Tennessee Law (and Alabama and Georgia)

Sat, 9 Mar 1996 17:25:00 CDT

Donna Lanclos has made the precise point about the Tennessee law -- and it will
be a LAW; tho it is technically still a proposed amendment, it has passed the
appropriate committees and is headed for a floor vote the last we heard.

Donna wrote:
I think that as far as the recent legislation in Tennessee goes, we need
to consider this whole "theory" vs "fact" thing in slightly different
terms....[W]hat the Tennessee legislature has done is enshrine
*popular* conceptions of what the word "theory" means into state law (is
it a law? or some other legislative "thingy"?).
In this case, then, we're dealing with "theory," as in "Oh,
that's only a theory", ie, "that's so close to untrue you may as well not
even mention it." A radically different kind of "theory" definition than
the one under discussion here, and a frightening one in terms of public

What's more, there are similar proposals in the legislatures in Georgia and
Alabama right now; and the Eagle Forum has dramatically restructured the science
education guidelines in Alabama to remove offensive parts of the curriculum
(including those making any reference to evolution as though the scientific
community were convinced that it ever really happened!).

What is perhaps the scariest thing, as Donna pointed out, is that this law will
enshrine this gross misunderstanding of the weight and meaning of the word
"theory" in scientific and technical parlance among the general public. Reminds
me of Humpty Dumpty's explanation to Alice that words mean exactly what he wants
them to mean -- nothing more and nothing less.

Andrew J. Petto, Editor, National Center for Science Ed.
c/o Dept. of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin
1180 Observatory Drive, MADISON WI 53706-1393 ajpetto@macc.wisc.edu
voice: 608/259-2926; fax:608/258-2415
NCSE email: ajp3265@madison.tec.wi.us