Creationism Debate May Hit Pennsylvania in Upcoming Legislation

A Republican state representative in Pennsylvania is currently seeking co-sponsors for legislation that would allow students to openly discuss different scientific theories in the public classroom, including critiquing existing theories such as evolution and global warming. Critics argue that this type of legislation warrants the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools. 

Although legislation has yet to be created, Rep. Stephen Bloom (R., Cumberland) argues that students in the state should be allowed to openly question the validity of mainstream scientific theories in a safe setting, such as the classroom.

"In the real world, outside of academia, scientific theory is up for all kinds of argument," Bloom said in a recent interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I don't think it's right to exclude any particular kind of argument prima facie. If a student wants to discuss a criticism, he or she should be able to," Bloom said, adding that his legislation would not mandate that religious theories such as intelligent design or creationism be taught.

"This is not prescribing any religious teaching in the school," Bloom told the local newspaper. "There is no prescription that any religious-based theory be taught." .

Bloom wrote in a recent memo addressing his planned "Academic Freedom" legislation that the purpose of the upcoming bill is to help "students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the courses being taught."

"My legislation would ensure that Pennsylvania steps up to protect academic freedom for instructional classroom speech. Our teachers should never need to fear becoming victims of viewpoint-based adverse employment action arising from misplaced restrictions on their freedom to teach," Bloom added.

A draft of the legislation says it would protect classroom discussion relating to controversial subjects such as "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning," among other topics.

Although Bloom denies that the bill is angled toward the teaching of creationism or intelligent design, the National Center for Science Education, which opposes the teaching of creationism in schools, called Bloom's proposal a piece of "anti-science" legislation. The NCSE goes on to argue that Bloom's proposed legislation bears similarity to the 2012 Tennessee law which allows students to discuss alternatives to mainstream scientific theories, including intelligent design.

The topic of allowing creationism and intelligent design to be discussed in public schools has long been debated by several states.

The most notable battleground for the debate on creationism in public schools is in Louisiana, where opponents of creationism have long protested the state's Louisiana Science Education Act, enacted in 2008 that allows students and teachers to openly discuss scientific theories and use supplemental materials relating to creationism and intelligent design.

The Act points out, however, that it does not "promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion."

Recently, a bill that would offer bible study at public schools in North Carolina failed to pass legislature. Similarly, in the past few years Montana, Colorado and Indiana have all seen "academic freedom" legislation fail to become law.