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“Controversial” Doesn’t Mean “Ideas You Don’t Like”

All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away–by standing still. — Henry Drummond from Inherit the Wind

Tennessee House Bill 368 passed the House overwhelmingly today. The language of the bill is carefully constructed to sound neutral and positive: who would reasonably oppose teaching critical thinking, after all? The bill specifically mentions “controversial” theories as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” How many times do we need to point out that evolution is not controversial among scientists, that global warming is not controversial among climate scientists? If these ideas are “controversial” among certain segments of the population, it’s not because they are lacking in merit or supporting evidence. (I’m not sure what they mean by “human cloning”. There’s nothing controversial about whether it can be done, so any controversy involves ethical questions, not scientific. Although obviously the boundary there is a bit slippery, the theory is hardly in question.)

The bill’s author claims that the teaching of Intelligent Design (ID) won’t be protected under this law, but if the teaching of creationism in its various forms isn’t the goal of the bill, it’s redundant and pointless. After all, science teachers are supposed to teach critical thinking, so they don’t need to be required by an additional law to do so—even apart from the imaginary scientific controversies over evolution that Creationists and ID advocates are fond of making up.

Tennessee was the site of the famous Scopes trial, and if this bill should become law, it’s bound to be the site of another trial—and most likely another court decision yet again affirming that laws allowing the teaching of Creationism, even in stealth forms like this, are an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state. I moved from the state of Tennessee close to two years ago, but to paraphrase Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind (loosely based on the Scopes trial, though with the McCarthy anti-Communist witch hunts on the playwrights’ minds), it is Tennessee that has moved away from me, by moving backwards.

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