It’s been a century and a half since the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and 87 years since the Scopes trial produced a backlash that led to the end of state bans on the teaching of evolution. But in 2012, to the amusement of much of the nation, the New Hampshire Legislature is considering two bills aimed at giving equal time to the theory of evolution and hokum. The House will vote on them Wednesday.
One bill, sponsored by first-time Manchester Republican Rep. Jerry Bergevin, requires that evolution be taught as a theory. It is, after all, despite its overwhelming acceptance by the vast majority of the world’s scientists, still called the theory of evolution, so that part of Bergevin’s bill is pointless. Frighteningly, the bill goes on to require that the teaching of evolution in public schools “include the theorist’s political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”
Darwin was raised and schooled in the Church of England, set out to be a minister, came to see evolution as the hand of God working through the laws of nature, and in later life described himself not as an atheist but an agnostic, one who doesn’t know. But we fear that Bergevin is not referring to Darwin with his use of the words “the theorist” in his bill but to today’s science teachers. If so, it is a McCarthy-esque proposition that’s odious on multiple levels. It’s also unconstitutional.
Government cannot demand that someone explain their religious beliefs or lack thereof.
Bergevin’s own views on evolution are quite clear. “It is a world view and it is godless. It leads people down a path of devaluing human life, a path that ends in murder,” Bergevin told a Monitor reporter. As evidence, he claimed that the perpetrators of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado were “believers in evolution.” Case closed, at least for Bergevin.
A second bill concerning evolution is sponsored by Weare Republican Rep. Gary Hopper and Goffstown Republican Rep. John Burt. It seeks to mandate that public schools impart to their students the idea that “proper scientific inquiry results not from committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations are based on new evidence (sic) can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes.”
Though we suspect he was unaware of it, Hopper described, minus an explanation of the scientific method of hypothesis, observation, experimentation, verification and challenge, the essential nature of scientific inquiry. It is the opposite of efforts to espouse positions like the creationist theories of life’s origin promoted by an a representative from the Discovery Institute who came to New Hampshire from the state of Washington to testify in favor of the bills.
The institute is a self-described think tank that sponsors intelligent design programs for schools that choose to teach not science but the belief, unsupported by any evidence, that life forms are the work of an intelligent creator, not evolutionary change.
Hopper, like the Discovery Institute, wants schools to teach both evolution and the theories challenging it. It would be irresponsible not to do so if any scientifically credible theory that conflicts with evolution exists. None does. Intelligent design is based in religion, not science.
The real question these bills raise, however, do not concern life’s origins, but voter intent. What were the voters who elected Bergevin, Hopper and Burt thinking, and will they elect them again? The House should spare the state further embarrassment and kill both bills.