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1 Feb, 2013 14:04

Challenging evolution: 4 US states consider controversial educational bills

Four US states have put forward bills encouraging the teaching of theories of the origins of life other than evolution. Montana, Missouri, Oklahoma and Colorado are advancing curricula that have been dubbed a creationist plot by many scientists.
Challenging evolution: 4 US states consider controversial educational bills

Six so-called ‘anti-evolution’ bills have been introduced in the four states since the beginning of the year, reported the National Center for Science Education, a group monitoring the teaching of science in the US.One of the bills presented to the Missouri House of Representatives suggested that evolution and Intelligent Design should be treated equally in Missouri's public elementary and secondary schools, as well as in introductory science courses in public institutions of higher education.The theory of Intelligent Design is a form of creationism that implies that certain features of the universe are best explained by a creator or higher power. The term was adopted as a replacement for ‘creation science,’ which was ruled by the Supreme Court in 1987 to represent a particular religious belief after it outlawed creationism. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) asserts that “creationism isn't science,” and strongly defends the teaching of evolution as the only theory of the origins of life. Although the so-called ‘Academic Freedom’ bills do not emphasize religion, NCSE scientists believe that it is a disguised attempt by creationists to insert their beliefs into school curricula. The Missouri bill features a glossary defining the legislation’s main terms, such as ‘analogous naturalistic processes,’ ‘biological evolution’ and ‘biological intelligent design.’ This part of the bill closely resembles a bill authored in 2004 that also called for the equal treatment of evolution and Intelligent Design in public schools. The 2004 legislation was widely criticized by scientists, and did not pass.Another bill written in Missouri has dubbed biological and chemical evolution ‘controversial,’ stating that no education administrative staff should prohibit public school instructors from teaching students objectively about the supposed scientific strengths and weaknesses of the competing theories.Oklahoma legislators have also authored two bills challenging the teaching of evolution in schools. One bill, pre-filed with the state senate, encourages teachers to "find more effective ways to represent the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." Another, pre-filed with the state house, specifically cites “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as being scientifically controversial.A Colorado bill mentions “biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning” as alleged controversies, which need to be approached “intelligently and respectfully.”Montana, the last state of those considering so-called ‘Academic Freedom Acts,’ is drafting a bill which will require the teaching of ‘Biological Intelligent Design’ alongside evolution in public schools.The battle between creationists and those who support Darwinian evolution has a long history in the US. Private schools have no restrictions in how they teach science, while public schools must follow state-defined curriculum. A June 2012 Gallup poll asked some 1,000 Americans nationwide about their thoughts on the origin of human life. The survey revealed that 46 percent of Americans believe God created human beings. Numerous creation science advocates continue to hope that the Intelligent Design theory will make its way into US public schools, though they have not been very successful so far. Controversy erupted in 2011 when the state of Texas said it would discourage the teaching of evolution in classrooms, following the 2009 approval of new education standards ordering schools to consider ‘all sides’ of the debate. However, the state’s Board of Education approved school material favoring Darwinian evolution.In 2004, Intelligent Design was taught alongside Darwinian evolution in one school in Pennsylvania, but the district court ruled the ‘ID policy’ unconstitutional, and ordered the school not to teach it in science classes.