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Evolution Debate in Missouri (1-04-05)

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Recent Action

On December 1, 2004, House Bill 35 was introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives. (Although the legislature is not in session until January 5, 2005, in Missouri it is possible to "prefile" bills and resolutions in order to expedite legislation.) HB 35 would require that:

"All biology textbooks sold to the public schools of the state of Missouri shall have one or more chapters containing a critical analysis of origins. The chapters shall convey the distinction between data and testable theories of science and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological evolution, the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

The second and third sentences, of course, are modelled after the so-called Santorum-language, present only in the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Conference Committee for the No Child Left Behind Act and not in the act itself. The sponsor of the bill, Cynthia Davis, was a cosponsor of both of last year's "intelligent design" bills in the Missouri House of Representatives, HB 911 and HB 1722. HB 911 would have required "the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design" in Missouri's public schools, and moreover would have provided that "Willful neglect of any elementary or secondary school superintendent, principal, or teacher to observe and carry out the requirements of this section shall be cause for termination of his or her contract" and "Each public school classroom in this state from grades eight through twelve in which science is taught exclusively shall post a copy of this section in a conspicuous manner." These draconian provisions were absent from its successor, HB 1722, but no action was taken on either bill before the end of the legislative session on May 14, 2004.

For the text of HB 35 as introduced, visit: http://www.house.state.mo.us/bills051/biltxt/intro/HB0035I.htm.

Previous Action

On February 12, 2004 more than 250 Missouri scientists and educators released a statement opposing proposed legislation that would require equal time spent teaching evolution and intelligent design. The statement refers to intelligent design as "non-science" and explains what makes something a scientific argument. The statement says that since intelligent design cannot be tested scientifically, nor has it contributed to science, it has no place in public school science classes. The bill has yet moved out of the education committee. (2/25/04)

A new bill concerning science standards in public schools, House Bill 911, was submitted to the Missouri House of Representatives on December 19th and was sponsored by state Rep. Robert Wayne Cooper, M.D. and six other Republicans. The bill, now under consideration by the Education Committee, states that both "biological evolution" and "biological intelligent design" would be given equal consideration in the Missouri public elementary and secondary schools.

In the bill, "biological evolution" is defined as "a theory of the origin of life and it's ascent by naturalistic means." The term "biological intelligent design" is defined as "a hypothesis that the complex form and function…of all species on earth are the result of intelligence." The bill would require public schools to spend an equal amount of time discussing both concepts and that course textbooks contain approximately equal number of pages teaching each viewpoint. The textbooks would start to be implemented in 2006 and be mandatory by 2016. According to the bill, a committee would be appointed containing at least five people who support "biological intelligent design" and would write supplemental curricula for the interim until the textbooks are implimented.

The Kansas City Star reported on January 9th that Cooper figures the bill has a 50-50 chance of getting out of committee and onto the House floor. "Our objective is to improve science instruction and make textbooks more accurate," said Cooper. He elaborated further that passage of the seven-page bill would create academic freedom and allow discussion. (1/9/04)

Sources: American Institute of Biological Sciences, Kansas City Star, Missouri General Assembly, bill text.

Background section includes material from AGI's Update on State Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution for the 106th Congress.

Contributed by Gayle Levy, AAPG/AGI 2004 Spring Semester Intern and Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on January 4, 2005.