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Tennessee’s gubernatorial candidates on evolution

9e2083a00b286c38524869018c75e4e3A new website sponsored by the Tennessee Newspaper Network makes easy work of comparing the current gubernatorial candidates’ positions on various issues. Each candidate presents a different opinion on the subject which is a welcome departure from the typical party-lines talking points that tend to dominate discussion.

Sadly, the debate between evolution and intelligent design is often marred with misinformation. With that in mind, I would like to clear a few misconceptions up first thing. Evolution attempts to describe the diversity of life on our planet and determine common ancestry among related species today. Evolution is not concerned with the beginning or inception of life. That is the subject of abiogenesis. Also, evolution is a scientific theory, meaning that it can change based on the current knowledge base. Since this knowledge base continues to expand with new findings, it should come as no surprise that the theory is often refined as new discoveries are made. The theory of intelligent design is not based in science, but rather religious writings. Since the claims on which the theory rests are not verifiable by experimentation, they cannot be considered science.

With this in mind, both presumptive Democratic nominee Mike McWherter and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam express support of teaching children the foundations of biology in public schools. Both are quick to point out that their religious faith is compatible with their wishes that children be tought a comprehensive science curriculum. There are those in the creationism/intelligent design camp that disagree with their egalitarian handling of these seemingly incompatible viewpoints. Australian science professor David Oldroyd said in a 1993 interview with The Weekend Review, “People seem to think that Christianity and evolution do or can go together. But I suggest this is only possible for the intellectually schizophrenic. Biological theory does not require or allow any sort of divine guidance for the evolutionary process.” To the likes of Oldroyd, there can be no middle ground.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey sees things a little more in black and white. “I believe intelligent design and evolution should both be taught in public schools. To choose one or the other would ignore the beliefs of large numbers of Tennesseans. Our young people are smart enough to come to their own conclusions if both sides are presented fairly.” Seems fair enough, right? Teach both sides, and let the impressionable youth which are entrusted with few other legal abilities decide best which method brought about our diversity of species. Ramsey, like many other evangelicals, fails to see the importance of keeping religion and government separate, for the good of both institutions. He would have religious ideas taught in state-funded classrooms in a heartbeat, but he would probably not be on board if the state mandated that evolution be taught alongside creationism in Sunday school classrooms.

Last, but not least, Rep. Zach Wamp says, “I believe that God created the world we live in and crafted human beings in his own image, and I also believe in the scientific evolution of other species. However, most decisions on local school curriculum are best left to local school boards, educators and parents to debate and decide. [emphasis added]” Note first that Wamp does not believe in the evolution of mankind, only other species, as that would be contrary to his literal interpretation of Genesis in which God made Adam out of soil and Eve from a vivisected rib. Also of note in Wamp’s quote is that he believes curriculum is best left to localities to decide. This thinking could result in the educations of students mere counties apart being drastically different in quality. Instead of allowing local elected officials the power to inject religion into school curricula as they see fit, why not just stick to teaching what has been tested, verified, and peer-reviewed sufficiently to make it into textbooks (Texas textbooks excluded)?

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