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Four states considering laws that challenge the teaching of evolution

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Four US states are considering new legislation about teaching science in schools that critics say would establish a backdoor way of questioning the theory of evolution and allowing pupils to to be taught religious versions of how life on earth developed.

Fresh legislation has been put forward in Colorado, Missouri and Montana. In Oklahoma, there are two bills before the state legislature that include potentially creationist language

A watchdog group, the National Center for Science Education, said that the proposed laws were framed around the concept of “academic freedom”. It argues that religious motives are disguised by the language of encouraging more open debate in school classrooms. However, the areas of the curriculum highlighted in the bills tend to centre on the teaching of evolution or other areas of science that clash with traditionally religious interpretations of the world.

“Taking it at face value they sound innocuous and lovely: critical thinking, debate and analysis. It seems so innocent, so pure. But they chose to question only areas that religious conservatives are uncomfortable with. There is a religious agenda here,” said Josh Rosenau, an NCSE program and policy director.

In Oklahoma one bill has been pre-filed with the state senate and another with the state house. The senate bill would oblige the state to help teachers “find more effective ways to represent the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies”. The house bill specifically mentions “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning” as areas that “some teachers are unsure” about teaching.

In Montana a bill put forward by local social conservative state congressman, Clayton Fiscus, also lists things like “random mutation, natural selection, DNA and fossil discoveries” as controversial topics that need more critical teaching. Meanwhile in Missouri a bill introduced in mid-January lists “biological and chemical evolution” as topics that teachers should debate over including looking at the “scientific weaknesses” of the long-established theories.

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Finally, in Colorado, which rarely sees a push towards teaching creationism, a bill has been introduced in the state house of representatives that would require teachers to “respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution”. Observers say the move is the first piece of creationist-linked legislation to be put forward in the state since 1972.

The moves in such a wide range of states have angered advocates of secularism in American official life. “This is just another attempt to bring creationism in through the back door. The only academic freedom they really want to encourage is the freedom to be ignorant,” said Rob Boston, senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Over the past few years only Tennessee and Louisiana have managed to pass so-called “academic freedom” laws of the kind currently being considered in the four states. Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and close observer of the creationism movement, said that the successes in those two states meant that the religious lobby was always looking for more opportunities.

She said that using arguments over academic freedom was a shift in tactic after attempts to specifically get “intelligent design” taught in schools was defeated in a landmark court case in 2005. Intelligent design, which a local school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, had sought to get accepted as legitimate science, asserts that modern life is too complex to have evolved by chance alone. “Creationists never give up. They never do. The language of these bills may be highly sanitized but it is creationist code,” she said.

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The laws can have a direct impact on a state. In Louisiana some 78 Nobel laureate scientists have endorsed the repeal of the creationist education law there. The Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology has even launched a boycott of Louisiana and cancelled a scheduled convention in New Orleans. Louisiana native and prominent anti-creationist campaigner in the state Zack Kopplin said that those pushing such bills in other states were risking similar economic damage to their local economies. “It will hurt economic development,” Kopplin said.

There is also the impact on students, he added, when they are taught controversies in subjects where the overwhelming majority of scientists have long ago reached consensus agreement. “It really hurts students. It can be embarrassing to be from a state which has become a laughing stock in this area,” Kopplin said. Others experts agreed, arguing that it could even hurt future job prospects for students graduating from those states’ public high schools. “The jobs of the future are high tech and science-orientated. These lawmakers are making it harder for some of these kids to get those jobs,” said Boston.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

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[Intelligent design in school via Shutterstock]

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Trump wants Americans to watch interview where he broke federal law by soliciting foreign election help: ‘Enjoy the show!’

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Despite widespread criticism, President Donald Trump on Saturday stood by his comments to George Stephanopoulos -- and hyped an upcoming broadcast of the interview.

"I enjoyed my interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC News," Trump claimed.

"So funny to watch the Fake News Media try to dissect and distort every word in as negative a way as possible. It will be aired on Sunday night at 8:00 P.M., and is called, “President Trump: 30 Hours” (which is somewhat misleading in that I personally spent only a small fraction of that time doing interviews. I do have a few other things to do, you know!)," he continued.

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Utah Republican is in deep trouble after trying to defend Trump’s breaking of the law

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President Donald Trump's poor standing in Utah could cause big electoral problems for one of his loudest defenders in the state.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) said Trump would be "foolish" if he did not illegally accept election help from foreign adversaries.

On Saturday, Stewart was blasted by former CIA officer Evan McMullin.

McMullin was born in Provo, attended Brigham Young University, is Mormon and a also prominent conservative critic of Trump.

In 2016, McMullin ran against Trump as an Independent and received 21.3 percent of the vote in Utah during the general election. Trump also had problems in Utah during the Republican primary, receiving only 14 percent of the vote.

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Trump ‘will not leave his office if he narrowly loses in 2020’: Conservative columnist issues dire warning

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President Donald Trump will fight to remain in power regardless of the outcome if the 2020 election is close, a conservative columnist warned on Saturday.

Andrew Sullivan blasted Trump in New York magazine, honing in on the commander-in-chief's lying.

"For Trump, lying is central to his disturbed psyche, and to his success. The brazenness of it unbalances and stupefies sane and adjusted people, thereby constantly giving him an edge and a little breathing space while we try to absorb it, during which he proceeds to the next lie," he wrote.

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