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Science Opinion

Jack Hassard: Creationism Creeps Into Louisiana and Tennessee Science Classrooms

By Anthony Cody — April 24, 2012 8 min read

Guest post by Jack Hassard. This post originally appeared here.

Over the past four years, two states have passed laws that protect teachers if they present “scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in applicable curricula or in a course of learning.” Protecting teachers? Have these legislators heard of VAM? No protection of teachers here.

What is really going on?

Behind these two laws is the Discovery Institute, a non-science propaganda organization whose chief purpose is to attack Darwinian evolution, and wedge intelligent design into the science curriculum. They were foiled by the courts when they tried to pull a fast one and claim that I.D. is science, the Discovery Institute now hides behind its new campaign of preserving the “academic freedom” of teachers.

The academic freedom bills that have been passed in Louisiana (2008), and Tennessee (2012) disguise their intent of teaching creationism and intelligent design using clever and slick language that they are coming to the rescue of science teachers by passing a law that protects teachers’ academic freedom to present lessons questioning and critiquing scientific theories being studied including but not limited to evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. Kind of a poor “Trojan horse” scenario, don’t you think? Where is the theory of gravity, plate tectonics, and atomic theory on their to-do list?

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science refers to the Louisiana Science Education Act as a “stealth creationism bill, that actually evolved from another bill, “The LA Academic Freedom Act,” which descended from the original bill that was created by the Discovery Institute. The Tennessee Act also descended from the Discovery Institute’s bill.

Discovery Institute Dispersal Tree: Academic Freedom for Science Teachers!

The Discovery Institute disperses its ideas by making them public on its website. If you are a state legislator, all you have to do is go here to copy or download the Discovery Institute’s Free Speech Campaign bill. Now you are all set to fill in the blanks with the name of your state, and bingo, you can present your academic freedom bill in your state house. This has actually been initiated in five states, with Louisiana and Tennessee getting the job done. One more thing. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana signed their bill, the Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee wimped out, and did not sign or veto the bill. (It will take effect without his signature later this year.)

It’s An Assault on Science Teaching, Not a Rescue Mission
This latest ploy of suggesting that some scientific theories need to be analyzed and discussed critically is simply another way for creationists, and intelligent design advocates to enter the realm of science education. The National Center for Science Education keeps a watchful eye on these kinds of events, and has made recent posts regarding the goings on in Florida and Missouri. What is most important in these cases to examine who is proposing these bills.

In the Missouri case, the legislators in question were sponsors of filed anti-evolution bills in the past. They keep proposing the bills, and if they don’t get enacted, they come back a year later, and try again. So far, the bills have not been passed in these states. In the Louisiana case, the Governor did sign anti-evolution legislation, and it is known as the Louisiana Science Education Act. However, the National Center for Science Education dubbed this Act as a creationist bill, stated that the bill will enable educators to pull religious beliefs into topics such as evolution. The same is true for the Tennessee bill passed by the legislature, but not signed by the Governor.
These ploys are actually assaults on the integrity of science and science education.

Fool Me Twice
In a book written by Shawn Otto entitled Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, the author believes that America has a “science problem” and the problem is how science is discussed (or not discussed) in the media, in the Congress, and in state legislatures. His book is a good primer on science in American society, and I think provides people with a view that ought to be considered.

Otto believes that science is often assaulted when debates on policy making that require scientific knowledge are held. Using a technique that the media loves (the split screen), all issues that are discussed have two sides--the left or the right; the Republican or the Democratic. Although making public policy is not the same as how a theory is developed in science, it’s probably important that scientific knowledge be used in a way that represents science in making important decisions.

Raising Doubts
Years ago, the tobacco industry used the technique of arguing two sides of the smoking issue, but selectively used its own research, or denied what science research had shown about smoking, or simply raised doubt about the “science” of tobacco research in order to “win” the argument, not seek the truth about smoking.

We see similar tactics being used when climate change and global warming are debated. Of course, the issue that has impacted science education is the teaching of evolution. The same tactic that “big tobacco” used continues to be used. Over the years, there have been attempts to show that there is another side of the theory of evolution--creation science or intelligent design. We’ve used the courts to settle scientific and health issues, such as abortion, teaching evolution, and so forth.

In science education, teachers have had to deal with topics in the science curriculum that are viewed as controversial including the teaching of evolution, discussions of birth control, theories of the origins of the universe, such as the Big Bang, global warming and climate change. School boards, parents, and politicians have gotten involved in trying to pass rules restricting what and how “controversial” topics are taught, and have lately used the pedagogy of “critical thinking” to make sure that “all” sides of each controversial topic are discussed. Although the teaching of evolution, or I should say creation science/intelligent design was settled by Federal Judge John Jones in the famous Dover, Pennsylvania case when the judge ruled that intelligent design was not science, and had no place in a science class.

In my own view, cases like the Dover intelligent design issue, the Kansas science standards controversy, attempts by legislators and state school boards in Georgia, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to legislate the content of the science curriculum to satisfy their own (often religious beliefs) opinions are all assaults on the integrity of the teaching profession to make professional decisions on curriculum and pedagogy.

The Discovery Institute is the organization that is behind this assault. The assault on science and science education has been going on for a long time starting with the Scopes Trial, and then continuing with assault on Rachel Carson’s work on the environment, and the devious and unlawful actions of the tobacco industry’s denial that smoking causes pulmonary damage, heart attack, and cancer.

In the present iteration, emotions are trumping knowledge and understanding in one state house after another.

And one more thing
In a discussion of the so called “academic freedom bills,” we find that the origins of the bills that have cropped up in one state after another can be traced back to Rick Santorum and the Discovery Institute. Here, from this article, we have this discussion:

In 2001 former Republican United States Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania proposed an amendment, to the education funding bill which became known as the No Child Left Behind Act, which promoted the teaching of intelligent design while questioning the academic standing of evolution in U.S. public schools.[1] The language of this amendment was crafted in part by the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, with Phillip E. Johnson, founding advisor of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and "father" of the intelligent design movement, assisting Santorum in phrasing the amendment.[2][3] It portrayed evolution as generating "much continuing controversy" and being not widely accepted, using the Discovery Institute's Teach The Controversy method.
On June 14, 2001, the amendment was passed as part of the education funding bill by the Senate on a vote of 91-8. This was hailed as a major victory by proponents of intelligent design and other creationists; for instance an email newsletter by the Discovery Institute contained the sentence "Undoubtedly this will change the face of the debate over the theories of evolution and intelligent design in America...It also seems that the Darwinian monopoly on public science education, and perhaps the biological sciences in general, is ending."[4]
Scientists and educators feared that by singling out biological evolution as very controversial, the amendment could create the impression that a substantial scientific controversy about evolution exists, leading to a lessening of academic rigor in science curricula. A coalition of 96 scientific and educational organizations signed a letter to this effect to the conference committee, urging that the amendment be stricken from the final bill, which it was, but intelligent design supporters on the conference committee preserved it in the bill's legislative history.[5]
While the amendment did not become law, a version of it appears in the Conference Report as an explanatory text about the legislative history and purposes of the bill. Such a report may be taken into account if courts later need to consider the intent of the bill, but it has no legal force per se.

Do you think that there is an assault on science education, or do the bills passed in Tennessee and Louisiana protect the academic freedom of science teachers?


1. “Senate” (pdf). Congressional Record: Proceedings of the 107th Congress, first Session (primary source). 82. 147. Washington, DC: U.S. Congress. June 13, 2001.Archived from the original on 27 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-07.
2. “The Biology Wars: The Religion, Science and Education Controversy”. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. December 5, 2005. Archived from the original on 10 June 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-08. “That language, which was penned by Phil Johnson for Rick Santorum, passed the Senate as an amendment to the No Child Left Behind education bill, and eventually became part of the conference report for that legislation.”
3. Santorum, Rick (January 31, 2002). “Santorum Language on Evolution”. Center for Science and Culture. Archived from the original on 27 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-08.
4. “Conference Report to accompany H.R. 1, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001″ (pdf).primary source. U.S. Government Printing Office. December 12, 2001. Archived from the original on 27 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-08.
5. Foerstel, Herbert (2009). Toxic MIX?. Westport: Greenwood. p. 163. ISBN 0313362343.

Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was coordinator of science education, and was involved in the development of several science teacher education programs, including the design & implementation of TEEMS, a clinically based masters program for mathematics, science, and engineering majors. He was director of the Global Thinking Project, an Internet-based environmental program linking schools between Russia and U.S.A at first, and then many countries around the world. He also conducted seminars around the country on science teaching, inquiry and technology for the Bureau of Education and Research and for school districts’ staff development programs.

He is author of more than 20 books including The Whole Cosmos Catalog of Science, Science Experiences, Adventures in Geology, and most recently The Art of Teaching Science, 2nd Edition and Science as Inquiry, 2nd Edition.

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.