GA HB 179: Bridges' Ding Bill

I was finally sent partial text of the new anti-evolution bill: HB 179.

Core curriculum in elementary and secondary schools will be amended to add:

  1. a) Whenever any theory of the origin of humans or other living things is includced in a course of study offered by a local unit of administration, factual scientific evidence supporting or consistent with evolution theory and factual scientific evidence inconsistent with or not supporting the theory shall be included in he course of study.
  2. b) The method of instruction described in subsection a of this code section is intended to strengthen the analytical skills of students by requiring the presentation of a broad range of scientific evidence regarding theories of the origin of humans and other living things. The requirements of subsection a) of this code are not intended to authorize or promote the presentation of religious beliefs.

It’s not like this bill is at all original. In 1998 Bridges introduced a similar bill, HB 1133, which went nowhere. Both these bills are considered Hansen Bills, after John Hansen, a retired, creationist teacher from Wisconsin. In the late 1990’s Hansen traveled from state to state pushing his model anti-evolution bill to lawmakers. The language “supporting/consistent with … not supporting/inconsistent with …” is the giveaway.

It’s hard to pick a spot to begin to complain about this bill. Since this is a bill I’ll start with the political and legal problems with it.

The bill is entirely out of step with our new state standards for K-12 education. (Bridges has probably never read them. Probably wouldn’t even understand them if he did.) For starters the new state standards are no longer called the “Core Curriculum,” instead they are called “Georgia Performance Standards.” So on its face, the bill looks to amend documents that won’t even exist when it takes effect. Being a little less literal still has its problems. Not only does the bill not specify where in the standards the amendment is to be placed, but also the structure of the amending language is very out of step with the new standards. It simply would not make any sense in the context of the rest of the document. It is to legal for the pedagogury of the new standards.

The bill also violates the structure of state curriculum development established by previous Georgia laws and policies. In this structure, every four years the Georgia Department of Education works with national experts and local committees of educators to draft new standards which are released to the public for review. Based on public comments, the GADOE modifies the standards and submits them to the state Board of Education for approval. There are obvious reasons why state legislators shouldn’t be establishing curriculum standards. They are not experts on education nor paid to be. The state’s biology teachers and school districts are already working hard on implementing the new biology standards, and Ben Bridges wants to toss a monkey wrench at them.

The language of the bill is probably meant to go beyond the state curriculum standards and affect the curriculum in every biology classroom in public schools. AP Biology teachers, who are pressed for time to cover the AP Biology curriculum as it is, would also have to find time to satisfy this bill. Bending Georgia’s AP Biology instruction to the will of Bridges will hurt the education of our students and test scores will suffer.

But what would satisfy the requirements of this bill that “evidence” against evolution be taught whenever evidence for evolution is taught? The bill is silent on this issue and is thus probably unconstitutionally vague. In the real world, we would just leave it up to the consensus of biologists and science educators as to what satisfies the requirements, but of course this bill is about taking curriculum decisions away from the experts.

What Bridges wants to be presented simply does not exist. There is no “factual scientific evidence inconsistent with or not supporting” the theory of evolution. Sure, certain aspects of evolution, known to people like me but obscure to high school students and teachers, are incompletely supported and still debated. But the generalities of the theory of evolution, as taught to teenagers by good teachers, are supported by all the evidence in biology and disputed by none.

The only organizations and individuals, which actively promote supposed evidence against evolution, do so to support religious beliefs that are incompatible with evolution. “Evidence” against evolution can only be found in religious literature and are absence from the scientific literature. Despite the protestations of the bill, its requirements are intended to promote religious beliefs because evidence against evolution is a religious belief.

Another constitutional problem with the bill is that it doesn’t require that evidence for evolution be taught whenever “evidence” against evolution is taught. Fairness is a one-way street for Bridges. Such requirements are clearly incompatible with the stated purposes of the bill and reveal the religious motivation of the author. The supreme court struck down an extremely similar one-way education policy in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).

House bill 179 is the same old tune, and our state has been embarrassed enough by our politicians. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my op-ed in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, “Ignorance Excludes Evolution“, which was to first time the public was been alerted to our state school superintendent’s plan to remove 70% of the material on evolution from the new standards, including the term “evolution” itself. From there, the public scrutiny and ridicule snowballed so much that our superintendent finally cried, “Uncle.” (Not before she could get caught publicly lying about the proposed standards and covering it up.) Between that and the Cobb County School Board putting disclaimers on their textbooks, Georgia’s science education has taken its lumps in recent months. Hopefully a majority of Georgia’s politicians will understand from the experience last year that anti-evolution politics like this are not attractive to the biotech industry. (Reports are that the Republican leadership is not supporting the bill.) Last year Governor Purdue spoke out against the political changes to the biology curriculum. This year new rules in the House practically give the Governor the power to decide which bills will pass and which won’t. Maybe the new procedures will be used to ensure that HB 179, like its older sibling, does not see the light of day.

Update

I now have the full text of the bill.

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Sent by The Panda's Thumb on January 27, 2005 5:36 PM

Today, Representative Ben Bridges of the Georgia House, introduced a bill, HB 179, that would require evidence against evolution be taught in Georgia’s public schools whenever evidence for evolution is taught.  (However, his fairness is a on... [Read More]

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Posted by Keanus on January 27, 2005 9:31 PM

I’ve always thought of bills like this as “empty bills” since they mandate something that doesn’t exist. Could its sponsor be an empty suit?

Posted by Simon Heffer on January 28, 2005 9:43 AM

Hi Reed,

I know I’m being picky but where you wrote:

“The only organizations and individuals, which actively promote supposed evidence against evolution, do so to support religious beliefs that are incompatible with evolution. “

You definitely don’t need that first comma.
And ‘which’ should be ‘that’.

“The only organizations and individuals that actively promote supposed evidence against evolution, do so to support religious beliefs that are incompatible with evolution. “

Posted by snex on January 28, 2005 12:43 PM

“There is no ‘factual scientific evidence inconsistent with or not supporting’ the theory of evolution.”

there is tons of scientific evidence that does not support the theory of evolution. special relativity, for example.

Posted by Engineer-Poet on January 28, 2005 2:06 PM

(Could you use a style sheet which does not assume a particular window width, and instead allows text to wrap instead of forcing the reader to use the horizontal scrollbar?  Very annoying in Mozilla.  Thanks.)

Posted by Reed on January 28, 2005 5:07 PM

I use Firefox, and it is not annoying at all. :)

Because of the way floats work in XHTML/CSS, I have to assign a width.