To Teach What Needs to be Taught

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on March 31, 2012
Featured in News to Know

Academic freedom to “teach the controversy” in Tennessee awaits the governor’s signature.

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Tennessee has the chance to join Louisiana as a state in which children have freedom to critically analyze popular scientific positions rather than simply taking the word of their textbooks on faith. HB368 has passed both houses of the state legislature and is ready for the governor’s signature. The new law will not require or even permit public school teachers to teach creationism, intelligent design, or any religious doctrine. In fact, Tennessee-approved curriculum does not contain such material. “Most people who look at this [bill] with an open mind will see it calls for helping students develop critical thinking skills and using objective scientific facts,” says House sponsor Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.

The new law will protect teachers who “teach the controversy,” allowing students to discover that scientific interpretations do not all toe the popular party line, an impression often given in textbooks. After all, even Darwin critically discussed some aspects of his ideas, such as the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record. And the ACLU itself has written that “scientific critiques” of “any explanation of life,” (even evolution!) are legally discussable. They write, “In science class, however, they [schools] may present only genuinely scientific critiques of, or evidence for, any explanation of life on earth, but not religious critiques (beliefs unverifiable by scientific methodology).”1

We contend that all such scientific explanations of life’s origins rely on worldview-based assumptions that are scientifically unobservable and therefore untestable.

Of course, we contend that all such scientific explanations of life’s origins rely on worldview-based assumptions that are scientifically unobservable and therefore untestable. In fact, teaching students that fact is part of “teaching the controversy.”

Despite the outcry of evolutionists and politically active organizations, HB368 will not “roll the clock back to 1925” when John Scopes—a substitute teacher in science class—was tried for teaching human evolution in violation of Tennessee’s law. By the way, be sure to watch Inherently Wind available as video-on-demand to learn the real story behind the Monkey Trial! You will probably be surprised! For example, the teaching of evolution was actually allowed in Tennessee’s schools, though instructors could not teach that humans evolved from some ape-like creature. In reality, with the state’s Butler Act, all other forms of supposed molecules-to-mammal evolution were permitted in the classroom. Also, Scopes never taught evolution to students; he simply volunteered to join the ACLU in an attempt to repeal the Butler Act and claimed he taught evolution.

The movie Inherit the Wind is an influential propaganda piece that has deceived a whole generation. Dr. Menton exposes its distortions and inaccuracies.

Like a similar bill just passed in the Oklahoma House, HB368 is intended to “help students develop critical thinking skills they need in order to become intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens.”2 Both bills would protect teachers who help students “understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories”3 concerning “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”4 The Oklahoma bill adds “protections for students who choose [to] voice their disagreements.”5 (Evidently the sponsors of the bill believe the rights of free speech and free expression should extend to all citizens of the United States, even public school students!)

Both bills specify they “shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine.”6 David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee believes the bill’s vocal opponents “have a political agenda” as “the bill applies only to state-approved science curriculum, which excludes creationism and intelligent design.”

Activists challenging the Tennessee bill are not only lobbying the governor's office to obtain a veto but are trying to intimidate all who wish to provide academic freedom for Tennessee's children and their teachers. Among the opposition, not surprisingly, is the National Center for Science Education. NCSE deputy director Glenn Branch expressed a thinly veiled threat of litigation evidently intended to frighten school officials. He said, “The legislature is setting a trap for school districts. It does seem like [a] very real possibility that some creationist teacher somewhere is going to be abusing the provisions of law and teaching creationism. That will set up that school district for a pretty unpleasant situation.”

Despite the implication that Tennessee schools will find themselves embroiled in lawsuits, Louisiana's experience suggests otherwise.

Despite the implication that Tennessee schools will find themselves embroiled in lawsuits, Louisiana's experience suggests otherwise. Since Louisiana’s Science Education Act of 2008 went into effect, Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum Action reports, “To date, not a single complaint has been filed, not a single school board has moved to address a related concern and not one lawsuit is on record to correct inappropriate action on behalf of a Science Education Act infraction!”7 The guidelines for the policies concerning controversial issues are clear. Furthermore, as teachers all over the country are discovering, scientifically sound non-religious resources (such as textbook addenda8 developed by a retired professor of electrical engineering, Dr. Charles Voss) are available to help teach students to ask incisive questions. And thanks to the Louisiana statute, public school students are legally able to discuss divergent scientific opinions about controversial current events such as the prohibition on federal funding for research that destroys human embryos and policies affected by concerns about global warming.

We applaud the Tennessee legislature’s decision to allow teachers to truly teach without an enforced evolutionary bias. Also, we have never suggested public school teachers should be forced to teach creation (because it would probably be taught poorly by pro-evolution instructors and thus would be counter-productive), and we are pleased to see HB368 does not promote such an idea. All that said, we hasten to point out that evidence does not speak for itself. Every person has a bias affecting the way he views scientific evidence. Therefore, we exhort Christian parents and churches to re-double their efforts to teach not only critical thinking skills but also the truth of the Bible as God’s Word. Students need to be taught the Bible is consistent with science both at church and home even while learning to critique conventional textbook content at school.

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  1. “Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools,” ACLU,
  2. John Timmer, “‘Teach the controversy’ Science Education Bills Advance in Tennessee, Oklahoma,” Ars Technica, March 23, 2012,
  3. Elizabeth Mitchell, “Tennessee Schools,” Answers in Genesis, April 16, 2011,
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Personal communication.
  8. “Biology Textbook Addenda,”,


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