brought up to think for themselves, and with no persuasion at all, they both are skeptics. Makes a dad proud.

    Santorum’s lost cause, at least gives me some hope of not having to flee the country…just yet. Canada is sure starting to look good from here, or Denmark, perhaps Sweden. I honestly feel as if all hope is nearly lost, and getting the hell out of this madhouse is a serious consideration.

    Either that or start preparing me and mine, for the next season of Doomsday Preppers.

  28. saguhh00
    Posted April 5, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    This might come in handy.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 6, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      Ha, a “spherical” argument! Philosophers will go bonkers over that one.

    • VikingWarriorPrinces
      Posted April 7, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      Here’s a fun fact; one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever gotten, thank you for this. I’ll save them and whenever I’ve had a shitty day I know what to do to get a good laugh.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    People of Tennessee, your state is about to look really stupid.

    People of Tennessee, your state is about to become really stupid.

  30. bismarket
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    “ABOUT to look really stupid”? Too late for that now, & since when has any IDiot ever worried about looking stupid. Ignorance is bliss, don’t ya know?

  31. Posted April 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I find this bill to be very interesting. I read the bill and it doesn’t seem to give teachers the authority to teach creation (which they should not do). It seems like it is allowing students to question things, which they do all the time anyway (trust me I was a science teacher). So I don’t see the point of the bill and I don’t understand the controversy. Perhaps I am missing something or didn’t read the bill in its entirety. If the bill does say that creation can be taught then it should not pass. I think there definitely should be a separation of church and state.

    Like I said above I was a science teacher. I am also a Christian…a Christian who happily taught evolution. Not all Christians are against science. It is not fair to lump us all into one category. I went to a Christian University and evolution was taught…because you can’t teach science without teaching evolution!! Of course I believe in evolution, it is scientific fact. But I also happen to believe that God created the universe. It doesn’t have to be an either/or thing. My son will tell you that God created the world and that birds evolved from dinosaurs. I really wish that Christians would realize that you can be devout and rational. And I really wish atheists would stop calling Christians idiots because it is pretty offensive.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I have a feeling that nothing good will come of this bill.

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