NARRATION: The latest battle in the schools is over science…
ARCHIVAL (KMTV, 8-5-17):
ANCHOR: The State Board of Education debates a controversial subject: climate change.
NARRATION:…and a growing skepticism has seeped into the classroom, reviving attacks on one of the most well-established principles of biology — evolution.
AMANDA WATSON: I’ve never had a teacher say that evolution is 100 percent scientifically valid.
KEN MILLER: The great danger of the anti-evolution movement is that it will turn us into a nation of scientific know-nothings.
NARRATION: Zack Kopplin had just finished his freshman year in high school in 2008 when he heard that Louisiana was considering a new law allowing science teachers to bring in materials questioning the validity of widely accepted theories ranging from evolution to climate change.
ZACK KOPPLIN: It’s marketed as promoting critical thinking and who wouldn’t want to critique science? The problem is, in many things, there isn’t a both sides. There’s the truth and not the truth. I was 14 and I think it just hit me at a formative time where it was, sort of, simple right and wrong, like, evolution is real; we shouldn’t be teaching bad science to our students. But it’s not going to pass. And then it passed.
ARCHIVAL (WAFB, 4-28-11):
NEWS REPORT: A Baton Rouge high schooler is leading the fight to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.
ZACK KOPPLIN: Louisiana has an anti-science reputation.
NARRATION: Some of the world’s most esteemed scientists put their weight behind Kopplin’s repeal effort.
ZACK KOPPLIN: Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this but you can very easily find Nobel laureates’ emails. And so I just e-mailed them. I wanted 10 Nobel Laureates, and we ultimately got up to, like, 78, I think. And at that point I just sort of—I stopped, because it’s, like, my point is proven.
NARRATION: Kopplin also suspected that the bill was being used to teach creationism in the science classroom — something prohibited by the Constitution.
He didn’t have to look far for evidence.
ZACK KOPPLIN: In one e-mail the school had PDF’ed a copy of the law and had relabeled it with their own label as the Louisiana Creationism Law. Another science teacher sent the principal an e-mail inviting him to come sit in while she taught the creation point of view using supplemental materials like the Book of Genesis to debunk evolution.
NARRATION: Georgia Purdom, a molecular biologist and biblical creationist, sees nothing wrong with that.
GEORGIA PURDOM: I am a scientist, and I have looked at the science, and I see that it confirms God’s Word. But I would also then like to be able to teach evolution, what the evolutionists believe, and then the problems with that. Because there can only be one truth. They both cannot be true.
ZACK KOPPLIN: A lot of the politicians were either creationists or didn’t want to kick the beehive that was upsetting the creationists.
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 4-5-13):
GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL (REP) LOUISIANA: I`ve got no problem if the school board, the local school board says, we want to teach our kids about creationism. Let’s teach them about intelligent design. I think teach them the best science. Let them – give them the tools where they can make up their own mind.
ZACK KOPPLIN: We tried to repeal the law five times total. And the politicians were just not having it, no matter how much evidence we brought them.
NARRATION: The Louisiana Science Education Act was a victory for skeptics of evolution whose last major win had occurred 83 years before.
FILM ANNOUNCER: Scopes, a Dayton, Tennessee high school teacher, is to be tried for teaching evolution of man from monkeys despite a Tennessee law forbidding instruction in this doctrine.
NARRATION: In the 1920s it was illegal in some states’ public schools to teach evolution, which holds that all living things share a common ancestry. It took a Tennessee jury less than ten minutes to convict John T. Scopes of this crime.
But by 1968 the Supreme Court had struck down these laws, saying they violated the separation of church and state.
In the decades that followed courts repeatedly blocked laws attempting — first — to teach the story of Genesis alongside evolution and then, a refashioned concept called intelligent design.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 12-20-05):
ELIZABETH VARGAS: It is a theory which contends that life is so complex, a supernatural being had to have been involved. Supporters say intelligent design is grounded in science. But a federal judge today resoundingly rejected that claim.
KEN MILLER (MOLECULAR BIOLOGIST, BROWN UNIVERSITY): Around the country, attempts to teach intelligent design and to label it as such pretty much dried up, they pretty much ended. So, yet another approach was required, and one of the most creative of those, in my opinion, was the Louisiana Science Education Act.
NARRATION: The act was based on a model bill fashioned by the Discovery Institute, a think-tank that helped popularize intelligent design.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, NIGHTLINE, 8-10-05):
STEPHEN MEYER (DISCOVERY INSTITUTE): We think that the evidence leads first to intelligence. And then from there, there is a second question, which is the identity of the designer.
NARRATION: The Institute, which produces its own textbooks, videos and study guides, says the intention of the legislation is to give students the ability to critically analyze a host of scientific issues that the schools are teaching as settled.
STEPHEN MEYER (SENIOR FELLOW, DISCOVERY INSTITUTE): Often the theories that are presented as solid are not as solid as they’re presented.
JOHN WEST (VICE PRESIDENT, DISCOVERY INSTITUTE): One reason why the public ends up being very interested, and whether it be climate change or evolution, is that these happen to be areas where often scientific claims are mixed in with a lot of other claims.
NARRATION: To the Institute, the teaching of evolution is a case in point.
STEPHEN MEYER: When you discover that at the foundation of life, you’ve got something that’s functioning exactly like digital code. We live in an information age where we know what it takes to generate digital code, namely programmers. I think we’re looking at a very compelling evidence of design in the history of life. Neo-Darwinism, the standard textbook theory that all students learn in high school and college biology textbooks, is increasingly obsolete.
DOUGLAS AXE (AUTHOR, UNDENIABLE: HOW BIOLOGY CONFIRMS OUR INTUITION THAT LIFE IS DESIGNED): There’s nothing left of the theory. It’s not a small hole, the whole thing is gone.
NARRATION: That view puts the Discovery Institute at odds with all major scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, which point out that advances in scientific understanding have actually bolstered the theory of evolution.
But while 98 percent of American scientists accept the theory of evolution as true, more than a third of the American public does not.
Georgia Purdom curates exhibits at two biblical museums in northern Kentucky, which attracted about a million visitors last year.
The Ark Encounter describes how Noah saved all the world’s creatures from the biblical flood — including the dinosaurs — while the Creation Museum leads visitors through the story of Genesis and points out perceived problems with evolution.
GEORGIA PURDOM: I mean, if we’re teaching our kids they’re nothing more than the result of undirected, random processes over time, that they evolve from some sort of ape-like creature, that they are an animal, how do you expect them to act?
NARRATION: Supporters of Louisiana’s Science Education Act say it is not designed to bring religion into the public schools. And they point out that it also covers other scientific topics, like human cloning and global warming.
Miller says there’s an important reason why.
KEN MILLER: The First Amendment protects you against imposition of religious ideas in the public schools. It doesn’t protect you against the introduction of stupid ideas. The First Amendment provides no protection if a school board or a district or an individual teacher decides to teach frankly anti-science critiques of climate change or just about anything else, because if they’re not doing it for a religious motivation, the First Amendment protection against the establishment of religion doesn’t apply.
NARRATION: The Discovery Institute doesn’t dispute that their model bill is intended to avoid legal challenges.
STEPHEN MEYER: We think that it’s actually helping a lot of school boards and teachers because it’s giving people a place where they can securely address issues without creating a big legal challenge and a big public spectacle.
KEN MILLER: What has happened in many states around the country is that evolution has become one of a series of issues, and the others include, of course, climate science but also issues of fertility, conception, stem cell research and so forth, which, in the views of many, amount to a cultural attack. As these laws advance, we may bring up a generation of students who have been taught, as a matter of course, that the scientific method and the scientific community is not to be trusted.
AMANDA WATSON: My teacher, instead of saying that we would have a lesson on evolution, she said that we would just have an in-class debate where you could present your views on evolution
NARRATION: Amanda Watson, of Bossier City, Louisiana, saw the impact firsthand in her science class.
AMANDA WATSON: She went on a whole spiel about how there’s different perspectives on evolution and we don’t necessarily have to consider it scientifically valid. There were a couple of kids who believed that the earth was 6,000 years old because that’s kind of the religious perspective around here.
NARRATION: Watson added that, in some ways, the treatment of climate change at her school fared even worse. She says it was never brought up at all.
AMANDA WATSON: And my generation is going to be the one that has to deal with the consequences of it.
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 1-17-17):
Good evening, Ms. DeVos. Welcome to the committee.
NARRATION: When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was questioned by the Senate, she echoed language used by the Discovery Institute.
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN 1-17-17):
BETSY DEVOS: And I support the teaching of great science and especially science that allows students to exercise critical thinking.
NARRATION: Louisiana is no longer alone. Since 2008, five other states have enacted legislation making it easier to call into question scientific theories like evolution or climate change in the classroom. Over the last two years, ten others have tried.
JOHN WEST: Lots of different states have considered various versions of this. And I’d say, overall, one of the benefits of these bills is not the bills themselves, it’s airing the public discussion where the community gets to discuss, well, what is science. Why is it important?
KEN MILLER: We have seen a greater number of measures introduced in state legislatures around the country designed to sneak anti-scientific ideas into the science classroom. Objections to evolution, complaints about climate science are really weapons of disbelief that are used to disqualify the authority of science in general.