Anti-Science ‘Monkey Bill’ Passes Tennessee Senate

Bill requiring ‘teaching the controversy’ on evolution and global warming opposed by leading science groups

A National Center for Science Education repost

“The Senate approved a bill Monday evening that deals with teaching of evolution and other scientific theories,” the Knoxville News-Sentinel (March 19, 2012) reported, adding, “Critics call it a ‘monkey bill’ that promotes creationism in classrooms.” The bill in question is Senate Bill 893, which, if enacted, would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Among those expressing opposition to the bill are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Nashville Tennessean, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, whose president Becky Ashe described (PDF) the legislation as “unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional.”

The Senate vote was 24-8. According to the Tennesseean (March 20, 2012), Andy Berke (D-District 10) “noted the state’s history as a battleground over evolution — the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 drew national attention and inspired the Oscar-winning film Inherit the Wind — and said the measure would cast Tennessee in a bad light.” Berke also objected that the bill would encourage inappropriate discussions of religious matters, saying, “If my children ask, ‘How does that mesh with my faith?’ I don’t want their teacher answering that question.”

The bill now proceeds to the House of Representatives, which passed the counterpart House Bill 368 on April 7, 2011. SB 893 was amended in committee before it passed the Senate, however, so the two houses of the legislature will have to resolve the discrepancies between the bills. Tennessee’s governor Bill Haslam previously indicated that he would discuss the bill with the state board of education, telling the Tennesseean (March 19, 2012), “It is a fair question what the General Assembly’s role is … That’s why we have a state board of education.”

— NCSE has said of creationism that “students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level.”

Related NCSE Post:

  • Tennessee’s top scientists, including Stanley Cohen, Nobel Prize winner in physiology of medicine, oppose “monkey bills”: “By undermining the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s public schools, HB368 and SB893 would miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation, and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.

26 Responses to Anti-Science ‘Monkey Bill’ Passes Tennessee Senate

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Something tells me these people will be not happy with this voting.

    In other news Jeb Bush has to explain his controversial gun law.

  2. mrboma says:

    As a science teacher, I am actually in favor of teaching the controversy, just so long as I don’t have to present each side in an equal light. I don’t want to “teach both sides and let the kids decide,” I want to teach them how to think, so that when the next “controversy” comes up, they can reason their way through it. I want to show the students why the opposing point of view is not scientific. I want the kids to know that science is a process, not a belief system. The questioning of the current theories is exactly how science works, and this is exactly what makes it the best way of gaining knowledge about the world. But the kids need to understand that the way that evolution and global warming are being questioned is not scientific, it is dogmatic.

  3. The bill in question is Senate Bill 893, which, if enacted, would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

    Human cloning doesn’t belong with the others. It is actually a controversy about whether we should use the technology, rather than about the science.

    If they wanted to add other controversial technologies, they could require schools to teach the controversy about nuclear power, genetically engineered foods, urban freeways, and so on.

  4. bjedwards says:

    If anyone knows of any “scientific weaknesses” in evolutionary biology please list them here. Who gets to decide? Legislators? Local school boards?

    If anyone tries to sneak in creationism as an “alternative” then they just have to be hauled into court.

  5. John Hollenberg says:

    Aren’t they embarrassed to be seen passing this bill? Unbelievable.

  6. anerbenartzi says:

    I read the bill, and it doesn’t mention any consequences, so I don’t see how you’d enforce it. It’s dangerous mainly because it can be used by courts as a safety net for bad teachers. Every teacher should teach ‘the controversy’, and then if they get fired for any reason, then can claim it’s because they taught design, and this law protects them (even if they’re fired for something else).

  7. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Better update that film to “inherit the supercell, the record tornado, the 1000 year flood, the 20 year drought and the unprecedented firestorm”, ME

  8. a face in the clouds says:

    Betcha a Coke they pass a new law banning the Curly Shuffle in church after the new Three Stooges movie and their “miracle” delivery at the religious orphanage hits the screen.

  9. professor farnsworth says:

    i don’t want to live on this planet anymore. *flies away in spaceship

  10. RH factor says:

    Say it as it is — AMERICAN TALIBAN — Gains ground. What next blow up statues of da Vinci, Copernicus. Belief systems have more weight than facts, Dissent banned.

  11. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Pi is not 3.1415926 but 22/7. There was a law.

    All the crazy weather is not global warming, gay marriage is the cause.

    The cost of two wars does not count towards the national debt.

    Reality is what we say it is.

  12. squidboy6 says:

    Tennessee has some of the best tasting water I’ve ever drunk. I almost, almost believe that there’s something in it (not fluoride) that makes people in Tennessee as dumb as fence posts, but that’s only fanciful thinking.

    In Memphis, Tn there’s a church on nearly every street corner and some of these churches are true monstrosities – bigger than almost every other building I’ve ever seen with steeples that scrape the sky. People here believe what they want to believe because they are told to do that. Then they are told what to believe.

    Tennessee once had some of the best schools in the nation. On par with New York and California where the schools were also top notch. Religion in New York and California do not have the same influence as in the Southern states. That’s why there are so many ignorant people there.

  13. squidboy6 says:

    I agree with your points so I’m not criticizing you, but I’m biologist and I engaged in commerce with geneticists for more than a decade so I kept up with their discoveries and published reports. Even so genetics was not my field of expertise and it’s very difficult to understand a controversy between two or more experts in a field where lab experience is the only way to know what the disagreement is all about.

    The people who deny that evolution has occurred or is a factor do so not through an understanding of the science but through belief that is counter to a dogma they’ve been taught so teaching children a series of controversial ideas will not allow them to make intelligent choices for most of these kids. The idea that there’s controversy is simplistic. Either we go into the future with an understanding of science or we stay mired in a world where the rich and powerful tell us what to believe.

    The absence of critical thinking is taking this country back into the time when we survived by dumb luck and makes us less than the flatworm with just enough ganglia to learn that something that taste bad so avoid eating that again.

  14. bratisla says:

    teach the evolution ? Why not Zoidberg ?

  15. bratisla says:

    a special course should be done, in which students learn to properly discover a new scientific field by getting the best references AND applying their prior knowledge. A kind of basic epistemology, which is not usually properly taught (in France, at least).
    For instance, climatology : show the students how in one case several disciplines collaborate and several evidences add together to paint a picture not yet fully understood, show where understanding is lacking, and analyze what is needed to make advancements ; and how in several other cases the student’s prior knowledge can shrug off the worst “theories” (for instance, “GHG violate the first law of thermodynamics”)

    That and a lesson on measurements, error bars, how to handle them, and order of magnitudes. I always did this lesson as an introduction to basic physics course for geology students, everytime it gained me several hours of painful explanations later on.

  16. thunderclap says:

    I will agree with this statement: ‘Religion in New York and California do not have the same influence as in the Southern states. That’s why there are so many ignorant people there.’
    There is an inordinate amount of ignorant people in New York and California. It has nothing to do with teaching whether a monkey slowly morphed from other animals over millions of years or simply was spoke into existence by a deity. It has everything to do with compromise. The law is just that about compromise. The colleges are the ones at fault.

  17. Pix says:

    ““controversial” topics such as “biological evolution,”

    Biological evoultion is not a controversial topic. It is an observation of reality.

  18. Cogs says:

    Thank you. They say that evolution has gaps in it. But really isn’t the only “gap” the assumption that a species slowly changes its genome due to natural selection? And to me, not accepting natural selection as fact is silly. You can see it with your own eyes, because we instigate it every day in medical labs for vaccines. There are other ways we manipulate selection, but theres only so much time to comment on a news website.

  19. Marc M says:

    What controversy?

    The right to defend oneself isn’t a controversy.

  20. Marc M says:

    We are in a republic, if TN isn’t happy with the bill they can vote out their reps next election cycle.

    Pretty simple, eh?

  21. From Peru says:

    Smart teachers should use the suggestion of “teaching the controversy” seriously,but by teaching ANTI-creationism, ANTI-intelligent design and so on.

    The pseusoscience should be exposed as what it is : a collections of lies built to support a religious or political ideology. Same discourse with climate change.

    Should children be exposed to the “controversy”?

    Yes, just like they should be exposed to inactivated germs in vaccines to prevent infections . Critical thinking, strenghened by real life examples, should then eliminate, for the rest of their lifes, the influence of the anti-science propaganda machine just like the immune system eliminates virus and bacteria that try to infect the body.

    Of course the “anti-science vaccine” must be safe (just as we don’t want to catch the disease as sometimes happens with unsafe vaccines), so teachers must be careful of not going too far in the debunking, by mantaining always calm and decency (something creationists and denialists find very hard, by the way).

  22. Navin Johnson says:

    There are no scientifc controversies to evolution. The religious community inventing this psuedo-science and presenting it as a theory is ludicrous. If anything Intelligent Design, first of all is not very intelligent, and its just an opinion at best. It should not even be allowed to be brought up in a science classroom.

    But why stop there? Chisanbop is another way of teaching chidren math and could be viewed as a controversy. I mean if they can waste valuable class time talking about alternatives to established teaching why stop at science? Teach Chisanbop along with traditional ways of learning math.

    There are even different ways to learn English. Let’s make the school day 15 hours so we can be sure toget in ALL the different ways to learn the same thing.

  23. JayUVA says:

    The right to self-defense has not and is not being challenged. However, the SYG law is being scrutinized because it is an affirmative defense yet it puts the burden to disprove the self-defense claim on the prosecution. Citizens of Florida are tired of people who provoke physical confrontations to be immune from prosecution automatically just because they claim self-defense.

  24. JayUVA says:

    I find it hard to believe that the overall citizens of Tennessee are really in support of these anti-science laws. Or maybe the low-information crowd does support these absurd bills – 40-plus years of the Butler Act apparently resulted in many students believing that ‘The Flintstones’ was a documentary.

  25. JayUVA says:

    Bingo! Critical thinkers are far less likely to support political, economic and social policies that are against their own self-interest. Any legislator proposing laws like these that require teachers to egregiously misinform students should be impeached and exposed for their efforts to do long-term harm to the students.