The Scopes Trial Redux

Friday, April 20, 2012

In Tennessee a new law goes into effect today that will allow public school teachers to teach alternatives to such scientific topics as evolution and climate change. The bill is being called the "monkey bill," a reference to the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. In the original trial a teacher named John Scopes was prosecuted by the State of Tennessee for violating a state law banning the teaching of evolution. The new “monkey bill” encourages teachers to “present the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.” This law is bringing with it a lively debate between those who believe that some scientific theories like evolution and the human role in climate change are not up for debate, and those who do.

Josh Rosenau is the programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education, a non-profit that defends the teaching of evolution and climate science in public schools. Nelson Turner is a teacher at The Woodland Middle School in Brentwood, Tennessee. Nelson has taught 7th grade general science for 15 years.


Josh Rosenau and Nelson Turner

Produced by:

Hsi-Chang Lin and Jillian Weinberger

Comments [14]

Karl from West Virginia

For the last five years of my full-time career (WV), with the full knowledge (and dismay) of state and county school officials as well as the ACLU I demonstrated to my students that mathematics proves beyond the shadow of doubt that evolutionism is nonsense. The students saw that the evidence clearly shows that every item associated with humans, animals and plants are Intelligent Designs and Intelligent Design is science. I always let the students figure it out for themselves and allowed them to believe what they chose, but at least they were exposed to the scientific facts that extremists want to censor from the minds of public school students.

Apr. 28 2012 08:49 PM
Brien from Phoenix, AZ

I grew up in Brentwood from 1970 to 1990 when I graduated high school. Under senator Al Gore I was educated in a pro science, pro-environment, pro equality public school system. What the hell has happened there in the last 20 years!?!

Apr. 22 2012 10:16 AM
Robinson from Michigan

I still would like to know who "they" are. Science does not pretend to answer the "why" questions... just the "how" questions.

Apr. 21 2012 09:51 AM
Mike Howell from Cushing, OK

The problem with enumerating the flaws of some scientific theory manifests when the teacher lacks qualification. To have a true discussion, you must have a debater who truly knows the subject. The supposed smoking-gun flaw in some scientific field is usually a misunderstanding or misapplication of the science. At worst it's an area where more research is needed. Without a qualified debater, you're knocking down straw men and confusing the question. This is unconscionable when the audience is young.

Apr. 20 2012 10:58 AM

Climate change cannot be challenged in schools now? How long before a fetus's unique DNA and heartbeat is barred in science class because it "muddies the waters" in a discussion?

Apr. 20 2012 09:01 AM
janet griffith from Brooklyn

I taught Global Studies in a NYC HS. Many students did not believe in Evolution. I let them discuss the Biblical version. I brought in articles about intelligent design. After reading the articles many said the articles did not make sense. I often asked the students to describe the Garden of Eden. Many said wild animals, fruit, hot weather, naked people. I said,"It sounds like Africa to me." I wanted to take into account many students beliefs. I of course presented the evidence about Evolution.

Apr. 20 2012 08:56 AM
John from Detroit

I am aghast that my favorite NPR show would pull the lazy cable-news tactic of putting two “opposing” viewpoints against each other for the Tennessee science education discussion. Why not put on the opposing viewpoint from the Flat Earth Society whenever there’s a discussion of space? Why not someone who believes in the geocentric orbit of planets? Or someone who believes the atmosphere is made of ether? Giving a platform to this “science teacher” is giving a platform and legitimacy to a completely bogus excuse for science. Please realize what you are doing. Giving equal time to fiction is not fairness, it’s a dereliction of journalistic duty.

Apr. 20 2012 08:52 AM
Mike from Denver

It was once believed scientific fact that the Sun revolved around the Earth.
No theory is fact. There are plenty of holes in evolution, for example the Pre-Cambrian explosion. How did all those fosils just appear in a short period of geologic time? Multiple theories are good to debate.

Apr. 20 2012 08:45 AM

Because I believe in science I could never be a conservative. In effect a Tennessee student is having his/her science book taken away (good bye Darwin) and given a bible (blessed are the ignorant).

The conservative agenda is to remove the middle class and shift all the wealth to the few. This is easy to accomplish when Americans are entrenched in ignorance.

Apr. 20 2012 08:40 AM

Interesting that Tennessee has come up with legislation that links evolution and climate science. Seems like social conservatives could decide to link "evolution" to any scientific theory they wanted to debunk.

Meanwhile, as the evidence for Global Climate Change and Planetary Environmental Degradation increases, those who want to continue to profit from polluting our planet, will use any means to blind and confuse us.

Apr. 20 2012 08:32 AM
Ed from Larchmont

They are the teachers and educators.

Apr. 20 2012 08:16 AM
Peg from Southern Tier NY

To Ed: Who are "they?"

Apr. 20 2012 07:02 AM
Steven settle from Cambridge ma

If you have legitimate evidence that calls the theory of evolution into question, then present your peer reviewed work and collect your Nobel prize. There are not two scientific sides to this issue; one position is science based on evidence and observation, one is religion based on faith and revelation. Tennessee is in direct violation of the separation of church and state. By the way, how outrageous is it to call scientific education endoctrination!? Creationism is religious endoctrination! Such nonsense!

Apr. 20 2012 06:37 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Evolution is good science, but bad philosophy, bad theology, bad metaphysics. If they could teach evolution as science and avoid conclusions in theology and philosophy, which they claim follow from evolution, but which don't, it would be OK. (See 'The unintended reformation', Gregory, 2013.)

Apr. 20 2012 06:05 AM

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