The theory of evolution is not controversial to scientists. That’s because all of the evidence backs it. But evolution is controversial to the Louisiana state legislature.
Last month, for the third year in a row, Louisiana’s Senate Education Committee killed a bill to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. LSEA is stealth legislation that creates a loophole for creationism to be snuck into public school science classes. LSEA allows classroom use of supplemental creationist materials that “critique” evolution.
To get a sense of the supplemental materials approved under this law, you need look no further than its proponents. Suzanne Passman, who runs CreationEvidence.info, testifies in support of LSEA every year. (You can see her testimony here and here.) She highlights LSEA on her website and suggests supplemental materials from the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis (source of the Creation Museum), and the Discovery Institute, a think tank for intelligent design creationism. She also offers to provide notes from creationist lectures she has attended; my favorite is “Jurassic Prank,” which discusses “dragons as real creatures” and shows that “people saw dinosaurs and not so long ago.”
You might think that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Brown University biology major and someone who recently called on the Republican Party to “stop being the stupid party,” would not support nonsense such as critiquing evolution with dragons. You’d be wrong. Jindal recently re-emphasized his support for teaching creationism in public schools through LSEA. As he said in an interview with NBC News:
“We have what’s called the Science Education Act that says if a teacher wants to supplement those materials, if the school board’s OK with that, if the state school board’s OK with that, they can supplement those materials.
“I’ve got no problem if a school board, a local school board, says we want to teach our kids about creationism, that some people have these beliefs as well. Let’s teach them about intelligent design. I think teach them the best science.”
Evolution is not the only scientific theory that is controversial to Louisiana politicians. Apparently, modern medicine is also subject to debate. Louisiana state Sen. Elbert Guillory had a novel argument in defense of LSEA: It should not be repealed because he doesn’t want to “prematurely” declare that faith healing is “pseudo-science.”
During this year’s state Senate hearing to repeal LSEA, Guillory explained that he wouldn’t want to keep the “science” behind an experience he had with a witch doctor—who “wore no shoes, was semi-clothed, used a lot of bones that he threw around”—out of a public school science classroom.
Guillory said he is worried that repealing Louisiana’s creationism law will "lock the door on being able to view ideas from many places, concepts from many cultures." Have no fear, Sen. Guillory, there is a great place for ideas from many cultures: history class, or philosophy or comparative religion classes. Faith healing and creationism are not science, though, and do not belong in a public school science classroom.
I’ve testified three times against LSEA, and each year, one legislator becomes a star. This year it was Guillory, but last year, Sen. Mike Walsworth provided the best evidence for why science education in Louisiana needs to be upgraded. He completely misunderstood evolution and demanded that scientists show him an experiment in which E. coli bacteria would turn into a person.
If LSEA remains on the books, Louisiana may continue to have an ample supply of elected leaders who lack a basic understanding of evolution.
Another lesson some Louisiana politicians have yet to learn is the value of science and scientists. That lack was demonstrated two years ago by our first legislative star, Sen. Julie Quinn.
Tired of hearing that the campaign to repeal LSEA had been endorsed by 78 Nobel laureate scientists and multiple major science organizations representing tens of millions of scientists worldwide, Quinn explained that the scientists whose discoveries had built our way of life were just people with “little letters” behind their names whom she had no interest in hearing from.
Luckily, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson was there to remind Quinn about the importance of science and be a voice of reason. Peterson and three other legislators—Sen. Dan Claitor, Sen. Eric LaFleur, and Rep. Walt Leger—deserve thanks for their work to repeal LSEA.
But many other Louisiana politicians have decided that the 78 Nobel laureate scientists, major science and educator organizations, the New Orleans City Council, and the conservative Fordham Institute, all of whom have called for the repeal of LSEA, don’t matter. To some Louisiana politicians, their science isn’t any different than faith healing.
Unwittingly, Guillory made the closing argument for repeal of LSEA: “Yet if I closed my mind when I saw this man—in the dust, throwing some bones on the ground, semi-clothed. If I closed him off and just said, ‘That’s not science; I’m not going to see this doctor,’ I would have shut off a very good experience for myself.”
Teaching good science does not close minds. Teaching faith healing and creationism as science does. Creationism and faith healing just aren’t science. And because LSEA allows them into public school science classrooms in Louisiana, it must be repealed.
The good news is that there is some progress in Louisiana. In reaction to LSEA, the Orleans Parish School Board banned creationism from their classrooms. So far we’ve held off every attempt from creationists to throw out our biology books. And last month’s education committee vote of 2–3 to repeal LSEA was the closest yet. Despite the defeat and the anti-science attitudes of many Louisiana politicians, we are making progress bringing Louisiana into the 21st century. I encourage you to get involved and contact the Louisiana legislature to urge them to support evidence-based science.