House committee approves bill that could allow public schools to teach creationism

Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 4:21pm

With lawmakers recalling Tennessee’s “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, a state House committee on Tuesday approved legislation that critics say is aimed at opening public school science classes to the teaching of creationism.

“The monkey bill is back before us,” Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, said, warning it could embarrass Tennessee and hurt the state’s economy. “I’m just saying these things can be said and will be said about us. It may have some far-reaching effects that we don’t see at this time.”

The bill by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, cleared the House Education Committee on a voice vote. It requires public schools to “create an environment” in which teachers “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues,” including evolution and climate change. It also orders administrators to “assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.”

Dunn insists he aims only to promote “critical thinking” in schools about the origins of life. But opponents say the bill is clearly intended to open the door to teaching intelligent design in public schools, and creationists acknowledge they’re behind the proposal. Molly Miller, a Vanderbilt University geology professor, presented the committee with a letter of opposition to the bill signed by the professors in her school’s department.

Her testimony sparked an angry retort from one lawmaker after she seemed to liken creationism to “zombie theory." 

“The doors of science classrooms really do need to remain open to critiquing scientific concepts, as they are now in Tennessee,” Miller told the committee. “But they need to be closed tight to the evaluation of the supernatural, which is not science and that includes religious beliefs as well as a whole host of other things, like zombie theory. Note that by allowing religion into science classrooms, there could be all kinds of other things come along as well. Our students do not need to be spending their time on that when they are in science. They need to be able to learn science to compete.”

Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, quickly grabbed his microphone and denounced “academics coming in here saying anybody who does not agree with them is some kind of idiot. I find it offensive.”

Miller said Tennessee could lose convention business because of the bill, but Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, called that “a pretty big stretch.” 

“There may be some other convention to replace those that don’t come here,” he said.

According to the ACLU, anti-evolution measures have failed this year in Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Missouri. In Florida, legislation similar to Tennessee’s is advancing. Louisiana adopted a nearly identical bill into law in 2008.

House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said he doesn’t understand the controversy, suggesting that the teaching of evolution and Genesis each has its place in schools and churches. He recalled the 1960 movie about the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in which two famous lawyers — Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan — argued the case for and against a science teacher accused of breaking the Tennessee law against teaching evolution.

“I saw Inherit the Wind when Spencer Tracy held up the Origin of the Species and the Bible and looked at both of them and shoved them into his briefcase," Fitzhugh said. "It’s never been a problem for me. But I don’t think we ought to be creating controversies where they don’t exist. I question the need for this, and I do question what the purpose behind this is.”

92 Comments on this post:

By: brrrrk on 3/29/11 at 4:03

So, when will evolution be taught in the churches?

By: brrrrk on 3/29/11 at 4:11

This goes to prove that the religious right will have no rest until they can insinuate themselves into every aspect of our government and create a theocracy..... but they aren't brave enough to come out and say it because they know that if they did, their intentions would be rejected. But, they'll slink and connive to get it done.

By: Liberal Bias on 3/29/11 at 7:53

When the Republicans were given the largest election mandate since Reconstruction, they were swept into power by a constituency fed up with the "tax and spend" liberal agenda. We were promised fiscal responsibility, job growth, sensible healthcare, education reform, and lower taxes. I endured hours of TV commercials featuring Republican candidates blaming everything from the spiraling debt to foot fungus on Obama and Pelosi. So far, all that our "shoot from the hip" legislators have focused on is returning Tennessee to some sort of "utopian" dreamland where collective bargaining is illegal, the line between Church and State is vague, and immigration is limited to Caucasians. How much more time is going to be wasted worrying about Sharia Law and teaching Creationism as a scientific theory? Talk about "activist" legislators! How has any of this nonsense helped to improve the issues which "plague" our State? I may not agree with the Republican platform, but I do respect upholding a promise.

By: Moonglow1 on 3/29/11 at 9:17

Moonglow1: so the Republicans are engaging in "monkey business" in 2011. And they are disrespectful of academia. That figures. Their ignorance is astounding. It is obvious why the United States cannot compete in the global economy. And it is also obvious why any business would be reluctant to move to TN when these legislators are promoting complete garbage. By the way, there is no debate on climate change. It is occurring & backed by science. Our "esteemed legislators"" are being manipulated by wealthy financiers promoting their own agenda against climate change & for intelligent design. Climate change hurts the oil industry bottom line. Of course we cannot leave out Ms. Beavers & her concern regarding long form birth certificates. That made national news and TN a joke. Anyone holding public office should hold a Masters Degree from an accredited college (not an online degree). I want to know if our legislators are actually educated. Oh by the way what do we pay them for? Where are the jobs? Instead they are too busy working on "intelligent design" theories.

By: Moonglow1 on 3/29/11 at 9:30

Moonglow1; P.S. To add to my comments above-no my tax money shall not pay for nonsense to be taught in our public schools. Isn't TN receiving money from the Bill Gates foundation & from the federal gov't to improve education in TN. I doubt they would be pleased to hear of this development by the legislators. Don't use public money (our taxes) to pay for your politically motivated agenda. My money must go to actually educate our children & not take them back to the dark ages like the Taliban has done to their society.

By: house_of_pain on 3/30/11 at 3:37

Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, quickly grabbed his microphone and denounced “academics coming in here saying anybody who does not agree with them is some kind of idiot. I find it offensive.”

Truth hurts.
WTF is wrong with these people? Leave the science curriculum alone.
Send your kid to a private school if you want them to be taught religion.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 4:13

Is the Republican House full of religious authoritarians bent on making laws that will only show their view of life? Is this just the first step in their agenda to make Tennessee a religious State governed by a few holy dictators? Is this going to be a Tennessee of only one religion of mind control zombies? Are they hell bent on a No Free Thinking in Tennessee?

The shame will be if we let this happen!

By: Loner on 3/30/11 at 4:58

Rep. Joy Hensley sez: "There may be some other convention to replace those that don’t come here” .

This Southern-fried cracker speaks the truth...the KKK, the American Nazi Party, and the various Christian militia are always looking for an attractive venue for their pow-wows, parades, conventions etc. Tennessee is looking damn good to the armed idiots and morons out there....damn good.

It's been nearly 90 years since the Scope's Monkey Trial, but time moves backwards in the Volunteer state....backwardness like this is truly world-class.....and these guys fear the coming of Sharia Law? This would be laughable if it wasn't so pitiable.

By: Loner on 3/30/11 at 5:04

The funny thing is, it's the Christians, not the Jews, who are lobbying to get the Jewish Genesis version of creation into the public school science curriculum. What's next...Yarmulkes and Holy Underwear? Thoughtful Jews must roll their eyes and say, "OY!", when they read newspaper stories like this one.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 5:23

The first Holy underwear was a fig leaf. Rather scratchy I would think.

By: TopShelfDore on 3/30/11 at 5:31


Respect of Jehovah God is the beginning of wisdom.

Behold, I AM The Lord, The God of all flesh: is there anything too hard for Me?
Jeremiah 32:27

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 5:31

While preaching his view of the beginning Claude could not shake his past.

By: house_of_pain on 3/30/11 at 6:02

"For I am as large as God, and he as small as I.
He cannot above me, nor I beneath him, be."
-De Niro, "Cape Fear"

By: Kosh III on 3/30/11 at 6:06

I just love this laser-like focus on jobs. (sarcasm)

By: house_of_pain on 3/30/11 at 6:10

Good to see you back on the site, Kosh.
You're also invited to our weekly gathering of "regulars"...Star Bagel @ 11:30, Sundays.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 3/30/11 at 6:10

I'm okay with this as long as it's the Flying Spaghetti Monster version. What a load of crap!

By: Blanketnazi2 on 3/30/11 at 6:11

house, sure it's not the weekly gathering of the "irregulars"? i'd fit in better if it were!

By: house_of_pain on 3/30/11 at 6:11

You too, Blanket. d7 & I have been having coffee for a couple of weeks.

By: house_of_pain on 3/30/11 at 6:12

After the coffee, you won't be. "Irregular", that is.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 3/30/11 at 6:12

i'll see if i can make it! thanks for the invite.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 3/30/11 at 6:13

wow, house. i'll have to let the psychiatric community know - lol!

By: Blanketnazi2 on 3/30/11 at 6:16

yo ho ho, off to work i go. have a good day, everyone!

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 6:22

Hello Kosh!!

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 6:22

See you Blanket.

By: gdiafante on 3/30/11 at 6:40

I thought that Republicans were into less government intrusion...turns out, they don't mind the intrusion at all, as long as they are the ones in power.

The Vanderbilt letter is spot on...this is nothing more than teaching the supernatural.

Maybe, if we're lucky, schools can start showing "Medium" instead of teaching science. We wouldn't even need one of those horrible Socialist teachers...just have a custodian turn on the TV...

By: treehugger7 on 3/30/11 at 6:48

There's a plan,gd. Psychics certainly make more sense than conservatives, and are probably more FOCUSED ON JOBS!!

By: Kosh III on 3/30/11 at 6:53

Howdy folks!

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 7:01

Talk to us Kosh. How you doing?

By: Nitzche on 3/30/11 at 7:18

I miss Don Sundquist. Where is my state income tax? Tenn Care crisis? This stuff does nothing but make Democrats upset, this is not fair. Who do I see about the majority pursuing this kind of agenda?

By: Radix on 3/30/11 at 7:18

Creationism and Evolution... what is the difference, they are both theories that can't be proven. They should be taught as theories. Silly argument, its not one vs the other...

By: revo-lou on 3/30/11 at 7:26

{Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, quickly grabbed his microphone and denounced “academics coming in here saying anybody who does not agree with them is some kind of idiot. I find it offensive.”}

Yes, often times the truth can be offensive.

By: gdiafante on 3/30/11 at 7:26

There is scientific evidence to support evolution. The Bible isn't evidence.

By: revo-lou on 3/30/11 at 7:27

{Creationism and Evolution... what is the difference, }

If you really don't know the difference, please go back to school. The world may become a better place for it.

By: HighlyAnnoyed on 3/30/11 at 7:29

For the moronic elected officials that can't seem to figure this one out. Science is based on knowledge and fact. Religion is based on ignorance and superstition. Only science belongs in school. Religion should stay with the crazy sheep in the church drinking their KoolAid.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 7:34

If you can not tell the difference between Creationism and Evolution, then you’re stuck in a void of contemplation. Get a coloring book or something to add color to your life.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 7:54

It has been proven that the world is only a few years old.

Kyle Pyel

By: gdiafante on 3/30/11 at 8:06

Since they want alternative theories taught, they should make sure and teach the Muslim version of creation too.

Fair is fair, right?

By: Mulachi on 3/30/11 at 8:15

Boy, as a new user here I reaaly wish I could reply to indivdual posts.

Are you liberals really that blind? If the origin of life had been discovered then we wouldn't be having this debate as to what should or shouldn't be taught. The fact is the search continues. Until the book is closed on how life began what's wrong with asking our kids to think for themselves ... see both theories and make educated decisions? Evolution, as to defining how life began, is a theory. Creationism is a theory. Good science looks at all possibilities and to exclude some based on individuals bias isn't doing our children any favors.

Teach them both and let the debate (and education) continue.

By: revo-lou on 3/30/11 at 8:17

The students will spend their whole day to get to all the different flavors of religion and their “THEORIES” on the beginnings of life.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 8:21

From Inherit the Wind

Matthew Harrison Brady: We must not abandon faith! Faith is the most important thing!

Henry Drummond: Then why did God plague us with the capacity to think? Mr.

Brady, why do you deny the one thing that sets above the other animals? What other merit have we? The elephant is larger, the horse stronger and swifter, the butterfly more beautiful, the mosquito more prolific, even the sponge is more durable. Or does a sponge think?

Matthew Harrison Brady: I don't know. I'm a man, not a sponge!

Henry Drummond: Do you think a sponge thinks?

Matthew Harrison Brady: If the Lord wishes a sponge to think, it thinks!

Henry Drummond: Does a man have the same privilege as a sponge?

Matthew Harrison Brady: Of course!

Henry Drummond: [Gesturing towards the defendant, Bertram Cates] Then this man wishes to have the same privilege of a sponge, he wishes to think!

By: revo-lou on 3/30/11 at 8:24

Dear Mulachi,
It appears that the evidence shows that evolution is more plausable, due to the evidence we have found so far, than a book that tells us of a superpower that created us, and all we see, from a dirt ball.

And, I am willing to bet that most students would see the same thing, unless, of course, they have already been brainwashed at home, in which case you are correct in that this debate is pointless.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 8:25

Creationism is not a theory to the ones that push it. To them it is a fact.

Evolution is a study to find the facts.

By: gdiafante on 3/30/11 at 8:25

The Bible isn't "science". And there is already a place where children learn's called Sunday School.

I've always stated, Churches must be horribly inept if these knuckle-draggers think public schools are better equiped to teach kids religion.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 8:33

Evolution is strongly supported by the fossil record, and can be shown conclusively
to have occurred. Creation is a concept based on faith, so can not be proven nor disproven.

Prove to me there is a God.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 8:34

Good point gdia.

By: revo-lou on 3/30/11 at 8:37

IIt does seem strange in the GOP mantra of “less government” we again are faced with a bill providing MORE government intervention and applications of agenda. Things that make you go hmmm.

By: Mulachi on 3/30/11 at 8:44

Cap Nemo,

The debate isn't whether or not evolution has happened ... it has. The debate is over how life began and evolution does not show us the answer to that. It's possible both theories have occured but only one (or another unidentified) theory can hold the title "origin of life" accurately.

And actually there are many scientists who believe Creationism is the only explaination for life. That's right ... scientists.

By: Captain Nemo on 3/30/11 at 8:44


It is really not about small government. It is all about power and how the Tea Party can control our lives.

By: Mulachi on 3/30/11 at 8:48


I think many would argue that the government mandating only one theory regarding any subject be taught is where the government is too involved. I see this bill as taking government OUT of the process, not injecting it into the process. I don't want the gov't deciding what can and can't be taught in the schools. I want communities and educators making those decisions.

By: Mulachi on 3/30/11 at 8:52

Cap Nemo,

If you think the Tea Party is about controling your life you need to read up on what it stands for. I think you'll find just the opposite is true.