More than 80 years ago, the Scopes ''Monkey Trial'' brought Tennessee the world's attention after the state prosecuted a schoolteacher for violating a law against teaching evolution.
Now Tennessee has brought so-called ''intelligent design'' back into the classroom with a law protecting the rights of public school teachers who want to put ''creation science'' and challenges to climate change in the classroom as subjects for debate. SB 0893, better known as “The Monkey Bill,” became law last week.
The bill’s controversial name matches the controversy of its contents - SB 0893 protects the rights of teachers in Tennessee’s public school classrooms who want to debate the validity of topics like the human influence on climate change and the theory of evolution. The new law also opens the door for the discussion of alternative theories like intelligent design, which critics argue is merely rebranded creationism.
Teachers are not allowed to actually teach alternative theories, but the new law allows classroom debate for them. Proponents believe it will encourage critical thinking, but the scientific community worries it provides tacit approval of creationism -- which they maintain should have no place in a science curriculum. In 1925, John Scopes, a high school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was convicted during a nationally scrutinized trial of illegally teaching evolution in a public school. Scopes’ conviction was later overturned, but the trial has become a bellwether moment in the ongoing confrontation between how science and religion view the origin of the universe.
Can lawmakers legislate science? Does the discussion of alternative theories promote critical thinking or give credence to dubious ideas?
Hedy Weinberg, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee
John West, associate director, Center for Science and Culture, Discovery Institute, an educational research organization