“Teaching the Controversy” in Mississippi: Creationism Sneaks in Again

Religious conservatives in government are at it again, trying to use taxpayer money to inject religious teachings into public school science classrooms.

Mississippi State Rep. Mark Formby recently introduced HB 50, a bill that would allow public school science educators to “teach the controversy” surrounding topics like evolution and global warming. The bill has already been cosponsored by conservative state representatives Lester Carpenter, Becky Currie, and John Moore. Rep. Moore’s support is especially concerning, as he heads the Mississippi House Education Committee, which is tasked with reviewing the bill and potentially passing it on to the full House for a final vote.

The bill itself is cleverly worded so as to hide its true intent. Provisions like the requirement that “teachers shall be permitted to help 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” are seemingly reasonable.

But what this bill really intends to do is allow teachers to promote creationism or intelligent design as alternatives to evolution free from consequences imposed by school administrators or state education officials who are typically required to ensure that religious instruction doesn’t occur in public school classes.

When it comes to evolution and global warming, there’s no controversy to teach. Ninety-eight percent of scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science say they believe in gradual human evolution, while 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are the result of human activities.

Religious conservatives know these statistics but are disingenuously trying to start a “debate” on these topics so as to allow teachers to promote creationism or intelligent design as alternatives to “controversial” theories like evolution.

It’s important to restate that there is near unanimous agreement in both the evolutionary and climate change scientific communities about the validity of the theory of evolution and the existence of climate change. The sponsors of HB 50 are deliberately ignoring the scientific community in promotion of their own religious agenda, to the detriment of Mississippi’s schoolchildren.

This bill isn’t just concerning because of its potential church-state separation implications, but also because of its impact on the quality of science education for Mississippi students. According to a recent study by the Program for International Student Assessment, American schoolchildren ranked twenty-seventh globally in scientific literacy. This bill, and others like it across the country, could further weaken American schoolchildren’s understanding of the sciences, undermining both their ability to understand the world they live in and their ability to start careers in scientific fields.

Children and adults who are interested in learning about intelligent design or creationism should go to the appropriate venues, such as the numerous churches or religious private schools that exist across the United States. But public school science classes should focus on factual scientific knowledge—not on teaching religious ideology.