Evolution Disclaimer Proposed for Miss. Textbooks

A Mississippi lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require textbooks to include a disclaimer describing evolution as a "controversial theory" and advising students to keep an "open mind" to other explanations for the origin of life.

Rep. Gary Chism introduced the legislation, House Bill 25, earlier this month. The bill has been referred to two committees, Education and Judiciary A.

The proposal, if enacted, would require the State Board of Education to include the 200-word disclaimer on the inside front cover of textbooks that include evolution topics.

"The word 'theory' has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles," the opening paragraph of the bill states. "Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations."

"This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered a theory," the proposal continues.

"Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things."

The textbook disclaimer would end with the following advice: "Study hard and keep an open mind."

Other states have proposed similar disclaimers.

Alabama is currently the only state that requires a disclaimer on evolution be included in science textbooks discussing the topic. The most recent version of the text was adopted by the Alabama State Board of Education in 2005.

Much of the language of the Mississippi proposal has been adopted from the 1995 and 2001 versions of the Alabama disclaimer, according to the National Center for Science Education, an organization which advocates the teaching of evolution in public schools.

In March 2002, the Cobb County School District in Georgia approved a short disclaimer on evolution for the inside front cover of biology and other science textbooks.

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered," the label stated.

The issue went to court after four parents filed suit against the district. A federal district court judged ruled that the disclaimers were unconstitutional. The district appealed the decision. The case was referred by an appeals court to a district court for clarification but the district later agreed in a settlement not to make any disclaimers about evolution.