Message: teach MORE about evolution, not less
There are an infinite number of wrong ways to address the subject of how to teach evolutionary theory in public schools. But before discussing some of those wrong ways, it is best to keep in mind a right way. Namely, teach students the scientific arguments in favor of biological and chemical evolutionary theories, but also allow students to learn about some of the scientific criticisms of those theories. As Stephen Meyer and John Angus Campbell have insisted, "When credible experts disagree about a controversial subject, students should learn about the competing perspectives."
Comes now Georgia House Bill 179, sponsored by Georgia State Representative Ben Bridges. AP reporter Doug Gross's story (here) discusses HB 179 as being "designed to prevent the theory of evolution from being taught in Georgia's classrooms." At least, that's how Gross sees it. Yet, a plain reading of the bill's text is seemingly at odds with the idea that evolutionary theory would be banned from Georgia schools. If enacted as law, the bill would apply "Whenever any theory of the origin of humans or other living things is included in a course of study offered by a local unit of administration."
At this point, the only thing clear about this is that it is very unclear where Rep. Bridges is coming from on this.
Perhaps a fixation on the confusing "evolution is a theory, not a fact" kind of talk has perpetuated this situation. After all, similar language was at issue in the recent federal court case in Atlanta over the Cobb County School Board's decision to place stickers into science textbooks that say precisely that. Or, there could be lingering confusion due to Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox's since-abandoned attempt to remove the word "evolution" from Georgia Science Standards altogether. (See the above-quoted Meyer and Campbell op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, strongly recommending that "evolution" stay in the standards and that Georgia schools "teach the controversy.")
It bears repeating: there are an infinite number of wrong ways to approach the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools. Banning the teaching of evolutionary theory or completely eliminating use of the word "evolution" are examples of two wrong ways to approach the issue. The former approach is clearly prohibited under the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Epperson v. Arkansas (1967). Another wrong way to approach the teaching of evolutionary theory in schools would be to include creationism or require that it be given equal time in science class. This approach is likewise prohibited under the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987). In addition, a wrong way to approach this subject is to dogmatically teach evolutionary theory and prohibit students from learning that a growing minority of scientists have raised scientific challenges to chemical and biological evolutionary theories.
At this time it's anyone's guess what will happen with the legislation proposed in Georgia. The bill has no co-sponsors, and it remains unsure what the sponsor has in mind. But one thing remains clear: a good policy allows students to be taught about both the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of chemical and biological evolutionary theories.