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Teaching creationism: Louisiana law that skirts US ban survives challenge

The Louisiana law allows teaching contrary to evolution on the grounds it promotes critical thinking, a proposition ridiculed by scientists. Similar legislation is being debated in other states.

By Staff writer / June 2, 2011



Chicago

The successful defense last week of a three-year-old Louisiana law is casting a spotlight on how conservative groups are seeking to circumvent a federal ban on the teaching of creationism in public schools.

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The Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows teaching contrary to science on the grounds it promotes critical thinking, is increasingly serving as an inspiration to religious conservatives in other states. Its defenders decry the “censorship” of nonscientific ideas and advocate allowing teachers to teach “both sides” on certain scientific theories.

So far in 2011, similarly worded legislation was introduced in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma and New Mexico, but all failed at the committee stage. However, a bill in Tennessee passed the state House in early April and is awaiting a Senate vote in the 2012 session.

In Louisiana, the challenge to the Science Education Act was defeated last Thursday in the Senate Education Committee by a 5-to-1 vote. State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D), who authored the bill to repeal the 2008 law, said she received letters of support from more than 40 Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

Senator Peterson told the Associated Press on Tuesday it was “fundamentally embarrassing” for her state to have the law remain on the books, adding that it would further damage Louisiana’s ability to attract top talent in the sciences.

The 2008 law gives elementary and secondary school teachers the right to bring materials into science classrooms as supplements to textbooks on matters “including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”

Intellectually destructive

The scientific community has long advocated that allowing anything but science in the teaching of evolution will be intellectually harmful. In an e-mail sent to the Associated Press, Harold Kroto, a Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 1996, said voting against the repeal creates a situation that “should be likened to requiring Louisiana school texts to include the claim that the Sun goes round the Earth.”

While evolutionary biology is based in the work of Charles Darwin, which shows how humans evolved through natural selection, creationism is rooted in a fundamental reading of Biblical texts that say mankind is the product of a divine maker.

With the law intact, Louisiana is the state that has gone the furthest in approving legislation that opens the door to allowing alternatives to science taught in its schools.

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