Re: text of new Tenn anti-evol. bill

Sun, 3 Mar 1996 09:40:00 CDT

Christopher King wrote:

>So Tennessee law will state that evolution must be taught as theory and
>not stated fact. For me this is a nonsense bill since evolution is only
>a theory. Whether someone believes the theory to be fact is another
>issue. All the teacher is supposed to do is give the evidence in an
>objective manner so that the students can decide for themselves. The
>teacher does not in any way have to profess his/her beliefs.

Well, true, in part, but the *political* strategy is problematic for
evolutionary biologists (and others, I hope). Why single out evolution? Why
not gravity; a round(ish) earth; the atomic structure of matter; etc.?
(We will include an editorial cartoon that makes just this point in the next
edition of NCSE Reports!)

THe answer is not in making science education better, but in promoting a
specific religious and cultural agenda -- after all, Pat Buchanan has told us
publicly that he considers himself engaged in a "culture war."

When teachers are forced to teach evolution as "only a theory" but not required
to say the same thing about all the other scientific theories that are out
there, it makes evolution and biology a specific target of attack and raises
doubts about evolution's validity that it does not raise about the validity of
other scientific constructs.

Last week, our assistant editor, Laura McMahon was in a local (MAdison WI)
classroom where the teacher went to great pains to emphasise that evolution was
"only a theory." She later said that this is a touchy issue and she did not
want to bias the children. Since she didn't introduce any other aspect of
biology as "only a theory," Laura asked her what her own bias was. She
(the teacher) said then that she was a creationist.

So, it is either *all* only a theory or it is all *fact* (to the extent that any
scientific construct is fact). That is, evolution is was well established as
any scientific theory as "fact" and even more so than some. This act singles
out evolution for particular scrutiny.

Finally, let's get the linguists to weigh in on this one, because I believe that
it cleverly plays on the differences between the scientific community and the
general public in their understanding of what is meant by the term "theory."
For the general public, it can be anything from a wild guess to a fanciful
stringing together of random facts and observations. For scientists (we hope),
it is more systematic, more consistent, better thought out, and has been
confirmed by tests with falsifiable hypotheses.

Andrew J. Petto, Editor, National Center for Science Ed.
c/o Dept. of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin
1180 Observatory Drive, MADISON WI 53706-1393
voice: 608/259-2926; fax:608/258-2415
NCSE email: