A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Nearly 90 years after the famous Scopes monkey trial, Tennessee has once again become a battleground over teaching evolution and other science topics in the classroom. The state legislature passed a bill that would require public schools to allow teachers to challenge widely accepted theories on evolution and climate change. Opponents of the so-called “monkey bill” – after the Scopes trial – are pressuring Tennessee’s governor to veto it. They say its real purpose is to elevate religion over science. Supporters of the measure argue it’s all about academic freedom. Guest host Susan Page and a panel of experts talk about the debate over teaching science in the classroom.
- David Fowler President, the Family Action Council of Tennessee; former Republican state senator.
- Eugenie Scott Executive director of the National Center for Science Education.
- David Masci Senior researcher, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
- Robert Destro Professor of law; director, Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion Columbus School of Law, The Catholic University of America.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is recovering from a voice treatment. Tennessee's governor is expected to sign a bill this week to allow teachers to challenge widely accepted theories of climate change and evolution in public schools. Supporters say its purpose is to foster academic freedom. Critics say it's an effort to inject religion into the classroom.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me in the studio to talk about the controversy and how to best teach young people about science, David Masci of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and Robert Destro of The Catholic University of America, joining us by phone from California, Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. Well, welcome to you all to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. DAVID MASCIThank you.
PROF. ROBERT DESTROGood morning. Thank you.
PAGEFirst, joining us by phone...
MS. EUGENIE SCOTTThank you.
PAGE...from Franklin, Tenn., is David Fowler. He is president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee and a former Tennessee state senator. Sen. Fowler, thank you for being with us.
SEN. DAVID FOWLERI'm glad to be with you, glad to be with your guests. Thank you.
PAGENow, I know that you're one of the originators of this law in Tennessee. Tell us what's in the bill.
FOWLERWell, the bill appears to be one that two people actually want to read, and the bill says that the State Board of Education and our schools shall endeavor to help students learn to think critically about the science curriculum framework that our state board -- which, by the way, is unelected, but appointed -- develops and that they should try to help teachers understand how to deal with the teaching of scientific subjects, particularly those that, whether we like it or not, do create a fair amount of dispute, controversy.
FOWLERAnd so the bill says that teachers should be allowed to help their students understand in an objective manner the strengths, the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the scientific theories that are required to be taught under our State Board of Education's curriculum framework. So that's what the bill says. What is not appreciated perhaps behind what the bill says is that the curriculum frameworks are established by the State Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor and has been the board for some number of years.
FOWLERAnd the curriculum frameworks require only the teaching of evolution and do not cover the teaching of any other scientific theories regarding origins or the complexity of life, so all the discussion that this bill somehow inserts non-evolutionary theories is a failure to read the bill, if you ask my opinion. And...
PAGENow, the bill says that teachers can't be punished for introducing other theories that question evolution and climate change. Is that right?
FOWLERWell, that's correct that they should not be -- well, excuse me, actually, that sentence was taken out about not being punished and says instead that the school should help them, the teachers, know how to present the material correctly.
FOWLERClearly, they can be punished if they teach stuff that's outside the curriculum framework.
PAGEHas any teacher in Tennessee, so far as you know, faced any problems in the past in raising questions about things like evolution and climate change?
FOWLERI have not had any teachers say that they've been threatened. I have had some teachers contact me who have said, you know, we're not sure how we teach these subjects. We're not sure what we can and cannot say when students start asking those questions. I have had that come up. I have had some parents call me who have been very concerned with sort of what they believed to be a one-sided approach to the subject.
FOWLERAnd, in part, that's explained by the curriculum framework, which says students are only going to be tested on the evidence that supports evolution. So that leads teachers under a quandary of, can I talk about any of the issues that exist out there as to whether or not there are some things that evolution has not been able to answer?
PAGESo, Sen. Fowler, so your view that in a science class in Tennessee, a teacher ought to be making sure that these alternative theories about the origins of life or about climate change are presented to students, or is it at their option if they want to discuss it?
FOWLERNo. I think the whole point of my opening sentence was completely lost, not listened to or forgotten. The curriculum framework that is required to be taught that covers what's supposed to be taught covers only evolution. It does not cover intelligent design, creationism, creation science. They are not in the curriculum framework, and the bill is amended to make it very clear that this only applies to the theories required to be taught under the curriculum framework.
FOWLERAnd it specifically says that it's not allowed to be used to bring in any religious dogma, religious beliefs, any of that. So I don't know why people can't read what the bill says. And I think that the fact they refuse to read it evidences that they have some agenda, or else they're not capable of reading plain English. It's just maddening to see intelligent people refuse to read a bill, and they can say there's all kinds of hidden agendas, that they're not in the bill.
FOWLERAnd a teacher can get in as much trouble today on teaching creationism or intelligent design as they could without this bill because it's not in the curriculum framework. I don't know how to say it more clearly, more definitively that it's not in the curriculum framework, therefore, it is not to be taught. Can I say it more differently, more clearly?
PAGESen. Fowler, let me just -- perhaps I'm one of those uninformed people, but -- so if this law is signed by the governor this week, how will things be different in a classroom in Tennessee?
FOWLERWell, for example, there are some things that the science textbooks -- and I'll leave this to the scientists down here -- that sometimes overstate the evidence, that -- or don't make the evidence clear or that sometimes still refer to things as being true that perhaps are no longer believed. For instance, you know, just one of the little simple things is out there, is we talk about Darwin's finch beaks. And, you know, many of the textbooks don't point that the beaks return to their normal size once the climate changed, and that just gets left out.
FOWLERAnd so the question is, did the change that did occur evidence change within species or a micro evolution, or is it macro evolution? And I think it's perfectly fine for teachers to point that out if it's not in the textbooks and encourage their students to consider what does that evidence, when it's looked at in totality, substantiate?
FOWLERThat's what this bill would allow those teachers to do and when some student who maybe has heard stuff on their own ask about, well, you know, did the finch's beaks, you know, continue to evolve, the teacher can not ignore the question, but say, well, actually, they returned to their normal size when the seasons changed. So that's just one little small example, but that's how things changes when the testing curriculum says you have to know the theories in support of something.
FOWLERTeachers are inclined to only teach what's going to be on the test, and they're particularly inclined only to teach that. If they think they're going to get in trouble for helping people understand that there are reasonable minds who disagree as to what that evidence really proves and doesn't prove, and this bill should allow them, if they so choose to say, well, there's another side to how this evidence in support of evolution is viewed.
PAGEAnd, Sen. Fowler...
FOWLERBut it doesn't open the door to non-evolutionary theory.
PAGESen. Fowler, we know that the governor has until tomorrow to sign the bill, or it becomes law -- or to veto it, or if he chooses to do neither, it becomes law without a signature. What do you think he's going to do? Do you think he'll sign the bill?
FOWLERWell, you know, I personally hope he would sign the bill simply because, you know, well over two-thirds of bipartisan vote in the House and the Senate sign the bill by the legislators who've read it. And I think he's indicated that he understands that the scientific community has failed to read the bill, overblown what the bill said and are pursuing their own political agenda rather than a scientific agenda, and I hope they'll sign the bill.
PAGEAll right, Sen. Fowler. Sen. David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, thank you so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
FOWLERYou're welcome. Thank you. Hope it's a good rest of the discussion about the bill as it was actually written. Thanks. Bye.
PAGEAll right. Thanks so much for your time. Eugenie Scott, we just have a brief time before we need to take a break. But, just very quickly, is that -- what's your understanding of how much difference this would make this bill in a science classroom in Tennessee?
SCOTTOh, boy. Well, if we only have a brief time, that's a tough question to ask because teachers who are competent are going to say, OK, I have to teach the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. Here's the strengths of evolution. There aren't any weaknesses. Let's go on to the next topic. Creationist teachers, on the other hand, are going to say, okey doke, I'm now protected by the state. I can bring in creationism. And I'm afraid Mr. Fowler is not paying attention to the 40 or so other bills that have been trying to do this for the last half a dozen years or so.
PAGEAnd do you see this as -- is this a nationwide trend? Do you see this in a lot of different states?
SCOTTWe've tracked about 40 of these bills over the last seven or eight years, and they occur in -- well, not in every state, but in the kind of unlikely places like Michigan and, you know, places that you wouldn't normally associate like you might with Tennessee with anti-evolution laws.
SCOTTBut it's clear that these laws sprang up because there were some court decisions that restricted the teaching of creationism, that restricted the teaching of intelligent design and which restricted the ability of individual teachers to bring creationism into the classroom, which is why this bill is a protective bill. It permits teachers to do that, so a teacher who wants to can go to his district and say, you can't stop me.
PAGEWe're going to take a very short break. And when we come back, we'll continue our conversation about the debate over teaching evolution and climate change. And we'll take your calls and questions, our phone number, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Robert Destro, he's a professor of law and director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at the Columbus School of Law Catholic University of America. And David Masci, he's a senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. And, joining us by phone from California, Eugenie Scott. She's executive director of the National Center for Science Education.
PAGEEugenie Scott, we heard from David Fowler, one of the advocates for the law in Tennessee and the head of a conservative social policy group in Tennessee, who was arguing this doesn't -- it seems to me, he was arguing that people are overstating. Critics are overstating what this law in Tennessee would do if the governor of science -- that if it becomes law. How much -- so if you could return to that question, does this change in a big way what a student in Tennessee will learn in a science class?
SCOTTA student in Tennessee will learn one of two things, either a student will hear a lot of misinformation along the lines of the discussion about the big finches and the Galapagos Islands that we just heard and be undereducated and miseducated and then have to relearn it all when he goes to college, or a student will be taught creationism. Or I should -- actually, there's a third option, which is, perhaps, in some respects, the most common.
SCOTTA teacher is just going to say, oh, geez, evolution again. I'm just going to skip. But it's too much of a hassle, which, of course, means the creationists win because their goal is actually to get evolution out of the curriculum to start with. But, you know, I was in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago, giving a talk at one of the Tennessee State Universities, and I asked the science faculty, can you give me a list of the weaknesses of evolution that teachers could teach? And they laughed.
SCOTTYou know, they thought I was making a joke, which to some degree, I was, 'cause there aren't any -- there is no evidence against evolution. The weaknesses of evolution is something that creationists have invented as a way of -- as a backdoor way of getting creationism in. If you read the creationist literature, they say over and over, evidence against evolution is evidence for creationism.
SCOTTSo if they can't get creationism taught straight up in the schools, the next best thing is to denigrate evolution because, if you teach kids that evolution is lousy science, then they'll automatically just switch and dichotomously to the other option, which is that God created everything specially, which is the view that they want to, you know -- and when -- a student is going to ask this. A student is going to say, Mrs. Brown, what do you think? If evolution is terrible science, if there's no evidence for evolution, if there's all these weaknesses, do you think God created?
SCOTTAnd the teacher -- you know, a creationist teacher is going to say, well, that certainly is my view, Jimmy. And so, you know, creationism is going to be brought in through the backdoor. The other thing bad about these bills is that this is a domino effect. The Tennessee bill attracts very, very closely a very similar bill that was passed in Louisiana a couple of years ago. But the Louisiana bill hasn't really kicked in yet because there were all these administrative things that had to take place.
SCOTTSo we're not really sure how the Louisiana bill is playing out, although we're pretty confident that some teachers are using it as an excuse to teach creationism. But I can't document that for you right now. If Tennessee passes this innocent-sounding bill, which, as you heard Mr. Fowler proclaim, is certainly on the surface, is something that they can say sounds just like we're just for academic freedom. We're not for teaching creationism. We're just for critical thinking.
SCOTTThen I worry that more states will take this bill up, and then we really will have a very bad situation for science education where a lot of misinformation is going to be taught. You know, I mentioned that the science -- the scientists in Tennessee or any other state don't have a list of weaknesses of evolution, but the Discovery Institute does. And, in fact, they've produced a book, which I suspect they're hoping to sell in Tennessee and other states that pass these weaknesses of evolution bills.
PAGEThe Discovery Institute, being a think tank in Seattle that has tried to promote some of these laws -- David Masci, you study public opinion at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. What are American attitudes about the teaching of evolution?
MASCIWell, they're quite skeptical, actually, and it's very interesting because there's dichotomy between how the American public feels and how scientists in the scientific community feel. Scott referred to this when she was speaking a few minutes ago about talking to scientists in Tennessee. We have done a poll of scientists -- 2,500 scientists -- a couple of years ago, and 97 percent of them believe in evolution. Eighty-seven percent of them believe in evolution through natural selection. But the American public is much more skeptical.
MASCIThe polls that we've done show about 40-plus percent of Americans believe that life on Earth was created as is. In other words, there is no evolution at all. About two in 10 Americans believe in evolution, but not so much in evolution through natural selection as Darwin said, but God-guided or theistic evolution. And then about a quarter of Americans -- a little more than a quarter of Americans believe in evolution through natural selection.
MASCIAnd these numbers, you know, are borne out in other polls that have been done by other organizations like Gallup as well. So there is, again, a real, again dichotomy between what experts are saying and what the American people believe.
PAGEAre there other subjects on which public opinion is at odds with expert opinion?
MASCIWell, I mean, the other one that sort of immediately comes to mind, of course, is climate change. Here, Americans are about 62 of the last Pew poll that was done last year on climate change. About 62 percent of Americans said that they believe the climate is changing or the earth is getting warmer. But only 38 percent of Americans said that they believed that that was case as result of man-made pollution and other things.
MASCIAnd again, same sort of dynamic, scientists -- almost all scientists accept climate change. I think it was about 84 percent in the Pew science poll that I mentioned a minute ago said that they believe that human activity is making the earth warmer, so, again, we have this dichotomy between what the public feels and what scientists feel. But if I could just say one more thing about that, there's a big difference between what's driving public opinion on evolution and what's driving it on climate change.
MASCIEvolution -- one of the -- the major driver of public opinion on evolution, particularly opposition to believing in evolution or teaching evolution is religious. We find that people who are more religious, and particularly people who are African-American. And white evangelicals are much more likely to be opposed to teaching evolution or not believe in evolution. And significant numbers of Catholics and Mainline Protestants also have difficulties with evolutions through natural selection.
MASCIOn the other side, on climate change, what we find driving a public opinion on that is more political or ideology, so self-identified Republicans are much more likely to be skeptical of climate change, in fact, 40 percent more likely to be skeptical about climate change than self-identified Democrats.
PAGERobert Destro, we -- it seems like we've -- one reason, I guess, this story resonates with so many people is because of the Scopes Trial and the famous movie that ensued about the teaching of evolution in Tennessee. Tell us a little about that trial and how it -- what it prompted in this area.
DESTROWell, the Scopes Trial, which was made famous really by the movie "Inherit the Wind," which, you know, all of us saw when we were little -- or a lot of us did -- is all about the trial of Mr. Scopes, who was a teacher. And he had the audacity back then to teach evolution, and he was defended by Clarence Darrow. And so, today, it stands as a kind of cultural icon about the lone scientist who stands up to the establishment.
DESTROAnd I think that's exactly what we've got going on here, that the -- if we look at the general run of American history and the debates over religion and the schools and the debates over political correctness in the schools, this is really -- from a lawyer's perspective, this is a fight over who controls the curriculum and who controls the perspective of that which is taught in the classroom. And I think that Mr. Fowler raises an important issue of academic freedom in protecting teachers.
DESTROMs. Scott raises a very important question about the integrity of the curriculum. And so I think what we need to be looking at here is what kinds of -- given the statistics that David Masci just talked about, what do you do with those 40 percent of kids who come in and say, yeah, but what about the Bible? You know, you're supposed to -- is the teacher supposed to just hammer them and tell them they're wrong? Or is she supposed to give them the critical skills and evidence they need in order to draw conclusions on their own?
PAGEWell, does a teacher take a neutral position, like, here's creationism, here's evolution? You can decide what you believe, which is what many Americans are now doing.
DESTROWell, you know, having been a teacher for quite a long time, there's no such thing as a neutral position. The -- what the teacher is supposed to do -- and I think that this is where I think that Mr. Fowler was frustrated, and I think rightly so -- that the teacher is supposed to teach science. And so when the child answer -- asks a question about, you know, whether it's scientific creationism or Darwinism or whatever, the answer is supposed to come back as a scientific answer with evidence, you know.
DESTROBut I can tell you all kinds of stories and point to cases where people do get in trouble because of their perspective on things. And that's where the First Amendment issues become very worrisome.
PAGESo you think the law is OK.
DESTROI think the law is perfectly OK.
PAGEEugenie Scott, doesn't that sound kind of reasonable? So if a child raises a question, the teacher should be -- respond to it and be prepared to discuss it? What's wrong with that argument?
SCOTTWell, of course, the teacher is going to respond to a child's question. But what this bill does is micromanage the classroom. Teachers know how to handle these kinds of questions. And, you know, even on our website, we've got lots of information of how to diffuse the religion issue, which, of course, is at the foundation of this problem. A kid will come in and say, well, but what about God? What -- you know, what about the Bible?
SCOTTAnd what a teacher has to say at that point is, Jim, my job is to teach you the state-of-the-art science. You can accept it or reject it as you like, but you need to learn it to pass the test. And Jimmy, at that point, goes, oh, good, I thought I had to believe it. And what often happens is that the student learns what evolution really is as opposed to what he's picked up on the street and finds out that it's not something he has to be afraid of.
SCOTTUnfortunately, too many teachers are just saying, I don't want to put up with the flack, and I'm just going to skip evolution. The kid might miss two questions on the state exam, but, hey, I'll drill him in photosynthesis and he'll pick up the points there. And so we end up with kids who really don't have a good understanding of one of the most important ideas in biology. I mean, I think it's very significant that the teachers are not clamoring for this bill.
SCOTTThe scientists are not saying, we need to teach the weaknesses of evolution. And it's also very significant that only the -- curriculum, only the topics in the curriculum that are distressing to certain religious conservatives -- like evolution, the origin of life, global warming, et cetera -- are the ones being challenged. Nobody is saying teach the strengths and weaknesses of thermodynamics.
PAGEAll right. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, and we'll be reading your emails. You can send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. David Masci.
MASCIYeah, I don't want to obviously -- I don't -- I'm not here to say what a teacher should or shouldn't say if they're asked about God or the Bible or something like that. What I can say, though, is that our courts have laid out some pretty clear line or drawn some pretty clear lines about this sort of thing. And I think some teachers are sometimes under the impression that they can't mention the Bible, let's say, or something like that. But our courts have said that they can't teach or talk about the Bible or religion as revealed truth.
MASCICertainly, they could not say God created this or that or whatever. What they could say, though, is this is what the Bible says about this. This is what Christians, Jews, Muslims, whatever, believe about this. They can speak about it dispassionately as long as they're not, again, promoting it or speaking about it as revealed truth. The Bible can be taught as history. It can be taught as literature. It can be taught in a comparative religion class.
MASCISo, you know, I just wanted to point that out.
PAGESo, Robert Destro, why do we need a law like this?
DESTROWell, you know, I disagree with Ms. Scott when she said that this is micromanaging the classroom. It's actually not anything of the sort. This is instructions to the state board of education and to principals about how they're to manage controversial topics. I mean, we can spend a lot of time on evolution, you know. But there's other controversial topics as well. We've got global warming in here, which, for years, you know, was -- the science establishment had talked about it as being completely -- it was settled, OK?
DESTROAnd any teacher who raised those kinds of questions, if you have an ardent environmentalist principal, that teacher is going to be in trouble. So the -- and the same thing has happened in -- the University of Iowa lost a major lawsuit in December where basically the way the faculty controlled access to the faculty was to assume that Republican, conservative, pro-lifers weren't able to teach analysis.
DESTROAnd so what you have is a kind of a political correctness, you know, bubble around some of these schools, and you can see it. There's lots of different ways to teach Roe v. Wade. As a law professor, I can talk about that. And so there are politically correct ways to teach it. There are, you know, more skeptical ways to teach it. So there's lots of ways in which teachers need to feel that they have some recourse, and they need to be able to point to something that's a safe -- what we call a safe harbor.
PAGEThe -- there have been -- we should note that John Scopes lost. He was convicted under the Tennessee law that banned the teaching of evolution, although his conviction was overturned on a technicality. And the Supreme Court then has weighed in. Mr. Destro, what has the Supreme Court said about the teaching of evolution?
DESTROWell, the Supreme Court, you know, has said that you're not allowed to teach religion, as David Masci has put it, as revealed truth. You're not supposed to be teaching religion in the classroom. And, quite frankly, most public school teachers wouldn't be qualified to do it anyway. They're not trained for that. And so the question always is, is the teacher going to bring in, as Ms. Scott pointed out, is a creationist teacher simply going to insert his or her, you know, religious views into their teaching?
DESTROYou know, my reaction is it's impossible for any teacher not to inject his or her views into the way they teach, you know. But if they're actually teaching the curriculum that they're supposed to be teaching, it shouldn't make any difference what their political or religious points of views are.
PAGEEugenie Scott, do you want to just take a brief moment to respond?
SCOTTYes. I think we need to be very clear that there's a big difference between academic freedom at the university level and academic freedom at the K-12 level. At the -- courts have held over and over that at the pre-college level, the district has a right and a responsibility to ensure that the same curriculum is taught from class to class. So teachers really are not allowed a lot of ability to freelance and teach anything they want.
SCOTTTeachers need to teach the standard curriculum. And what that consists of at the pre-college level is the consensus view of the scientific community or the history community or the math community or the English community. Teachers aren't bench scientists. They're not out there deciding the weaknesses of thermodynamics or climate change or anything else. They need to teach the consensus view, which, right now, like it or not, happens to be that living things have common ancestors, evolution happened, and that the planet is getting warm and people have a lot to do with it.
PAGEWe're going to take another...
SCOTTThat is the consensus view of scientists.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll go straight to the phones. We'll take some of your calls. We'll read some of your questions. You can find us on Facebook or Twitter, or send us an email. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about the law in Tennessee. It's passed a legislature -- the governor has until tomorrow to sign it or veto it or let it become, well, without his signature -- that would allow -- would prevent -- would allow teachers or -- I'm not quite sure how to put this.
PAGEWe had a senator -- permits teachers in Tennessee schools to talk about alternative theories to evolution and climate change and some other matters. We've got a lot of callers waiting to weigh in. Let's go first to Don. He's calling us from Rochester, New York. Don, hi. You're on the air.
DONGood morning. I don't know if Sen. Fowler is still on the line there, but I certainly hope he's still listening. I have a hypothetical question for him or your panel. If, you know, I were a political science teacher in a Tennessee high school, I would say this would set up a precedent where, perhaps, I could introduce controversial political theories in my classroom, say, the theory of Marxism and Leninism.
DONWhen I was in high school back in the dark ages of the late '60s, we had a teacher that assigned the reading on the communist manifesto to -- that we were to read the communist manifesto, and he was probably fired. Would this law -- and I'm hoping Sen. Fowler is listening. Would this law -- if creationism isn't allowed to be mentioned in the classroom, would Marxism and Leninism be allowed to be mentioned in a political science class?
PAGEDon, thank you so much for you call.
PAGEEugenie Scott, is it fair to draw comparisons in the teaching of science with the teaching of political science in other areas, as Don is mentioning?
SCOTTWell, this is an interesting thing about the bill. Critical thinking is important in all aspects of education, but the bill singles out only science as the -- as the vulnerable discipline, so to speak, and, you know, whereas the -- the caller is certainly correct. You can teach about any controversial idea. The issue with the bill is the advocacy of religion, the advocacy about science and so forth.
PAGEAll right. Let's go to Jordan, calling us from Miami. Hi, Jordan.
JORDANHi. Thank you for taking my call.
JORDANI -- I'm astounded that we're talking about presenting creationism in science classes. And I'm sorry if I get emotional, but this just -- as a mother of a young child, this absolutely freaks me out. Creationism is not science. It's not a matter of opinion. This has been turned into -- he's talking about the gentleman who was talking about politically correct views on climate change. It's not a question of politics. It's a question of reality. Why does politics influence science? Why should politics determine -- be able to push religious views into the classroom? Why should politics be pushing real science?
PAGEAll right, Jordan, that's a good point. Let me give Robert Destro a chance to respond.
DESTROWell, you know, Eugenie Scott said something very interesting. She said -- at the end of the last segment, she talked about how the job of the teacher is to teach the consensus view of the scientific community. And later, she equated that with bad science. Well, that just, you know, seemed to equate the consensus view of the scientific community. With bad -- with anything contrary to that with bad science is just not scientific. You know, I'll give you a good example.
DESTROThe consensus view of neuroscience, up until the early part of this century, to maybe five, 10 years ago, was that if you, you know, lost certain abilities because of a traumatic brain injury, you know, if you lost it, you lost it. We now know that the vast majority of sciences believe that, and it's just not true. So what we need to do is -- we're not -- he's not suggesting that you teach creationism. He's teaching -- he's suggesting that the teacher should be free to bring forward the scientific evidence within that curriculum.
DESTROYou know, on global warming, the question is what about the evidence out there? What about the evidence they casted out on the Al Gore model? I mean, those are the kinds of questions that we're talking about here.
SCOTTSure. And those ideas are outside of the scientific consensus. Remember, we're talking about what do you teach to an eighth or ninth or 10th grader. We're not talking about disputes that might or might not be going on at the university level. You know, if the anti-global warming people want to have their views taught in high school, or if the anti-evolution people want to have their views taught in high school, let them convince the academic community.
SCOTTLet them take their arguments to the scientists and the climatologists, and let them fight it out up there. We shouldn't be fighting these cultural wars on the back of high school students and high school teachers. It's completely inappropriate.
PAGELet's go to Greg. He's calling us from Indiana. Hi, Greg, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
GREGHey, good to hear from you. Simple question: Why don't they simply teach evolution in the science class and teach creationism in a philosophy class? That way, both basic belief forms are found, and everyone gets what they want.
PAGEGreg, interesting point. Robert Destro, would that, do you think, satisfy the points that you've been making?
DESTRONo, I mean, because, in the end, the question here is whether or not a science teacher has got to teach a consensus view of whether or not he or she can go up, you know, within the scope of the curriculum, do some extra reading and journals or whatever and bring in alternative scientific views. That's what we want our teachers to do. We want our teachers to teach critical thinking.
DESTROAnd if the, you know, this question about creationism, I think, is a bit of a red herring because what we're essentially saying is that anybody who raises any kind of question against the consensus view has to be a creationist. That's just not true.
MASCIYeah. I was just going to say that if this law or this bill becomes law and it's implemented and evidence emerges that it's leading to introduction, let's say, of creationism as an alternative theory, let's say, to evolution in the classroom, a court would almost certainly strike the law down. I mean, the way our courts have looked at these sorts of laws in the past, if there is a religious purpose behind the law, they strike it down, even if it doesn't have a religious effect in the classroom.
MASCIBut if there isn't a religious purpose, let's assume Sen. Fowler and the other folks who are in favor of this law truly just want to make sure that there's an open discussion in the classroom. Even if that's the case, if the law has a religious effect, courts will strike it down, at least as far as past precedent, past-case law, if passed precedent is any guide. And courts have struck down -- and I think Ms. Scott has referred to this a little earlier. Courts have struck down laws that require the teaching of creationism along with evolution.
MASCICourts have struck down the introduction of intelligent design even in a small way into the science curriculum. Courts have struck down disclaimers on textbooks that just simply say, you know, evolution is a theory and you need to look at it skeptically or whatever. So, I mean, courts have been very vigorous in making sure that religious theories or religion itself is not promoted in science class.
PAGESo based on what the courts have done in the past, is this law likely to be struck down?
MASCIOh, I don't actually know. I mean, if Sen. Fowler is correct that the law specifically says there is no, you know, that this is not intended to introduce religion into the discussion, it's simply about making sure there's an open discussion about these things, maybe not. But maybe Prof. Destro and Ms. Scott would be better sort of predictors on this.
PAGEWell, Prof. Destro, do you think his law would meet the standard that these previous laws have not?
DESTROI do because what Ms. Scott was talking about is kind of the hidden motive. And courts are looking for more objective indicators of intent. Certainly, the face of the statute is a direction to school board that they are to train teachers and that they are to help teachers teach critical thinking to students. Now, you know, the fact that you might have a rogue teacher out there doing something that he or she is not supposed to do, you know, believe me, the parents will complain. And there will be appropriate actions taken up to and including lawsuits. That happens all the time.
PAGEHow -- but how will we know if a teacher in a classroom believes in creationism and is presenting that in a way that reflects that religious belief? How will we know that that's happening in a classroom?
DESTROWell, you're never going to know that. You also don't know about the cases. You'll get them reported occasionally, you know, where teachers actually ridicule kids' religious beliefs, which is equally unconstitutional. I mean, in the case of the University of Iowa, the University of Iowa law faculty, which should know better, was excluding people from its faculty on the grounds of -- that they had the wrong views on things.
DESTROSo, I mean, there's a broader issue here, and I don't think it's -- I think it's unfair to the listeners to say, this is all just about creationism. It's not. It's about politically correct curriculum. And that's where -- I really have to thank Ms. Scott when she said the job as a teacher is to teach with a consensus view.
PAGEBut, of course...
DESTROI don't think that's the teachers' job.
PAGE...the law does not say we have to have critical thinking about everything. It lists about four things that we have -- would have critical thinking about evolution...
SCOTTAnd only in science.
PAGE...and only in science, so we -- perhaps we're focusing on it as an evolution question because that is what the law says. Eugenie Scott, do you think this law passes the constitutional muster that the courts have laid out in the past?
SCOTTThe way -- the reason why the law is written the way it is is to avoid that kind of facial challenge that Mr. Destro is talking about. What this means is that you have to do an as-applied challenge. You have to find the teacher who's stepping over the line. Find somebody willing to be a plaintiff, which in many parts of rural Tennessee is going to be an uphill battle 'cause a lot of people are going to be happy as can be. They have creationism taught in their classes. And then you have to ensure that that willing plaintiff has standings.
SCOTTSo you raise the bar very high for a legal challenge for this kind of a bill, which is -- and, you know, the idea that this is -- this bill just sort of sprung up to protect the academic freedom of teachers is, at best, naive. I mean, this is not a new bill. This bill has been crafted by the Discovery Institute and other religious right-promoting organizations.
SCOTTThe reason why they throw in global warming is partly because they want to avoid the Epperson case, which says you can't single out evolution so you bundle evolution with other religious right, hot button issues, and maybe that'll help you avoid Epperson. But also because these bills are promoted by people who are not only religiously conservative, which is where the creationism part comes in, but also politically conservative, which is where the anti-global warming component comes in.
SCOTTBut, again, we're talking about what you teach in high school, what happened that -- or any other institution is really irrelevant. What you teach in high school really is the consensus view of the discipline. You can't have teachers out there free -- teaching whatever they want to teach. District has the right to have a continuity of curriculum from class to class.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going back to the phones, 1-800-433-8850. We're going to go to Steve. He's been holding on a long time from Cambridge, Mass. Steve, hi, thanks for holding on.
STEVESusan, when I was in third grade, I was introduced to evolution. I was introduced to it as dogma, not as theory. And I was introduced to it in such a way that anybody who'd questioned evolution was marked. So I would say it was taught religiously, not scientifically. And I think when Ms. Scott strikes out anybody who seems to question either evolution or global warming in this case, I think it's very telling that, you know, she is really angry at people who refuse to accept what she calls this consensus view.
STEVEOr, you know, you take a poll of scientists, and if they all -- if 87 percent or 97 percent believe it, then it's true. And I think, you know, we, the public, even young people have a right to be skeptical and question and not accept it just because it's the consensus of a scientific authoritarianism.
SCOTTAbsolutely. I'm on your side, Steve. I think that any student who doesn't want to accept evolution, doesn't want to accept global warming, doesn't want to accept heliocentrism or doesn't want to accept long division is fine. You know, students have a right to not accept anything they're taught in school. But you got to watch out for the heckler's veto. You have to be careful that the people who don't want to accept certain ideas don't inhibit the instruction of those ideas to everybody else.
SCOTTAnd that is exactly what has been happening for the last 30 years in this country regarding evolution. I am sorry that your experience with the teacher who belittled people who don't accept evolution occurred. I can also give you many examples of students who were belittled because they accepted evolution, and they were taking this class in a part of the country which it was very religiously conservative, and, you know, they felt that they were excluded as well.
SCOTTSo we need to teach science as science, and let people cope with the implications of science according to their own particular religious or non-religious philosophy. But we really need to be sure kids get good science, and teaching kids that the -- that, you know, there are great weaknesses in evolution is really not teaching them good science. If they want to read that stuff on their own time, fine, you know, go for it. But that's not what should be part of the school curriculum.
PAGESteve, do you want to take just a moment to respond?
STEVEI think the whole question is on -- actually the wrong way around. I think people who are -- you know, I think if you can't come up with scientists or if you can't come up with teachers who know that there are weaknesses and are controversies in evolutionary theory, I mean, if you go down to the South and you ask the teachers down there, as Ms. Scott said she did, and none of them could come up with any weaknesses or...
SCOTTThose are the scientists.
STEVE...controversies and evolution, the so-called scientists, then they're...
SCOTTWell, they were -- they're university professors. They're not so-called.
STEVEExcuse me, excuse me.
PAGEAll right. Go ahead, Eugenie Scott.
SCOTTAs I say, these are university professors, so I wouldn't call them so-called scientists.
PAGEAll right. Well, we appreciate your call, Steve. Robert Destro, you wanted to get on this conversation?
DESTROYes. One of the points I wanted to make is that the courts have long drawn this distinction in terms of what kids should be taught between the elementary and the high school. And I'll tell you, as a person who teaches law school, you can't start teaching critical thinking to kids when they're in college. You have to start as early as possible, in grade school even.
DESTROSo the idea that somehow the kid -- that the public schools exist to teach the consensus view is the exact thing that the establishment clause of the First Amendment was designed to get around, is that we don't want politically correct religion or science or anything else.
PAGEI think we're just about out of time. We'd had a lot of great emails on this subject. Now, I'm just going to read two of them that reflect different points of view. First, Sarah sent us an email: "Academic freedom. If this falls under academic freedom, why not teach about the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny, too? Other industrialized nations are laughing at us right now as we fall farther and farther behind in the important disciplines of science and mathematics."
PAGEAnd then we got this email from Sonny, who writes, "I'm a very religious Christian parent of three young daughters. I personally do not want a public school teaching my kids any religious doctrine. However, I also do not want my kids to get the message from their public school that what they learn at home or in Sunday school is false. I'm not looking for a religious ally in the public schools. I simply don't want a religious enemy." Certainly two different points of view on this important topic.
PAGEWell, I want to thank our panel for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane. Thanks for listening.
Most Recent Shows
What President Trump's anti-immigrant policies may mean for the future of the GOP, then why some say Apple should help parents limit teen's time on iPhones
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank explains some of the challenges ahead for 'Trump Tax,’ then singer songwriter Dar Williams talks about what she’s learned from a career of performing in small towns across America.
What the Alabama Senate race means for Republicans and Democrats, then dealing with sexual misconduct claims against members of Congress and President Trump.