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Tenn. Senate Passes Bill Allowing Alternative Theories to Evolution in the Classroom

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"...review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories."

The Tennessee state Senate passed a bill this week with an overwhelming majority in favor -- 24-8 -- which would allow for teachers to discuss alternative scientific theories to "subjects that may cause debate and disputation" with students.

Senate Bill 893 prevents the Tennessee Board of Education and local education officials from prohibiting public school teachers from "helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories."

The Associated Press reports Senate sponsor Bo Watson of Hixson as saying the bill helps teachers feel comfortable "addressing students concerns about certain scientific theories."

While supporters see the bill as encouraging critical thinking of scientific issues, opponents believe it is a direct attack on teaching evolution, with some likening it to a modern-day "Scopes Monkey Trial." In 1925, John Scopes was fined $100 for teaching evolution in a biology class. Although the Tennessee Supreme Court later overturned the original ruling the case, the state's anti-evolution education law wasn't revoked until 1967. Opponents have also expressed concern that this bill could also open the door for teaching alternative theories to man-made global warming.

AP reports Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, as saying that the bill "seeks to subvert scientific principle to religious ideology by granting legal cover to teachers who wish to dress up religious beliefs on the origin of life as pseudo-science."

The Tennessean reports that the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Center for Science Education, among other national and local science and teacher associations, also strongly oppose the bill. Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga told the Tennessean that as a person of faith himself, he wouldn't want religious issues being discussed with his children in a classroom:

“If my children ask, ‘How does that mesh with my faith?’ I don’t want their teacher answering that question.”

Watson on the other hand said, "This bill does not endorse, promote or allow the teaching of any non-scientific, non-conventional theories in a scientific classroom."

Now, this bill and the House version passed last year go on to Gov. Bill Haslam who has said he has confidence the State Board of Education will develop the proper curriculum. WAFF reports Haslam as saying he plans to consult with the board of education on the measure.

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