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Tennessee Passes Bill That Allows "Teaching the Controversy" of Evolution 1108

Posted by samzenpus
from the inherit-the-wind-II dept.
Layzej writes "The Tennessee Senate has passed a bill that allows teachers to 'teach the controversy' on evolution, global warming and other scientific subjects. Critics have called it a 'monkey bill' that promotes creationism in classrooms. In a statement sent to legislators, eight members of the National Academy of Science said that, in practice, the bill will likely lead to 'scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution.' and that 'By undermining the teaching of evolution in Tennessee's public schools, HB368 and SB893 would miseducate students, harm the state's national reputation, and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.'"
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Tennessee Passes Bill That Allows "Teaching the Controversy" of Evolution

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  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @01:54PM (#39430083)

    Why do politicians think they know more than scientists about reaching biology? They're wrong on this one... to much science to say evolution happened and the only support the creationists have is one book that's proven to be mostly fiction. If Adam and Eve were the first humans, then who wrote the biblical story?

  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @01:57PM (#39430139)
    Call their bluff; announce an intent to entertain offers from other states to move their entire institutions, lock, stock, and intellectuals due to their services no longer being required by the state.

    It's not just the Taliban that wants to go back to the 12th century.
  • by binarylarry (1338699) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @01:58PM (#39430151)

    This isn't about the facts.

    I mean the creationist counter argument is that it contradicts a bunch of fairy tales written thousands of years ago by sand people.

    You aren't going to be able to get the idea of evolution through that brainwashed blank stare they throw up when you start talking about science.

  • by jhoegl (638955) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @01:59PM (#39430169)
    On the contrary, science has always touted the fact that everything it discovers as theory.
    This allows people to attempt to disprove it until accepted.
    So, things that we take as fact "sun is center of our galaxy", "earth is round", is now a proven theory. But in essence, still a theory.
    It is one thing I have admired about the scientific community, always allowing scrutiny of the ideas and findings.
    This is why I think the summaries counter arguments against the bill are the wrong way to go about it. I would challenge people to find proof against the theory.
  • To be fair (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Baloroth (2370816) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:01PM (#39430213)

    Students who are unable to argue against those who attempt to oppose evolution on an argumentative basis are unlikely to ever go anywhere in the scientific community anyways. In other words, if the bill allows teachers to point out the arguments against evolution, and allows the students the freedom to argue against the teacher for those arguments freely, then I do not see it as being a problem. However, in reality most teachers will just fail or severely down-grade students who disagree with them, and if the bill does not include provisions to prevent that (which I doubt it does) then it is a terrible idea.

    Fill disclosure: I am religious, and I do believe evolution is a valid and highly probably scientific hypothesis (I don't want to say I "believe in" it, because it isn't a matter of faith, it is a matter of reason). The two things in no way contradict each other and anyone who claims they do doesn't know what they're talking about (most probably, doesn't know anything about either religion or science and their respective fields).

  • by Kenja (541830) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:02PM (#39430239)
    We won the civil war and are now stuck with them, they are as American as anyone.
  • Fine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:03PM (#39430265) Journal

    Let's start teaching holocaust denial in history class then. It's a "controversy" too, right? And any lessons that touch on recent events should also teach the "controversy" about 9/11 being an inside job. Chemistry lessons should be augmented by alchemy.

    If all alternative points of view (including the batshit insane ones) are equally valid, you have to.

  • by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:05PM (#39430311)
    Because to them, it isn't about science. It's about two things far more important to them. Religion, and willing popular support.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:07PM (#39430343)

    Not that I subscribe to Creationism, but your logic is flawed. By definition a story about some event cannot be written until after the event. So to say that somebody before Adam & Eve had to write the story about Adam and Eve is a flawed argument. Since the story of Adam and Even is not presented as a prophesy, but rather a story of what was, it was by definition written after the event (real or imagined).
    To put in other terms, nobody can write a story about your life until after you are born, and lived some portion of that life.

  • by Dixie_Flatline (5077) <vincent.jan.goh@gmTIGERail.com minus cat> on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:10PM (#39430387) Homepage

    It's too bad they didn't do this properly. There ARE controversies in evolutionary theory. They're not controversies in whether or not evolution works, but there IS disagreement in the specific mechanisms of evolution. Punctuated equilibrium or phyletic gradualism? Duke it out! Teach those controversies!

    Oh wait, I guess I'm asking for science to be taught in science class. My bad.

  • by gratuitous_arp (1650741) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:15PM (#39430469)

    When scientists say "theory" they mean something different than what most other people think of when they use the word. "Theory" is used in the "I'm pretty sure the thing I'm typing on is a keyboard, but I could be hallucinating and giving my cat, Whiskers, a backrub" sense. It's the best information that humans have, but we are humble enough to permit the idea that there is something unknown about the subject that could, if someday discovered by research, invalidate it.

    It's correct to call evolution a scientific theory, people just don't understand why the word "theory" is used here and it gets misused into making evolution look less like "the only game in town."

  • by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:16PM (#39430479) Journal
    So rather than using the tools of evolution, the students of Tennessee would learn to pray to god for a new vaccine?
  • by dward90 (1813520) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:19PM (#39430523)

    Global warming certainly qualifies by any realistic definition of a hypothesis. You might disagree with the hypothesis, but it's at least as falsifiable as Evolution.

    Contributed to, at least in part, by human activity, a steady increase in global average temperature will have negative effects on the environment and human society at large.

    It's possible that you're talking about some ridiculous exaggeration of that ("OMG we're all gonna burn up in flames because Tom's car only gets 12 MPG!!"), but GW is a pretty clear statement that has plenty of measurable criteria. You can be pedantic and demand exact definitions for human contribution, temperature increase, and whether negative effects are caused by the former, but all are still clearly testable.

    It's most definitely science. Much of the disagreement about it comes on disputing the validity of data acquired and how it's interpreted. However, the fact that data is being acquired and interpreted, and the fact that it is under scrutiny, is what makes the entire process scientific and worthwhile in the first place.

  • by Kenja (541830) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:20PM (#39430559)
    The non-falsifiable argument gets tossed around a lot and has never been explained to my satisfaction.
    1. Average temperatures are rising
    2. The rise in temperatures is due to so called 'greenhouse gasses'.
    3. The increase in greenhouse gasses is caused by human action.
    All of the above seems falsifiable to me. As are the corollary items such as number 1 causing changes in weather, melting of ice caps etc.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:22PM (#39430603)

    Evolution is a fact. The theory of natural slection is our best explenation of this fact.

    There is no controversy.

  • by RazzleFrog (537054) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:23PM (#39430611)

    There are classes on religion and that's where this stuff belongs. A class on science has no business talking about religion.

    And really this whole freedom of religion is really just that the government shall establish no state religion. Not that religions should have free reign to do whatever the hell they want.

  • It gets better (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sebastopol (189276) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:28PM (#39430669) Homepage

    My heart goes out to the intelligent youth in TN.

    It gets better.

  • Re:Fine (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:28PM (#39430679) Homepage Journal

    Let's start teaching holocaust denial in history class then.

    They already do: it's referred to as "Manifest Destiny," and is the flimsy justification given to kids regarding the attempted genocide of the native American people. I'm sure someone will want to attempt to argue that point, but when you look at the facts objectively it becomes obvious the colonial settlers intentionally attempted to systematically wipe out an entire nation of people, in an effort to steal the native's land. /rant

    Sometimes it seems there are more American Holocaust deniers here, than European Holocaust deniers in all the world.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:30PM (#39430703)

    Exactly. I get so tired of morons telling me evolution is just a theory. I tell them, well gravity is just a theory. How 'bout I throw your stupid ass off the roof and test it.

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:36PM (#39430821) Homepage Journal

    There are classes on religion and that's where this stuff belongs. A class on science has no business talking about religion.

    And really this whole freedom of religion is really just that the government shall establish no state religion. Not that religions should have free reign to do whatever the hell they want.

    Not that this is even worth mentioning, but the Constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" which goes a bit further than just "we won't have a state religion" and says that we *won't* have any law that specifically establishes (endorses) a religion as the precedent for governing (or running a government school.)

  • by jcaldwel (935913) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:43PM (#39430991)
    Its amazing that she could get a degree in biology without "believing" in evolution. It's a bit like a physicist that doesn't believe in gravity. Next biology topic: Locusts only have four legs [biblegateway.com]!
  • by hsthompson69 (1674722) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:46PM (#39431051)

    Rising temperatures happened well before humanity existed. We've had global warming and global cooling and global staying the same for the entire history of the planet.

    The question is, what observations would convince you that rising temperatures are due to natural variation, and not human activity (much less that they'll be catastrophic)?

    Natural climate change is the null hypothesis (since climate changed well before humanity came into play). CAGW, which cites both warm temperatures and cold temperatures as "consistent" with their hypothesis, does not make any falsifiable predictions.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:46PM (#39431057) Journal

    Why didn't your friend sue?

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @02:57PM (#39431247) Journal

    A science class that doesn't teach the history of science is practically religion itself. You don't teach science (well) by listing a load of current theories. You start with simple theories and go through the observations and experiments that invalidated them. Creationism definitely has a place there, because that is what people believed. You start by explaining that people believed that species never changed, and then list some of the examples that disproved this. Then you go on to things like ring species that demonstrate that the concept of a species is itself somewhat flawed and that speciation is a gradual process.

    Science is a process, and without teaching the history surrounding each step in the process it's very hard for students to distinguish it from dogma.

  • by Theovon (109752) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @03:01PM (#39431319)

    One of the commenters pointed to this article:

    http://www.ideacenter.org/contentmgr/showdetails.php/id/832

    It essentially makes an information theoretic argument that some unspecified designer may need to be invoked to better explain modern observations of biological complexity. That is, they claim (but I don't see the evidence) that certain biological configurations are better or more easily explained or explainable at all if we assume that there was some intent behind some aspect of resulting organisms. I skimmed the article, but I didn't notice it saying anything at all about irreducible complexity. It simply mentions that some things have much too high of an information content to be plausibly the result of evolution according to completely natural processes.

    As I see it, the assumption that the governing processes are entirely natural is simpler, because it does not invoke the requirement for some external influence. They also make no claims in regard to the nature of these outside influences. Moreover, evolutionary theory doesn't preclude that some aliens or something may have had influence. It simply declines to explain in those terms, because there's no difference between an intelligent alien tweaking things in some imperceptible way versus some extra radiation causing some mutations and some specific ecological niche favoring certain traits. They seem to be implying that they can CALCULATE that certain biological complexity is extremely unlikely given our basic understanding of mutation and selection. But then again, everything we observe is a priori extremely improbable it's just that we have inordinate amounts of time and space for those improbable events to become probable, and we have evidence of the time scale from geology. We don't, however, have any direct evidence that there was anything other than planet-local natural influences behind evolution, and it's hard to define what exactly is and is not "natural."

    So, is this ID article just being vague? Or are they making some interesting point? I don't just want to dismiss it as creationist dogma. I think that an information theoretic analysis is warranted. I just don't trust their understanding of the science or their underlying motivations.

  • by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @03:12PM (#39431533)
    Okay, I'll bite. What freedoms do we have that were championed by the pious and condemned by the non-believers? And this must apply to the bulk of each side, not simply a few outliers.
  • by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @03:19PM (#39431651)

    When government can legislate due to religious emphasis- government becomes the religious authority.

    You know what we'd have right now if government and religion were not seperate.

    We'd have Pope Obama of America. Far right loonies often forget that if they had their way- Obama would get to dictate religion to them right now.

    Combining religion and government all of a sudden must sound a lot less pleasing to them. If you want government to be able to pass laws on religion- you must accept the fact that that makes Obama the executive head of the American church.

    All hail Pope Obama.

  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @03:22PM (#39431703)

    The problem is that the word "theory" has different meanings to Scientists and Layperson. To a layperson, a theory is a guess as to how things are, often a guess with little to no evidence backing it up. To a scientist, a theory is an explanation that matches a set of data. This theory can be used to make predictions which will then either be proven true, thus supporting the theory, or shown to be false, thus causing the theory to be modified.

    The Theory of Evolution has made many predictions and has even been wrong sometimes. Unfortunately for Creationists, it was wrong in small ways and the theory was easily modified to take these into account. The Theory of Evolution as it stands today might never reach the status of "Law", but it also is highly unlikely to be completely overturned. Of course, this doesn't stop Creationists from grabbing upon the scientific word "theory", applying the layperson definition, and touting this as proof that Evolution has no evidence supporting it.

  • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @03:28PM (#39431803) Journal

    Don't forget we should be teaching biblical Pi instead of heathen devil math.

    "And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one rim to the other it was round all about, and...a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about....And it was an hand breadth thick...." — First Kings, chapter 7, verses 23 and 26

    Clearly Pi = 3
    Sinners.

    Yep, that's one of my favorite bible-giggles. Because it clearly states that Pi is 3.0 and not 3.1 even if it's just presumed to be an approximation. Those who claim the old testament of the bible is literally true tend to wriggle quite amusingly when that one comes up.

  • by gorzek (647352) <gorzek@Nospam.gmail.com> on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @04:13PM (#39432511) Homepage Journal

    I beg to differ. "Intelligent Design" implies that some level of intelligent forethought went into the eventual products of evolution. Saying "God guided the process" or otherwise suggesting that evolution can work in a deterministic fashion is utterly wrongheaded and unscientific, and it gives people the false impression that evolution, as a process, is in some way goal-oriented. But it isn't, and it never has been. You'd be surprised how many people believe evolution is about making less complex organisms into more complex ones, or making the next generation "better" in some objective way than the current one. They imagine it as an iterative improvement process, building toward something specific.

    If people understood that evolution does not actually work that way, "Intelligent Design" would be a completely moot point.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @04:19PM (#39432577) Journal

    The people you speak of were Supreme Court justices who used the opinions and explanations of the Framers to inform their decisions. You see, unlike people like Ron Paul, SCOTUS justices actually are interested in context, and not just in mindless religious interpretations of the Constitution.

  • by 517714 (762276) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @04:28PM (#39432733)

    It amazes me that otherwise seemingly intelligent people will go stupid/blind/deaf in discussions of religion regardless of their position. An obvious and reasonable conclusion is that 9.54929659 cubits from brim to brim was rounded to ten and the circumference was thirty cubits, or that both values were rounded. To presume that ten cubits was exact and that the circumference was incorrect mathematically is not logical, but as it serves your purposes you choose to stick to that version in which a conflict exists between the Bible and math or science when it does not. If you read the entire chapter you will see that no fractions were used in any of the descriptions, so we can reasonably conclude that some of those values were rounded, it would be odd if every item mentioned was an integral number of cubits high, wide or deep.

    You really should think these things through better. Yours is not even close to a reasonable argument, it is down there with arguments made by creationists and intelligent design advocates. There is no issue with the literal interpretation of that passage, and none that is necessarily inconsistent with science or math. There are hundreds of conflicts between statements in the Bible and science, but you are barking up the wrong tree on this one.

  • by readin (838620) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @04:28PM (#39432747)

    Its amazing that she could get a degree in biology without "believing" in evolution. It's a bit like a physicist that doesn't believe in gravity. Next biology topic: Locusts only have four legs [biblegateway.com]!

    For the specific example of the biology teacher - I don't care whether the biology teacher believes in evolution or not. I want a teacher who can present the evidence and the theory in a clear and interesting way, without getting preachy for either side of the debate.

    So you believe that for someone to properly study Islam, they must believe in Islam? For someone to be a student of Greek gods and goddesses, the person must believe in those gods and goddesses?

    I think my eighth grade teacher handled the question perfectly. When he introduced the topic he said we didn't have to agree with the theory but that to be educated people in the modern world we had to understand it. If I remember correctly, some (perhaps most) of the test questions started with the phrase, "According to the theory of evolution...".

    Assuming that the evidence and the logic speak for themselves, the students will be able to decide for themselves so long as they have the evidence and the theory presented to them, so there is no need to get upset that the teacher isn't trying to force the students to believe in the theory - they can figure it out.

  • by tgibbs (83782) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @05:37PM (#39433585)

    Rising temperatures happened well before humanity existed. We've had global warming and global cooling and global staying the same for the entire history of the planet.

    Or to make a similar argument, "Forest fires happen all the time from lightning strikes, so that forest fire cannot be due to me throwing my lit cigarette into a pile of dead leaves." Perhaps you can spot the fallacy when the same argument is placed in another context.

    The question is, what observations would convince you that rising temperatures are due to natural variation, and not human activity (much less that they'll be catastrophic)?

    Quite simply, identify the source of the natural variation and provide a plausible mechanism whereby it could produce such a large and prolonged increase in temperature. All this has been done for increased temperatures due to human CO2 emissions. We have the radiative physics, we have the calculation of the expected effect, we have the measurements of temperature changes, and it all matches. There are certainly plausible explanations for natural climate change in the past. If it's the sun (one of the sources of some past changes in climate), we should be able to detect a substantial change in solar output (but there isn't any). If it's CO2 from volcanoes, we should be able to show that the isotopic signature of the increased atmospheric CO2 matches that released by volcanoes (it doesn't). Etc.

    So basically the "skeptics" (who become utterly credulous when it comes to any argument that reassures them that they don't have to worry about global warming) are asking us to believe:
    1. There is some unknown source of warming that has been responsible for warming in the past (even though there are plausible explanations of past warming in terms of mechanisms that demonstrably aren't present today), and that for some unknown reason has kicked in over the last century or so (but whatever it is, it's going to stop Real Soon Now), and
    2. There is some other unknown mechanism that prevents the warming that is predicted based on the physics of CO2 (and which coincidentally matches the measured warming) from taking place.

  • by RandCraw (1047302) on Wednesday March 21, 2012 @06:54PM (#39434433)

    If the controversy evolution is fair game, then Tennessee's students should question all kinds of controversies, like:

    - Does God exist? Do literal interpretations of the Bible make sense?

    - Are christianity and capitalism incompatble? Isn't love of money a sin? Was Jesus a socialist?

    - Was Robert E Lee a traitor? So shouldn't the statues of him be torn down and spat on?

    I dare you. Open Pandora's Box.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @12:11AM (#39437219)

    (Side note: Lol, oh man. I love the default name for if you're too lazy to mess with creating an account.)

    Evolution, specifically natural selection, is neutral. It's not progressive, it does not positively advance a species.

    It's what benefits the population right here, right now. Favorable traits are passed on. Whats favorable in one environment (bright colors to attract mates), will instantly become unfavorable in another environment (said bright colors would attract predators)

    "Favorable" traits aren't necessarily "good" traits, and there's nothing progressive about passing on very specific, current environment friendly "favorable" traits. It's all neutral.

  • by Thugthrasher (935401) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @09:41AM (#39439797)
    The fossils are there. Go to your local museum and you'll see some of them. Darwin would be very impressed with the level of fossils we have now. Most animals that die are not fossilized. Really, it's a huge minority that get fossilized. It's impressive that we have as many as we do.

    The only way to 'prove' to a lot of people who give the argument that you do that a specific creature evolved from another specific creature is to have a PERFECT fossil record that contains every individual between the first creature and the second. That will NEVER happen because of the physical reality that fossils are not common.

    Interesting fact, if we DID have the fossil record from one individual to another, you would never see an instance where a mother could be classified as a different species from her child if you just looked at the two of them. The child would be slightly different from its mother. In fact, there is debate as to what species some of the fossils we have did belong to because of this. 'Species' when looking at fossil record just means that "this fossil is different enough from this fossil, that in order to classify them we give them a separate name." In reality, it wasn't like a monkey's ancestor had a human child, there were a TON of mutations that occurred in between, with each likely being minor changes that eventually diverged enough to become called a new species.

    And to touch on ANOTHER point you said:
    What is the average time for a mutation? It's a silly question because it's basically one generation, once you get into organisms with a large number of cells/genes. And, really, it's less than that. Every human zygote, for example, averages at over 120 mutations. Most of them do nothing, of course, but they are still mutations. And yes, there ARE thousands of mutations within any species (that has a large enough set of genes; single-celled organisms, for example, will have less total mutations than cardinals), most just aren't noticeable.

    Now, maybe you meant what is the average time for a mutation that has a noticeable effect? The reason why THAT isn't an easy answer is because it varies and has varied so much. First, the larger a genome, the more likely there will be mutations. The more DNA pairs something has, the more likely it is that there will be mutations. The shorter the time from birth to reproduction in an individual of a species, the shorter the time between mutations. The more children an individual of a species has (either at once OR over the course of a lifetime), the greater the chance of a noticeable mutation. Add in the fact that some mutations would be noticeable with just a single change and others would require a large number of changes to be noticeable (and thus are less likely to occur because of randomness). Take all that, determine how those things actually affect the rates, apply that to every species that EVER lived on the planet, and you have the average time to a noticeable mutation. Now do you see why people 'avoid the question like the plague?' It's because it is too complicated to answer based on our current knowledge.

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