Last week, Tennessee legislators approved a bill on science education (the Teacher Protection Academic Freedom Act) that has stoked controversy around the country. As a deeply committed Christian, an educator, and an active member of the scientific research community, I am grateful to BioLogos for the opportunity to contribute my views about this legislation. I have several serious concerns about the content of this bill that I will endeavor to share with clarity and respect, hoping that doing so will play a small part in reinvigorating a productive national discussion on the topic of science and faith.
Within hours of the bill’s becoming law, numerous news stories, blog entries, and web sites issued warnings of the “anti-evolution law” that will “allow creationism back into the classroom.” Yet it is important to note that the bill itself does not use this language; rather, I believe that such terminology regarding this bill is derived in no small part from sentiments about Tennessee’s past. Specifically, the Butler Act of 1925 prohibited the teaching of biological evolution in all public schools of Tennessee, and the Scopes Trial brought this act—and Tennessee’s educational policies—into the national spotlight. The bitter aftertaste still lingers for many. While it may be tempting to look at the current law in light of Tennessee’s colorful history on science education, I will intentionally avoid doing so in this essay. This will allow us to focus entirely on the content of the bill, rather than the perceived motivations or purported agendas of the bill’s authors.
The bill begins by stating the importance of students receiving a rigorous science education, developing critical thinking skills, and becoming generally informed and knowledgeable citizens. This declaration is to be welcomed by all who believe that science is not only a noble pursuit, but accessible and relevant even to those who are not scientists. The text goes on to state that many educators are unclear about how to teach certain subjects, including biological evolution. Indeed, we must agree that there is substantive confusion amidst the nation’s public on the topic of biological evolution.
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