“Strengths and Weaknesses” Bill in Oklahoma

As he announced at the end of last year, Republican Senator Josh Brecheen has, in his words, “introduced legislation requiring every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin’s religion.” The bill has now been pre-filed in the Senate.

The act labels “biological origins of life and biological evolution” as “controversial topics in sciences” and would require that state educational authorities “not prohibit any teacher from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses” of these topics. (Keep in mind that evolution is not a point of controversy or debate in the scientific community.) Regular readers of this blog will recognize the bill—with its “strengths and weaknesses” language—as another attempt to undercut the teaching of evolution and bring religious ideas like creationism and “intelligent design” into the science classroom.

As the National Center for Science Education points out:

the bill requires the state board of education to adopt “standards and curricula” that echo the flawed portions of the state science standards adopted in Texas in 2009 with respect to the nature of science and, for grades 8 through 12, evolution. For example, the content of SB 554’s D1, D2, D7, D9, and D10 are identical to sections 7A, 7B, 7G, 8A, and 8B of the Texas high school biology standards—all sections that were added or amended by anti-evolution members of the Texas state board of education … in order to encourage the presentation of creationist claims in the science classroom. No fewer than 54 scientific and educational organizations opposed these revisions.

Kentucky’s “Intellectual Freedom” Bill

Republican Representative Tim Moore has introduced a new bill in the Kentucky House of Representatives that would let teachers promote “objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories” and “use, as permitted by the local board of education, materials in addition to state-approved texts and instructional materials for discussion of scientific theories.” Of course, the bill claims not to be promoting any religious doctrine—though, to many, the “Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act,” like other “academic freedom” bills, is a stealth attempt to sneak religious ideas like “intelligent design” into the science classroom.

Last February, Moore introduced a similar bill that would have allowed teachers to “use, as permitted by the local board of education, materials in addition to state-approved texts and instructional materials for discussion of scientific theories including evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” That bill died in April.

Regular readers of this blog might also remember that Kentucky currently has a statute that allows instructors teaching evolution to “include as a portion of such instruction the theory of creation as presented in the Bible, and may accordingly read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation, thereby affording students a choice as to which such theory to accept.” The statute also says that for students “who accept the Bible theory of creation, credit shall be permitted on any examination in which adherence to such theory is propounded, provided the response is correct according to the instruction received.”

U.K. Scientists: Teach Evolution in Primary School

The British Humanist Association is leading a campaign that calls on the U.K. government to “protect and promote science in the school curriculum, with the specific inclusion of the teaching of evolution in the primary curriculum.” In a letter sent to Michael Gove, the secretary of state for education, Richard Dawkins, Michael Reiss, and 24 other scientists and science educators explain that:

evolution is the most important idea underlying biological science. It is a key concept that children should be introduced to at an early stage so as to ensure a firm scientific understanding when they study it in more depth later on. An understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology, from human behavior to the genetic basis of disease, to ecological relationships and how the environment affects the development and diversity of life on earth. As such it should be a central tenet, not, as is currently too often the case, marginal to the study of school biology.

One of the main reasons for the campaign, says Andrew Copson, chief executive of the association, is “the threat of creationism in science lessons in some schools.”

South Carolina Follow-Up

South Carolina’s bill that would have allowed teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories” is dead.
Also dead is South Carolina’s religion “neutrality” bill, which would have required the State Board of Education to “examine all curriculum in use in this State that purports to teach students about the origins of mankind to determine whether the curriculum maintains neutrality toward religion, favoring neither one religion over other religions, nor religion over non-religion, including atheism. Related to non-religion, the examination must include a review as to whether the curriculum contains a sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus preferring those who believe in no religion over those who hold religious beliefs.” Any “offending” curriculum would have been revised or replaced.

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