The Tennessee General Assembly is poised to pass a bill that instructs teachers how to answer student questions about scientific theories, though critics say it is a ploy to subvert science in favor of theology.
One of the things Tennessee is (in)famous for is the trial of teacher John Scopes in 1925.
Popularly known as the “monkey trial,” Scopes was convicted by a jury in Dayton for teaching the theory of evolution in violation of state law. The trial attracted international attention and inspired the play and movie “Inherit the Wind.” Scopes was later cleared of the charge on a technicality by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Though the play and the movie are fictionalized accounts of what happened, the underlying facts of the trial have served to divide the scientific and faith communities in this country for almost 100 years.
Darwin’s theory of the evolution of species has been controversial since he published it in the mid-19th century. Even geology and other earth sciences that state the earth and the universe are millions of years old are viewed dimly by some people of faith, who choose a strict and literal interpretation of the Bible.
Apparently recognizing this divide, or perhaps playing up to it for less than honorable reasons, the Tennessee House and Senate have passed bills that “instruct” teachers how to respond to students who call into question the validity of scientific teaching. The subtext here is that students who have been taught that science is not to be trusted may speak up and express religion-based theories or explanations for the natural world.
Critics of the bills say the door is being opened in Tennessee schools for teaching religious views. While no direct evidence for that has so far been revealed, it cannot be ruled out, either.
Given the new ultra-conservative political bent the South is experiencing, it’s safe to be skeptical about the intent of these bills.
Public schools should not be teaching students religion-based curriculum. If parents want that for their children, they are free to enroll them in church-sponsored schools, but tax dollars should never be used for that.
Reconciling science with faith is never easy, nor should it be. Accepting either without question is an exercise in superstition. But public schools are in the business of educating students with facts and scientific theories, and crossing the line into the supernatural in a conflict with that mission.