Republican state lawmakers in four more states, many of them adherents of a theological worldview with no basis in science, are advancing legislation allowing educators to teach “alternative fact”-based pseudoscience if they believe it to be scientific.
Ars Technica reports on anti-science bills in Alabama, Indiana, Oklahoma and South Dakota (the latter state’s measure has now been defeated) that would protect teachers who “teach the controversy” on global warming or evolution, as long as they believe the course material is scientific — even if it is based on scientifically baseless beliefs.
In Alabama, House Joint Resolution 78 identifies “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as controversial topics — although there is little controversy among scientists that either evolution or anthropogenic climate change are real. The measure’s author, Republican state lawmaker Mack Butler, also pushed a similar bill in 2015 that died in committee. At the time, Butler explained his bill was meant to “encourage debate if a student has a problem learning he came from a monkey rather than an intelligent design,” the nonscientific theory positing a supernatural supreme being, or “god,” created all life on Earth.
There is no evidence to support “intelligent design,” while the theory of evolution is the prevailing scientific consensus among biologists around the world. Nevertheless, biology textbooks in Alabama schools have, since the 1990s, contained an “evolution warning.”
In Indiana, Senate Resolution 17 was passed by a vote of 40-9 on February 17, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) reported. The legislation encourages educators to “help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist,” even though there is almost no serious scientific debate on man-made global warming — 97 percent of climatologists and the national science academies of almost every nation on the dangerously warming planet agree that climate change is real and caused by human activity. SR 17’s initial sponsors, Republicans Jeff Raatz and Dennis Kruse, have a long history of introducing anti-science legislation — in 2012, Kruse, a devout Christian, authored a bill allowing the teaching of “creation science,” which critics likened to “healthy cigarettes.” The following year, Kruse introduced another bill permitting the unconstitutional mandatory recitation of the Lord’s Prayer — an incantation Christians believe Jesus Christ taught to his disciples — in public schools.
In Oklahoma, Senate Bill 393 was approved by a 13-1 Senate Education Committee vote earlier this week. The measure mandates that school officials “endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.” Opponents, who claim it is a Trojan horse for creationism and other anti-science teaching, are calling the legislation the “Alternative Facts Bill.” The measure follows the passage in the deeply conservative state of SB 450, the so-called Religious Viewpoints Anti-discrimination Act, which critics warn is a ploy to introduce prayer into public schools that could be used in conjunction with anti-science education laws.
In South Dakota, the state Senate this week defeated another “alternative facts” bill that would have allowed teachers to essentially teach anything they want as science as long as they used certain language, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports.
Critics of such bills argue they open the door for educators to teach religion-based creationism, which is unconstitutional. “This is a thinly-veiled attempt to open the door to religious fanatics who don’t believe in evolution, climate change or other scientifically-based teaching in our schools,” ACLU of Alabama Executive Director Susan Watson told Alabama.com.
Nevertheless, thousands of public schools across the nation are teaching creationism to students, using taxpayer dollars to cast doubt on basic science. In Texas, Mark A. Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, found that public schools are teaching children “alternative facts” as science, including that the Bible proves that the earth is only 6,000 years old, that astronauts have discovered a “day missing in space” that confirms the biblical tale of the sun standing still and reversing course, that racial diversity is rooted in a curse cast on Noah’s son and that the United States was founded as a Christian nation based on biblical principles.
Such notions are common in the United States, a nation in which 42 percent of respondents to a 2014 Gallup poll said they believed the scientific impossibility that “God” created human beings within the past 10,000 years — give or take 200,000 years after the scientific consensus posits Homo sapiens originated in Africa, the last of a long line of hominids dating back some 5 million years.
Meanwhile, the Idaho state legislature has removed all references to climate change from state education standards for the next year, with the state House Education Committee explaining it wanted the standards to reflect both sides of the global warming debate, a false equivalency argument given the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. “We don’t want to water down science,” state Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise) insisted, although critics claim that’s exactly what the move will do.
NCSE counts at least 60 “academic freedom” bills introduced by state legislatures since 2004, with two such measures being passed into law, in Louisiana and Tennessee, over the past decade. In recent years, most state-level legislative attacks on the integrity of science education have taken one of two forms: “academic freedom” bills and bills to block or to repeal the adoption of state science standards. Critics claim it is no coincidence that states in which anti- or pseudo-science teaching is most embraced are also the states that rank lowest in education levels.
Anti- and pseudo-scientific views are by no means confined solely to state legislatures. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) is the chairman of the House Science Committee. He is also an ardent climate change skeptic. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), chair of the Senate Environmental Committee, published a 2012 book titled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” in which he argued that “God’s still up there” and blasted the “arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate.”
President Donald Trump, who has said he believes climate change is a “hoax” invented by China, has also filled his administration with top officials who are climate change skeptics or deniers, and who believe in scientifically baseless creationist theory. Meanwhile, a newly-uncovered 1991 documentary film produced by oil giant Shell warns about the potentially catastrophic dangers of man-made climate change, including famine, floods and climate refugees, and stresses the only way to avert climate calamity is by burning less fossil fuel and transitioning to clean energy sources. ExxonMobil also faces an investigation and lawsuit after leaked company documents revealed its executives knew about anthropogenic climate change in the early 1980s but spent billions of dollars on lobbying, misinformation and climate denial science.
Many of the federal and state lawmakers who support anti- or pseudo-scientific legislation doubting established climate science have received substantial campaign contributions from fossil fuel industry and other pro-corporate lobbyists.