Pennsylvania Legislator Wants Science Teachers to ‘Teach the Controversy’ About Evolution

Pennsylvania State Rep. Stephen Bloom thinks he has a brilliant idea to make our science classes better: He wants everyone to debate already-settled scientific concepts like evolution and global warming:

Rep. Stephen Bloom

“In the real world, outside of academia, scientific theory is up for all kinds of argument,” Bloom said. “I don’t think it’s right to exclude any particular kind of argument prima facie. If a student wants to discuss a criticism, he or she should be able to.”

I love that first sentence. Bloom is saying that when you talk to people who don’t know a lot about science, they debate things that real scientists already understand. No kidding. And instead of letting the experts dictate the curriculum, Bloom wants the people who know the least about it (including himself) to tell teachers what to discuss in their classrooms.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in California, which advocates to protect the teaching of evolution science in schools, called academic freedom efforts the latest repackaging of creationism.

“People who promote these bills are clearly going after evolution,” Scott said. “Because of the various court decisions, they can’t overtly promote creationism, so they’ve found a backdoor way of promoting creationism.”

She said many bills like Bloom’s have expanded the language to include global warming and cloning, which are “not scientifically controversial, but are socially controversial and important to the religious right.”

Scott said the bills create a way for religion to be discussed in the classroom.

As always, Dr. Scott is right on target. This is anti-science, pro-religion, and nothing but a roundabout approach to bring Creationism back into the classroom. It’s an issue that’s been settled many times before, academically and legally, and yet Bloom thinks he’s on to something novel:

Bloom said he got the idea for the bill from his son, who was denied sparking any debate in his classroom.

“The free exchange of ideas was being quelled by these very strict speech codes in school,” said Bloom. “And, so for me … it’s just something from the heart.”

It must be from his heart, because it’s certainly not from any intelligent person’s mind. This has nothing to do with free speech. This is settled science. There’s nothing to debate, at least not at the high school level. Students have enough to learn in science class — let’s not muddy it up by teaching them silly theories only espoused by religious zealots.

You can read the draft version of the bill here (PDF).

Just to be clear, no one’s against students discussing and thinking critically about scientific questions. When it’s warranted.

Good teachers already do that, rendering this bill completely unnecessary.

So why not just pass it? Because there’s no serious controversy among the experts when it comes to issues like evolution and global warming, and this bill would give religious teachers who don’t know their subject the opportunity they need to sneak their faith into the classroom.

If you live in Pennsylvania, contact your representatives and tell them to say no to this misleadingly-titled “academic freedom” bill.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • C Peterson

    Really, I get this guy’s concern. As a teacher, I’ve been fighting the school for years for the right to teach the controversy. The school requires me to teach evolution; why can’t I also teach the other belief, that the gods Tepeu and Gucumatz created humans, failing in their efforts to use wood or mud, but succeeding in the end making our flesh from cornmeal.

    It’s just not fair, given the controversy that rages about this outside of scientific circles.

    • Hat Stealer

      Frankly, I tire of stuck up physics professors who think they know it all with their fancy “theory” of gravity. Why won’t they let those of us who subscribe to the theory of intelligent falling have our say? Gravity must be a really weak “theory” if they’re scared of what will happen when we teach both sides.

  • Gus Snarp

    “In the real world, outside of academia, scientific theory is up for all kinds of argument,”

    I tried to find Bloom’s academic credentials, but his bio on his website doesn’t even say what high school he went to. With some digging I found a Wikipedia page that says he’s an adjunct professor of management and business, and apparently managed to get a law degree somewhere.

    This is interesting because he doesn’t seem to have any idea what academia is. He’s apparently not aware that in academia, scientific theory is up for all kinds of arguments. Well, not literally all kinds, but good, well reasoned arguments based on evidence happen all the time. It’s just that the broad strokes of the theory of evolution have been honed by over a century of those arguments, and are well settled. Scientists in academia today still argue about the theory, but it’s about details and how certain experiments fit, not about whether life on earth evolved from a common ancestor.

    He’s also apparently not aware that academia is where science happens, and that virtually everyone who actually does biology agrees that evolution is solid fact. What happens outside academia involving people who’ve never looked down a microscope, much less conducted an experiment or read a scientific paper, has no bearing on what should be taught in the classroom.

    • Scott_In_OH

      I thought the same thing: academia is EXACTLY where various theories are debated, tested, and modified. That’s what academics DO.

    • progressive homeschooler

      Silly Gus. Of course they’ve looked down a microscope. The toy ones they got for Christmas. That makes them experts you know.

  • onamission5

    I’d be willing to teach* the controversy, but I don’t think they’d like the way I would teach it.
    “So, kids, there’s a group of relatively ignorant people who want me to give equal class time to their unfounded beliefs that the entire universe is only 6,000 years old and that everything in it was poofed into existence by a giant, invisible magic being who communicates with them telepathically. Isn’t that silly? Anyway, on to science…”

    *were I a teacher, I should add.

    • skinnercitycyclist

      Exactly what I was thinking. If they want to come into my classroom with little rehearsed tidbits from mom or dad or pastor, let’s DO that. I will explain how ludicrous the proposition of creationism is from a scientific standpoint and show that there is no controversy outside their own minds. I can’t wait.

    • Mario Strada

      It would also be funny to teach some Polynesian creation myth as science and see their reaction.

    • Nancy Shrew

      Haha, that’s basically what my college classes (there were three) about evolution were. The instructor didn’t say as much, but it was pretty damn clear she thought the YECs and ID proponents were idiots.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Rep. Stephen Bloom (R., Cumberland) circulated a memo to his colleagues
    Thursday seeking cosponsors for planned legislation to allow students in
    public elementary and secondary schools to question or critique “the
    scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories.”

    I’m sorry, but aren’t kids already allowed to do this anyway? If someone told me that homo-sapiens have been around for 150,000 years and I’ve always been led to believe that the universe is 6000 years old, am I really not allowed to raise my hand to ask how that’s possible?

    • skinnercitycyclist

      They can question or critique any scientific theory in my classroom, but if their idea is religiously based I would tell them that we do not discuss the validity of religious beliefs in a public-school classroom. This law would give me the opportunity to say, yes, let’s unpack your creation “theory” (hey! an appropriate use of scare quotes with “theory”!) and I will show you why what you are talking about is not science.

      Not what the author of this bill intended, I’m thinking.

      Also between this guy and “Chief” Kessler and Rick Frothy-Pants, what the hell is up with Pennsylvania these days? Whatever happened to the Quakers?

      • Mario Strada

        I think you may want to make the legislators aware of this. They never seem to think ahead or evaluate long term consequences of their brain farts Laws.

        • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

          No, no, let’s let ‘em try it. Remember that lawmaker from Louisiana who rammed vouchers up the butts of the school system over there so fundies could get illegal monies, only to realize that GASP Muslims could use them too?

  • Matthew Baker

    Its becoming old habit to have to email my reps because some asinine piece of legislation keeps coming up.

    • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

      Hey, mind if I ask? I’m starting to get in the habit of writing my legislators, but don’t know how often is too often. I wrote everybody around the DOMA takedown about my opinions on gay marriage and women’s rights. Is it time yet to start again about women’s rights? They’ve all responded to me by now (with varyingly paternalistic and condescending versions of “gay people are ickie and we’re not quite sure women are actually human beings”).

      • Christopher Borum

        I don’t think you can do it too often. Just keep it tight, no more than a page, or a little more at most. Those letters and emails are generally skimmed by staffers who are looking for clues to your position so they can add you to a tally sheet yea or nay. At which point you get a standard reply. But they do keep track of correspondence that comes in and everything is archived. I keep copies at my end as well. I still have letters I got in the 90′s from Senator McCain when I lived in Arizona.

        If you feel strongly about an issue, let them know. If they are honest about their job (I know, IF), then they will want to know about it. Some, of course, are hopeless. Believe me, I know, I’ve lived in MN06 for the last 6 years. Ugh. But I suspect on some issues, especially things like DOMA, at least once a legislator has been forced to consider alternatives based on the inpouring of constituent correspondence.

        And one other thing, the House/Senate server right now doesn’t allow you to email anyone other than your Rep or Sens. But you can always send a letter. And if you ever do that, i.e. correspond with someone outside your district, including the President, be sure to cc your Senators and Representative, just to keep them in the loop.

        And stay on them. If their canned response doesn’t address an important point you raised, write back emphasizing that point and demanding their response. You may or may not get anything back, but a staffer might notice and actually take to the legislator to ask about a response.

        Have fun!

      • Matthew Baker

        I always try to keep it short and to the point. I also try to address how something might be unconstitutional or unethical. It doesn’t hurt to lay on some patriotic guilt if you can.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    In the real world, outside of academia, scientific theory is up for all kinds of argument,

    This is very true. Just yesterday at Korsakoff’s Bar and Grill in the town of Blacklung, Pennsylvania Clem Spurious and Clyde Bugswallop were arguing about whether the Earth is 5,273 years old or 6,128 years old. The proprietor told them to take their arguments outside where they’d have more room to teach each other their side of the controversy.

    You can’t get more real world than that.

    • # zbowman

      Clem Spurious and Clyde Bugswallop are Guild Wars characters waiting to happen.

      • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

        THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN, STAT.

        • # zbowman

          If I had (a copy of/the time to play/the spare cash to buy) that game, I’d be all over this already. XD As it is, I’m using them as names in Worms: Revolution.

  • gander

    This is an example of what I like to call “disqualifying stupidity”. When you publicly show signs of “disqualifying stupidity” , you should immediately give up any law or science degree, and most importantly, any elective office. It should be law.
    Anyway, I posted this to his FB page:

    Nice to see you taking a stand for “fair and balanced” education and trying
    to put creation stories in the science classroom. I hope you do this
    properly, and put EQUAL emphasis on ALL the creation stories as
    “possible scientific fact”. The Hindu turtle, Scientology /Xenu, the
    Flying Spaghetti Monster, ALL of the Native American traditions, the
    Greek and Roman Pantheon, ALL OF THEM. If not, well, then you’re just
    proselytizing for your particular religion, and that wouldn’t be fair,
    and it wouldn’t be science, would it?
    http://realitybyalex.blogspot.com/2013/08/creationism-foisted-on-pennsylvania.html

  • JA

    Of course, only *Christians* should benefit from this, which is being left unsaid by the morons pushing these bills. Hell will be raised by conservatives as soon as non-Christian stuff start popping up.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjw6fVYJA1o&feature=related

  • Rain

    I’m glad he’s standing up to the experts. Now if he would only stand up to the spelling experts. Nobody like spelling those stupid words all the time. Math experts too. Math is way too hard. Stand up for Jesus and stand up to the experts I say.

  • Sven2547

    We need to add more fiction to the curriculum, to balance against the facts

    –What I hear whenever someone says we should “teach the controversy”.

    • wombat

      There’s plenty of fiction in English class already. No need to shove it in science classes as well.

  • Highlander

    Evolution is not controvertial among scientists, therefore there is no controversy to teach. Granted, some of the finer points are debated, but overall, no respected scientist has come up with a competing theory, just competing varients (and in this case the differences are not important to a high-school understanding of Evolution). Now if you want to teach the controversy, lets talk String Theory vs. Loop Quantum Gravity. Actuall,y lets not, controvertial science is for graduate students and researchers, not for high-school students. They are being taught the well understood basics of real science in order to have a solid ground to stand on if they are to become the sort of scientist that does debate controvertial science. In the realm of high-school science classes, there is no controversy.

  • Rain

    Bloom rebuffed any suggestion his measure was an attempt to introduce religious teachings in public-school science classes. And he said he did not believe his idea would butt up against the landmark 2005 decision on intelligent design by a federal judge in Pennsylvania. In that case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, Judge John E. Jones III wrote that the teaching of intelligent design was a “relabeling” of creationism, and therefore violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

    In the article Bloom also talks the spoon-fed “strengths and weaknesses” line from the Discovery Institute. Self-awareness, thy name is not “creationism”, because thine creationists are just too dumb.

  • Spuddie

    He understood enough of his legal (or Latin) education to use the term prima facie but not enough to use it correctly. (He meant a priori) nor remember that sanctions are the typical penalty for making frivolous arguments.

    The only controversy involved with Creationism is how did such liars and idiots who believe it manage to get elected.

    • Mario Strada

      My latin is rusty but when I read it I had to do a double take too. I didn’t think he would have confused “Prima Facie” (at first sight/encounter) with “a priori” (beforehand). BTW, “a priori” is indeed latin, but it also an accepted phrase in modern italian.

      • Spuddie

        Especially if the guy has a legal background. I assumed he did, but I could be wrong here.

        Lawyers use “prima facie” constantly to refer to arguments which have met the necessary burden of proof and appear credible.

  • Carpinions

    ““In the real world, outside of academia, scientific theory is up for all kinds of argument,”

    Ya know, conservatives are pretty much always the people that, when speaking about child discipline, rail on about how modern parents can’t or won’t tell their children ‘no’, the results of which means we have a generation of fat, lazy, demanding little brats. In all frankness, there are a great many conservative adults that must also be told NO. This is one of those cases.

    NO, in the “real world” – which I read to mean out on Main St. – scientific theories are not “up for all kinds of argument”. Why? Because people on the street are very often going to know nothing on the subjects about which they speak. As a result, what my neighbor thinks of evolution doesn’t matter one Higgs-Boson to what evidence shows to be true.

    “The free exchange of ideas was being quelled by these very strict speech codes in school,” said Bloom. “And, so for me … it’s just something from the heart.”

    Which means it’s emotional BS that you, Mr. Bloom, can use as a ploy for votes on patently stupid legal ramrodding of ignorance and superstition.

  • Mario Strada

    While they are at it, why don’t they teach them that MEGALODON may still be out there because the ocean is big and we haven’t been everywhere?

    After all Discovery Channels thought it was a good excuse for the farce they broadcast on shark week, it’s got to be at least as good as ID.

    • TnkAgn

      More like “Mega-load-on.” Strictly potty humor, mind you.

    • TnkAgn

      Don’t forget Gozira, Gorgo, and the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, just to mention a few.

    • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

      And the Stork Theory instead of reproductive science? And astrology instead of astronomy? TEACH THE CONTROVERSY!

  • TommyNIK

    “Teach the controversy” is the latest ploy for the creationists, dominionists, and Christo-fascists to get creationism and ID into the public school system; nothing more, nothing less. It CANNOT be allowed.

  • corps_suk

    By teaching the controversy do you think he means, punctuated equilibrium or gradual natural selection?

    Just curious…because thats a controversy I would love to teach that is REAL.

  • FaithIsGlorifiedDelusion

    Pandering to creationist folk. Pure and simple.

  • gander

    There’s a brutal and somewhat stupid debate going on right now on Rep. Bloom’s FaceBook page. I used the word “hell” once, and he posted about how sad he was that the debate has fallen into a cycle of insults and swearing. Hundreds of posts, and my use of “hell” was the only one I could find. I think my quote was “What the hell is wrong with Pennsylvania”. I called him on it.
    Great fun.

    • gander

      PA State Rep. Stephen Bloom shared a link.
      Monday
      Based on early insults and swearing, my new bill to preserve academic freedom will be the most controversial thing I’ve done…
      _________
      Alex McDowell:
      I used the word “hell” once. And I’ve been following the posts fairly closely, and see no evidence of “swearing”. That’s as much of a lie and a strawman as the rest of your argument for this bill.
      That’s pretty low for anyone. Especially someone in public service.
      And I see no insults. Just a little bit of truth being thrown around. For instance, when I called you a liar, that wasn’t an insult. I provided evidence.
      But you’re right about one thing. There ARE too many insults here. We should call them out for what they are. Let’s start with you insulting the intelligence of the residents of your district.

      • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

        You were a lot kinder than I would have been.

  • Buckley

    So, I’m curious…do I get to “Teach the Controversy” that is Christianity? Do I get to “Teach the Nonsense” that is Islam? Sick of anti-intellectual Fundies.

  • DougI

    And nobody is shocked that he’s a Republican.

  • rtanen

    If we somehow have to teach “alternate theories,” ratio out time equivalent to the quantity of evidence. Spend the last minute of the multi-week unit saying “… so this is what the data support. However, according to some religions, their god created life in its current form, and all the data we presented was faked.”

    If you really need creationism in a science classroom, host your extracurricular religious club there during lunch.

  • PA_Year_of_the_Bible

    We here in Central Pennsylvania are gonna have some fun with this. Stay tuned. And hopefully we can find a candidate to unseat him next year.

  • Robster

    This bloke’s a politician of some sort, right? Is it common for men with two functioning brain cells to get themselves elected?

    • EvolutionKills

      It’s the United States. Unfortunately the three primary ‘prerequisites’ for getting elected is having a penis, as little melanin as possible, and belief in Jesus.

      • allein

        Well I’ve got one out of three, there. I got the skin from the Irish/German side of the family.

  • EvolutionKills

    TEACH THE CONTROVERSY!

    This is from a t-shirt series that lambastes the whole ‘teach the controversy’ mentality. This is from one shirt that combines a number of other separate designs, but there are more than this and the rest are 1-design to 1-shirt. They can be found here if you enjoy wearing ironic smart heathen clothing.

    https://controversy.wearscience.com/

    This particular design includes, from top left to bottom right…

    Satan planting dinosaur bones.
    UFO’s building the pyramids.
    Turtle (Hindu?) cosmology.
    The sinking of Atlantis.
    The 5 classical elements.
    Geocentric universe.
    Flat earth.
    Dinosaur and Human cohabitation.
    Stork birth.
    Russel’s celestial teapot.
    Lead to Gold (Alchemy).
    Cryptozoology (Bigfoot, Loch Ness, Cupacabra, Jakalope)

    • Mitch

      Good shirt, I’ve been thinking about getting one since I first saw it a while ago.

  • EvolutionKills

    Teach the controversy? Really?

    How about we also add some astrology to our cosmology courses? Then we could put some alchemy in our chemistry curriculum! Then how about we toss in some phrenology into our neuroscience or psychology classes? When we’re done bastardizing that, we can finish up by putting magic into physics!

    Or maybe Rep. Stephan Bloom could do a little research and do his constituents a favor by not representing them as a total ignorant bellend…

    • allein

      I did learn those things in those classes (well, no astrology in cosmology, but the others). I learned they don’t work. The lessons took about 5 minutes and then we moved on.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

    What comparative standard do the theists have to verify their version of evolution (creationism)?

    • EvolutionKills

      They rarely think that far ahead. Many of them are just anti-evolution, without realizing that their counter ideas (creationism/ID) don’t answer jack shit and fall apart under the lightest of scrutiny…

      • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ TBJ

        Exactly. This is the case for all aspects of theistic religions. Since they explicitly reject schools of science and other religions that contradict their scripture, they have nothing to compare their claims. To do so they would be committing blasphemy.

  • SuperAsianSalsero

    I wrote to Rep. Youngblood and Sen. Kitchen.

  • friendlyandskepticallikeHemant

    “Already settled scientific concepts.” What the hell does that mean Hemant?

    You’re an idiot! Concepts are not settled by definition. They are still being worked on, and science is still a work in progress. It always will be.

    Or are you referring to Newton’s Laws as settled scientific concepts? Or better yet, how Darwin’s model of evolution was settled scientific concepts? How about panpermia? Is that a settled concept as well?

    No public school should be afraid to discuss evolution as it is best understood. What teachers should avoid doing is make atheistic statements such as “God had nothing to do with this.”

    Do you remember how they used to show a chart of man’s evolution; typically starting with a monkey? They don’t use that any more. Was that settled scientific concepts?

    What exactly do you mean by “settled scientific concepts” It would be good to define your terms so as to not be misunderstood…unless your intention is to not be specific.
    Is there any wonder why so many kids are failing in Chicago?

    • wabney

      LOL Troll got another email address and likes straw!

  • friendlyandskepticallikeHemant

    It turns out that Hemant doesn’t like FREE SPEECH. It seems as though he is controlling who can post and who cannot post. I just tried my old e-mail and I “do not have permission to post on this thread”…or any other thread on his blog.
    I thought atheism was about questioning everything? I guess not!
    Friendly and skeptical, Hemant? Try fanatic and entrenched!

    • EvolutionKills

      Sounds like a troll got ban-hammered.

    • wabney

      *snore* Trolls make me sleepy this early.

  • SeekerLancer

    The court case outright banning this from happening happened in Pennsylvania. How much bigger of a, “no” do you need? My Rep is being contacted but it won’t do very much since my voting district is practically Alabama.

  • Mick

    Politicians are never going to stop pandering to the Christian lobbyists so what happens when one of these bills finally gets passed? Will it be easily rescinded or will it stay in place for a long time before it is finally thrown out?

  • W. Scott Womer

    Who is “they” and ” them’? Let me guess, the Jews, the infidels, the space aliens? Friendly Atheist is an oxymoron.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      Poor little projecting, incoherent thing. Go get some breakfast, ‘k?

  • wabney

    Blah – made the mistake of looking at his facebook page. He is milking this for everything he can and just LOVING the persecution complex. *smh*

  • cipher

    “In the real world”

    How would he know?

  • Tobias2772

    I was recently reminded of this quote from Isaac Asimov: There is a cult of ignorance in American and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
    Gotta love Asimov !


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