Gov. Haslam allows evolution bill to become TN law

Gov. Haslam allows evolution bill to become TN law

by Lee Davis

Gov. Bill Haslam allowed House Bill 368/Senate Bill 893, the evolution bill, to become law without his signature.  The governor's move is symbolic in that it signals his opposition but allows the measure to be added to the state code.  The message sent is, however, confusing. The governor can tell bill supporters that he allowed it to become law, and still he will be able to say to the bill's critics that he refused to sign the legislation. Both statements are true, but neither shows leadership. 

The Tennessean reports that the bill became law in Tennessee, "despite a veto campaign mounted by scientists and civil libertarians who say it will reopen a decades-old controversy over teaching creationism to the state’s schoolchildren."  Supporters of the law say it simply allows teachers to critique subjects like evolution or global warming without fear of discipline.

Critics of the legislation say that the purpose of the law is to allow teachers to promote their personal beliefs in the classroom.  The law creates an opportunity for  teachers--who may wish to openly challenge the science of evolution with religious beliefs of creationism and intelligent design--to do so.

Here are the principal passages of the new law.

"The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy. Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects. 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.  ...shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping 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. This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion."

On its face, you can say that this law protects teachers who may wish to criticize evolution and that it allows teachers to counsel students on the weaknesses of evolution, global warming, and human cloning. While many may applaud that move by the Tennessee legislature, it seems that all it really accomplishes is to muddy the waters of established science.  

Teachers should educate our children with the best science and technologies that the world has to offer.  Doing so is the only way the next generation will compete in tomorrow's ever-shrinking global economy.

Below are two tables that show how American students compete in science against their global peers. Students in seven countries scored higher than U.S. 4th-graders in physical science, while in life science and earth science students in three countries scored higher than U.S. 4th-graders. U.S. 8th-graders were outperformed by 8th-graders of another country in 10 instances in physics, in 9 instances in chemistry, and in 5 instances in both biology and earth science.

Table A-16-1. Average science and content domain scale scores of 4th-grade students, by country: 2007

Country (ordered by total score)Total scienceContent domain
Life sciencePhysical scienceEarth science
TIMSS scale average500500500500
Chinese Taipei557541559553
Hong Kong SAR1 554532558560
Russian Federation546539547536
Latvia2 542535544536
United States3,4539540534533

Table A-16-2. Average science and content domain scale scores of 8th-grade students, by country: 2007

Country (ordered by total score)Total scienceContent domain
BiologyChemistryPhysicsEarth science
TIMSS scale average500500500500500
Chinese Taipei561549573554545
Korea, Republic of553548536571538
England1 542541534545529
Czech Republic539531535537534
Hong Kong SAR1,2 530527517528532
Russian Federation530525535519525
United States1,3520530510503525
Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Three questions to Governor Haslam and the Tennessee legislature.  (1)  Given the international competition for jobs and innovation, is now the time to water down quality science education?  (2)  Will Tennessee be a place for ground-breaking science and technology if our school-age children continue to fall behind in science? (3)  Who will lead the change in thinking that international business work requires?

In this world of global competition the cheer that "USA is Number One" needs to be in science. 


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