HELENA, Mont. — A lawmaker’s proposal protecting "alternative viewpoints" during the teaching of evolution and science in schools came under fire Friday from opponents who argued it would pave the way for teaching of creationism.
Rep. Clayton Fiscus, R-Billings, said evolution isn’t settled science and called it a "monumental leap" to believe it is true. His bill would allow teachers — if they want — to address perceived weaknesses in evolution studies in the classroom.
"This is just a bill to instruct what we have presently in the science on the origins of life," Fiscus said. "We should teach what we do know. We should also teach what we don’t know."
The House Education Committee didn’t take immediate action on the proposal. There were no supporters, and roughly two dozen opponents.
The bill says it does not promote the teaching of religious doctrine, and "only protects the teaching of scientific information."
An early draft version of the bill sought to teach "intelligent design," but the suggestion was dropped during the drafting process. Courts over the years have struck down similar legislative demands for the teaching of creationism.
Critics argued the bill’s original intent remains shrouded in vague language carefully written in an effort to mass legal musters. They said the bill proposes the false notion there is scientific dispute over current teaching on the origins of life.
"There is no controversy within the scientific community with regard to evolution. None," said Dr. Phil Jensen, a Rocky Mountain College professor. "Any controversy there is, is a social one fueled by people outside the scientific community."
Critics said the measure is a backdoor effort to get religion into science classrooms.
"It seemed to me it was deliberately written to be obtuse," said Stan Frasier of Helena. "The Sunday schools are the place for teaching religious fairy tales, not our public schools."
Social conservatives were preparing to take another hot-button issue to the committee on Monday. They are seeking limits on local sex education curriculum, such as by requiring parental consent to opt into sex education classes.
It would also ban any organization that provides abortion services from assisting with sex education in schools.