Tennessee Law Guarantees Teachers’ Rights to Teach Controversies in Science

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Tennessee’s new law guarantees teachers’ rights to teach the controversies in science.

Tennessee’s Teacher Protection Academic Freedom Act will go into effect April 20, though without the governor’s signature. The new law will encourage public school teachers to help students become “intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens”1 by developing critical thinking skills as they explore areas of scientific controversy. Controversial scientific topics open to discussion include “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”2

The law directs 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.”3

The new law does not change the state’s science curriculum or, as some critics such as the HuffingtonPost writer claim, give “teachers carte blanche to discuss whatever crackpot ideas they want.”

The law also does not, contrary to sensationalistic and erroneous reports, introduce “creationism theory into science curriculum,”4 nor does it allow teachers to teach intelligent design or any religious belief.

Governor Bill Haslam has decided not to veto the bill but will allow it to become law without his signature. He said, “I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers. However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools.”5

Although teachers technically do already have the right to teach students about controversial scientific positions, intimidating voices from organizations claiming to represent all legitimate scientists and educators have been proclaiming since this legislation was introduced that no scientific controversy exists. For example, ACLU director Hedy Weinberg accuses those who advocate “critical thinking” of “seeking to introduce non-scientific ideas,”6 and NCSE’s Eugenie Scott says that good science teachers know there is no controversy.7 Thus, the so-called freedom to teach students about controversial scientific subjects rings hollow when threatening voices declare no such controversy exists.

The controversy among legitimate scientists is real, however, and those controversies are not limited to the “religious” community.

The controversy among legitimate scientists is real, however, and those controversies are not limited to the “religious” community. For example, in evolutionary circles, despite the continual mantra that some dinosaurs had feathers and evolved into birds, some evolutionists such as Dr. Alan Feduccia disagree. As mentioned in an earlier item today, Dr. Feduccia has written, “The major and most worrying problem of the feathered dinosaur hypothesis is that the integumental structures have been homologized with avian feathers on the basis of anatomically and paleontologically unsound and misleading information.”8

Furthermore, regarding the nature of climate change, Dr. Andrew Snelling, a geologist and director of research at Answers in Genesis, comments, “I am personally aware of several secular professional scientific societies, such as the Geological Society of Australia, whose memberships are very divided on the issue of the cause of climate change, and the continuing debate is heated. Therefore to assert there is no controversy over the cause of climate change is utterly deceitful. Students should be told the truth about this debate among professional scientists.”

The intent of Tennessee’s new law is to improve the way science is taught. Molecular geneticist and creationist Dr. Georgia Purdom explains, “I am glad that the new Tennessee law seems to afford protection to teachers who wish to critique evolution and global warming in the classroom. As a former college professor, I can attest to the importance of critical thinking skills in the science classroom. The ability to analyze the scientific weaknesses of evolution and global warming will ultimately benefit students.”

Answers in Genesis has never suggested public school teachers should be forced to teach creation. Such a policy, besides violating existing law, would be counter-productive. The interpretation of scientific evidence in the area of origins is strongly guided by an individual’s worldview and goes beyond the realm of testable observable science. Therefore, it would not be reasonable to expect an instructor who accepts evolution to accurately and fairly portray the creation science position. We are pleased to see the new law does not promote such an idea.

We encourage Christian parents and church leaders to help students apply their critical thinking skills to creation science also. Only then will they be able to see that the Bible’s account of history is consistent with the facts of science and move forward into the world of their future with the powerful combination of a strong faith and a firm foundation in science.

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  1. “Senate Bill 893,” The General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/107/Bill/SB0893.pdf.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. charlotte.cbslocal.com/2012/04/11/tennessee-law-introduces-creationism-theory-into-science-curriculum
  5. Valerie Strauss, “Tennessee Back to the Future with New Anti-evolution Law,” The Washington Post, April 11, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/tennessee-back-to-the-future-with-new-anti-evolution-law/2012/04/11/gIQAJb7g9S_blog.html.
  6. charlotte.cbslocal.com/2012/04/11/tennessee-law-introduces-creationism-theory-into-science-curriculum
  7. Strauss, “Tennessee Back to the Future with New Anti-evolution Law.”
  8. Feduccia, A., T. Lingham-Soliar, and J. R. Hinchliffe. 2005. Do feathered dinosaurs exist? Testing the hypothesis on neontological and paleontological evidence. Journal of Morphology 266:125–166. Quoted in “Did Dinosaurs Turn into Birds?


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