This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a legislative fight in Tennessee — home to the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 — over undermining science in science classes for religious reasons.

One of the great ironies of opponents of modern biology is that their efforts follow an evolutionary model closely — descent with modification. They attack evolutionary biology from one direction, and when that fails, they adapt the strategy for a related but different attack. When that fails, they adapt again. And again. It’s natural selection applied to a culture war.

They tried banning evolution lessons, and that was thrown out in the courts. They tried demanding “equal time,” and that failed. And so on. Tennessee’s new effort is intended to shield science teachers from punishment for criticizing science in science class.

State Rep. Bill Dunn (R), who introduced the bill, said it was meant to promote “critical thinking” in science classrooms. But the bill’s language is more open-ended. It lists “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as issues that “can cause controversy,” and says that therefore, no school administrators or officials can prevent teachers from helping students “understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”

To be fair, the bill does stipulate that “this section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine.”

That provision is intended, of course, to impress judges when the measure faces litigation. When the question comes in court about whether this is part of a religious agenda, proponents will say, “Who, us? No, just look at that ‘shall not be construed’ language right there in the bill.”

It is, however, a thin veneer, and there’s no real mystery about the larger agenda at play.

…Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of American Association for the Advancement of Science, argued before the bill was passed out of committee: “There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution. Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them.”

And Becky Ashe, the president of the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, also told the subcommittee that the bill “is an anti-evolutionary attempt to allow non-scientific alternatives to evolution (such as creationism and intelligent design) to be introduced into our public schools.”

The Tennessee state House easily passed the measure this week, 70 to 23.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The U.S. Supreme Court this week “effectively upheld an Arizona program that aids religious schools, saying in a 5-to-4 decision that the plaintiffs had no standing to challenge it.”

* In the budget fight, the right went after Planned Parenthood, even though it’s already forbidden from using taxpayer money for abortions, insisting that money is “fungible.” By that same logic, conservatives would have to oppose any public funding for faith-based entities — if they wanted to be intellectually consistent.

* And the organizers behind next month’s National Day of Prayer appear to have embraced a vaguely apocalyptic message this year. It’s a bit like Tim Pawlenty’s strange campaign videos, and it’s a little creepy given the circumstances.