Creationists notch big win in Tennessee

Visitors check out the displays at the Museum of Creation and Earth History in Santee, California. The museum contains exhibits that depict the story of Creationism and refute the theory of Evolution. Getty Images

Visitors check out the displays at the Museum of Creation and Earth History in Santee, California. The museum contains exhibits that depict the story of Creationism and refute the theory of Evolution.
Getty Images

Tennessee's Republican-dominated House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would protect teachers who want to challenge the theory of human evolution.

Thursday's 70-28 passage of HB 368 was hailed by sponsor Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who said the proposal was designed to promote "critical thinking" in science classes.

That's one way of seeing it. However, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association is on record describing the bill as "unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional." Although the document is worded so as not to promote any particular doctrine, the thrust of the proposed law would elevate creationist theories about human evolution to the same status accorded by most educators to Darwin's research.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, was quoted by the Chattanooga Times Free Press drawing a connection between the proposal and the the trial of teacher John Scopes for teaching evolution depicted in the film "Inherit the wind."

"I remember ... where Spencer Tracy at the end, he had that book called 'Origin of Species' and looked at it in one hand and had the Holy Bible in the other. He glanced back and forth and he put them both together and walked out of the room. This has never been a problem for me. So I guess I'm having a little bit of a problem in wondering why we're doing this."

The bill's provisions call upon state schools and administrators "to 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." It also contains a provision saying that "teachers shall be permitted to help 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."

Presumably, that would also extend to teaching about alternative theories to global warming, a hot-button issue among conservative groups.

Tennessee's Senate Education Committee is slated to vote on a similar bill by the end of the month.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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