Evolution and education

Evolution and education

March 21st, 2012 in Opinion Times

Evolution and the teaching of it in Tennessee's public schools is a topic that will never die. At least, it seems that way. The latest proof is a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, that would protect teachers who allow students to critique scientific theories in classroom discussion. On the surface that sounds prudent; careful study of the bill, however, shows that it would subvert science education and the principles that support it.

The bill, nevertheless, won Senate approval on a 24-8 vote Monday. It now goes to the House, where a different version of the legislation was approved last year. The language in the House and Senate version of the bill differs significantly. Watson amended his version in an effort to placate the scientific community, which viewed the House bill passed last year as de facto approval of teaching "any non-scientific, nonconventional theories in the scientific classroom."

The scientists were correct then, and they are right now. Watson's bill panders to those who favor pseudo-science - i.e., "intelligent design" and "creation science" - over established science based on decades of research.

Those "non-conventional" approaches include alternatives and challenges to theories such as evolution and global warming. Never mind that almost every scientist and educator now agree that the evidence for evolution and global warming is overwhelming. A tiny minority would have us believe otherwise, and they're willing to use the power they hold over a highly partisan legislature to promote their faith-based views.

Whatever Watson and supporters of his bill say, the legislation regarding the teaching of science is rooted in religion. Why else would Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, report that teachers have expressed concerns to him about questions they get from students on evolution, saying "Wait a minute, this doesn't mesh with what I learned in Sunday school." Crowe said teachers "aren't sure how to respond."

The answer is simple. Educators should respond by teaching the scientific canon, not engage in debate about dubious challenges to scientific theory and methodology that confuse and miseducate youngsters. Faith-based questions about science - or just about any other academic topic - are best addressed at home or in church, synagogue or mosque. They have no place in a public school setting.

There's nothing wrong with faith. Many scientists and others who firmly believe in evolution and global warming are deeply religious. They, however, can and do separate religious teachings from evidenced-based knowledge. Watson's bill does not. It should be defeated.