Tennessee’s Creationism Bill Will Become Law

Yes, you read it right — that’s our prediction. We’re talking about the creationism bill that is starting to make its way through the Tennessee legislature. In Tennessee Creationism Bill Makes “Progress” we reported that the bill filed in the state House now has an identical companion bill in the Senate. We remarked that this creationist initiative is being well managed; but we didn’t realize until now how well managed it really is.

We’re starting to see more of the picture. The creationism bill has political support from an organization called Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), which is affiliated with Focus on the Family — that’s James Dobson‘s outfit. In other words, FACT is deep into the social conservative movement. Very deep.

The president of FACT is David Fowler, a lawyer and former Tennessee state Senator, who also taught for a few years at Bryan College in Dayton Tennessee — site of the Scopes Trial. The college is named after William Jennings Bryan. This is the Mission Statement at their website. The old populist, progressivist, creationist blowhard would be proud.

Why are we telling you about FACT and Fowler? Because Fowler wrote an article appearing in the Chattanoogan, an online newspaper, supporting Tennessee’s creationism bill. It’s titled Making John Scopes Proud — Finally. Our irony meter shatters every time we see that title and wonder what John Scopes would really say about this bill in Tennessee. Anyway, here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

John Scopes, the Rhea County schoolteacher who in 1925 stood trial for violating a Tennessee law prohibiting the teaching of evolution, would surely support new legislation pending before the General Assembly.


The crux of the infamous Scopes trial was the Tennessee General Assembly’s effort to reduce, by law, the scope of what could be taught in the science classroom, namely, to prevent the then relatively new theory of Darwinian evolution from being taught in the science classroom. The law was called the Butler Act, named after state Rep. John Butler, head of an organization known as the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association.

But now the shoe is on the other foot, and the scientific community, generally speaking, wants to use the law to limit the scope of what can be taught in science class, and they often seek to impugn any school of thought critical of Darwinian evolution.

Why stop with Scopes? Fowler should claim that Darwin would approve of this legislation too. Let’s read on:

Certainly intelligent design theory is not without its critics, and if the subject is going to be taught, then discussion of those criticisms is appropriate. But it is also appropriate that students understand that intelligent design is a theory that many scientists are beginning to consider and hold because of the weaknesses in the scientific evidence supporting evolution.

He then quotes from the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism, and at this point we’re wondering who really wrote this article, because it looks to us like something written in Seattle.

We’ll skip most of Fowler’s article because we’ve seen these arguments too many times before. He assures us that he’s only interested in good science education. That’s what they all say, but we know they’re saying it for the record, not the rubes. We saw the same thing in Louisiana (see Louisiana’s Ben Nevers: Creationist Doublethink). Here’s how Fowler’s article ends:

We need more science teaching, not less. In fact, today’s evolutionary scientists have become the modern-day equivalents of those who tried to silence Rhea County schoolteacher John Scopes for teaching evolution in 1925, by limiting even an objective discussion of the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

We’re accustomed to creationist apologetics; Fowler has done a good job. Your Curmudgeon humbly suggests, however, that he went a bit too far by invoking the posthumous support of John Scopes. Everyone can see that this Tennessee bill is a memorial to William Jennings Bryan.

But let’s not get ourselves all worked up. We know how this shabby affair will end because we’ve seen this movie before, so just relax and enjoy the show. Here’s how things will play out:

The legislative hearings will be little more than show-trials. They’re already lining up a list of “expert” witness that will include creationists from local bible colleges, and perhaps they’ll bring in a few “big names” from the Discovery Institute. Everyone will follow a script that’s already been written. Their testimony will create cover for the legislature to find that evolution is a controversial science, and that will be their officially declared justification for passing the bill which is now under consideration.

That’s how the game was played in Louisiana (see Louisiana Legislature Used Creation Science Witnesses). Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam, is a creationist (see Tennessee Governor’s Race: Incurable Creationism). He’ll sign the bill into law.

To the genuine scientists who will testify against this legislation, we say this: Go ahead and testify, but don’t get your hopes up, The stars are aligned against you. The dice are loaded, the skids are greased, the deck is stacked, and the game is rigged. Science is going to lose this one, and the lights are going out in Tennessee.

Is there any hope? Yes, the rational side can win, but only if the creationists blunder badly, which is not likely to happen here. It’s time you learned one of life’s important lessons: Don’t bring a slide rule to a knife fight.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Tennessee’s Creationism Bill Will Become Law

  1. That is a tragedy. I would say that now we could observe Tennessee’s test scores plummet but I just checked their 2010 ACT scores and they are already 47th.

    Explains why the bill is being passed I suppose.


  2. Maybe the popular reaction from a Louisiana repeal could shut this one down. Hopefully, their session lasts long enough.

  3. Let it go get passed. Then hammer the heck out of anyone who teaches it.
    I’ve come to the conclusion (and I freely admit it may be the wrong one), that it would best to let these stupid laws get passed. Then fight them in court.

    A court of law is the one place that they must support statements like ‘weaknesses’ of evolution. A court is the one place where they won’t be able to get away with First Amendment violations. Let the courts hammer them.

    Yes, it will be expensive, but (theoretically), then the fight will be over. Let them flail about looking for a new avenue of attack for a few years.

    hmmm…. perhaps we should insist on a law that requires First Amendment training for all teachers and administrators in public schools.

  4. Zack, the Tennessee legislative session ends in mid-May. Popular reaction in Tennessee? Maybe, but don’t count on it.

  5. OgreMkV: A court of law is the one place that they must support statements like ‘weaknesses’ of evolution. A court is the one place where they won’t be able to get away with First Amendment violations.

    I partially agree. Creationists have yet to figure out that whatever law you get passed, once it leads to clearly unconstitutional practice, its going to get smacked down. The whole “stealth” strategy is fundamentally flawed in this respect. It can lead creationists right up to the very doorstep of what they want to do (teach religion in school), but the strategy will never get them across that threshold. In order to do that they are going to have to abandon stealth ( = lying to courts about what they intend to do in classrooms) altogether, and instead work on changing court opinion about what is legal to teach. Let’s hope they never succeed in that.

    Now, here’s where I disagree: passing these laws may negatively influence parents who are considering challenging a school’s practices. And they may encourage creationist teachers or principles to flout the constitution. IOW, these laws can increase the chance that an illegal conduct will be socially permitted even while they fail to make illegal practices legal. So, although I think these stealth efforts will never legally achieve what the proponents want them to achieve, there is still some good reason to fight them.

  6. I agree eric. It’s just so danged frustrating. The issue is done with, why can’t these idiots leave it alone. I loathe people who think that, because they are elected, that they know better than the experts on everything.

    I don’t know if SC will be OK with this.. feel free to delete. But I’ve started a new blog and some posts will cover some aspects of creationism. SC series on laws, inspired me to do this post. ANyway, feel free to link back to my blog. Thanks


  7. Nicely done, ogremkv. Your screen name links to a different blog, so you may want to alternate from time to time. Don’t use both links all the time, because that’s regarded as spammy. (Someone else here does that, and it’s bothersome.) But there’s no problem in calling attention to what you’ve written when it’s appropriate to do so.

    Hey everyone, take a look at ogremkv‘s Strengths and Weaknesses of Evolution.

  8. @ogremkv: I only have one minor quibble on your strategy. I say don’t let them pass the law, then hammer them. I say hammer them before it becomes a law, then hammer them again if/when it becomes law. Never give’em anything. Period. And there’s a chance you might take some wind out of their sails which will make it easier to deal with them if the law is passed. To me, printer paper, envelopes and stamps are cheap compared to what would happen if we allowed these bills to go unchallenged.

  9. I know that I’m always repeating this, but I still think the solution at this stage is for some legislator to introduce the Curmudgeon’s Amendment.

  10. The biggest obstacle to marijuana legalization is that its supporters can never remember where they left their paperwork; and the biggest obstacle to creationist-sponsored stealth legislation is that creationists are too stupid to practice stealth.

  11. the biggest obstacle to creationist-sponsored stealth legislation is that creationists are too stupid to practice stealth.

    Well, they have that problem too. But ultimately you can’t “stealth” what you teach in the classroom. Its going to come out the moment you actually start teaching what you want to teach. Its like claiming I will stealthily buy apples from you. At some point we have to exchange money for apples, and then you’ll know what I’m doing. I can’t hide the transaction from you when you’re part of it. Students are part of the transaction.

    In some respect the non-stealthy creationists – the ones who write letters to the editor and make public statements explicitly acknowledging they’re trying to bring religion back into school – are the ones with the only real chance of success. They might succeed in changing court opinion on what should be legal to teach, which would open the door for creationism. After all, Scalia is probably already of the opinion that creationism should be legal. Thomas regularly votes with him. That only leaves 3 more to go.

    But the guys who just try to hide what they’re doing (implicitly acknowledging that what they’re doing is illegal)…they have no chance of opening that door.

  12. I think it was Mclean vs Arkansas about which Stephen J. Gould commented …”one high school teacher, who, when asked what he would do if the law was upheld, ‘looked up and said, in his calm and dignified voice: It would be my tendency not to comply. I am not a revolutionary or a martyr, but I have a responsibility to my students, and I cannot forego them.’”
    I hope there are courageous teachers in Tennessee.

  13. Gabriel Hanna

    After all, Scalia is probably already of the opinion that creationism should be legal.

    Cite please?

    Thomas regularly votes with him.

    Except when he doesn’t:


    To be sure, Thomas and Scalia–the Court’s two committed originalists–frequently agree. But this term six other pairs of justices agreed more frequently than they did. Justices Souter and Ginsburg were in complete agreement in 85 percent of the Court’s decisions. Chief Justice Rehnquist agreed with Justice O’Connor in 79 percent and Justice Kennedy in 77 percent. Justices Stevens and Souter agreed 77 percent of the time; so did Justices Ginsburg and Breyer. Thomas and Scalia agreed in only 73 percent of the cases.

  14. Gabriel Hanna

    @eric: Found my own cite:

    As far as the Constitution is concerned, Scalia insisted, all that matters is that legislators sincerely believed that creation science was scientific. It is not necessary, for constitutional purposes, that their collective assessment was right. If a legislature full of ignoramuses requires geography teachers to teach that the earth is flat, it is a sorry state of affairs—but not an unconstitutional one. Moreover, the fact that many supporters of the law might also have had religious motivations is of no concern. Scalia noted that the Court would never “strike down a law providing money to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless” just because legislators might have had religious beliefs that influenced their decision.

    Scalia left little doubt that he thought the majority let its own views about creation science and evolution—rather than the beliefs of Louisiana legislators—determine the outcome of the case. He reminded the majority that Senator Keith “repeatedly and vehemently denied that his purpose was to advance a particular religious doctrine.” He cited his testimony at the first hearing on the legislation: “We are not going to say today that you should have some kind of religious instructions in our school….I am not proposing that we take the Bible in each science class and read the first chapter of Genesis.”

  15. They’re taking advantage of the popularity of the pro-GOP/Tea Party movement/anti-Democratic backlash, just like all of the theocrats and rank-and-file social conservatives. Things like this have nothing to do with small government, cutting taxes, or job creation. See also various forms of anti-LGBT state-level legislation. Give ’em that old-time religion, or rather force it by government fiat.

    New Mexico appears safe and my hunch is that Missouri is safe, but I’m concerned about Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. Time to donate to the NCSE again….

  16. SC says ” It’s time you learned one of life’s important lessons: Don’t bring a slide rule to a knife fight.”

    Great lesson, thanks for the laugh!

  17. Gabriel,
    Seems you found a secondary source. If you want a primary source, you can read Scalia’s Edwards v Aguillard dissent.

    He basically objected to court doing any sort of independent assessment of the legislative intent, impact, or what the legislative proponents said about creation science. Example (there are many other comments of the same type):

    “The Act’s reference to “creation” is not convincing evidence of religious purpose. The Act defines creation science as “scientific evidenc[e],” @ 17:286.3(2) (emphasis added), and Senator Keith and his witnesses repeatedly stressed that the subject can and should be presented without religious content. See supra, at 623. We have no basis on the record to conclude that creation science need be anything other than a collection of scientific data supporting the theory that life abruptly appeared on earth.”

    No basis of record? Even in 1987, you’d have to have been utterly naive or willfully blind to not see where these guys were coming from.

  18. Gabriel Hanna

    @eric: I agree with your assessment, Scalia’s dissent was naive and unhelpful. It would be interesting to see what he’d say now, after Kitzmiller vs Dover, but I don’t think creationism is going to the Supreme Court again for a very long time.

  19. Thanks SC. I’ll get that link fixed. It’s to my old blog. The new one has a purpose.

    And you guys are correct. Hammer, hammer, hammer.

    I maintain though that, at least in states my company does work for, creationism will never be a testable subject, while evolution will remain so.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the law does not decide what teachers must teach, the curriculum standards do that. In every state that I am aware of, the curriculum is maintained by a committee of professionals (scientists). Now, the politicians can ramrod stuff past the committee, but it looks really bad for them to do so (witness Texas). So, science will be taught.

    Of course, these laws allow non-science to be taught as well. sigh…

  20. no you are right…..dont bring a slide rule, bring an attourneys card.

    Let them pass their stupid law, let it mean some dimwits on a local school board get ID taught or a disclaimer read out, then sit back and blog the hilarity of the subsequent court case, and the end joy joy multi-million dollar costs award to the secularist side.

    History repeats…