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Tennessee Legislation on Evolution Moves Forward

If you thought this year's legislative sessions would focus only on economic and labor issues—budgets, bargaining, tenure, and the like—think again.

A bill that cleared the Tennessee House of Representatives yesterday identifies certain scientific topics, including evolution and global warming, as having the potential to "cause controversy." The Republican-sponsored measure, approved by a 70-23 vote, seeks to protect teachers who help students "analyze, critique, and review" the "strengths and weakness" of scientific theories. Critics say the House bill is meant to single out evolution for skeptical treatment.

Debates over teaching evolution in public schools have, of course, played out for decades in statehouses and school districts, though they seem to have lessened in intensity somewhat compared with five or six years ago. That's when a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the idea of "intelligent design" was not a scientific concept, but a religious one.

For the record, the mainstream scientific community overwhelmingly accepts evolution as the best explanation for the development of humans and other living things. Scientists also say there's a mountain of evidence that climate change is real—and they see compelling evidence that humans are contributing to it.

Attempts to introduce creationism and intelligent design into public school science classrooms have been rejected by the courts. Faced with those roadblocks, skeptics of evolution have argued that teachers should be allowed to criticize it in classes, or analyze its weakness, as they would any scientific topic.

The language in the Tennessee bill seems to make that same argument. Does this measure foreshadow a wave of new legislative efforts focused on evolution? Or will other states stick to budgets, bargaining, and tenure?

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