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AAAS Urges Tennessee Governor to Veto Controversial Bill on Evolution, Climate Education

AAAS is urging Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to veto a controversial education bill that calls into question the well-established scientific facts behind evolution and global climate change.

On 26 March, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted 72-23 to approve a version of the bill that was passed by the state Senate on 19 March. House Bill 368 would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of issues that “may cause debate and disputation,” including evolution and climate change. The bill now goes to Haslam, who has 10 days to veto the bill or it will become law.

But AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, in a 27 March letter to the governor, wrote: “There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of evolution and climate change, and these subjects should not be taught as if there were such a controversy.

“It is discouraging to see legislation that encourages teachers to help students ‘critique’ the ‘scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses’ of what are in fact well-established theories.”

Leshner noted that the bill is particularly troubling in light of Haslam’s recent plan to open three new schools focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that would prepare the state’s students for competitive, 21st-century careers.

AAAS, the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, last year sent a letter to members of the Tennessee House of Representatives, urging them to reject House Bill 368. He reiterated some of those themes in his letter to the governor.

Leshner noted that HB 368 asked students to “think critically,” although “such thinking is already inherent in the way science is taught.” To truly benefit the students of Tennessee, he added, “teachers must present the best peer-reviewed research; only in this way will students gain the strong understanding of science necessary to compete for high-skill jobs in an increasingly high-tech world economy.”

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has reported that the Tennessee legislation also is opposed by the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, and the National Earth Science Teachers Association, among others.

AAAS and other groups are fighting similar legislation in Oklahoma, working with state and local organizations there.

Leshner has previously noted that efforts to compromise U.S. science education threaten American innovation, competitiveness, and young people’s ability to compete for jobs in the future.

He further has said that science and faith pose no conflict for most religious people, including more than 12,000 Christian leaders who have signed the Clergy Letter Project in support of teaching evolution. Science tells us that Earth’s first single-celled organisms emerged about 3.5 billion years ago and only gradually evolved into many different species, he explained. Some groups who favor a literal interpretation of Genesis have proposed a number of anti-evolution bills, from state to state, proposing classroom debate about alleged “weaknesses” in evolutionary theory, although scientists see no such problems.

Similarly, the research-based, scientific foundation for climate change is widely accepted by scientists, science organizations, local and national governments, and many businesses in the United States and worldwide. The AAAS Board of Directors released a statement 18 February 2007 noting that “global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.”


Read the 27 March letter sent to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam by AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner.

Read the AAAS Board of Directors’ 18 February 2007 statement on climate change.

View AAAS’s past statements on evolution education and other evolution resources.


Becky Ham

Ginger Pinholster

Former Director, Office of Public Programs