Evolution Debate in Mississippi (5-2-08)
On April 1, a bill similar to the “America Freedom Act,” legislation promoted by the Discovery Institute, the home of intelligent design, was introduced in the state legislature. The text of the bill calls on teachers “to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies," and allows teachers “to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution." Again, the legislation opens the door to the teaching of religion in the science classroom by claiming there is controversy over the acceptance of evolution. (5/2/08)
Although a bill in the Mississippi state senate (SB 2286) requiring public schools to teach intelligent design alongside evolution has failed, legislation remains that would ensure that local school boards, superintendents or principals could not stop a teacher from discussing alternative, non-scientific theories in a public classroom. The legislation states that no one can prevent "a public school classroom teacher from discussing and answering questions from individual students on the issues of flaws or problems that may exist in Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution and the existence of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, the intelligent design explanation of the origin of life." Although the non-scientific idea of intelligent design is specifically mentioned in the bill's language, the legislation would also allow other supernatural explanations, such as the origin of life by space aliens to be presented to children by a teacher. SB 2427 was introduced in the State Senate on January 10, 2006 and passed on February 6. The legislation is now being considered by Mississippi's House of Representatives. (02/06)
The bill defines scientific creationism as "the belief, based upon scientific principles, that there was a time in the past when all matter, energy and life, and their processes and relationships, were created ex nihilo and fixed by creative and intelligent design." The bill is based on the premise that scientific creationism is "at least as satisfactory a scientific explanation of origins as is evolution" in so far as evolution is "not demonstrable as scientific fact or testable as a scientific hypothesis and, therefore, must be accepted philosophically by faith." According to the National Center for Science Education, SB 2286 appears to be modeled on Louisiana's "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction," which was held to be unconstitutional in the Supreme Court's 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.
On March 9, 2004, a bill addressing evolution in textbooks died in the Mississippi House of Representative's Education Committee when it failed to receive a vote before the deadline to report House bills out of committee. House Bill 1288 would have required the State Board of Education to display a disclaimer on the inside front cover of science textbooks that evolution is a theory. The bill modeled its language after the disclaimers pasted into Alabama textbooks in 1996, which is no longer required. Representative Wells-Smith introduced the bill along with 19 co-sponsors. The following is the disclaimer language proposed in the bill:
"The word 'theory' has many meanings: systematically organized knowledge, abstract reasoning, a speculative idea or plan, or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations.
This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered a theory.
Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life that are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the major groups of animals suddenly appear in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion), no new major groups of other living things appeared in the fossil record, major groups of plants and animals have no transitional forms in the fossil record, and all living things possess a complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body. Study hard and keep an open mind." (8/24/04)
Sources: National Center for Science Education.
Contributed by Ashlee Dere, AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern; Katie Ackerly, AGI/AAPG 2005 Spring Intern; Carrie Donnelly, AGI/AIPG 2006 Summer Intern;
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Last updated on May 2, 2008