South Dakota Senate approves anti-evolution bill

Fighting creationism is a never-ending battle in the U.S., and it won’t be over until religion’s gone. Not that all believers reject evolution, of course, but I know of only one creationist (or IDer) who isn’t clearly motivated by religion: David Berlinski (and I have my doubts about him). Every attempt to have creationism legally taught in public schools has failed, and so now, as is happening in South Dakota, they are trying to pass “teach the controversy” bills that don’t even mention evolution.

According to the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the state senate just passed, by a substantial majority, Senate Bill 55, which succinctly reads as follows (my emphasis):

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to protect the teaching of certain scientific information.
Section 1. That chapter 13-1 be amended by adding a NEW SECTION to read:
No teacher may be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information presented in courses being taught which are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48.
Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? But of course it must be, as they can’t just single out evolution, which would be an explicitly religious-based bill. No, it’s just “scientific information.” But that makes it even worse because “scientific information” can pertain to global warming, as is clear from some of the statements made by Republican senators:

“In science it’s imperative that we not only show the strengths, but also the weaknesses,” Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, said. “As it stands right now, the South Dakota science standards only teaches the strengths in certain areas.”

Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, said he hoped the bill would allow for students and teachers to more freely express viewpoints that might differ from the scientific theories presented in the classroom.

“One of the areas that’s been of concern to me is this idea that now we in some fashion call people deniers, if you don’t believe this you’re a denier or a bigot or something along those lines,” Russell said. “And I think that it’s important that we have a free flow of ideas in the classroom in South Dakota.”

How very open minded of them! Perhaps they should talk about flat-earthism, alternative medicine, alchemy, and other “controversies”.  As the NCSE comments:

Although no specific scientific topics are mentioned, the language of the bill matches the language in bills aimed at evolution and/or climate change, including South Dakota’s SB 114 in 2015. And the sponsorship is similar: Jeff Monroe (R-District 24), a sponsor of SB 55, also sponsored SB 112 in 2014, which would have prevented school boards and administrators from prohibiting teachers from teaching “intelligent design.”

And the Argus Leader reported, the bill was passed over substantial expert opposition:

Members of that chamber on a 23-12 vote advanced the bill despite guidance from the State Department of Education, state school boards, school administrators, teachers and scientists, who all said the change was unnecessary and could lead to the instruction of unauthorized theories. They also warned that the rule change could cause serious legal problems for school districts.

Will the bill pass the state House of Representatives? It seems likely, for, as The Friendly Atheist reported, “SB 55 now heads to the House, where Republicans have a 59-10 edge.” If passed, it would go to the desk of governor Dennis Daugaard, also a Republican. I doubt he would have the guts to veto it, and even if he does, the numbers given above suggest the veto could be overriden.

This is an embarrassment to South Dakota, and if you’re an educator there, weigh in below.

And for a critique of the “let a thousand bad ideas blossom” form of education, see “One side can be wrong“, an article that Richard Dawkins and I wrote in the 2005 Guardian.





  1. ploubere
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The language of the bill is nearly identical to HB 368/SB 893 that became law in Tennessee in 2012:

    “Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit 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.”

    Since then, it has been legal to teach creationism in public schools in the state.

    • GBJames
      Posted January 28, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see how teaching creationism as science in schools could stand up if challenged in federal court. How does a law like this protect from federal lawsuit?

      • ploubere
        Posted January 29, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        As with all these cases, a student would have to claim injury before a suit can be filed. Then there would need to be evidence that a teacher was teaching creationism. No student has come forward, even though teaching biblical creationism is likely rampant across the state.

        • GBJames
          Posted January 29, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          I have no doubt that somewhere in South Dakota there are parents who are willing to gather the evidence and be plaintiffs in a suit. This is standard stuff for the FFRF and ACLU.

  2. Claudia Baker
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Do these States actually enjoy being the laughing stock of the world? (Well, not the ME part of the world I guess. Peas-in-a-pod.

    • Posted January 28, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      + 1

    • sponge bob
      Posted January 28, 2017 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Hold on. We have the Badlands.

      And these yay-hoos in the state legislature will get an earful. Nobody here (I hope!) wants second rate education. There is a lot of religion though.

      I bet hardly anyone in SD even knows this is a bill.

  3. John H. McDonald
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    If this passes, I hope some brave South Dakota teachers interpret it as permission to present the “strengths and weaknesses” of the bogus scare stories they’ve been told to use in their abstinence-only sex ed classes and just-say-no drug education.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 28, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Now that *would* be good, wouldn’t it? 😎


  4. David Coxill
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    If it is true that the cattle and Pronghorn outnumber the humans in South Dakota at least not many kids will have to suffer this crap.

  5. Sastra
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, said he hoped the bill would allow for students and teachers to more freely express viewpoints that might differ from the scientific theories presented in the classroom.

    Uh huh.

    Teacher:” … and that is how species evolved. Yes?”

    Student (lowering hand): I don’t believe that. I believe God created all things as they are.”

    What the Creationists imagine:

    Teacher:”Why, thank you for providing that alternative viewpoint. It’s not scientific to only consider one theory. It could have happened that way, too.”

    What actually happens (or should):

    Teacher: “Thank you. Scientists have considered that — but here is why it’s wrong.”

    When they say they want all viewpoints to be “freely expressed” they are forgetting that this doesn’t mean they’re protected from being shot down. In science, nothing is that “free.” And if they think parents are upset when teachers don’t bring up creationism, let them see how happy these parents are when it gets brought into the lesson only in order to be dissected.

    • Geoff Toscano
      Posted January 28, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes indeed. Teachers shouldn’t even be placed in the position of having to dismiss stupid ideas as though they were approaching them scientifically. But how about looking on the bright side and teaching some of the following:

      Abortion is perfectly acceptable in certain circumstances.
      The earth isn’t saucer shaped.
      Humans might be affecting climate.
      Gun control is essential in a civilised country.

      Are these same Republicans going to support the teaching of these ‘controversies’?

  6. veroxitatis
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Surely we ought not to be overly concerned about this Bill. It seems to me that the key words are “in an objective scientific manner”. If students at this level wish to rigorously interrogate the Theory of Evolution in this way then good luck to them!!! If however, they introduce creationism into the discussion then they will be disqualified from so doing since the only tools at their disposal are the words of the Holy Babble. And nowhere in that book can be found tools and methods which can be applied in an “objective scientific manner”.

    • ploubere
      Posted January 29, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      What you are forgetting is that many teachers believe in creationism and want to teach that instead of evolution. These laws give them the legal cover to do that.

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted January 30, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        I am not forgetting that. If I had a child at school in AS and discussion took place in a biology class on creationism and the school authorities prayed in aid as a defence any legislation worded similarly to this bill then I Would seek an injunction to prevent a repetition on the ground that such discussion failed to comply with the strict wording of act in that said discussion lacked scientific methodology and objectivity.

        • Veroxitatis
          Posted January 30, 2017 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

          AS should read SD.

  7. Posted January 28, 2017 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Religion is indeed the driver of antievolutionism, with Berlinksi, Michael Denton, and Richard Milton (a non-religious young earth antievolutionist!) pretty much exhausting the field of agnostic/nonbeliever antievolutionists, out of the 2000-odd antievolutionists I’ve been keeping track of so far (involving some 7600 citations). The South Dakota venture is typical of state house antievolutionism, where a clique of Kulturkampf believers trot out similar proposals regularly (three previous ones in SD Senate that I know of, 2014-2016).

    The core problems with antievolutionism do not turn on their religion, though, that’s just the contextual veneer. Antievolutionists are able to sustain belief in that content as some manner of “scientific” validity because (1) they are overly reliant on secondary sources they don’t even try to fact check, (2) their core fact claimants draw on a slim data set (roughly 10% of relevant technical literature in my measurement of their source citations), (3) none of them ever get around to working out what they think happened with even that limited dataset (what I call the Map of Time problem), and most fundamentally (4) none of them ever conceptualize what evidence might prompt them to change their minds, because quite literally that is something their minds do not think about.

    None of those 4 core methods and cognitive snags relate explicitly to religion, and I propose that, scratch any segment that believes things that are really not true, and you’ll find those same 4 source methods snags in play, as true for liberal Marin county antivaxxers as it is for Moon Landing hoax believers, or religiously-driven antievolutionists.

    There is a madness to their method, you see.

  8. Posted January 28, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I’d be 100% in favor of a “teach the controversy” policy if they’d teach the controversy about whether God exists.

    • Posted January 28, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      And whether Jesus is a real historical figure, or imaginary like Hercules.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 28, 2017 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        What? Hercules? Imaginary? Surely not!!

        Just look at all the documentaries (OK, movies and TV series) that have been made about him. Look at all the contemporary references in ancient literature. And the statues. Hercules is far better documented than Jesus!


  9. Somite
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    We agree on this limit of free speech.

    No creationism in science class.

    • peepuk
      Posted January 29, 2017 at 5:35 am | Permalink

      Everything can be taught without any limits, if it’s true.

      Also non-true believes can be discussed without any limits but are not presented as being true. They are good examples of how not to do science.

      Science decides what’s true or false.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted January 29, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

      Of course. And, no cooking science class, no civics in science class, no many things in science class, so?

      • GBJames
        Posted January 30, 2017 at 7:16 am | Permalink

        There is a place for cooking in science class. There is a place for discussions about science and civics in science class.

        There is no place for teaching religion in science class except, perhaps, when discussing the history of science and how it has been hampered by religion. But, of course, that is not “teaching religion”.

  10. rickflick
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    South Dakota has a population of 865,454.
    California has a population of 39,250,017.

    They each have 2 senators. I think this weird scheme is the founder’s idea of joke.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 28, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      But you have to admit Neither California or South Dakota existed in the 1780s. The total population of the country in 1790 was less than 4 million. Certainly the 2 senators per state should have been eliminated 150 years ago for a more appropriate representation and much more democratic but who’s fault is that. Not James Madison. I think even Thomas Jefferson said the constitution should be done over about every 19 years. We now have a republican party in charge who think g*d wrote the constitution and that is good enough for them.

      • rickflick
        Posted January 28, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        I see you want to shift the blame. Well, OK. I can see smearing the blame. But, still…

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted January 28, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

          How do you call it shifting blame. Were the founders fortune tellers? Put your mind and body back in their time and then talk about Cal. and South Dakota. That is nuts.

          The two senators per state was a compromise with the small colonies, like New Jersey or South Carolina and Maryland. The founders put article 5 in there so change it. There is no shifting of blame just telling you and whoever what the facts are. Judging history or judging science is the same — first you have to know something about it.

          • rickflick
            Posted January 28, 2017 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

            “first you have to know something about it”

            I’m Googling as fast as I can.

            • Randall Schenck
              Posted January 29, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

              I do not mean to put you off. However, a good understanding of American History would be hard to come by from google. Afraid you must read the good books, the historians.

    • HBB
      Posted January 28, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but this is nice for us South Dakotans. How about we give CA about 91 Senators. That would even up the Senatorial representation in the two states: 1 Senator per 432,727 citizens. Now that is the makings of a real governmental circus.

      • Posted January 28, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        How could that possibly be worse than what we have? South Dakotans would be better off if CA had more senators.

    • Posted January 28, 2017 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      I have an idea. Let someone make a “Save South Dakota” site. Selfless evolutionists from around the country register. At least several millions must be available. Then, a lot is thrown to select half a million of them. They give up their current lives, sell their property and invade South Dakota to change the state’s demography.

      (Tongue in cheek of course.)

      • HBB
        Posted January 28, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        I like it! We could also do the reverse and send all the wingnuts to ID, WY, AL, MS, etc. Then the rational people would have even more space, pronghorn, and so forth per person.

  11. docbill1351
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Another “Dover Trap.”

    Yes, a district that teaches creationism could be sued in federal court regardless of the state act.

    The state provides no cover and also would not be responsible for the court costs when the district lost the case, which it would. They all have.

  12. HBB
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Sigh, I just spent my morning in a public meeting (“cracker barrel”) with my 3 SD state legislators; 2 reps (1 a Democrat of all things) and 1 Senator who, with the other rep, is Republican. I live in a “college town” of about 10,000 people so we are blue-ish in a sea of red. There was a big crowd – probably close to 100 people and the crowd was definitely against the bill’s passage. I also sent a stearnly-worded email to the two reps covering ground that is familiar to readers of WEIT on this topic. I emphasized how this bill would cut both ways – a rogue teacher could teach biblical creationism, but they could also teach Hindu, Norse, Greek, whatever, creationism with impunity. I noted that this would put their constituents coveralls in a knot.

    I love the fact that I can walk to a meeting like this, look my elected officials in the eye, and call 2 of the 3 of them idiots. That is one of the benefits of small town SD. We’ll see if it does any good this time around.

    • Marlene Zuk
      Posted January 29, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Thanks for doing that. It’s hard work and much appreciated.

    • Posted January 30, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Good for you! Thanks, even though I am not a biologist, never mind an American.

  13. Kevin
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Sad, such a beautiful state with great archeological too. Ironic.

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    In one video lecture, Dawkins boldly said,

    “Let them bring forth the evidence against evolution. You can get through it in 10 seconds. There isn’t any!!”

    but I’m not optimistic that some educators is South Dakota will see it that way.


    Berlinski seems to be frightened of the possible influence of evolution on Naziism. He says “”Darwinism is not a sufficient condition for a phenomenon like Nazism but I think it’s certainly a necessary one.”
    (However, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a major undergirder of Nazi race theory was anti-Darwinian.)

    He also thinks you need religion for morality.

  15. Posted January 28, 2017 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    One question in my mind is how readily the teachers will take to introducing intelligent design and even straight creationism as “alternative theories”. South Dakota is a state full of religious conservatives, and I doubt teachers are statistically that much different from their neighbors.

    Even in my absolutely sapphire blue corner of blue California, teacher attitudes can be… interesting. A friend of mine (a university professor) teaches summer continuing ed short courses to middle and high school teachers. My friend’s focus is earth science, and even there she runs into some folks who are woefully “alt-educated” in the science that they’re supposed to be teaching in middle and high schools. I can only imagine what sort of difficulties the biology faculty have with these continuing ed students.

  16. Joseph Carrion
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Sad, that religious people can’t comprehend that “Creationism AKA Intelligent Design” kitzmiller v. dover, 2005 is not even considered a scientific theory!

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think David Berlinski is a “creationist,” strictly speaking — or at least he wasn’t when I saw him years ago in a debate on “Firing Line.” There, he expressly declined to defend ID or any other form of creationism, but instead merely offered up some free-form pseudo-intellectual criticisms of evolution.

    He seems to be be more of a contrarian-for-hire than anything else. And from what I’ve seen of him, he uses the money to maintain a refrigerated closet where he goes to hang upside down and drink the blood of virgins.

  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    And I thought ‘anti-evolution bill’ meant they were going to make evolution illegal i.e. stop it from happening. I’d love to see the wording of that bill!



    • Ken Kukec
      Posted January 28, 2017 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      Be like King Canute commanding the tides to stop.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 29, 2017 at 2:43 am | Permalink

        In Cnut’s defence, it is believed that he did it deliberately knowing the result, in order to make a point to his over-obsequious courtiers. Sort of Emperors New Clothes in reverse.

        Not sure if the SD legislature has as many clues as old Cnut did…


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted January 31, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      I could word that bill for you – at least in so far as the actions and methods that would be needed. Translating into incomprehensible legalese would need a translator though.

  19. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 28, 2017 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    It simply takes great ignorance of science to come up with any legislation such as this. The people who do these things are living a religion and damn the education, the science and the future of at least, their state. Spend science class talking about fantasy and first century stupidity. Why do these people even have phones? There is no mention of phones in their prime reader and they are not needed to talk to g*d.

  20. Tom
    Posted January 29, 2017 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Creationism is not a science it is a lawyers argument so it is unsurprising that its proponents take advantage of the law whenever they can.
    There is no evidence in the natural world for creation by a supernatural power, instead this idea is solely derived from the writers of ancient literature.
    Perhaps Creationists should be challenged in court on the authority of those texts and by teaching THAT controversy.

    • Ann
      Posted January 29, 2017 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      Here here

    • Posted March 19, 2017 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Scientists should avoid the words “true,” “truth,” and “proven.” No theory is set in stone, no finding should be considered free from challenge when new evidence is uncovered.

      Evolution is the best explanation of all the evidence of HOW life came to be and change over the many millions of years on Earth. Being a theory, and not a mere hypothesis, it is well supported by ample evidence from multiple sources, evidence which is accessible in physical form and in peer-reviewed publications.

      The evidence that supports evolution is compatible with the idea that the origin and change of life is divinely driven, but does not prove or disprove that idea. It does, however, discredit the idea of a young Earth and some other ideas that believers claim come from a “literal” interpretation.

      I wish that in my biology classes, or at least with the conservative parents who are troubled by my teaching of “evolution as fact,” that I could address their idea of a “literal” reading of holy books; it shows a lack of understanding of language and exegesis. There is no one “literal” reading of the creation stories, even in the languages of their original versions.

      You seem afraid to admit that evolutionary theory is anything short of “truth.” Maybe backing off and allowing creationists to have their say, and calmly pointing out the different meanings of “proof” and “evidence” held by the two sides is better. Religion is not the enemy, is not a threat to science, but rather it is a parallel pursuit that has a few points of contention.

      • rickflick
        Posted March 19, 2017 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        “The evidence that supports evolution is compatible with the idea that the origin and change of life is divinely driven”

        Compatibility here is a pretty low bar. Evolution is also compatible with occasional guidance from extra terrestrial leaping gnomes.

        The significance of evolution for religion is that it is self contained and is fully adequate to explain reality. Supernatural forces are unnecessary and redundant.

        In the end, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. Nothing is absolutely certain in science, but we’d say that it is ‘true’ because you’d have to be perverse to assume otherwise.

        You can still believe any weird thing you want, even without justification, but don’t expect others to allow it to be taught to children in public schools. And don’t expect others to contribute tax money to religious schools.

        • GBJames
          Posted March 19, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

          “Religion is not the enemy, is not a threat to science, but rather it is a parallel pursuit that has a few points of contention.”

          I know a couple of books you probably should read.

          • rickflick
            Posted March 19, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

            Yes, I’ve read them. But, Mr. Toes above should really give them a look-see.

            • GBJames
              Posted March 19, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

              Sorry… I responded to the wrong comment. My note was directed to toesinthedirt.

  21. Mike
    Posted January 29, 2017 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Your slowly and steadily turning into a Theocracy, led by a lying hypocrite,who, though he professes to be Religious, I doubt it bigly.
    The American Taliban are alive and well.

  22. Ann
    Posted January 29, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I would like to see these politicians left with only “alternative” medicine when they or their loved ones need science to save their lives.

  23. Dominic
    Posted January 30, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t the same go for religion – show its strengths & weaknesses?

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