RICHMOND, Va. – A lawmaker in Virginia has received sharp criticism from evolutionists after introducing a bill which would encourage public school teachers and students to examine the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories.
Richard “Dickie” Bell is a Republican lawmaker who represents Virginia’s 20th legislative district. On his campaign website’s list of important political issues, Bell promises to be “a leader for education reform.”
In keeping with his education policy goals, Bell recently introduced House Bill 207 (HB207), which calls for an amendment to Virginia’s science education policy. Specifically, HB207 would encourage candid discussion of scientific questions, evidences, and theories in public schools.
“[Faculty members] shall create an environment in public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific controversies in science classes,” HB207 outlines.
Should the bill be passed, education administrators in Virginia would assist teachers in finding “effective ways to present scientific controversies in science classes.” In addition, HB207 would grant science instructors freedom to openly discuss the strengths and weaknesses of competing scientific theories with students.
“[Faculty shall not] prohibit any public elementary or secondary school teacher from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in science classes,” the bill states.
HB207 also outlines that the scientific discussions should not promote or discriminate against any religious beliefs.
“Nothing in this section shall be construed to promote or discriminate against any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote or discriminate against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote or discriminate against religion or nonreligion,” the bill’s text reads.
After HB207 was filed in Virginia’s General Assembly, evolutionists quickly criticized Bell, claiming that the bill is an attempt to promote biblical creation in public schools. On his blog Why Evolution Is True, evolutionist Jerry Coyne referred to HB207 as an “antiscience bill,” opining that Bell is attacking evolution and climate change.
“Well, neither evolution nor anthropogenic climate change are ‘differences of opinion,’ Coyne alleged. “They are scientific conclusions, and if teachers pretend that they’re merely ‘opinions,’ they’re sorely misleading the students. … [T]here should be no ‘respect’ implying that creationism and climate-change denialism are credible views.”
However, Bell says that the goal of HB207 is not to promote any particular viewpoint, but instead to protect honest conversations in the classroom—even when a controversial scientific topic is discussed.
“The teacher needs to be more than a policeman to stop conversation, to stop dialogue because maybe it went into an area where somebody doesn’t share the belief system,” Bell told reporters. “It’s okay—we’re not asking everyone to believe the same thing; we’re asking for teachers to be protected when they allow discussions about different opinions to take place.”
Others agreed that discussions about different opinions are a vital component to quality education—even if polarizing topics like evolution versus creation are mentioned.
“I think the fact we have to put a bill in place to protect the teacher is sad,” one commenter suggested. “People should have the right to talk about anything they want without getting chastised, as long as it isn’t something that is threatening to one’s life. I agree that having difference of opinion is good for everyone because if for some reason we all thought the same thing was good, then, well, life would not be interesting.”