Mississippi Creationism: Textbook Sticker Law

THANKS TO the excellent blog of Tony Whitson, we learn that the great state of Mississippi wants to be among the first in 2009 to officially embrace creationism and stifle the teaching of science in its state-run schools.

House Bill 25 has been filed in the Mississippi legislature, titled:

AN ACT TO REQUIRE THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION TO INCLUDE CERTAIN LANGUAGE EXPLAINING THAT EVOLUTION IS A THEORY IN THE INSIDE FRONT COVER OF CERTAIN PUBLIC SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS.

What will the warning language say? The proposed law tells us:

The State Board of Education shall require every textbook that includes the teaching of evolution in its contents to include the following language on the inside front cover of the textbook:

The word ‘theory’ has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations.

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered a theory.

Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things.

Study hard and keep an open mind.

They forgot to add: Have a nice day!

This intellectual wonder was introduced by Representative Gary Chism. Here is his official page at the legislature’s website: Gary Chism, District 37, Republican . In addition to a handsome photograph, we learn that Chism is an insurance agent. He was educated at Mississippi State University, but we are not given any information about the degrees he may have earned.

Isn’t this wonderful? We have another textbook sticker case brewing, which — if it becomes law — will undoubtedly play out like Selman v. Cobb County School District. In Selman, decided in 2005, the school board in Cobb County, Georgia had mandated a sticker saying:

Evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

When it was all over, the school board had to manually remove their stickers.

We’ll be keeping an eye on developments in Mississippi. Stay tuned!

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15 responses to “Mississippi Creationism: Textbook Sticker Law

  1. Study hard and keep an open mind.

    I just can’t come up with better parody than what is already provided.

  2. Jesus H(ussein) Christ – Enough already.
    The South should just secede and I’ll move back up North.

  3. It’s actually pretty good language to use. Evolution _is_ a theory and not fact. So long as everyone remembers that it is a theory that is backed by evidence and not a fairy tale backed by faith like the other suggestion then all is well with the world.
    Evolution is not fact, it’s a constantly refined theory which scientists are happy to examine. Unless someone can come up with a better explanation that can stand up to as much scientific debate then it’s the best theory we have.

  4. Commonly Sensible, your comments were automatically moderated because of a certain letter combination in your email address. Nothing personal.

  5. retiredsciguy

    Again, drawing on my experience as a 7th grade teacher, I wouldn’t get too worked up over this.
    The students will mostly ignore it, if they notice it at all. The intelligent students will know better; the less cerebrially endowed will never read it.
    If the teacher is forced by the state to read it aloud to the class, I can hear the chorus arise –“Is this going to be on the test?”
    The bigger problem for Mississippi, though, is how this will further retard development in the state. As if the state doesn’t have enough problems with how the rest of the country perceives it, this will be yet another factor repelling businesses from locating there.

    The big problem I have with the wording of the sticker is the way it confuses “evolution” with “the origin of life”:
    “Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook…”

    Evolution, or the change of life over time, is NOT theory; it’s observable fact. An explanation of WHY life has evolved would be a theory, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. It is silent about the origins of LIFE, it confines itself to the origins of SPECIES. Big difference.

  6. Yes, good spot on the confusion between evolution and abiogenesis but it’s worth remembering that evolution is not fact, it’s a very well supported theory.
    Hell, gravity is still a theory because we still don’t know everything there is to know about it. Evolution is constantly being refined and by stating it as a fact you close off your mind to the possibility of other developments and so make yourself no better than the fundamentalists.

  7. Commonly Sensible says: “… but it’s worth remembering that evolution is not fact, it’s a very well supported theory.”

    You might check this out. It clarifies some terms: Evolution as Fact and Theory, by Stephen Jay Gould.

  8. I’m trying to drum up opposition to this absurd bit of creationist BS in Mississippi. Thanks for helping to spread the word about this important issue.

  9. vjack, if you’re located in Mississippi, you might consider organizing a local group with a website like those in other states that try to promote good science education. Visit Citizens for Science, which lists a whole bunch of them. That may be a good place to start. Also — just a personal suggestion — drop the explicit connection with atheism. I don’t mean you should change your opinions, but it really is a totally separate issue, and if you tie it to science education you’ll turn away too many potential allies.

  10. mightyfrijoles

    Thought I’d drop a bit in here even though it’s old.

    I have been personally assured, through another person, equally reliable 🙂 :), from the Chair of the Science/Education committee (or whatever it’s called) in Mississippi that this bill will never get out of committee.

    Doesn’t mean it won’t come back again and again like a bad lunch, though.

  11. MF says: “… this bill will never get out of committee.”

    That’s okay. It’s fun just to have it lurking around.

  12. mightyfrijoles,

    As embarrassing as the mere existence of such bills is, I am glad to hear this news. Some searching around at the NCSE web site shows that the bulk of all antievolution bills die in committee, but last year was too close for comfort, with the Florida bills (and the related Oklahoma bill) actually getting out of committee and the Louisiana bill getting passed.

    I wonder where the next flare-up will be. Alabama? South Carolina? Arkansas? Tennessee?

  13. mightyfrijoles

    My flare-ups usually cause a burning sensation in the anal area. ———-

  14. MF says: “… a burning sensation …”

    Have you been abducted by yet another UFO? That’s the third time this week.

  15. It’s worth noting that Chism’s first bill was co-sponsored by the relatively liberal (for Mississippi) Democrat Chuck Espy.