"Don't Take Away Tennessee Students' Competitive Edge"

Just this week, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill that would allow public school teachers to teach creationism in addition to evolution in science classes. Gov. Bill Haslam now has less than 10 days to sign or veto the bill.

By Wesley H. Roberts, M. Ed., Tennessee biology teacher

I have been involved in evolution education for about 25 years. I am in the classroom every day and I currently teach at Hume Fogg Academic Magnet School, Tennessee's top-performing high school.

Let's admit that opposition to evolution education is part of our rich cultural history in Tennessee, including the Butler Act of 1925 (which brought on the Scopes Monkey Trial). This newest bill would give legal cover to public school teachers who wish to dress up religious beliefs on the origin of life as pseudo-science. A teacher, bolstered and protected by this bill, may decide to stray from the curriculum for the advancement his or her own personal belief system since it is "controversial" to the accepted science theories. This bill presents science as a democratic process in which anyone's opinion — no matter how nonscientifically based — counts. And science is NOT this way. Science is a process that deals only with reason, logic, and proof.

However attractive it may sound to have discussions of nonscientific ideas in our science classrooms, it is not the souls of our students that are at stake here. What is at stake is how they will perform on standardized tests in which they will be compared to other students across the state, the nation, and the world.

I have been a reader of national Advanced Placement exams for the last seven years. I can most assuredly state that there has not been, nor will there ever be, a question on an AP exams that asks the student to discuss a controversy in nonscientific terms. No question has stated, "Compare the merits of Intelligent Design to the scientific principles in the theory of evolution". There has not been a prompt directing students to explain their knowledge of creation myths from other traditions. Indeed, AP science exams do NOT ask students for their opinions or to explain controversies. They ask students to demonstrate their knowledge of scientific principles, including evolution.

How much of students' coursework involves evolution? Since it is considered by most biologists, including the ones who write the AP tests, to be the organizing principle of modern biology, the answer is nearly 100 percent. But if you just look at the stated curriculum for AP biology, the answer is greater than 10 percent. And the state's own Science Framework for Biology I mandates over 14 percent of the curriculum specifically focus on evolution.

The legislators responsible should explain to parents who have paid a hefty price for their child to take the AP exam that, in their attempts to protect students by inviting nonscience into the curriculum, time in science class was wasted on topics that are not part of the stated curriculum, and that students not subject to this bill outperformed their children.

So please — let's stick to science and only science for the benefit of our students. Let's not take away the competitive edge that our students desperately need.

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Science is not ...

Science is the process of testing falsifiable hypotheses. Hypotheses may be supported by evidence gathered through means acceptable to the scientific community, but we never prove anything. The writer may wish to read "The Logic of Scientific Discovery" by Karl Popper.

Evolution theory presents a framework through which falsifiable hypotheses about natural selection, genetic drift and many other concepts can be tested.

Creationism/Intelligent Design presents a framework of concepts that untestable and unfalsiable. It is not science.


It seems like the legislators have tried very carefully to write the bill without mentioning obviously unconstitutional words like "creationism" or "religion." But is this enough to overcome Edwards v. Aguillard? This seems like a massive obstacle for the state to overcome.

Michael Walker

The teaching of "creation science" and theistic evolution as competing theories to natural selection was done this last week at Merrol Hyde Magnet School in Sumner County as a class long seminar. The text of the prompt is available here: Creationism Seminar. This document has already been supplied to the ACLU. This seminar was conducted in a chemistry class. Students were instructed to discuss in class which of the interpretations of the word "day" in the Genesis creation story is most plausible. For homework, students were instructed to write on one of the following topics: 1. How do dinosaurs and the fossil record factor into creationism? 2. Could evolution be a tool of God?

It is confounding how a science teacher can not tell the difference between a scientific theory that has been tested and confirmed over and over, and a religious creation myth which has no basis in fact; has no recourse to measurable data; existed in a milieu of creation stories millenia before the scientific method was established; has no internal consistency; and can not even rise to the level necessary for peer review. This not only abuses science and the students in science classes, it abuses the Bible by not regarding it in its historical and literary context. The Bible is twisted and contorted to fit modern, Western philosophy of which its authors had no knowledge or concern.

Finally, the teaching of creationism as competing theory to natural selection is dishonest. The only way Christians are able to pretend to present it on the same level as a scientific theory is to dilute what a scientific theory is, making it equivalent to a "guess." The argument becomes a straw man and should not enter serious discussion.

Michael Walker, M.Ed., M.Th.


Evolution does not need to be explained, really, unless they now have difficult theory. We hunted colored macaroni in grass, which I thought was stupidly obvious.

I studied preditor/prey population differential equations, but I doubt biologists get into how the limit cycle precesses and optimizes livespan for fastest evolution.

In other words, what is there to say about evolution but "survival of fittest"?

Goldfish overeat and die -- the strongest and fastest would die first, so what's fit one day is unfit the next.

former Tennessean

Many years ago I graduated from a top-performing Tennessee high school and went on to a prestigious university outside of the state. In those days, it was against the law to teach the theory of evolution in Tennessee schools. I did have a Biology teacher who spent part of one class period outlining the forbidden theory, but she prefaced her remarks by saying, "If you tell you parents I told you this, I will deny it." When I got to college, I was woefully unprepared to take any science courses at all. Careers in science were not an option for me. Mr. Roberts is right--the Tennessee legislature is limiting the futures of Tennessee high school students. I'm now 62 and have a doctorate but not in science, and I still regret what I did not learn.


This monstrosity has become law in Tennessee; what action does the ACLU plan to take?

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