Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bill opening door to creationism, climate change denial in science classrooms dies in committee

A Republican bill that would have allowed science classrooms to become a locus for discussion of religious ideas about the origins of life, rejection of the central principle of the life sciences, and denial of the climate change now occurring on Earth was rejected Monday by a House committee.

HB 13-1089 died in the House Education Committee on a party-line, 7-6 vote. All Democrats opposed it and all Republicans supported it.

The Colorado Education Association and the Colorado Association of School Boards opposed the measure, which was based on a template provided by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. DI advocates for the teaching of "intelligent design," a variant of creationism, in public school classrooms.

Federal court decisions have made clear that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public school science classrooms.

The measure sought to avoid that stricture by couching its mandate in terms of "critical thinking." Sponsoring Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, argued that students cannot learn to do that unless they hear opposing sides of a "debate."

There is no debate in the mainstream scientific community about whether evolution accounts for the diversity of life on Earth. The process by which populations of organisms adapt to environmental conditions. and develop over time into separate species, is generally considered to be the most fundamental principle of the biological sciences.

HB 13-1089 also aimed to force teachers to encourage, or at least tolerate, political arguments against the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, argued that climate change is a "myth."

"If that is a theory, I hope we are encouraging and empowering students to absolutely attack that as nonsense,” he said.

In science, a theory is not a guess, speculation, or hunch. Instead, it is an explanation about why a phenomenon occurs in nature that is based on factual evidence gathered during multiple investigations.

Nearly all climate scientists agree that humanity's greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities, motor vehicles, and electric power plants are causing Earth's atmosphere to warm.

That conclusion is based on a variety of observational evidence, including melting ice sheets, rising sea levels, desertification, increasing atmospheric and ocean surface temperatures, a reduction in the extent of Arctic Ocean seasonal ice, glacial retreat around the world, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events, as well as modeling.

In addition, scientists have understood the tendency of carbon dioxide molecules accumulating in the atmosphere to prevent dissipation of heat from the planet's surface since at least 1895, when the phenomenon was discovered by chemist Svante Arrhenius. The heat-trapping capacity of the atmosphere has been known since 1824.

Representatives that voted to kill HB 13-1089 were John Buckner, D-Colorado Springs, Lois Court, D-Denver, Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, Dave Young, D-Greeley, Cherilyn Peniston, D-Westminster, and Millie Hamner, D-Dillon.

The GOP members of the chamber that voted to advance the bill to the floor of the House were Justin Everett of Littleton, Holbert, Lois Landgraf of Colorado Springs, Carole Murray of Castle Rock, Kevin Priola of Henderson, and Jim Wilson of Salida.