Some Missouri lawmakers want the state to force public schools to teach intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution.
Even if it never becomes law, House Bill 911 figures to toss Missouri into the same furor over origin-of-life science that embroiled the Kansas State Board of Education in recent years.
Many science educators in Missouri are distressed, said Rebecca Litherland, a past president of the Science Teachers of Missouri and the science coordinator for Columbia Public Schools.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, we're going to become Kansas.' ”
The bill, which Republican Rep. Wayne Cooper of Camdenton said was brought to him by individuals in the St. Louis area, also would require school science curriculums to define evolution as a theory resting on a historical hypothesis that has not, and cannot, be proved.
He figures it has a 50-50 chance of getting out of committee and onto the House floor.
“Our objective is to improve science instruction and make textbooks more accurate,” said Cooper, whose bill was co-sponsored by six other Republican representatives. “We want to create academic freedom to allow this discussion.”
The seven-page bill defines scientific terms and how they should be applied to the teaching of evolution and intelligent design. It would require equal treatment of both theories, in the amount of textbook space and the time spent in classroom instruction.
If the measure becomes law, teachers who do not follow its requirements could lose their jobs.
Every science classroom would have to post a copy of the law on the wall.
“That's unimaginable,” said Louis Odom, an associate professor in science education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “It's a violation of academic freedom. I would fight it to the end.”
Evolution supporters say proponents of intelligent design are trying to force their way into the science classroom with a theory that is not scientific.
Critics of evolution theory say they are taking aggressive measures because the mainstream science community has shut the door on competing theories and ostracized those who disagree.
“Evolution never earned a monopoly on academic thought,” said Tom Willis of the Creation Science Association for Mid-America. “They bullied their way in. They just yelled louder.”
Willis, of Cleveland, Mo., helped write proposed changes in the Kansas science curriculum playing down evolution, which the state Board of Education adopted in 1999. In a storm of public debate, moderates took control of the Kansas board in the 2000 elections and restored evolution's status, if only tenuously.