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Tennessee Bill Seen as a Challenge to Evolution

British naturalist Charles Darwin knew his theory of natural selection was controversial. Still, even he might be nonplussed at the uproar over teaching evolution in U.S. schools.

On April 7, Tennessee’s House of Representatives weighed in on the side of so-called creationists, voting 70-28 to pass HB 368, a bill that encourages science teachers to explore controversial topics without fear of reprisal, Science magazine’s ScienceInsider reports. Critics say the measure will enable K-12 teachers to present intelligent design and creationism as acceptable alternatives to evolution in the classroom. The bill would protect teachers from discipline if they “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,” namely, “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceInsider), wrote legislators, saying: “There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution. Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them.”

The Tennessee Science Teachers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) also have expressed opposition to the bill. If it passes, Tennessee would join Louisiana as the second state to have specific “protection” for the teaching of evolution in the classroom. The effects of the 2008 Louisiana law remain unclear. An identical bill is up for a vote by the Tennessee Senate Education Committee at the end of the month. If approved, Republican Governor Bill Haslam is expected to to sign it into law.

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